Yearly Meeting Miscellany: 1. Walking pace

I have quite a lot of thoughts arising from or during Yearly Meeting Gathering in Canterbury, and am minded to try to set some of them out. Last time I tried this after a Quaker gathering, I think I only got to part 1. So don’t hold your breath. The theme of this gathering was sustainability; but the yearly meeting part of the event did quite a lot of other interesting and/or important business, and some of my thoughts are about that. The tentative plan is to type for half an hour each evening (when not prevented by guests, kitchen refurbishments, etc etc) and see how far I get.

First thought is to say some more about something I said in open worship at YM. It comes originally from one of my theological mentors, the late Dan Hardy, in a book that was published posthumously containing his reflections on a pilgrimage to Israel/Palestine (which he undertook while terminally ill). Dan’s experience of walking through the land led him to reflect on Jesus walking the land – and what it means that Jesus’ ministry is a walking ministry.

Walking the land means always being somewhere in particular; meeting one person at a time, inhabiting one place at a time, taking one step at a time. Walking the land is slow.

I heard a lot at Yearly Meeting about planetary-scale urgency – we must act now for the future of the world / the kingdom of heaven is at hand; and I also heard a lot, both frustrated and hopeful, about taking small steps. And I became more and more astonished that the announcement of the kingdom of heaven, the ministry that is the breaking in of the kingdom of heaven, the genuine good news, happens at walking pace. It’s positively pedestrian. One healing. One conversation. Another healing. The disciples can’t hurry it up. Sometimes, when they try to, Jesus seems deliberately to slow it down.He knows where he’s going, but he won’t go there any faster. He refuses to hitch a lift with the angels.

The kingdom of heaven is someone walking around chatting to his friends. How crazy is that?

It occurred to me that hardly anybody in the biblical world could travel over land much faster than somebody or something could walk. (As an aside, perhaps that is another interpretation of the OT/HB suspicion of kings who want to ‘ride on horses’. I always assumed that the horse was the equivalent of the aircraft carrier – expensive military hardware; but perhaps it’s the equivalent of the aeroplane – expensive high-speed transportation that stops you relating to what’s happening on the ground). So the sayings and ideas that we try to transform into global principles were, in their context, one-step-at-a-time ways of encountering the world at walking pace. They accompanied you on the way; they didn’t get you there.

The time is now – but the place is also here, the place we walk, not ‘out there’ (somewhere where we can see and make decisions about the whole world) or ‘up there’ (at another level of power or another level of theoretical abstraction).

And it can be very hard to stop trying to fly and start walking. But it hit me rather forcibly this week that the walk is what I’ve signed up for; and also that going on the walk is the only way to see the miracles happening. I’m not sure if this is what George Fox was on to when he wrote that to ‘walk cheerfully over the world answering that of God in everyone’ was the result of a life of discipleship (that ‘preaches’ by being the kind of life it is) but it’s a possible reading.


4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by alia on 8 August, 2011 at 11:05 pm

    ohhh… i love this. thank you for sharing it– it helps balance my panic that i am not up there/out there… but i am here. (in fact, “i am here” is what i wrote on my piece of paper at the bonfire on New Year’s Eve in Birmingham, eleven and a half years ago…) thanks for the reminder.


  2. Thanks for posting this. We are all too likely to isolate ourselves from others literally by zipping by them in our cars, or metaphorically by rushing past, or being on a cell phone rather than paying attention to those who are around us. Nicely said.


  3. I like the idea of the kingdom coming as a result of one person walking around chatting to friends. Lots to think about thanks.


  4. Posted by John Nurse on 27 September, 2011 at 11:09 am has an item on developments in footwear in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. The introduction of overshoes, ‘galoshes’, made walking in bad weather much easier. Also, because infantry needed better footwear, changes in boot construction and leather treatment produced boots that were much better suited to long distance walking.
    I take it that these developments made it possible for Fox and others of the Valiant Sixty to cover the vast distances that they did. Though, curiously, would their missionary activities have been confined to a much smaller area if the demands of warfare hadn’t produced better boots?


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