Introductory Note:

Mark Buchanan joined Nathan Foster on the podcast this week to discuss his newest book, God Walk: Moving at the Speed of Your Soul.

In this article, first published in Faith Today, Mark shares his hypothesis that walking was an assumed discipline in the life of Jesus and his first followers. Walking isn’t as much of a necessity now as it was in times past, but Mark makes a strong case for reclaiming it as a spiritual practice, as we are able.

Renovaré Team

I have two doctors, my left leg and my right. When body and mind are out of gear (and those twin parts of me live at such close quarters that the one always catches the melancholy from the other) I know that I shall have only to call in my doctors and I shall be well again…. My thoughts start out with me like blood-stained mutineers debauching themselves on board the ship they have captured, but I bring them home at nightfall, larking and tumbling over each other like happy little boy scouts at play.”
G. M. Trevelyan

My friend Norm can’t walk.

He once walked. He strode the earth with vigor and ease, with 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 flung him skyward, 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 of his 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 rarely contemplated the simple joy, the giddy freedom, the everyday magic of walking. Now, it’s almost all he thinks about.

Until recently, I was the opposite: I walked a lot, but thought about it almost never. I had lost, if ever I possessed, sheer wonder at the simple, humble miracle of carrying myself around. Legs are more wondrous than a magic carpet, more regal than a king’s palanquin. But I thought of them, if at all, as things I was forced to use only after I’d found the parking spot closest to the mall.

But then I started walking because I wanted to. Because I saw things differently when I did. I felt more deeply, thought more clearly. I figured things out. I sorted myself out. Walking helped me stay in shape — it helped me shed 30 pounds and keep it off. It gave me a sense of the actual scale of things — the bigness of trees, the smallness of beetles, the real distance between places. Afoot, I experienced land and sky and light in fresh ways — in ways, I am tempted to say, closer to reality. 

Now I walk because 3‑miles an hour, as the writer Rebecca Solnit says, is about the speed of my thought, and maybe the speed of my soul. And I walk because, as the theologian Kosuke Koyama says, I follow a three-mile-an-hour God.

I needed to slow down to catch up. I was going too fast for a God who seems in no particular hurry, who seems to enjoy the going there as much as the getting there. The God who, incarnate in Jesus, keeps turning to me and saying, simply and subversively, Come, follow me.”

He’s not driving when he says it. He’s walking, always walking.


But the truth is, I first started to think hard about walking because I was annoyed. I was annoyed that many spiritual traditions have a corresponding physical discipline and Christianity has nothing. Hinduism has yoga. Taoism has tai chi. Shintoism has karate.

Christianity has… nothing.

This is odd. The very core of Christian faith is incarnation — God comes among us as one of us to walk with us. Incarnation is Christianity’s flesh and blood, literally. 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. Christianity’s earliest, most noxious, and most persistent heresy 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 embody 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.

Or, did it? Did the Christian faith have a corresponding physical discipline that has been lost?

That’s what I now think. And the discipline Christianity had and then lost is the oldest, simplest and most universal practice around.

It’s walking.


How Pedestrian.

Pedestrian means boring, bland, dull, derivative. The opposite of exotic, thrilling, daring, original. No one wants to be pedestrian. No one wants to make things or think things or do things that are pedestrian.

But pedestrian used to mean one who walks. And I think I am boring, bland, dull and derivative to the extent that I am not pedestrian enough. When I walk too little, I reflect too little, and many things that could help me be wiser, kinder, braver — a sustained and immersed attention to creation, for instance, or a good long talk with a friend — just fly past me.

A sedentary life makes for a sluggish soul.

A hurried life produces an unquiet mind.

Both kinds of lives put our hearts at risk, literally and figuratively.

But the walking life — it slows down and wakes up and works out all manner of things in us. Three-miles-an-hour is the pace of wholeness.


I started thinking hard about walking, as I already said, because I was annoyed.

But the catalyst for writing about it was something else: the suspicion that when the Bible talks about walking in the Spirit, or walking in the light, or walking in truth, and so on, it means this in more than a figurative way. My suspicion was that the Bible means walking in a literal way, too.

