Online Conversation | Walking With God: Walking as a Spiritual Discipline with Mark Buchanan

What does it mean to walk with God? The spiritual life is so often described as a walk, journey, or pilgrimage that it can be easy to dismiss the practice of walking as a mere metaphor. But in God Walk, author Mark Buchanan explores the way that the act of walking has profound implications for followers of the Way, and reflects on the ways in which walking can be both a spiritual practice and means of deepening our connection to the earth beneath us, our fellow travelers, and the God we worship.

We held an Online Conversation with Mark on Friday, June 9 to explore what happens when we literally walk out our Christian faith.

Online Conversation | Mark Buchanan | June 9, 2023

Cherie Harder: Good afternoon and welcome to all of you joining us for today’s Online Conversation with Mark Buchanan on “Walking with God.” As we start out, I’d like to thank our sponsors for today’s Online Conversation, Kyle B. Smith and Diane E. Smith. We so appreciate your generous support, which has made this program possible.

And we’re delighted to welcome more than 1,800 registrants for today’s conversation and want to especially welcome our nearly 200 first-time guests and our more than 250 international guests joining us from all over the world, from at least 39 different countries, ranging from Albania to Tanzania, from the UK to the Ukraine. And to our viewers in the Ukraine, we want to wish a special welcome to today’s Online Conversation and let you know that we’re praying for you.

If you’re new to the work of the Trinity Forum, we seek to provide a space to engage the big questions of life in the context of faith and to offer programs like this Online Conversation to do so and to come to better know the Author of the answers.

Today, we’ll consider one of the big questions of life: What does it mean to walk with God? With what might seem an unusual twist, what does the act of walking mean to the practice of walking with God? For most of us, walking is something we often do and rarely think about. And the spiritual life is so often described as a walk or a journey that it can be easy to dismiss the comparison as a mere metaphor or even a cliché. But there’s a long history to the link between where our feet take us and where our mind goes, between traversing the landscape and exploring ideas or even our own hearts. Of course, many philosophers were known for their treks. Aristotle usually taught or lectured while walking. Kierkegaard claimed to have composed all of his works while on walks. Rousseau once claimed that when he stopped walking, he stopped thinking. And of course it’s become trendy now in a lot of corporations to actually have walking meetings to help spur creative thinking. At the same time, walking has also been long known to be one of the best things one can do to be fit, flexible, and healthy, to live long and age well. But walking can not only loosen our thinking and lengthen our life, it can also reveal and shape our inward orientation as reflected in the biblical injunction to walk in the light or walk by faith or the simple invitation of Jesus to “come follow me.”

So what are the possibilities and implications of the simple act of walking for spiritual formation? Our guest today has argued that these biblical invitations are literal as well as metaphysical, that the act of walking has profound implications for followers of the way, and that walking helps connect us to the earth, our fellow travelers, and the God we worship in unique ways. It’s a provocative claim as well as a most intriguing invitation. And so I’m so delighted to introduce our sherpa for the journey, our guest today, Dr. Mark Buchanan. Mark is a pastor, author, nonprofit leader, and the associate professor of pastoral theology at Ambrose Seminary in Calgary, Alberta. He and his wife, Cheryl, also lead the nonprofit New Story Community, a ministry that promotes the flourishing of indigenous women. And he’s also the author of 11 books, many of them on spiritual formation, including his recent work God Walk: Moving at the Speed of Your Soul, which we’ve invited him here today to discuss.

Mark, welcome.

Mark Buchanan: Cherie, I’m so glad to be with you and your listeners and watchers.

Cherie Harder: I’m excited for our conversation today.

Mark Buchanan: Me too.

Cherie Harder: As we start out, I’d love to just get the story behind the story. What led you to write this book?

Mark Buchanan: Yeah, I mean, there’s three levels and one is interesting to me, but probably not to anybody listening. I had a contract with HarperCollins, and I owed them a book, so I had to find something that I cared deeply enough about to generate 250, 300 pages on. Second reason that maybe is more valuable to listeners is I don’t write out of my expertise. I write out of my curiosity and out of my need. So I was deeply curious about what was happening. I’ve always been a walker and loved it, but not thought much about it, and I got curious about that. But I also— most of my books are self-therapy. I’m trying to correct something or restrain something in me, and I’m a person always in a hurry. And so a lot of my books have been about slowing down, quieting down, being more attentive.

The third reason is I had a growing irritation, if that’s the right word, that the most incarnational faith/religion on the earth, Christianity, had no corresponding physical discipline. So we didn’t have a yoga or a tai chi or karate. And so there’s a sort of— We’re plagued by a kind of Gnosticism or dualism in Christianity throughout its history. And I just was bothered that we didn’t have anything where we say we embody our beliefs and our faith in these specific ways as physiology. And then I discovered, you know, really from the beginning, walking with God in the cool of the day—Adam and Eve—and all of the language around walking and then all of the reality that the people who the Bible’s about or written by were doing most of their thinking through walking—that I think it’s always been there that walking has been the primary practice of the Christian faith. And so I just set out really to partly just discover that or see if that was so. And then what happens when we walk. So those were the three motivations. 

