Walking in the way of holiness

I was listening to a programme on the BBC World Service the other day about how modern life is changing our feet. Among other things, they pointed out that, through much of human history, most of us walked with bare feet on rough, uneven ground. Modern humans (at least in the West) now do most of our walking on hard, smooth surfaces, with our feet encased in shoes- as a result, our feet are now flatter and less strong than in previous generations

In many ways, walking is one of the most fundamental of human activities- with the exception of a few oddities such as ostriches, walking on two legs as our primary method of locomotion is something which essentially sets humans apart from other animals. When a baby is growing up, we marvel at their stages of development- and one of the major milestones is when they learn to walk. (When my baby sister was first brought home from hospital, I was aged 5, and asked my mother “Can it walk?”. On being told not yet, a pragmatist even then, I responded: “What’s it got legs for, then?!”). The mechanics of human bipedalism has been the subject of many scientific studies; Prof Shane O’Mara’s recent book “In Praise of Walking: A New Scientific Exploration” makes fascinating reading.

We’re told that we should aim to walk at least 10,000 steps a day- many of us don’t even achieve that meagre target on a regular basis. We have other ways of travelling now, but in Bible times, walking was essentially the only way for most people to get around, so the image of walking occurs frequently in Scripture. Most people- including Jesus- would walk thousands of miles in their lifetime. The Native Americans had a saying “You can’t fully understand someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes”. One of the amazing things about the Incarnation is to realise that Jesus literally walked many miles in our shoes: he knows the challenges we face.

Walking in Jesus’ time would have been arduous and dangerous- think, for example, of the story he told of the Good Samaritan. The prophet Isaiah also talks of walking when he writes:

“And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness; it will be for those who walk on that Way. The unclean will not journey on it; wicked fools will not go about on it. No lion will be there, nor any ravenous beast; they will not be found there. But only the redeemed will walk there, and those the Lord has rescued will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.” (Isaiah 35: 8- 10)

The picture in this passage isn’t of a twisting, indistinct path, with robbers and wild animals lying in wait for unwary travellers, and confusing crossroads potentially leading off in the wrong direction. Rather, what is described is more akin to a modern motorway- and only the redeemed, authorised by the King of Kings, can travel this highway.

Of course, we know from personal experience that our journey isn’t always smooth, and that the road we walk in this life is often difficult and challenging- both physically and spiritually. However, we also travel knowing that we are promised a safe and joyful arrival at our ultimate destination.

As John Henry Sammis reminded us in his hymn, “When we walk with the Lord, and abide in his word, what a glory he sheds on our way. While we do His good will, He abides with us still, and with all who will trust and obey.”

by Dr Murdo Macdonald

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