Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Walking on the quiet side

Ask people why they go hill walking and one common answer is: ‘It's time to escape the busyness of our everyday lives, the crowded towns and cities’. People go for the peace and beauty of the hills and the freedom of walking along a ridge with a vast expanse of valleys, mountains, fields and the sea below. Even when the cloud and fog swirl in there’s still that sense of majestic otherness, of something completely beyond our whim and control that stands impassive and unchanging.

There are two ways to do hill walking. The first is to set a challenging route, bagging as many peaks as possible. Give yourself something to aim at and experience the satisfaction of completing each peak and the whole walk. The second way is to wait and to linger; to stop and to wonder; to dispense of agenda. So often I go to the hills to rest from doing – to go on holiday, but forget to stop. I replace one set of to do lists with another challenge to keep my thoughts occupied. I long to stop and be still, but am scared that I don’t know how.

Henri Nouwen, catholic priest and profound writer put it like this:

“My own restlessness, my need for companionship, my fear of rejection and abandonment made me flee solitude as soon as I had found it.

The resistance to solitude proved as strong as my desire for it.” (Our Greatest Gift, p19)

We all need to practice solitude. Only by stopping do we face ourselves and God. Even when I am alone at home the TV, radio, books, housework, computer, study all provide myriad easy excuse and worthy work which helps me avoid what I want to do. I need to “be still and know that He is God” and that He loves me without condition, whatever I think of myself and that He is “my refuge and my strength”. (David in Psalm 46) Without knowing that I am always restless, running away or avoiding myself. Surrendering to and trusting God takes me to where I need to be.

The second way of hill walking is always harder, but I want to go there more.