Cherie Harder: So in your work, you’ve mentioned that one aspect of walking as a spiritual discipline is not just keeping company with God, but keeping pace with God, at a pace that you call “God speed.” And you’ve also mentioned—or maybe you were quoting something—that around three miles an hour is the speed of thought. And I think you even speculate perhaps the speed of our souls. So what is “God speed”? What’s the connection with three miles an hour? And how is that the speed of our souls?

Mark Buchanan: Yeah, so good. Well, “Godspeed” actually is about a thousand-year-old English blessing, coming out of the Middle Ages. And it was something you wished upon somebody’s journey that they would go at “God speed.” And it carried not just a sense of the pace at which you walk, but the one with whom you walked and the watching over of the one that walked with you. But the idea of the three-mile-an-hour God I got from the Japanese theologian Kosaku Koyama, who back in the 70s was really trying to think through what ministry or mission would look like in Vietnam, post- the Vietnam War and really was seeing the kind of a managerial, maybe corporatized, ways of thinking about faith and missions coming out of the American mission scene. And really was saying that actually we got to slow down. And he wrote a lovely book called The Three-Mile-an-Hour God. And then Rebecca Solnit’s lovely book, Wanderlust, she talks a bit about that.

The idea is that I think at three miles an hour—I mean, obviously that’s a metaphor for the pace at which God moves—but there’s a sense that God is in no particular hurry. There’s very rare instances where we can document or see in Scripture that God is in some kind of fired-up hurry to get things done. So even when there is sort of an urgency to God’s action, it’s usually got a long lead-up to that moment where things were happening and God was preparing, and [there’s] the sense that [this] is sort of built into the woof and warp of his creation, including us, and that maybe some of the deep work of God really happens at about three miles an hour, at this God-speed, that in the depths of us, we will miss certain things if we don’t have a practice of going slowly.

Cherie Harder: Yeah. So I’d be curious what Godspeed means for you, in that—just thinking about that concept—moving at three miles an hour is, well, countercultural sort of on both ends, in that we in general are both much more sedentary and much more hurried than moving at three miles an hour. And we were talking about this a little bit earlier, you know, your bio: you’re a nonprofit leader, a pastor, a professor, a father, a husband. You produced 11 books. You’re not an ambler. You’ve had to, like, move quickly. So what does a Godspeed mean for you, juggling so many different responsibilities?

Mark Buchanan: Well, coming back to my earlier remark that a lot of my books, and this one in particular, is self-therapy. It’s helping some of the behaviors and inclinations in myself to go too fast, to hurry, hurry. I eat fast. I drive fast. I think I think fast. And yet that hasn’t always been a benefit to any of the things you just named. The writing. The nonprofit that my wife and I have is with indigenous women cycling out of addiction. And this work is slow and any attempt to rush things, to be impatient, is actually it’s not neutral. It causes harm. And so what three miles an hour has meant for me is a deliberate slowness. Because of my haste and my always—when I get in the car, I’m in a hurry, I want to get from this point to that point very quickly—I have started taking the slow route to work. That just slows me down and the speed limit is considerably less than if I go on the highway, etc. I get to see more interesting things. It would be a rare day that I didn’t go for a fairly significant walk. And I’m not in competition with myself or anybody else. I don’t go on those apps where, you know, we try to outdo each other. I’m not critiquing that. It just doesn’t serve me well because my natural inclinations are to compete, to be in a hurry, to be better than. And I need to do this for the sole reason that it’s good for my soul, it’s good for my heart. It’s good for my relationship with God and myself and the creation and others. So really it is taking myself, carrying myself—that’s one of the beauties of walking—but carrying myself slowly. And Godspeed is— I have to really build in a significant walk into my day for all the reasons I’ve written about and we will talk more about. But it really is part of this practice of [breathes deeply]: space, noticing, quietness of spirit, etc.

Cherie Harder: You know, one of the aspects of walking that comes up repeatedly, in almost every different chapter, is the attentiveness walking can produce. And, in regards to place, there’s both an attentiveness and a connectedness in that, when we walk, we literally see all the transitions. There’s connections between localities. But you also said this, which I thought was beautiful, that “one of the mysteries of walking is that it keeps driving a place deeper into us and yet keeps opening up its secrets if we are attentive.” So what is it that you think it is about walking that more deeply connects us to a place, a particular place, even as our scenery is changing as we move?

