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Solviture ambulando

By September 11, 2013 4 Comments
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For many years, I walked my dog pretty much every day with one of my closest friends and her dog.  In every season.  No matter the weather.  Every day we walked through the neighborhood and the little park near my friend’s house.

Our motto could have been Augustine’s solviture ambulando (“it is solved by walking”) because—no matter the “it”—so it often was for us, even if “solved” more accurately meant “discussed” or “vented about.”  Still, there is something about the companionableness of walking with another person that allows, perhaps mysteriously, a kind of conversational largesse.  Maybe it’s the need to find a physical pace that accommodates you both which signals a commitment to the other’s welfare. Maybe it’s the lack of other distractions (it’s hard for me, anyway, to walk and read my iPhone, for example).  It’s probably those reasons and more.  But there is a special attentiveness that the best kind of walk seems to make possible. 

Lots of folks have written about the spiritual formation of the everyday, or what Kathleen Norris has called “the quotidian mysteries.”  Though I will not presume to speak for my friend, I will say that for me our daily walk, practiced faithfully through many years, was a holy thing.   Holy because it was a part of every day carved out and set apart.  Holy because it was a time of communion with friend and dogs and creation.  Holy because it was a time of being Christ to each other—a means of encouragement and a way of carrying each other’s burdens.  How could that not fail to form someone deeply? 

It doesn’t surprise me, then, that God seems to have walked with his friends, too.  Of course, some of Jesus’s best teaching comes while he is ambling about with the disciples.  But God’s predilection for walking starts right in Genesis.  There we see God strolling through the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3). 

I know I’m supposed to interpret all those verses about the people who “walked with God” as a metaphor, but sometimes I like to imagine that someone like Enoch really did.  And when he disappears, it is because his nightly walk with God simply never ended.  What a lovely idea. 

Both of the dogs that took those walks have now been dead for more than a couple of years.  And my friend has moved away.

But often now when we talk on the phone, my friend is out walking her new dog, and I can sometimes hear the gravel crunching beneath her feet as she traverses the lake path near her current home.  She is always apologetic when her commands to the dog punctuate our conversation (as they frequently do). 

I never mind.  Any way we can take a walk is a holy thing indeed.  

Jennifer L. Holberg

I’ve taught English at Calvin College since 1998–where I get to read books and talk about them for a living. What could be better? Along with my wonderful colleague, Jane Zwart, I am the co-director of the Calvin Center for Faith and Writing, which is the home of the Festival of Faith and Writing as well as a number of other exciting endeavors. Given my interest in teaching, I’m the founding co-editor of the Duke University Press journal Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition and Culture (and yes, I realize that that is a very long subtitle). I also do various administrative things across campus. As an Army brat, I’ve never lived anywhere as long as I’ve now lived in Grand Rapids. I count myself rich in friends and family. I enjoy kayaking and hiking. I collect cookbooks (and also like to cook), listen to all kinds of music, and watch all manner of movies and tv shows. I love George Eliot, Jane Austen, Marilynne Robinson, Dante, E.M. Delafield, Tennyson, Hopkins, and Charlotte Bronte (among others). And I have a bumper sticker on my car that says: “I’d rather be reading Flannery O’Connor.” Which is true.


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