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"When We Wander"

Posted on August 22, 2018

The last time I checked, which would be today, myriads of people are still busy with numerous end-of-summer activities. The following article may give us some insight in finding our place in the end-of-summer hum and blur. This article is entitled, “When we Wander”. Enjoy.

 

Dr. John Ratey is a fan of walking with no purpose. A professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, Ratey has done extensive research on exercise, creativity and depression. His research suggests that when we walk without any goal or agenda—when we wander in other words—our brains are able to pick up more information. In fact, walking aimlessly allows the free flow of thoughts and ideas that don’t occur when we focus on something specific. In addition to inspiring creative thought, Ratey has found that exercise can be therapeutic for depression and ADHD. When patients would walk for even ten minutes a day, these ailments would lift. Dr. Ratey notes, “A bout of exercise is like taking a little bit of Prozac and a little bit of Ritalin.” Who knew that wandering aimlessly could be so good for well-being and creativity?

 

In a fast-paced and efficiency driven world, these ideas are counter-intuitive. For many, walking without any purpose sounds like a complete waste of time. After all, there is so much to do! Days overflow with so many demands on time and attention. Flooded by obligations, it is no wonder that hypertension, depression, and other stress-related diseases are so prevalent. Living life becomes all about doing, without much thought for being. As we move at hyper-speed, wandering for the sake of wandering sounds ridiculous.

 

While it would be unlikely to characterize the earthly ministry of Jesus as time spent wandering aimlessly, our efficiency-driven, goal-oriented world might wonder at his unusual pace and priorities during those short, three years. Some might wonder, for example, at the seemingly wasted hours eating and drinking with a sundry and often sordid cast of characters. Luke’s gospel alone mentions meals around the table (or implies them) ten times, with guests and hosts as diverse as religious leaders and tax collectors, lawyers and well-known sinners. When a highly regarded official begged Jesus to come and heal his daughter, Jesus is willing to be delayed by an unnamed, unknown woman grabbing the hem of his garment in spite of the throngs of people pressing around. In other words, Jesus willingly allows himself to be interrupted by a seemingly unimportant individual, on his way to the synagogue official’s home. Why would he have done it this way?

 

From our modern perspective, it can seem like such a waste of time. Didn’t he need to save the world? Weren’t there more important things he should have been doing? Perhaps it is in these examples from his own life where even the casual reader might see a different set of priorities than those that govern most in the modern world. Perhaps Jesus understood the power of a long walk with his disciples and the need for a story to pull in listeners.

 

Perhaps Jesus understood that looking at the birds of the air and observing the lilies of the field could give life and strength to one’s being.  Perhaps Jesus knew that meaningful accomplishments were not always efficient and output is often a byproduct of input.

 

Meanwhile, all the tasks of the day still hound me. Like barking dogs, they will not relent at demanding my attention. Their urgency conspires against my attempts to intentionally slow the pace of the day. I hear a persistent chorus singing the minor note that I am wasting my time. I am not immune to the compulsion to view my worth by my productivity, my busyness, or by how many items I’ve crossed off my “to do” list.

 

And yet, the busyness is not what is useful nor is it what brings meaning, beauty, joy, or wonder to living. Creating space for wandering in the crowded days and weeks of our lives allows our thoughts to roam toward new priorities and paths, toward encounters along the road that surprise and nourish the soul, like the disciples who walked unknowingly with the risen Jesus. Wandering—whether that involves the purposeless walking of Dr. Ratey, being distracted by beauty in the person right in front of us or in the natural world, or the intentional withdrawal into silence, stillness, and prayer—is itself a purposeful work.