Mark Buchanan: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, the ground under you—. Actually I explore this partly in the book that walking earth, rather than, say, a paved or asphalt surface—and sometimes we can’t help that just given where we live—but walking the actual earth does something in terms of our calibration of our sense of balance, does something in terms of muscle and bone formation. It doesn’t happen when we walk just sort of hard, flat surfaces. But feeling the earth under our feet: there’s something very deeply sacred about that. My wife and I have some property that we’re developing, five acres, mostly wood with trails all through it. And we go there fairly often. And every time we walk significant portions of it, I’m constantly kind of feeling this rootedness and yet this endless discovery. Every time I walk that land, I discover something new about it. And my intent, once I actually develop something there and move there, is I’m going to try to find out everything about every animal, every insect, every plant, the kind of rocks, where they come from, the composition of them. I’m going to be a student of that land and the depths— I mean, I know if I even get, you know, 20 more years and I get to be on that land a lot, that I will only literally have scratched the surface of it. This is, to me, a thing of such— I mean, what God has hidden in plain sight in his creation under our feet, that we actually trample this thing. And yet it’s there for our benefit, our wonder, our formation. This is just glorious to me. And the older I get, the more glorious it becomes, the more sensitive I am to the insects that—other than mosquitoes, which of course are messengers of Satan—but next to that, I mean just fallen in love with the whole world of these tiny little things that inhabit the ground and the earth and the trees.

Cherie Harder: As you’re talking, I think about the fact that there is a real link between attentiveness and love. And you’ve also talked in your book that sort of a similar thing happens between feeling connected to the earth and feeling connected to others. At one point, you said that many of your friendships that have gone the deepest are those people that you have walked with. And I think you also said that your prayer life, in your words, “roars to life” as you walk. And I would love to hear you say a little bit more about what you see as the connection between walking and love.

Mark Buchanan: Oh, thank you. Yeah. I think it was Simone Weil that said that “love is paying attention.” And so all of us probably have had the experience of somebody that we think loves us, and yet we have to keep telling them the same stories about ourselves because they haven’t listened. And then at some point, we sort of wonder if there’s a touch of narcissism or something in that person. I just feel so deeply loved when somebody’s listening deeply to my story and my heart. And I think that only happens at a certain pace. Hurry is the enemy of attentiveness. And so love as attentiveness is listening and caring and noticing, cherishing, savoring, being awestruck, these things that we feel in a relationship. I am deeply loved by this person because they notice me. I think that that’s how God’s built it. And we can’t get that if we’re moving too fast, if we’re in a hurry. Hurry does create often a form of attentiveness, but it’s very tunnel-visioned. So if I’m driving a car at a high speed, I have to be really attentive. But I can’t look at the scenery.

So I think it— maybe even let me back up a moment, because this has been an area I’ve spent a lot of books exploring. Again, it’s partly curiosity, partly self-therapy. This slowness is a necessary component to letting things like virtue, like kindness, like love grow in us. There are certain qualities—and they’re the God-like qualities we’re called to imitate, they’re the fruit of the Spirit things—and I don’t think any of them can happen if we’re in a rush. I think that’s one of the reasons a lot of the programmatic ways of trying to make disciples in our churches is largely kind of failing in terms of the outputs and the outcomes and stuff is we’re trying to find a fast, efficient way to do what God never meant to have happen in a fast, efficient way—in a slow, effective way, yes. But not a fast and efficient.

So I don’t think I’ve been saying it very well, Cherie, but I’m deeply intrigued by the pace of how certain things grow in us. On that score, I’d also say there are certain things that we don’t want to cultivate that kind of erupt in us—hatred, bigotry, impatience, etc—that they are fast, they just move fast. They can happen fast. In fact, they sort of almost are a function of speed. I’m racing through traffic and I was trying to get to the airport the other day and took a wrong turn. And, you know, I’m looking at the clock and I know when my flight goes, and my irritation at the drivers around me and stuff, like, it just fast produces certain characteristics. And slow does as well.

Cherie Harder: As you talk, I think about the fact that throughout history pilgrimage was considered a way of growing closer to God, also in some ways considered healing to a certain extent. And there’s a certain irony around the fact that something that is so uncomfortable and long and slow and painful and there’s hunger and soreness and thirst—would heal. And I’d love to hear your thoughts on that. Why would that be? That something slow and painful, like a long walk, is healing physically as well as [spiritually].

Mark Buchanan: Yeah, so good. Well, I don’t think anybody gets well at a soul level without fresh lessons in humility. And I actually would—I don’t even know if I touched on this in the book—if I ever get to rewrite portions, I probably will—I think walking is practicing humility because we can’t get there fast. We have to carry our self and our self becomes weary, our self becomes vulnerable, our self becomes sore, and our self becomes hungry, and our self is exposed to the elements that we’re not if we get in a car or a plane, etc. So there’s an inbuilt humility in walking. And at the heart of pilgrimage— and this is different from what pilgrimage became. Rebecca Solnit documents a shift from the pilgrimage to what now?: the walkathon, the march, etc. Those things have an external goal. We’re going to raise money or we’re going to march on someplace. We’re going to march on your town, Washington, or whatever.

Cherie Harder: So you need to change rather than me.

