Janice Lin/MiC.

At twilight, when the fulgent glow of the setting sun flickers with fleeting fatality, I often find solace in setting out, stride by stride, for a nice evening walk. It’s a wander of wonder. Sunsets, after all, in their evocation of quiet contemplation of celestial creation, alter our sense of time, making us meditate on meaning, prompting us to ponder our plight, as the night falls and the death of the day is at bay. 

Walking, for those of us who are able to do so, is an exercise of enormous spiritual potential, allowing us to view the vitality of all things around us as we meander through this monumental macrocosm of material existence. We might be prone to see walking as a rather arbitrary activity, devoid of any divine details, yet this could not be further from the Truth. 

In her book “Wanderlust: A History of Walking,” Rebecca Solnit describes walking as “the most obvious and the most obscure thing in the world, this walking that wanders so readily into religion, philosophy, landscape, urban policy, anatomy, allegory, and heartbreak.”

Many of us have profound childhood memories of walks. I still hold memories of walking through the busy Toronto streets on my dad’s shoulders at age 4, moving through the Detroit Riverwalk with my grandparents at age 8 and tirelessly trekking to the bus stop every day at age 12. I recall the regular route I would take in typical teenage trepidation, as I trampled my way around corners in the cold at 6 a.m. Even now, I vividly maintain the memories of those early rises — moving with haste (dressing with no taste), cheap wired headphones on, show tunes in my ear going off. Those early morning walks were a hallmark struggle of my middle and early high school years. Yet they remain key moments in my attempts to mitigate my adolescent anxiety as I anticipated the fateful day(s) ahead.   

When we walk, there is a continuum of choices to be decided upon, as events quickly unfold much like the unwinding path before us. One misstep has the power to create major complications with its implications. Enchanted by the allure of detour we may find ourselves under the dictates of fate as our footsteps lead us astray, but ultimately on the way to new people and places, destinies and dooms.

On our walks we encounter a mirage of faces and fits, with a flash of sonder following, as we ponder the rich and intricate lives of those we meet on the streets. Walking gives way to a tension found in the perception of the self and the perceiving of others. An assortment of vessels enters into our vicinity. Eye contact, in passing, evokes an evanescent intimacy. We cross paths with close friends, new crushes and old flames as separated souls synchronizing, meshing in the moment, only to diverge in dissolution and disarray. 

Walking also carries with it a great particularity. We become attached to certain paths, certain locations and taking a certain path to those locations at specific times of day. Walking a favored or familiar path can evoke an eeriness — a numinous nostalgia within us as we reminisce on our earlier encounters in those spaces. I go to the Arb, and I’m reminded of all the instances I’ve traversed the very trail — day and night, alone or with company, sober or well …

On a higher level, walking can be a mindless activity or it can be a mindful meditation. When we move through space we literally take in our surroundings into our own conscious mind, mediating an experience of empty infinity, as we allow the boundaries between our subjective and objective realities to fade away. German theologian Meister Eckhart once stated in a sermon that “the eye through which I see God is the same eye through which God sees me; my eye and God’s eye are one eye, one seeing, one knowing, one love.” Through this lens we can literally see the amalgamation of the personal and sacred which is an essential aspect of our ambulatory adventures.

With our culture’s grotesque love of the grind, it makes sense that walking in motion can often have a rest-like quality to it. Ironically, when we hurriedly go from place to place, space to space, all the time, it’s only in this very transition that we often have the time to stop and reflect on where we’ve come from, where we’re going and where we are now. But the now is typically neglected in the walk. We often enter a trance, prancing around in our own head, meddling in the archives of our mind, milling about the past. While this meditation and reflection is important, it is also important to take the time to place ourselves in the present while we walk. 

This presence is a pivotal present. When walking, we can cultivate an earnest appreciation and understanding of the road ahead by taking stock of our surroundings. Jungian psychotherapist Thomas Moore associates roads with emotion and imagination. He claims that roads represent and materialize values and beliefs as well as cultural aesthetics and beauty standards. In this same vein, when walking we might notice the politics of our path, with structural designs such as redlining, gentrification, eco-fascism and poverty on dire display. It makes sense to me then, why in John 14:6, the historical Jesus utters to his disciples, “I am the Way and the truth and the life. There is no other way to the Father except through me.” When every path posits its own meaning, morals and merits, it becomes clear that we must choose wisely which one we take. Divinity scholar Hannah. L. Hofheinz, in her dissertation “Implicate and Transgression,” contends that walking through space and time produces a labyrinthine knowledge within us as we navigate a never-ending network, a world of endless potential. This exploration of infinite potential manifests most markedly while walking with community. 

During his chapter on Conversations and Letters in his book “Soul Mates,” Moore describes walking as a “soul activity.” He claims that it encourages conversation which is rooted in our bodies, thus allowing for our souls to prosper. Moore asserts that walking with others is a revelation of the soul in which “intimacy (is) not only experienced but set fondly into the landscape of memory.” To him, unlike our conscious mind, our souls do not necessarily fixate on events and actions. Intimacy, developments and stirrings of our souls often happen in the relatively mundane musings of the day-to-day. Many of my most memorable conversations have occurred when walking with a friend or group of friends. Revelations are made. Knowledge is produced. Questions are created. Sometimes, the excitement of the expedition to an event surpasses the event itself. Whether it’s just down the street to the store or all the way to the Big House on Game Day, the steps we take in tandem together with others are a part of an extraordinary everyday experience, which has the capacity to shape us in substantial ways. All of this is a result of taking time to walk in community.  

As the Biblical scripture and Ye both say, “Jesus walks,” and he most notably did in community with the oppressed. In the walking together of a community with Christ, there’s an abundance of unity to be found — unity of Heaven and Earth, unity in the rhythm of the steps, unity in the collective witnessing of the world. The sharing of this experience is an act of solidarity. It’s no wonder why historically political protests, marches and rallies regularly involve a walking of some sort. Queer liberation theologian Marcella Althaus-Reid believes that in order to uplift those who’ve been excluded from conquista Christianity (the colonial European perversion and diversions of the faith), we must not only stand in solidarity, but walk in solidarity. She states that on our path towards liberation, “it must feel like walking alongside the poor on the same road, sharing the same life experiences, observing, judging, acting, and celebrating together.” 

I’ve unfortunately witnessed others — and even myself — avoid eye contact with those in need while walking en route to a destination. Confronting poverty in person makes us question the sanctity of our own privileges and affordances, many of which we ashamedly take for granted as a result of late-stage capitalism. But to walk with (and in) community means to do so with all members of that community. In doing so, we recognize not only our common humanity but our collective soul. 

There’s a belief in the Yoruba religion amongst other traditional Afrikan faiths that the ancestors reside in our feet. On the ground, we come in contact with those buried beneath the soil, and in the midst of physical proximity gain spiritual sustainment. Our walks, evidently, have as much to do about death as they do with life. When we walk in community, we walk with those who are suffering not only now, but whose suffering has passed and whose suffering will inevitably occur in the future. 

As we move forward in the future, we embark on an eternal trek towards the unknown. Whether on our own or in community it is in our nature to travel, unraveling the mysteries of life as we do so. There’s vastness in every step of our ventures. We can behold a boundlessness within the banal. What the walk reveals is ultimately up to us to discover. 

And at dawn, when the sun rises once more, signifying the rebirth of all living things in the cycle of life and death, I often find solace in setting out, stride by stride, for a nice morning walk. It’s a wander of wonder. A march of meaning. A hike of higher consciousness.

MiC Columnist Karis Clark can be reached at kariscl@umich.edu.