When the streets get icy in winter, I walk more carefully. Especially after the snowplow has gone by, and polished the fresh snow into a surface as slick as anything created by a Zamboni. I can’t take the risk of stepping forward and having my heel skid.
The more slippery the surface, the shorter the steps I take.
And when I’m going down a slope, I employ something like a curler’s slither. I don’t lift my feet at all.
The length of my stride is directly related to my confidence in myself.
You may have noticed that the infirm and elderly tend to shuffle when they walk. (Anybody remember Tim Conway on the Carol Burnett show?) It’s because they’re afraid of falling. They no longer have confidence in their ability to take a step – or, more accurately, their ability to survive a fall. So they keep their feet in contact with the ground.
The skill of walking
“Walking,” Paul Salopek explained in National Geographic, “is falling forward.”
Five years ago, Salopek set out to walk 21,000 miles, across four continents. He started in Ethiopia, where the first homo sapiens probably originated. He’ll end at the farthest point that those humans eventually migrated to, the southern tip of South America in Tiera del Fuego.
He’s made it about half way, through the Middle East and Afghanistan to the Himalayan foothills of north-eastern India.
In his opening paragraph, Salopek wrote, “Every step we take is an arrested plunge, a collapse averted, a disaster braked. In this way, to walk becomes an act of faith. We perform it daily: a two-beat miracle – an iambic teetering, a holding on and letting go…”
Think about it. When you walk, you don’t slide that second foot out in front of you, and then advance onto it. You lean forward; you start to fall; you swing that second foot forward to stop yourself from landing on your face.
And then you do the same with the next step.
When someone trips you, they stop that second foot from moving forward in time. So you fall.
We don’t think about how we walk. We just do it.
Loss of faith
The length of your stride reveals your willingness to take the risk of falling. The longer your stride, the farther you let yourself fall forward before that second foot arrests your plunge towards the ground.
These days, my stride is shorter now than it used to be. Once upon a time, I took pride in the length of my stride – almost a yard with each step.
Paul Salopek might argue that I have less faith than I once did. It’s true – I do have less faith in myself. Aging has that effect. I’m less confident of my ability to recover if I fall and hurt myself.
“Faith” is not usually a term applied to walking. Faith is more often about religious things. About believing that some claims are true, even if you can’t prove them. The biblical Letter to the Hebrews defines faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen...”
I prefer to think of faith as something we demonstrate every day. Like walking.
Stepping forward boldly
With New Year’s Day just ahead of us, I find Salopek’s notion of falling forward strangely attractive. Because that’s what we’re doing, isn’t it? We’re falling forward into a new year, an unexplored year, a year that may be filled with great joys and great sorrows, great successes and great failures. Maybe all of the above.
Like walking, we need to let go of last year. Not to forget it, but to make sure it doesn’t become an anchor stopping us from moving on. We can learn from our mistakes. We can recognize where we got off the track. And then we need to dump outdated prejudices and preconceptions that weigh us down, hold us back.
Like Salopek setting out on his epic journey, we need to travel light.
We need to travel with both our eyes and our minds open wide.
Faith is more than the affirmation of some supposedly historic truths. Faith is also the willingness to step forward, to risk falling. Faith means putting one foot in front of the other, again and again. Even if we don’t always know exactly where those steps are taking us.
So let’s not shuffle into 2020, terrified of falling. Let’s step forward boldly.
Copyright © 2019 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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The key concept in last week’s column about belonging was Michael Dowd’s concept of the evolution of the human brain.
Isabel Gibson wrote, “I don't know about the science behind Dowd's categories of mind, but I like the construct. I like the notion of needing all four minds to be fully human.
“I've recently seen that Small Furry Mammal brain in action in a TV ad, which shows a young girl/woman begging on the street, people walking by. But as the camera pans away and comes back, she is replaced by a crying baby on the sidewalk and the message comes up: ‘How young do they have to be for us to give a damn?’
“I guess that's my Higher Porpoise, noting the feelings evoked but also understanding what's being done from a communications point of view.”
Tom Watson: “Thanks so much for your wonderful explanation of why we gather together at Christmas, even if we never do so during the entire rest of the year. I, for one, am glad that the Small Furry Mammal brain in us takes centre stage for this one beautiful season
Eileen Wttewaal also expressed “thanks for your descriptions of how parts of the brain affect how we act.” Then she went on, with a reference to “James Russell’s comment that some nativity scenes in the US have a cage around the baby Jesus, as a hopeful understanding of the symbolism of the nativity. Maybe we should put a cage around the whole nativity scene with large logos of corporations circling with their ‘gifts’ of greed.”