Mark Buchanan: Yeah, you need to change. And pilgrimage is always what I need to change. The original pilgrimages very much had a penitent component. That was probably the key motive. I have gone wrong in some way. Something is deeply awry in me. I’ve sinned. I’ve hurt somebody. Many people—. The pilgrimage has sort of come back into fashion in many ways. And I think that penitent aspect is less a part, but the formative aspect where, if I go on this, there’s going to be some revelation about me. I will probably actually, it will probably be a penitent act. I will probably come to this place where I will face some things in me that I’ve avoided, I’ve denied, and they’ve become so glaringly obvious. And a lot of that has to do with that our bodies get tired, our bodies get sore. This sense of the inbuilt humility of walking that nothing else quite produces in the way just going for a very long walk does.

Cherie Harder: Your work talks not only about the way that walking teaches us about ourselves, our limitations and the like, but also about God. And I wanted to ask you a little bit about, I guess, the epistemology of walking. You compared your early walking with God with going to seminary, which you likened a little bit more to learning the map as opposed to walking the trail. And you know, of course both are very important in orienting oneself, but we’d love to hear you talk a little bit more about the kind of knowledge one gets about God, as well as the world, through walking rather than through cartography, through studying.

Mark Buchanan: Right, right. Yeah. And I would totally agree that if theology is like cartography, it’s a map, the skill or the ability to read a map is important for navigational things. The development of maps and ways to read them and ways to locate yourself on them was absolutely crucial to the whole age of discovery and finding lands out there and not getting lost at sea or in the steppes or whatever. But a map itself is not the thing. A map itself orients us, guides us to wherever, but it’s [in] the walking that we a) discover the landscape or the place—or it’s being in the landscape, seascape, whatever it happens [to be], that we’re actually experiencing the thing.

But there’s also, in terms of the relationship with God and why I compare my walking then and my walking now—my walking when I was going through seminary and where I am now—is this hunger to learn really about God is a good hunger, and it’s a hunger worth pursuing, a hunger worth feeding, where we try to get clarity about theology, doctrine, attributes of God. But in the end, that’s not the same thing as knowing God. This is actually—you know, I studied under J.I. Packer and his book Knowing God starts with this metaphor. He envisions two people standing, watching from a balcony. And they’re watching people walk by and they’re speculating about what they might see—and I think they have a map. So they have some sense of what towns they might go through or forest they might pass through. But it’s actually the person walking, who maybe doesn’t have all that information about where the trail goes, that is actually going to experience the reality of the land they walk and the places they walk. And Packer used that as a metaphor that knowing God needs some knowing about. But if we stop there, then it is a kind of almost a damnable thing where we become, you know, Paul says knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. And I think that there’s a puffing up of mere knowledge. I honestly am, you know, in my early academic years, I’m just embarrassed, thinking back to some of the ways I wielded—and that’s the best word for it—knowledge. And I’m hopefully at the age now where I hope I’d never do that again. I hope I never weaponize knowledge.

Cherie Harder: You know, as you’ve been talking, one of the things I’ve been thinking about is the fact that in many ways it’s harder to walk now. You know, we have essentially kind of structured society where lots of suburbs and communities are really built for cars, not pedestrians, you know. Right now here in Washington, we have really lousy air quality going on.

Mark Buchanan: I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m a Canadian. We love to say we’re sorry and I am sorry.

Cherie Harder: [Laughs.] You know, crime. There’s a lot of places where walking alone as a woman is to expose oneself to harassment. And so for a bunch of us who are still embodied creatures made to walk and find ourselves in environments structured to make that difficult, what does one do? Like, why have we done that to ourselves? And what can we do about it?

Mark Buchanan: Well, I don’t know why we’ve done that to ourselves other than I think the lust or the fetish for efficiency has so taken hold of the human project that we’ve dehumanized our public spaces. I actually kind of rate cities on their walkability and not just in terms of, you know—. I love walking, and I think Boston, the core of it, is fun to walk. Parts of New York are fun to walk, not easy to walk etc. But you know, I look at it, I’m in a Canadian, I’m confessing that because of the air quality, but Vancouver is not really a great city to walk. I spend a lot of time, but they haven’t attended to public trails. They have great parks. But to get from where you are to a park, you have to drive or you have to walk a lot of concrete. A city like Calgary, where I spend a lot of my time, has thought through from way, way back, way back when they started urban development, public spaces to walk. So every community has not just great parks, but great walking trails in the city of Calgary—everyone. And you can virtually connect every community with every other community with walking trails. I would love to see a renewal of urban planning in that, but it’s given up a lot of acreage for the sake of just people walking. So I don’t know why we’ve done another thing. I think it’s just sort of this fetish for efficiency.

