Despite the repeated warnings and encouragements of our Board of Pensions, apparently many Presbyterian ministers still do not see the need to take care of their own health.
I believe there is a way to start taking seriously our health needs, and it involves not only our bodies, but also our minds and spirits. It is simple but effective. One word: walking.
Walking can help us in at least four ways.
First, walking can lead us to physical fitness. Michael Roizen, heart specialist at the Cleveland Clinic, contends, “Even thirty minutes of walking a day works miracles” [Michael F. Roizen and Mehmet C. Oz, Your Owner’s Manual: An Insider’s Guide to the Body That Will Make You Healthier and Younger (New York: Harper Collins, 2005), 305.]
Whether we walk in the morning or evening, whether we hike in the mountains, saunter by a lake, or simply stroll with others in the mall before it opens for business, the fact that we are walking will strengthen our bodies.
Second, walking can lead to mental renewal. Novelist James Michener once confessed: “When my writing goes poorly it is always because I have not walked enough … ” [James Michener, Sports in America (Greenwich: Random House, 1976), 551]. Many of our most creative poets, novelists, and philosophers have been consistent walkers who claim that their walking enhanced their creativity.
Often when we are weighed down with a problem we cannot seem to solve, if we take a walk, especially a long walk, we are apt to find a solution to the problem, or at least we become less anxious about it.
Third, walking can lead to spiritual rejuvenation. The Japanese mystic and social reformer Toyohiko Kagawa, who completed his theological education at Princeton, learned the value of walking while still a young boy. As he grew older he spent much time hiking in the mountains of his beloved Japan. In his Meditations he sums up his mature faith, one that consists not in clinging to possession, titles, or other accomplishments, but in something else: “There is nothing more exhilarating than to walk through the world unencumbered … stripped to the skin! Stripped to the skin! That is the way to walk” [William Axling, Kagawa (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1946), 170].
After all these years, I am still a beginner at prayer, but prayer walking has been of immense help to me. When I am out on the open road something happens I cannot fully explain, but somehow God seems close at hand, and I am able to pray.
Fourth and finally, walking can lead to supporting worthy causes. In 1955 Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat and go to the back of the bus to make way for white passengers. For a long time the black community of Montgomery, Ala., had been unhappy about segregation on buses, but no one did anything about it. When Rosa Parks sharpened the issue, black citizens decided it was time to boycott the buses, but they needed a leader.
Even though he was new to the city, Martin Luther King Jr. became that leader. For more than a year the black people of Montgomery refused to ride the city buses no matter how far away they lived from their work and no matter what the weather might be. King eloquently summarized their protest: “The Negro community of Montgomery … came to see that it was ultimately more honorable to walk the streets in dignity than to ride the buses in humiliation” [Martin Luther King Jr., Strength to Love (New York: Harper & Row, 1963), 139].
Increasingly in our day, concerned people are banding together to walk on behalf of a number of worthy causes: the CROP walk to combat world hunger, the Relay for Life to fight against cancer, and others. In walking together people demonstrate their commitment and in so doing influence others to join them.
Consider walking as a means to gain health of all kinds. We do not need to slavishly copy what someone else is doing. Our challenge is to find the style and method of walking that works for us and meets our particular needs. We may focus on one of the four reasons for walking cited above, or we may use a combination of these reasons to motivate us to walk. Whatever our choices may be, let us go out and take a hike!
Richard A. Hasler is honorably retired, living in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. He is the author of Surprises Around the Bend: 50 Adventurous Walkers, Augsburg-Fortress Publishers, (2008).