Walking for Its Own Sake
July 12, 2017

“To walk because it is good for you warps the soul, just as it warps the soul for a man to talk for hire or because he think it his duty.”
Hilaire Belloc

Perhaps Belloc exaggerates—something to which he was prone. But it raises a great question: why should one walk?

Walking of course can have many utilitarian purposes, and I for one certainly would encourage walking, for instance, for the sake of staying in good shape. In an age where we tend to be too sedentary, walking can be a healthy and rejuvenating antidote.

But there is walking as an exercise, and then there is simply walking. For its own sake.

How better to be alone? And likewise, how better to be together?

After a meal one might say: “Let’s go for a walk!” Presumably the others at the meal will not say: “Why would we do that?” or “Yes, of course, I need a little cardiovascular workout!”

Walking is simply something to do. It is such a privilege, and a gift. You can’t put your finger on exactly why. But somehow when you are walking—not to go somewhere or to achieve something in particular, but simply walking—you experience being alive in a unique way.

The world around us becomes our home. I am walking through my world, and with every step there is something to discover, or simply to relish again.

When we are walking–whether simply a post-meal stroll, or a turn about the neighborhood or local park, or a hike in the foothills–our problems are put at a distance, and they are given a context. They need not rule my day or my life. Right now I, or we, am walking. Not running from the world, we are walking in it, gaining new perspective with every step.

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This is the third in a series: What To Do This Summer.

Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953), born of a French father and English mother, was a poet, historian, and essayist.

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  1. Once again, a reminder of God’s infinite wisdom in slowing us down – walking for the sake of it. As I prepare for the next chapter in our family’s life and contemplate our upcoming tremendously big move to the midwest, I think of challenges and changes that will be difficult for me personally, as well as the tasks of “moving in” for my husband and his new job, our children in their new schools/jobs, navigating the city, new parish. I need to take a walk this evening just for the sake of it. Thank you, Dr. Cuddeback, for putting God’s Whisper to me in print.

    1. All of the best at this important time for your family! I will remember you in prayer.

  2. My family and I walked the Camino de Santiago 3 years ago, and we all loved the repetitive daily routine of waking up, walking, stopping for food, walking, stopping at towns and churches, walking, and enjoying the beautiful and ever-changing scenery around us. It was such a profound experience, and we all enjoyed different benefits from it. In addition to growing closer to everyone with whom we were walking, it provides time for inner reflection, so we all progressed in our Spiritual Pilgrimage to Heaven as well as our physical one to Santiago. I whole-heartedly agree with the notion of walking for its own sake. It definitely is a worthwhile pass time, and one which allows for inner growth as well as growth towards others around you.

    1. That sounds fantastic. I hope I have the chance to do that one day…

  3. Dr. Cuddeback – I am wondering what you would say to someone who tells you “the most dreaded phrase I could possibly hear after a meal – or at any time – is ‘lets go for a walk'”? I am one of those people who simply dislikes walking – it makes no sense to me. If I want to admire nature I would prefer to sit outside, sit, and admire and contemplate the beauty that surrounds me. I know of at least one other person who is like me – and she is an active mother of 10. But other than her, I know of no one else who, like me, simply dislikes walking. I cannot contemplate while I’m walking, I cannot drink in the beauty that surrounds me – in fact, walking distracts me from the beauty around me. I have tried time and time again to no avail (and I’ve tried walking in VA, Ireland, Swiss Alps, Italian Alps, etc) – I simply detest walking for the sake of walking.

    1. Teta T.,
      I love this comment. It sounds like the right answer is not: “well why don’t you try this approach to walking…” It seems to me that walking will not have the place in your life that it can for most people. Honestly, if you hadn’t already tried it as much as you have, I probably would have suggested some other approach to walking. But in this case I’d be interested for you to approach it this way: what can I do that would have fruits parallel to what walking does for most people? It seems to me that walking is most of all a way to be in the world around us, sometimes alone and sometimes together with others. How else might you do that? It seems you are already on the right track: just sitting outside, for instance. This itself can require some effort and intentionality. But dare I circle back for a moment to walking? What about a very short stroll. Don’t think hiking here; no breaking a sweat, no noticeably increased heart rate; just a brief turn about the block, slowly. And even maybe regularly? Might that be worth a try? Thanks again very much.

  4. Kathleen C. Schmiedicke

    I have a tendency to think of songs relating to…anything. Hence, Irving Berlin’s piece, “Let’s Take An Old-Fashioned Walk” (I learned it in Catholic grade school for the annual school play–about sixty years ago!) instantly came to mind. Here is Irving Berlin singing his own composition. https://soundcloud.com/peter-mintun/lets-take-an-old-fashioned Enjoy!

  5. The Italian practice of a daily “passegiata” comes to mind after reading this wonderful reflection. We were struck with how normal and ordinary it seemed for many Italians (our particular experience was in Rome, but I’m sure it’s common throughout the country) to take a leisurely stroll after dinner. There, one could take in the rich sights and sounds of the city slipping from daytime to nighttime, see friends or neighbors, talk with one’s walking companions, and get a sense of being part of a wider community than just inside the walls of an apartment.

    We really loved entering into this local custom; it not only helped us feel more like locals and less like outsiders, but we always seemed to find something new to discover in the evening walks that we would’ve missed in the harsh glare of daytime Mediterranean heat (also, our baby loved being walked to sleep this way!).

    1. How absolutely delightful. Where there is a communal habit of walking, you actually do feel like you are part of something much bigger. That is wonderful aspect of a number of European countries, isn’t it?