Mark Buchanan: What to do about it is, everywhere I’ve gone, I’ve tried to walk. And some of the cities I’ve walked in are some of the most difficult cities for all the reasons you just named: the air quality, they haven’t been designed for pedestrians. The danger that is often present both through vehicles or perhaps those you might come across. But I really do think that if we can use our vehicles to get to someplace that is built for walking and hopefully in terms of also some attention to to safety, good lighting, everything kind of visible, to take advantage of that, even if it takes some effort to get to that place. And most cities I’ve been in— one city, I’m forgetting the name now, but it was in the the island of Borneo and I could not find a single place that was designed for walking. And so I had very interesting walks on broken pavement, narrow, broken pavement with cars nearly killing me. But most places in the world at least have somewhere within a, you know, maybe 5 to 10-minute drive, something that you can get out and with some safety actually. And there’s trees around. Our trees, of course, are our lungs. So maybe the air quality will just be marginally better in that place than it is on a city street.

Cherie Harder: We’re going to turn to questions from our viewers in just a second. Before we do, I wanted to ask if people are listening to you and think, like, you know, that sounds amazing, but when I go for a walk, that doesn’t happen. We’d love for you to kind of describe what you do on a walk that enables it to be as rich an experience as you’ve described. And conversely, there may also be people watching who are handicapped or bedridden. What is available to them?

Mark Buchanan: Oh, two fantastic questions. The first one: I don’t want to— if I’m sounding like I’m romanticizing my own experience of walking, please know I have a bum knee that will flare up at times mostly inconvenient. I planned a long walk and now I have to nurse the thing along the way. So some of my walks are painful. I have throughout most of my life suffered from intermittent back pain. And so sometimes I’m sort of working with some significant soreness or pain before I even start the walk. Sometimes the walk improves it, sometimes it worsens it.

And of course, I mean, I do have the advantage of going back and forth between two provinces in Canada, British Columbia and Alberta, where the walking is generally gorgeous. I live really close to the Rocky Mountains, in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, and I live on a little island. And then I have some property in a place called the Okanagan Valley. And none of it is lacking for beauty and beautiful places to walk. But having said all that, I think that there still is for me— getting out for a walk still is sort of an act of will. So it’s not like I just leap out of the bed, and I’m just, you know, I’m raring to go. I have to summon myself to the act. I have to kind of sometimes coax and browbeat myself into the act of walking. And not just because of the things I’ve talked about, some of the aches and pains I might have, but I’m just fundamentally a lazy person.

So I think for those who are listening, I think that just basically like anything, it’s a discipline. I argue in my book it’s a spiritual discipline. And none of that, no discipline is pleasant at the time, to quote Hebrews, but can produce stuff. So I think we just live into this larger reality and taste some of the benefits and also some of the struggles that we have to do to do it well. 

I do— thank you for asking our last question in this part of the conversation about those who can’t walk. Cherie, as you know, I start the book and in part sort of make a shout-out in the acknowledgments to a dear friend of mine, Norm Duet, who lost the ability to walk now about 12, 13 years ago. In one instance, he went from a very active man, very agile, to quadriplegia—or it’s a bit distinct from that. He has some use of his hands. But I learned so much from him. I have never met a man who had a sweeter relationship with Christ than him, that he cultivated largely in the years he couldn’t walk. So I then have a chapter all about those who can’t walk. So I want to be highly attentive and sensitive to that. Norm is living proof for me that walking is not essential to the kind of things I’m commanding in this book in terms of life with others, life with God, attentiveness to yourself, self-awareness. He excels at that. He has more going on in his little finger than I have in my whole body. But he’s had to find means toward it that— I have used walking often as sort of the way I cultivate that. But these things can be cultivated from a place of stillness. And so I think what I’m really doing in the book is inviting myself and then others to a certain way of knowing, a certain way of paying attention, a certain way of being still and knowing God and others and ourself. And this can be done without your legs.

Cherie Harder: That’s great. So we’re going to turn to questions from our viewers. And just as a reminder, if you’re watching us, you can not only ask a question in the Q&A feature, but also like a question. And that gives us a sense of what some of the most popular questions are. So we’ll turn to a question from Preston Eastwood. And Preston asks, “Do you typically walk familiar routes or plan your walks in advance? If not, how do you retain a sense of attentiveness without getting entirely lost in a new or unusual place? Asking for those of us without a great innate sense of direction.”

Mark Buchanan: So good. The answer is yes. I walk familiar routes, and if I can’t sort of get away for a kind of more wilderness walk, I have all these incredible trails around my home and I will walk those different directions, different variations. But I know that route quite well. And I plan. All-Trails is a great app that you can download—the free version because I’m cheap so I do—and it will tell you anywhere you are walks, the difficulty of them, how to get to them, if they’re a loop or if they’re in-and-out, all those sort of things. And I’m always looking for new walks, and those will tell me “wear these kind of shoes” and “expect these kind of things.” And so I will plan those out. Those are often things I’ll walk with a friend because again, I’m in, where I do a lot of my walking, there’s lots of wild things that could kill you. There’s grizzly bears, there’s cougars, etc. So I need to be careful that I’m not all alone way back in the Rocky Mountains, and that’s significant bear country, that I haven’t taken necessary precautions. And one of the key chief ones is you walk with others. I think there might have been another question there, but it dropped out of my head.

