Religion

Take a cue from Thoreau, slow down and find your pace

David Roper
David Roper

“I am old and move slowly”

Socrates

When I was a much younger man I used to run several miles a day. When my knees gave out I began to walk, first aerobically and then slowly. Now I saunter.

Henry David Thoreau, in an essay on walking, explains the origins of the word “saunter.” He says the term comes from the Middle Ages, when wandering pilgrims would beg for alms to finance their journey to “la Sainte Terre,” the Holy Land. Such people became known as “saint-terrers,” or “saunterers.”

I can’t vouch for the etymology of the word, and I understand Thoreau’s theory is in doubt these days, but I like his explanation better than any I’ve heard, for I myself am a saunterer, a wandering pilgrim, begging for grace, making my way toward the City of God.

Let’s hear it for sauntering. My dictionary defines the word as, “to wander or walk about idly and in a leisurely or lazy manner; to lounge; to stroll; to loiter.” That’s me: God’s loiterer, in no particular hurry, taking time to see the world around me and sample it along the way.

Very few people saunter these days. Most folks are in a hurry — speed-walking, or racing around on mountain bikes, rollerblades and skate boards. I wonder where they’re going, or if they know why. An old song by Alabama comes to mind:

I’m in a hurry to get things done

Oh I rush and rush until life’s no fun

All I really gotta do is live and die

But I’m in a hurry and don’t know why.

The same can be said for those who follow Christ. So many seem to be in a hurry to get somewhere and do something, running off to this meeting or that, signing up for one course or another, frantically working out their own salvation, sanctification and service for God as though everything depends on them. I wish they knew how to saunter.

Sauntering is an art. It grows out of our conviction that “all things are from God” (2 Corinthians 5:18). It’s rest and peace to know that every aspect of our pilgrimage is in His hands. He has freed us from past sin and guilt and is freeing us now from its power. Our destiny is not riding on anything we do, or have done, or have failed to do. It rests on the work of One who is faithful to the end.

Trappist monk Thomas Merton suggests that we, “Go for walks, live in peace, let change come quietly and invisibly on the inside.” I find his words reassuring. We can trust God to bring completion to the process he has begun. Whatever change takes place in us will come quietly, slowly, occurring in some secret, hidden part of us and often imperceptible except in retrospect. It may be years later that we see what God has been doing all along. His work, though excruciatingly slow at times, is inexorably steady and impossible to stop.

In the meantime, while we saunter toward heaven and home, we can pay attention to those around us. We can take every occasion to listen, to love and to pray, knowing that we don’t have to rush about and make things happen; God himself is preparing good things for us to do (Ephesians 2:10).

Thoreau often wrote with luminous insight. Thus he concludes his essay on sauntering: “So we saunter toward the Holy Land; till one day the sun shall shine more brightly than ever he has done, shall shine into our minds and hearts, and light up our whole lives with a great awakening light, so warm and serene and golden as on a bank-side in autumn.”

Thoreau was wiser than he knew: Someday soon “the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings” (Malachi 4:2). Then the Son “shall shine more brightly than ever He has done, shall shine into our minds and hearts, and light up our whole lives with a great awakening light, so warm and serene and golden as on a bank-side in autumn...”

And then we shall settle into a perfect pace.

David and Carolyn Roper codirect the work of Idaho Mountain Ministries, a ministry of clergy care. David is the author of 14 books. The most recent: Teach Us To Number Our Days. His musings are archived on davidroper.blogspot.com/

The Idaho Statesman’s weekly faith column features a rotation of writers from many different faiths and perspectives.

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