Bob Vincent: “Great article today. Made me think... made me laugh. Now I understand myself much more clearly. It would appear that my ‘Monkey Mind’ is somewhat dominant, although up until now I called it ‘squirrelling’…”
Stella Majic called the column, “an interesting mix of the scientific and humanistic (is that the right term?)”
Florence Driedger works with prisoners released from prison. “We relate to many persons returning to community from prison. My sense one of the key factors leading them to a life of crime was not feeling they were valued or belonged anywhere. Therefore who can they trust? And when coming back it is a HUGE task to learn to trust themselves and others and believe others indeed do and can value them. But of course that means we have to follow the challenge Jesus gave and gives us to LOVE even the other (enemy, sinner, other).
“Among many other books and articles [on relationships], the most recent one which I think is really good is TEAM HUMAN by Douglas Rushkoff. If you have not come across I recommend it to you.”
Cliff Boldt confirmed my general thesis: “I think we all want to belong some place, with someone, to be a part of something. Good judgement comes from experience, and experience sometimes comes from bad judgement. So we don’t always choose well? But the value of memories cannot be diminished.”
Laurna Tallman applied Occam’s Razor (that the simplest explanation is usually best) to Michael Dowd’s description of the evolution of the human brain. She wrote, “I propose a simpler explanation, which is the concept of right-ear driven left-brain dominance in cerebral integration.
“All of the behaviours you mention involve the speed at which the two halves of the brain interact -- if they integrate at all. The evolutionary development of cognition depends on the strength and development of the smallest muscle in the body. The stapedius muscle and the existing asymmetrical neurology of hearing is what allows us to learn how to control our behaviour. Learning strengthens left-brain dominance: it changes the brain's neurology to favour reason, logic, and self-control.”
Laurna followed that with a paragraph about prophetic abilities, and went on, “Christmas is about Easter. Christmas is about the possibility for human achievement inherent in every birth. Christmas is about people from disparate social classes being able to tap into their prophetic abilities by hearing angels and following a star. Christmas is about Mary accepting a difficult way because she, too, used her prophetic abilities and about Joseph changing his mind about rejecting her quietly because he, too, could dream prophetic dreams. It's still happening, and that's what Christmas is about, too.”
Bob Rollwagen: The year Jesus was born, most of the people were focused on the Romans who were strengthening their control of the region by establishing a new tax regime. Jesus was not the headliner in the local news.
“Through history, many individuals have been born in periods of great stress. In 1809, while Napoleon was trying to conquer all of Europe, William Gladstone, Alfred Tennyson, Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln were born with no fanfare. I am not trying to compare their impact to that of Jesus, but rather to the fact that they are all children of their time that had extraordinary abilities beyond my understanding.
“Jesus is one of those focused on the human condition who has had the most lasting impact. The circumstance of his birth may have been one of the biggest factors in his development so it is good to talk about it with perspective.”
Steve Roney disagreed with the two sermon themes I suggested would be common on the Sunday before Christmas. “I have never heard either of these as the theme of a Christian sermon,” he wrote.
“Option one is a political talk, not a Christian sermon. And it is of no practical value, since everyone is against involuntary poverty and in favour of justice; every conceivable political grouping claims they will achieve both if you vote for them. So such a talk is meaningless. And asks nothing of the listener.
“Option two, seeking to demonstrate the divinity of Jesus from the Bible, is a waste of breath to any Christian congregation: if they did not already believe Jesus was divine, they are not Christian. But it would not work any better with a non-Christian audience: if you are not already Christian, there is no reason to accept the Bible as authority.”
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Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” is an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca. He set up my webpage, and he doesn’t charge enough.
I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also runs beautiful pictures. Her Thanksgiving presentation on the old hymn, For the Beauty of the Earth, Is, well, beautiful -- https://www.traditionaliconoclast.com/2019/10/13/for/
Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom (NB that’s “watso” not “watson”)
ALVA WOOD ARCHIVE
The late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures now have an archive (don’t ask how this happened) on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. Feel free to browse all 550 columns.