Cherie Harder: That was great. So a question from Rachel Sywinski who mentions, “You did not mention walking the labyrinth as a pilgrimage. Do you consider that contemplative tradition which has a place in Christianity differently from walking to and from physical destinations?”

Mark Buchanan: No, I don’t. I don’t even think I mentioned in my book I’ve walked many labyrinths and love it, and have found it, even for slowing me and getting me kind of especially paying attention to the inside of me, I find it better than sort of going on adventure walks or wilderness walks. So I do highly, highly commend it. When I walk a labyrinth, I come very quickly into open war with this hurry sickness I have. I want to walk and have the benefit, the epiphany, the revelatory aha moment of the labyrinth—I want to have that in about ten minutes. And so it is superb for me. But I think there’s partly something in me that I want to also go for the long walk because it still sort of does accord a bit with my type-A personality or whatever. But I do think it’s a fantastic way to slow down and to actually pay attention to what’s going on in you.

Cherie Harder: So our next question comes from Micah Smith, who asks, “How does walking connect us to a God-enchanted world? We know so much now that the world has become disenchanted. Does walking and going slow help us re-enchant or engage in the enchantment of the earth?”

Mark Buchanan: I think I know Micah. I think this might be a friend of mine. If not, hello, Micah, either way. I love this great book from, I think, the 80s, A Re-enchantment of the World, [by Morris Berman]. Phenomenal book. And he’s not talking about, let’s get back to, you know, some sort of animistic understanding of the world where everything had a spirit, but the sense that there’s mystery that we think we have explained away [with], you know, all our technical ways of thinking and being. I do think it really re-enchants the world, walking. And a remark I made earlier, Cherie, when we talked about walking land or walking earth and the infinite—. You can spend several lifetimes if you had them trying to understand even one little piece of earth, all that’s going on, all that’s going on organically, all that has happened in terms of the geology, the formation of the geography, the kind of animals and things that have taken up their home there. This is a lifetime and then some of just trying to understand that. That to me is a re-enchantment of the world. I became amazed. I become amazed. And also this act of humility. I realize when I just get down on my knees and look at what’s going on in the grass, how little I know about anything. And so if I’m not wonderstruck and humbled by that, then something, you know, I’m not really attentive to it.

Cherie Harder: I love that. So we have a few questions from people curious about walking with other people. So I’ll bundle two. Rupert Harris just asked, “Can you comment on walking with others?” And Arjan Overwater asked, “What does it mean to walk together versus alone?”

Mark Buchanan: Yeah, I mean, the aloneness—. Two things I have when I walk alone: I just am more attentive to me and all that’s going on in me, including a little more honest with my own emotions and my own real thoughts. But I’m also more attentive to the around me when I walk alone. When I’m walking with others, I become, by the nature of it, but also by a kind of disciplined commitment, attentive to the other. And I, as you know, Cherie, make a lot in the book about the kind of conversations and ways of encounter that maybe even happen in a kind of face-to-face way over against a side-by-side way. And that I actually think that walking is more likely to kind of produce a depth and intimacy in the relationship that we may not actually get even in a face-to-face encounter. And this is more kind of coming out of what I’ve experienced along the way. So I’m not working with some massive research data or anything. I just know that when I walk with somebody, I start to know them in a way that I didn’t, even if I’ve known them for a long time and we’ve had many conversations over coffee. Something emerges. Something prompts. Something awakens. Some confessions come out in the walking that often don’t in other contexts. Kind of ways of wondering, where we might be dogmatic in a face-to-face, but we’re more curious when we’re walking. I’m actually just coming off a four-day retreat with four pastors I get together with every year. And I’ve known these men for many, many years. But we went for a lengthy walk, usually several, every day. I learned a lot more about these men just through the walking.

Cherie Harder: Yeah, that’s fascinating. Our next question comes from James Zeller, who says, “Can you speak to the hermeneutics of interpreting the word ‘walk’ in various passages in Scripture? When and/or why do you have confidence that the word has both a literal and metaphorical dimension?”

Mark Buchanan: Yeah. So, you know—got me. I didn’t do a ton of work in terms of how these words were functioning in any given context. I was working off a broad sense that the language that many Scripture writers go to—and we’re talking Old Testament, New Testament. Enoch walked with God. John walked in the truth. Walking like Paul. We walk by faith and not by sight, etc. And there’s many, many, many of these—that they were reaching for that language. All language finally has an image behind it, and then image has kind of embodiment behind it. They were reaching for that language because it most accorded with how they grew in faith or sort of lived in the light or truth, etc. That there was a literal walking component. This is more a hunch than it is something that I— you know, you talk about the hermeneutic of it. Well, that’s a— I just didn’t take it to that level. But it’s surprising how consistent that verb for connecting with God or something about, you know, the truth of God is so saturated in Scripture that I think we ought to be curious why this word, why this image behind the word. And these are people who walk. So I think they’re really kind of almost reporting on something that they don’t quite articulate. But that I think Paul, for instance, probably most of his theology was worked out on foot.

