“We make the road by walking” is a line drawn from the Spanish poet Antonio Machado, a sentence that others like Paola Freire and Brian McLaren have incorporated into their writing. It’s a proverb that can be employed multiple ways. For example, I have most often heard it addressed to the church as a word of encouragement to keep going step by step since the future is not at all clear. I can bear personal testimony to another application: we can make the road to healing by walking.
Mid-March an uncomfortable pain in my neck and shoulders got worse. After I passed out at home, a brief stay in the hospital ruled out any issue with my heart, but the tests and treatment didn’t explain or get rid of the pain at the source. A week later the pain was radiating down my left arm, wrist, and hand until, during that Holy Week, the increasing level was debilitating and unbearable – a “10” according to the standard established by my past experience with kidney stones. The second hospitalization, across Good Friday to Easter, revealed the cause: I was suffering from cervical radicalopathy due to spinal stenosis. After this second hospitalization, it took a three-month course of medications, physical therapy, and a cervical steroid injection to get my pain to level “1.” I’m glad to report that with the exception of some residual numbness, tingling, and weakness in my left hand, I am back to “normal.”
The prescription the professionals gave me for healing was not to resume my fitness routine. Even if I had felt up to it, there was to be no more cardio in the gym, no weights, no sit-ups, no running or biking, and certainly no Zumba, at least for the time being. They told me, however, that I could walk. So every day, more than once a day, along with the stretches I was learning, I’d get out and walk around our neighborhood, from twenty minutes to an hour at a time. Walking took my mind off and eased the pain. It seemed to align everything in my body and relieve the stiffness, so that upon returning home, I felt better for longer. At the beginning of the healing process, I walked slowly, more like someone in her eighties, but as time passed, I walked faster and with longer strides. I looked forward to these walks, and one foot in front of the other, I walked the way to physical healing. Praise God!
Let me tell you the rest of this good news: the practice of walking improved other dimensions of my life. For one, it fostered further spiritual connection and growth. It was as if the fresh air mediated the Holy Spirit, filling my frame and lifting my spirits. I realized how lucky I was to be breathing and moving, and at this slower pace, I noticed so much more of the beauty around me, for which I easily whispered prayers of thanksgiving.
I was closer to creation and to the Creator, which did me good. Walking opened the way to deeper experiences of my own limits and God’s grace, and led me toward the healing that comes through humility, wonder, trust, and gratitude.
The spiritual practice of walking also improved my awareness of my own surroundings. In our time and culture it is so incredibly easy to live in an independent, disconnected fashion from our geography and our neighbors. Traveling at the speed of car, we miss more than we realize. By contrast, as my heels touched the sidewalks, I got better acquainted with the community in which we had been living for eleven years – the streets, the trees, the homes, and the people. I began to understand at ground level how the neighborhood fit together, and to imagine that healing could actually take hold in even broader realms, as promised in our faith. “We walk by faith, not by sight.” We make the way by walking.