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It is solved by walking ... with God

Third Sunday of Easter: 4th May, 2014
Rev'd Dr Hugh Kempster, Vicar of St Peter's, Eastern Hill

Acts 2:14, 22b-28; Ps 16; 1 Peter 1:17-21; Luke 24:13-35.

Solvitur ambulando — "it is solved by walking." Diogenes the Cynic, a fourth-century Greek philosopher, was purportedly debating Zeno's paradox and the question of the reality of motion. He is said to have finally won the argument by getting up and walking away, thus coining the phrase: "it is solved by walking." There have been proponents of the walking-cure ever since. One of these was my New Zealand grandmother. She organised a walking group for years, and was still taking regular strolls along the beach with her friends in her nintieth year, the year she died. Another was Thomas Jefferson, who wrote in 1785 that: "The object of walking is to relax the mind. You should therefore not permit yourself even to think while you walk; but divert your attention by the objects surrounding you." Friedrich Nietzsche also seems to be an advocate of walking as evidenced in his Twilight of the Idols (1889) where he states: "All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking." Another nineteenth-century philosopher, Henry David Thoreau, wrote an essay entitled "Walking" (1862) in which he too extolled the virtues of this particular form of exercise. He sees it as a contemplative task, a means of relief from the stress and strain of work, that nevertheless takes some discipline if it is to be undertaken properly:[1]

I am alarmed when it happens that I have walked a mile into the woods bodily, without getting there in spirit. In my afternoon walk I would fain forget all my morning occupations and my obligations to Society. But it sometimes happens that I cannot easily shake off the village. The thought of some work will run in my head and I am not where my body is — I am out of my senses .... What business have I in the woods, if I am thinking of something out of the woods?"

Robert Frost famously captures just such a scene that so many people experience, from the world's greatest leaders and philosophers to my dear grandmother:

"The Road Not Taken."[2]

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth ....

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

But the walking story I love the most, and one of the most profound, is the that we heard read earlier from Luke's gospel. Cleopas and his friend, possibly his wife, are walking away from Jerusalem on the road to Emmaus. They are walking in sadness, even despair, away from the Holy City, away from golgotha, away from death and disappointment and dashed hopes. They are joined by a stranger. The stranger is a good listener, and he listens to them tell the story of the death of the one they hoped would redeem Israel. They also tell him of the strange rumours that some women are circulating, that Jesus is alive.

There is no magic in this story, no angels, no vision in the heavens, not even a pierced side and holes in hands and feet to touch; in this story there is just a stranger expounding the scriptures and breaking bread at the table. As Eamon Duffy writes: "The methods Jesus uses to evoke faith in the story are the methods he uses now. [Those] on the road to Emmaus are ourselves."[3] The risen Christ is here now as we break open our scriptures, as we retell the stories of our faith, and as we share bread and wine together.

That is true. That is the reality of our faith in Christ, but a question that I am struggling with at the moment is: so what? What difference does this reality of the risen Christ make in our lives individually and as a church, let alone in society as a whole? Sometimes I see it so clearly. We do such wonderful things together as a church: beautiful liturgy, selfless acts of charity and friendship, marches in solidarity with refugees. But we can also be so hurtful to one another as Christians, and sometimes we don't live the gospel we proclaim. When we do this the reality and hope of the risen Christ seems to evaporate.

Perhaps the answer lies in the aphorism I opened with: Solvitur ambulando — "it is solved by walking." Or rather in an adaptation made by the Rev'd H. C. G. Moule in his book Outlines of Christian Doctrine (1890): Solvitur ambulando cum Deo — "it is solved by walking with God."[4] The disciples on the road to Emmaus didn't do anything spectacular. They didn't summon up the Risen Christ through their deep faith or profound good works, or even their beautiful liturgy. They were sad and defeated, simply putting one foot in front of the other, but they did have an openess to the stranger they met along the way. And through this openess, through their listening, through offering hospitality, eventually they discovered that they had been walking with the Risen Christ all the time.

That is the mystery of resurrection. That is our story individually and as a faith community. Thanks be to God.


  1. Cited here on the web. See also here and here.
  2. Web link to the poem
  3. Eamon Duffy, Walking to Emmaus (London: Burns & Oates, 2006), p. 83.
  4. Cited in web page here; see also here.


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