“God walks “slowly” because He is love. If He is not love He would move much faster. Love has its speed. It is an inner speed. It is a spiritual speed. It is a different kind of speed from the technological speed to which we are accustomed. It is “slow” and yet it is lord over all the other speeds since it is the speed of love. It goes on in the depths of our life whether we notice it or not.”
— Kosume Koyama, Japanese theologian, Three Mile An Hour God
“Leave your simple ways and you will live; walk in the way of insight.”
— Proverbs 9:6
Mile One: Setting Out
Three Miles an Hour
My friend Norm can’t walk.
He once could, with poise, with strength. He wasn’t Buster Keaton, but he strode the earth with vigor and ease and effortless balance. But in as much time as it takes you to read this sentence, he stopped walking. Not by choice. He lost the use of both legs, and most of the use of both arms, when his horse, his trusted horse, threw him sideways and gravity pulled him earthward and he hit the ground at an angle that broke things inside him. In a blink, he went from agility to paralysis, from mobility to confinement, from standing most days to sitting all of them. One moment, his legs went wherever he told them. The next, they refused.
Norm once walked all the time but never much thought about it. He never contemplated the simple joy, the giddy freedom, the everyday magic of walking: to bound up or down a flight of stairs, to glide across a kitchen floor, to stroll a beach, to hike a trail. To move from here to there on nothing more than his own two legs, under his own locomotion. Now, Norm thinks about walking all the time. He watches others do it — Uprights, he calls them — bounding, gliding, strolling, hiking, and the dozens of other things most of us do with our legs with barely a thought about it. It stuns and saddens him. He would give almost anything to walk again, and if ever by some miracle of heaven or earth his capacity is restored, it’s almost all he will ever do.
My friend Norm can’t walk, but he thinks about it a lot.
Until recently, I was the opposite: I walked a lot but thought about it almost never.
Walking is, along with eating and sleeping, our most practiced human activity. But unlike eating and sleeping, we don’t need to do it to survive. And so walking, though our most practiced human activity, is maybe our most taken-for-granted one, and sometimes our most neglected. You can, after all, go only seconds without breathing, mere days without eating. But walking — you can pass an entire lifetime and still do little of that. Until recently, I had lost, if ever I possessed, sheer astonishment at the simple, humble miracle of carrying myself every day everywhere. These legs are more wondrous than a magic carpet, more regal than a king’s palanquin. But only now have I come to see it.
The Speed of Our Souls
Everyone who can walk walks, even the most sedentary, if only from bed to couch, from table to fridge, from desk to copier. We walk, for the most part, because we can’t help it — because an escalator or elevator or car or plane or train or golf cart is unavailable. We walk up and down stairs. We walk the lengths of hallways. We walk through malls. We walk from curbsides to restaurants, from parking lots to clothing stores. “Walking,” Evan Esar says, “isn’t a lost art: one must, by some means, get to the garage.”1
Most of us walk unthinkingly, without gratitude, maybe even resentfully. Our walking is accidental, incidental, inevitable, maybe grudging. It’s what we do between sitting.
But not all of us. Some of us walk because it’s magic and beautiful and mysterious and sometimes dangerous. We walk because we see things differently when we walk. We feel more deeply, think more clearly. We walk to figure things out. We walk to sort ourselves out. We walk to get in shape. We walk to get a sense of the scale of things — the bigness of trees, the smallness of beetles, the real distance between places. We walk because we experience land and sky and light in fresh ways—in ways, I am tempted to say, closer to reality.
We walk because three miles an hour, as the writer Rebecca Solnit says, is about the speed of thought,2 and maybe the speed of our souls. We walk because if we go much faster for much longer, we’ll start to lose ourselves: our bodies will atrophy, our thinking will jumble, our very souls will wither.
Do you not feel this? I do.
I walk because three miles an hour seems to be the pace God keeps. It’s God speed.
A Physical Discipline
The seed of this book was annoyance, or grief, or something in between. I was annoyed or grieved or whatever it is that lies between that many spiritual traditions have a corresponding physical discipline and Christianity has none. Hinduism has yoga. Taoism has tai chi. Shintoism has karate. Buddhism has kung fu. Confucianism has hapkido. Sikhism has gatka.
Christianity has nothing.