Cherie Harder: Yeah. Makes sense. So a question from an anonymous viewer who says, “I’m struck by how one of the common words for Christians in early medieval Christianity is ‘viator,’ meaning ‘traveler,’ which suggests that walking may be connected to the spiritually grounded hospitality that we owe to the strangers among us, the immigrant and the refugee, for example. So I wonder how you, as a walking viator, would have come to think about strangers walking amongst us?”

Mark Buchanan: Well, I have a chapter in here on migration and particularly how that’s sort of been played out, people walking, trying to get across borders, etc. And so really thinking about that in light of the larger faith questions: welcoming the stranger, etc. And the fact that sort of the core claim of a Jewish person is “I came from a wandering [Aramean],” the sense that we identify at the core of what it is to be a woman or man made in the image of God in relationship with God is that we are wanderers. We were walkers. Our father of faith, Abraham, is summoned—he knows not where—to go on a journey, and God will show him the way. So I do think it has profound implications in our sedentary, settled culture, where often a lot of our politics and ideology is coming out of protecting our turf. That I think, in a way, the Scriptures all through are inviting us to think about the sojourner, the wanderer, the one who came to us. “I came to you and I was naked. I came to you and I was hungry.” And really, I think in a deep way, getting in touch with our own limits. This enactment of humility through walking is just going to help us. You know, cars and planes are time-warp machines. We don’t experience space and we do not experience time in any real-life way when we get in a plane or get in a car. Walking, we do. And we start to sort of— as fasting gives us a sense of the hunger of the world, I think walking gives us a sense of what most people in the world have to do to get from one place to the next.

Cherie Harder: That’s a really interesting comparison. Thanks for that. So our next question comes from Ann Hodgkinson, who said, “I’d be interested in hearing more about how walking helps process emotional pain and deepen spiritual encounters with God.”

Mark Buchanan: Well, thank you so much. I probably fell in love with walking because of deep emotional pain. I have no therapy that goes deeper for me than being deeply in—. When I’m disrupted, I’m anxious, I’m fearful, I’ve received hard news, almost always the only way I can begin to kind of manage that and then come to some clarity or centeredness in that is I have to go walking. I don’t get it through talking through it with others. I get a little bit. I certainly don’t get it by sitting there thinking about it. I have to go for a walk. And the walking is how something comes to me and I can’t articulate it.

Likewise, the question from Ann is about the deep relationship with God. I think because I’ve always been in a hurry, but walking slows me, but only sort of slows me—I’m still in motion—that it has become the premier way I do hear and encounter God. I need some kinetic dimension to my relationship with God. I don’t do well sitting in a chair talking to God. That’s not how my prayer life comes alive. My wife can do that. It’s a thing of constant amazement to me, but to me it’s just like either an invitation to fall asleep or to go wandering in my head. Whereas when I walk, God seems very, very present with me. And so I really feel almost all my walks sort of participate in that walk that Adam apparently once enjoyed and then didn’t, when God came and walked with him in the cool of the day. I’ve rarely been on a walk that I haven’t had some deep God encounter.

Cherie Harder: There is something uncanny about the rhythm of walking and the rhythm of thinking. So several questions about your personal approach to walking. So I’ll bundle a couple of them. So David Brod asks, “Do you incorporate podcasts, music, or other activities such as birdwatching into your walks? Benefits or diminishments to that practice?” And Victoria Martineau asked, “Do you address the peripatetic ‘praying the hours’ while walking habit of monastics and do you do that in your own walks?”

Mark Buchanan: No, I don’t do any of that. And it’s not because— it’s about my own wiring that I don’t. And so I—with the podcast and whatnot—I deeply crave knowledge and information. But if I consume it in that way, then what I’m mostly looking for in a walk is what I’ve described hopefully already is this deep attentiveness to self, to creation, to God, to other, and the podcast, for instance, or music just carries me somewhere else. It puts me somewhere else. So it doesn’t work for me. I am not critiquing those for whom it does. 

The parapetesis or the walking with some sense of having a rhythm that’s marking that out, I think I’m just too distracted a human to do that with any kind of effectiveness or benefit for me. I think it’s marvelous. I actually was going to call the little chapters or insights in the chapters that are called “Godspeed,” I think I called them something peripatetic, peripatetesis or something. And my editor hated that because he thought most people wouldn’t know what it is. But I think this sort of deep tradition that we kind of have motion and then stopping, attending, etc, is lovely. But for a hugely distracted human— it’d probably be very helpful to me, but I just have never been able to do that well. So I love Stations of the Cross. If I am in a place where they have Stations of the Cross and I can walk to a station and have pausing and reflecting, and then moving along to the next, that has been very helpful to me.

