The New Testament tells us that Jesus walked. In Palestine in those days, walking was the only way to go, the only way to get anywhere unless you were a rich Roman with a horse or chariot. I can think of a few exceptions, times when Jesus rode. He rode on a donkey as a newborn, sheltered in the arms of Mary and led by Joseph on the flight into Egypt. Thirty-three years later, he rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, five days before his crucifixion.
The Scriptures contain all things necessary for our salvation, but they don’t tell us every detail. We do not know, for instance, what attention Jesus gave to nature on his walks. His thoughts about the beauties of sky and landscape are unrecorded, though presumably he judged them good. He had, after all, created them. But from what is reported, we know this at least: To get from here to there, Jesus walked.
One of his greatest apologists walked, too. C. S. Lewis, who did not drive, walked regularly all about Oxford and the surrounding countryside. His country walks involved tweeds and stout shoes and the company of companionable male friends, J. R. R. Tolkien among them. As much as Lewis liked walking with friends, he did not much care for talking while he walked. According to Lewis, “Walking and talking are two very great pleasures, but it is a mistake to combine them. Our own noise blots out the sounds of the outdoor world.” And then, inevitably, someone (like Lewis) lights up his pipe or a cigarette, and “farewell to nature as far as one of our senses is concerned.” Talking, for Lewis, was best reserved for that pub at the crossroads: feet before a fire, good beer, another smoke, and so forth.
As Lewis was one of the twentieth century’s great talkers, this view may seem odd. Lewis generalized, of course. After all, it was on a late-night walk—and talk—along Addison’s Way by the River Cherwell in September of 1931 that Tolkien’s talk at last persuaded Lewis that Christianity was not just another version of the myth of the dying god, but the true myth of the real dying God, who had lived at a documentable time and in a precise place and with historical consequences.
Neither Lewis nor our Lord, along their respective damp and dusty ways, hiked. They walked. The distinction is somewhat subjective, but not completely so. Conventional definitions tell us that walking is a more random activity these days, more likely to occur in urban settings. Hiking is something more strenuous that occurs out in nature, requires equipment, and is specifically undertaken for pleasure or exercise. Hiking demands the out-of-doors. Walking is indifferent. All the walking some people get is walking around the house or up and down the stairs, but it’s still walking. Whether in Bible times or our own times, walking is human locomotion at its most primary level; its purpose is to reach a destination faster than one might crawl there. It is intentional: Chaucer’s characters walked the Pilgrims’ Way to Canterbury in order to attain the holy shrine and worship there. They had no other way to go. Walking is something that we learn naturally in the first year or so of life and, if we’re lucky, don’t relinquish until life passes away.
Hiking, on the other hand, is an expression of desire, for recreation, escape, fun, physical fitness, and enhanced environmental consciousness. These days it supports a $20 billion global industry churning out all manner of sophisticated equipment and snazzy apparel. Guidebooks or guide websites are often critical. To hike, one must seek out, or already know about, a place to “go hiking”—a trail, a path, a wilderness area. The purpose of traversing the trail is primarily the experience of doing so, not of getting to someplace else on the map. One might even venture that for some, it has become a substitute for religion. Certainly, a lot of it takes place on Saturdays and Sundays. Recall the old saw about Sunday golfers worshipping in the great cathedral of the outdoors; weekend hikers probably edge out golfers nowadays.
A nonagenarian friend has told me of Sunday afternoon walks in the rural Oxfordshire of his 1930s boyhood that had a different tone. Two things struck me about his account. First, he described them as walks, not hikes. Second, he recalled that they were not solitary outings but walks with the whole family: father, mother, sister, brother. They would depart from their house in Chinnor down a small lane to the level-crossing. From there they walked along the railway line toward their destination in the next village of Bledlow, all of two miles away. It being Sunday, there were no trains and track-walking was safe, undisturbed, and much preferable to the road. In Bledlow, they watched a cricket match on the village green and sometimes had tea. Then, toward days end, they walked unhurriedly back home by the same way. My friend recalled little conversation en route, just the quietude of countryside sights, sounds, and smells. Talking, as Lewis thought, would have spoiled a good walk. My friend was then only a young boy, who on his own might well have chosen to spend the afternoon differently with his pals, but he was not in charge. The grown-ups were, and grown-ups walk.
Excepting that awful management cliché, “walk the talk,” walking retains even today a certain dignity. “Hike” can be used negatively. The contemptuous “take a hike” (as in beat it, get lost, drop dead) doesn’t work with “walk.” Rather, after too much time at the screen, we take a walk to clear the mind and to refresh. Our purpose is modest, and the exercise usually works. Such walks, in my experience, are usually solitary ones.
One of the greatest biblical walks occurs along the road to Emmaus on Easter Day when, according to St. Luke, Cleopas and an unnamed disciple walked and talked earnestly of the events of the past three days in Jerusalem. Jesus appeared and walked for some time with them, expounding “unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” They neither recognized nor understood him, until they paused at Emmaus and persuaded their strange companion to “abide with us, for it is toward evening and the day is far spent.” Then, as he took bread, blessed it, and bade them eat, “their eyes were opened and they knew him.” I do not think it flippant to think, at this point, of Lewis and his fellow walkers communing together at their smoky pub, refreshed from their walk and ready for talk.
Timothy Jacobson writes from the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia.
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