This is odd. The very core of Christian faith is incarnation — God’s coming among us as one of us to walk with us. Incarnation is Christianity’s flesh and blood. And every part of Christian faith seeks embodiment, a way of being lived out here, now, in person. The church has fought tenaciously against anything that contradicts this. The earliest, most noxious, and most persistent heresy of authentic Christian faith is Gnosticism. Gnosticism says the body doesn’t matter — or worse, it’s evil. It’s a thing to be despised, maybe used, maybe indulged, but eventually discarded. It has no inherent value.
Gnosticism is incarnation’s mortal enemy.
Christianity insists that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, walked among us. And it insists that all words, all ideas, all theories, all theologies, all doctrines must become flesh and dwell among us. It calls us to walk out our faith, not just know it or speak it or argue it.
So it’s odd: that a faith so insistent on these things, a faith so inescapably incarnational, never developed a matching physical discipline to help its followers yoke their faith to practice: body to mind, holiness to breath, thought to movement, the inward to the outward.
Except, did it? Did Christian faith have a corresponding physical discipline, then lost it?
That’s what I’m going to argue here. And I’m going to argue that this discipline is the oldest and simplest practice around.
It started very early with a God in the habit of walking in the garden in the cool of the day. Likely, he invited our first parents to join him, until that terrible day they ran away and hid instead. (See Genesis 3:8.) Even after that, holiness and walking with God were the same thing. “Enoch walked with God… Noah… walked with God” (Genesis 5:22; Genesis 6:9).
Later, the prophet Micah asks, What does God require of you? He considers a list of religious options: extravagant worship, costly sacrifice. But no. It’s simple and personal: God wants us to love mercy and to do justly. And then Micah throws in a third thing, or maybe it’s the one thing needed, the single activity that makes the other two possible: “to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:6-8).
Later still, the peripatetic apostle Paul picks up the theme. “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children,” he exhorts the Ephesians. “Walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2).
Walking is a primary way of knowing God.
This is a book about walking. Particularly, it’s a book about walking as spiritual formation and spiritual discipline. In its pages, I explore many things — walking as healing, walking as exercise, walking as exorcism, walking as prayer, walking as remembering, walking as pilgrimage, walking as suffering and friendship and attentiveness. I am interested not so much in heroic or historic walking — pilgrimages, great marches, huge feats of endurance through parched wastelands or dense forests or precarious mountain passes—as in the ordinary, unsung walking most of us do every day. I’m interested in the simple, humble miracle of carrying ourselves around. I’m interested in the spirituality of walking, in the deep-down good it does us even when we’re not trying to derive any benefit from it.
Each chapter has a companion, a brief reflection on some theme emerging from the chapter, and ending, explicitly or implicitly, with a call to action (or inaction). I am calling these companion pieces “God Speed.” Because always, I circle back to one grand theme: walking is the way we keep pace with the three-mile-an-hour God. It is God speed. We walk with a God who seems in no particular hurry and who, it seems, enjoys the going there as much as the getting there. A God who is slow. This is a book about being alongside the God who, incarnate in Jesus, turns to us as he passes by — on foot, always on foot — and says, simply and subversively, “Come, follow Me.”
Come, walk with Me.
This book is about hearing this invitation as more than a metaphor. It is about working out on the ground, on the way, our friendship with God, and with ourselves and with others and with the good and fragile earth that holds us up and marks our steps.
Watch the video
1. Quoted in Geoff Nicholson, The Lost Art of Walking: The History, Science, and Literature of Pedestrianism (New York: Penguin, 2008), 1.
2. Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking (New York: Penguin, 2000), 10.
Excerpted with permission from God Walk: Moving at the Speed of Your Soul by Mark Buchanan, copyright Mark Buchanan.
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Do you take regular walks? How might you incorporate more walking as a spiritual practice into your day-to-day life? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!
In this beautiful, inspiring book, Mark shows us how the simple rhythm of walking can take us farther on the path of wholeness, joy, and God than we imagined possible. Poetic, poignant, and immensely practical, this book will change your life… one step at a time.
—Ken Shigematsu, pastor, Tenth Church, Vancouver; bestselling author, Survival Guide for the Soul
His is an invitation not to get in more steps but to slowly walk with God himself. This book is a good gift to the global church.
—Jared Brock, author, A Year of Living Prayerfully