After all, Bible people mostly walked.

There’s Paul. He covered a lot of ground on foot. Someone has calculated that his missionary travels alone covered 10,000 miles. So when he exhorts, say, the church in Galatia to keep in step with the Spirit, it’s likely that his exhortation is rooted in his actual experience. As you walk,” he is saying, from your house to your neighbour’s house, or from this town to that town, do as I do: be attentive to the nudges and whispers of God’s spirit. Be listening and speaking to the One who walks with you. Follow his lead.”

I am pretty sure this is how Paul worked out his own faith. He walked it out. Indeed, the earliest name for Christianity was The Way — suggesting that it was not a set of doctrines to master but a path to travel. Suggesting that each step deepened the familiar and opened up the new. Suggesting that walking threw wide the door that sitting could only strain against.

I picture Paul, say, after he saw the vision of a man from Macedonia. There he is, making his way up the coast from Troas to Philippi, sometimes traveling by boat, but otherwise on foot. Luke is with him, and Silas. A few others. Sometimes, especially when rain falls hard and slanting, they walk in brooding silence, their faces pulled deep into their hoods, each dreaming of warmth and food. But then one of them says, The farmers need this rain. It is God’s grace.” And then they all remember all the ways God’s grace is poured out on them, and through them.

But it doesn’t rain much in those parts, so usually they walk on the shady side of the road and talk about everything — people they know, hopes they cherish, places they’ve been, things they’ve seen. But always, their talk circles back to one thing: Christ, his life and death and resurrection, and all the ways he’s changed everything. This is never far from their thoughts, or lips, or hearts.

Each step deepens the familiar and opens up the new. Each step throws wide a door that sitting only strains against.

All of it unfolding at roughly three miles an hour.


And then there’s Jesus.

He walks and walks. Matthew and Luke mention Jesus saying, Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head,” but Mark is the one who provides most of the documentary evidence. In Mark, Jesus blazes about. His feet are a blur of movement. The one time we see him sleeping is on a boat that others are navigating. He goes to sleep, it seems, because for once he can’t walk. The next time the disciples cross that lake in a boat, Jesus walks on water through a crashing storm rather than ride with them — certainly, a miraculous display of his divine power and authority over the elements, natural and spiritual, but also perhaps a sly comment about how pedestrian he is, how much he prefers walking to every other mode of getting around (and maybe an even slyer comment about how, once in a while, he needed a break from those men he traveled with, whose arguments and bickering and rivalries and goofy questions wore him down).

The few times we see Jesus sit — to teach, to eat, to hang out — there’s a sense that he’s both exhausted from all that walking and yet itching to get back on his feet and on with the next leg of the journey.

A car, a train, a bus, a small single-prop airplane — these weren’t options for Jesus. A caravan, yes, or a donkey, maybe. But Jesus eschewed these for reasons we don’t know but can likely guess: he was keeping pace with the three-mile-an-hour God, and shaping, slowly, slowly, the lives of those he walked with. Those men seemed about as thick as me, and so probably needed the extra time that walking gave them to let things sink in, take hold.

The Son of Man — the Human One, as one translation has it — is afoot. The perfect man, the man representing humanity, the man who is our brother, our spokesman, our representative, our exemplar: that man walks and walks. And all along the way he invites us to follow him, and in the following to become like him.

We know that following him is not literal anymore.

But does it still involve walking?

The Apostle Peter suggests it does. He sums up the whole mission of Jesus in one pithy sentence, contained in a single verse of Scripture:

God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him (Acts 10:38)

And he went around doing good.

As the father has sent me,” Jesus says to his first disciples, so I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them the Holy Spirit, and gave them his power (John 20:21 – 23). 

Our mission is the same: to receive God’s anointing, his Holy Spirit, his power. To do good, and to heal.

But let’s not miss one thing else: we’re to go around, place to place, person to person, God with us.

Most days, the pace of that will be about three miles an hour.

Related Podcast

Shared with the author’s permission. Originally published in Faith Today, May/June 2019.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Text First Published May 2019 · Last Featured on October 2022