by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM February 27, 2022
Have you ever noticed how our surroundings can alter the speed with which we move?
During some of the years I lived in Jersey City, NJ, I worked in Manhattan. Every morning I would walk to the Grove Street station on the New Jersey side to take the PATH train to the Ninth Street station on the New York side. As soon as I disembarked at Ninth Street, I would be swept up in a crowd of hundreds of commuters, all moving rapidly and as one body before breaking away to their destinations. The movement reminded me of a human murmuration, with the click and squeak of heels and soles replacing the humming of starlings. Even during those years when I could walk easily and without limitations, I found the pace challenging. No dawdling, no idling, no browsing. Move, or be carried along by the crowd.
Quite the opposite experience when I returned home and began to walk along Manila Avenue. The Downtown section where I lived was marked by neighborhoods—Puerto Rican, Dominican, Filipino, Polish, African, Irish–the kind of living space where people might not know your name but they know your face and see you as a welcome resident. Here there was a whole lot of greeting, ambling, strolling, taking one’s time, and yes, sauntering. My kind of walking.
From Robert A. Johnson and Jerry M. Ruhl, I learned the origin of the word, sauntering. “At a certain point in time,” they write, “medieval Europeans developed the custom of ‘sainting’ things…The cross was sainted (Santa Cruz) and even the earth was sainted. This became St. Terre, from which we gained the phrase, ‘to saunter,’ that is, to walk on the earth with reverence for its holiness.”
It seems that sauntering might describe not only a slower-paced stroll but also an attitude, a soul practice of graciously encountering and moving through the world. When so much of our lives feel hurried, pressured, or stressed with our responsibilities and to-do lists, we are in profound need of what I like to call “the power of the Pause.” Earth, our Common Home, invites us into such pauses every day. Even in a pandemic, we can stop and safely breathe in Earth’s breath. Or stand in awe before a sunset. Or make friends of forest neighbors. Or discover the secret code of crows. Or lose ourselves in garden prayer. Or bow before the dome of heaven illuminated by moon and stars. But to do this, we need the attitude of one who saunters, one who walks on our Earth with reverence and respect for her holiness. We need the practice of one who pauses and offers thanks to the Holy One who, I believe, is sauntering alongside us at this very moment in our beautiful, yet wounded world.
For this reflection, you may wish to sit in stillness near a window if that is most comfortable for you, or saunter outdoors.
Whichever movement you choose, be sure to pause and invite the Holy One to accompany you.
Gaze at whatever gifts Earth offers you. Notice where your eyes linger. Offer a prayer from your slowed down, grateful heart.
Featured image: Craig McLachlan, Unsplash
As we stand at the threshold of the season of Lent, may we deepen the practice of sauntering through these 40+ days.
On Ash Wednesday, may we all come together to respond to Pope Francis’ call for prayer and fasting for peace in Ukraine, peace for all the crucified peoples of our world. Blessings of peace this season.
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