Cherie Harder: So we’ll take one more question. Joel Christie asks, “I’m curious about Isaiah 40:31 and wonder if your goal of each walk is to ‘renew your strength’ and ‘walk and not grow faint’? Or is it sometimes just to get away? Do you feel hopeful at the end of each walk?”

Mark Buchanan: So the first question, the Isaiah 40:31—I’m deeply intrigued by that text and have written on it in other contexts, that against the sort of poetic traditions of Hebrew language where we expect it’s always sort of in a triad—”so it’s like this, is like this, is like this.” We always expect that it’s going to crescendo on the spectacular thing. And so those who wait on the Lord or trust in the Lord will—and it starts actually—”will soar on wings of eagles, will run and not grow weary, will walk and not faint.” And we anticipate that the soaring and wings of eagles is kind of the, you know, now we’re into the spectacle. And Isaiah goes against the poetic kind of convention and ends with walking and not fainting. And in another context, I think in the book on Sabbath, I talk about but actually that is the climax of life. We have many, many points and seasons where we’re soaring on wings and sometimes we’re running and not growing weary, but life is mostly walking and not fainting. So in a sense, that is a climactic moment.

But to the question, I’ve never carried that text in my head as I walked. To the second question, I rarely if— I must have finished some walks without greater hope, but I can’t recall one now. Even if it’s just a little smidgen of greater hope, greater clarity, greater peace, virtually every walk I’ve ever gone on has given me something of that.

Cherie Harder: Thanks, Mark. And thank you for God Walk. I’m a walker myself and felt like I’d really stumbled onto something exciting when I read your book. So really appreciate it. And in just a moment, I’m going to give you the last word. But before that, a few things to share with all of you watching. First, immediately after we conclude, we’ll be sending around an online feedback form. We would very much welcome your thoughts. I’ve mentioned this almost every time that we read every one. We try to incorporate your suggestions into these Online Conversations to make them ever more valuable to you, and as a small token of appreciation for taking the time to fill out that form, we will send you a code for a free Trinity Forum reading download of your choice. I’ll note that there are several of our readings that pertain in some way to our conversation today. They might be mentioned specifically in Mark’s book or otherwise pertain to the theme, including “The Pilgrim’s Progress” by John Bunyan, “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek” by Annie Dillard, “God’s Grandeur” by Gerard Manley Hopkins, “Long Walk to Freedom” by Nelson Mandela, or “Brave New World.” So we really encourage you to avail yourself of that opportunity.

In addition, tomorrow we’ll be sending around an email, probably right around noon, with a link to the video for today’s conversation. So we want you to be on the lookout for that. We’ll also have a list of recommended readings and resources if you want to go deeper into the topic, and we’d encourage you to share this video with others, start a conversation, perhaps over a walk.

In addition, we’d like to invite each of you to join the Trinity Forum Society, which is the community of people who want to advance Trinity Forum’s mission of cultivating, curating, and disseminating the best of Christian thought for the common good and providing a space to have conversations like this on the big questions and that which matters most. There’s a number of benefits in being a Trinity Forum society member, including a subscription to our quarterly Readings, a subscription to our daily “What We’re Reading” list of reading recommendations, and as a special incentive for those of you watching with your new membership or gift of $100 or more, we will send you a signed copy of Mark Buchanan’s book, God Walk. So we would love to welcome you to the Trinity Forum Society.

In addition, if you are ever interested in sponsoring an Online Conversation, we would love to hear from you. There is a question in the feedback form. We hope that this will be of interest to you to help make programs like this possible. And please just indicate that we will follow up with you separately.

In addition, later this month, on June 23rd, we’re going to be hosting scholar Daniel Carroll Rodas on “Hospitality to Strangers,” on June 23rd. And on June 30th, we’ll be hosting sociologist Felicia Wu Song on “Human Flourishing in the Digital Age.” So hope that we will see you back at the same time, Fridays 1:30pm, on those two dates.

And finally, as promised, Mark, want to give you the last word.

Mark Buchanan: Cherie, thank you. I’m going to read a brief poem by the poet Kei Miller. And it doesn’t directly relate to walking, but it’s thinking about the word in Genesis “Let.” “Let there be,” “let us,” and the possibilities that happen in just walking with God. So it’s called “The Book of Genesis.” Kei Miller. 

Suppose there was a book full of only the word,
let – from whose clipped sound all things begin: fir
and firmament, feather, the first whale – and suppose

we could scroll through its pages every day
to find and pronounce a Let meant only for us –
we would stumble through the streets with open books,

eyes crossed from too much reading; we would speak
in auto-rhyme, the world would echo itself – and still
we’d continue in rounds, saying let and let and let

until even silent dreams had been allowed.

So try to go for a walk today and let.

Cherie Harder: Mark, thank you so much. Thank you to all of you for joining us today. Have a great weekend.