Walking: for exercise and health, for fun, for socializing… even for spiritual growth.

Bernie Wiebe
Bernie Wiebe

Walking is one mainstay for holistic health. We are advised to walk about 10,000 steps per day to keep well. Research suggests most of us walk less than half that much.

It is easy to find excuses not to walk. Cars are so handy; time is too precious; we don’t feel like walking. I am not interested in making readers feel guilty nor in suggesting you should walk like I do. My story is meant to be simply that: my story about walking.

Obesity long gone

Bernie Wiebe reaps the benefits of his healthy lifestyle.
Bernie Wiebe reaps the benefits of his healthy lifestyle.

1. Walking for exercise and health. When I married in 1956, I weighed 185 pounds. In 1970 I weighed 270 pounds. Today I weigh 186 pounds.

At age 35 my doctor told me I was obese and not healthy. In one year, 1970, I lost 70 pounds by walking a lot, finishing the basement in our house, and doing other exercising.

I am now 80, have mostly kept my weight in the low 180 pounds range. My daily walking and other exercises average 100 minutes per day.

I am a type 2 diabetic, have a pacemaker, one knee transplant; I worked full time till the end of 2012. (In 1953, age 18, I had my first teaching job. Have worked or been in school now for 62 years. I still serve in churches when they need short term pastoral or preaching help.). My doctor has me on four prescriptions. My blood sugar is checked daily and has been in good range since testing started in 1996. My health is a big encouragement to keep on walking and exercising.

2. Walking for fun. I live in the heart of downtown Winnipeg and have a daily walking pattern. I like walking among the buildings and the green spaces. My only wish is that the city create more green spots.

I walk for exercise and health, but also for fun. On bitterly cold days I can walk inside the skywalk to stay warm; in heat there is air-conditioning in the walkway. Just to look around every day at the inner city, the streets, the people, the green spaces which become snow spaces in winter, the signs and posters, the paintings, the traffic, the weather changes, the building repairs and construction, the ups and downs. (I avoid escalators and elevators everywhere I can, climbing as many stairs as possible.) All are fun to me. Walking amidst friends

3. Walking for socializing. My walking has become a meeting-friends-along-the-way enterprise. My first daily encounter is with the people who sit regularly at the crossword puzzle table. Always a comment: “You’re walking again? How far do you go? Can’t imagine doing this every day.”

Often my second meeting is a tall, elderly and handsome, aboriginal man called “Chief” by many. He has heart problems and also walks a lot. Then there’s the little store. Almost always a nod or a smile. At the security booth, if there’s someone there, we talk a few words. There’s a cleaning man from rural Manitoba, and we speak almost daily.

I often meet other walkers who may be from my building or church or simply people I know. Also meet the silent ones who seem focused only on the walk or other business at hand. The majority out there may nod, but seldom engage in talk.

Next is the space where I used to regularly meet a man from the Polish Senior Centre. He sat there almost every day, and people came to sit beside him to talk. I did the same. He had friends gathering up the free newspaper, Metro. At the end of the day he took the papers on the bus and gave them to the staff at the home and to people who could not get out. He no longer sits there. I have to conclude he is too ill or has passed away. I feel the hole left by his absence.

Gospel songs in the walkway

Then I meet my busker friend who is somewhat like a lay minister in the walkway and on the reserve from which he comes originally. He sings gospel songs and when people stop he talks to them about Jesus. A lot of people stop by, including myself. Not all respond positively.

On to a drugstores where I have a half dozen friends, but one special one. She is a hockey fan to the core. We both love our Winnipeg Jets. But my most favourite team for more than 70 years is the Toronto Maple Leafs. Hers is the Montreal Canadians. In great fun we review the latest scores and then agree to disagree about the best players and teams around today.

My last stop is a shoeshine shop. The proprietor seemed at first a gruff but lonely fellow. He welcomed my just popping in for a minute. Then he began to stand at the door if he wasn’t busy and often waved as I came into sight.

Sadly, the past two weeks, signs appeared on his door. The first said: “Closed due to illness.” Now a new one says:”Closed until further notice.” So I hurt for this new hole that has come up my route.

These people have become like a family to me. I miss them when they are not there.

A deeper spirituality

4. Walking with a bonus of spiritual growth. When I started walking my route right after I moved here nine years ago, I did not know it would also enrich my spirituality. In those days, I believed God to be everywhere, but I made some fresh discoveries.

The profound commitment of the man from the Polish Centre made a deep impression. I saw young people, drunk people, old people, people with disabilities, stop at his place and engage in deep conversation. Often I saw him offer a cup of coffee to some down and outer. He said he could hardly walk, but I felt him walking in a sacred manner.

One day when my busker friend asked how I was, I told him of a fall and hurting my shoulder. He immediately put down his guitar, laid both hands on my shoulder, and prayed for me there in the skywalk.

I have heard only one or two people make negative remarks to him. Many ask him questions, some request specific hymns, he prays over a goodly number. I feel kindness in him. It has been especially enriching to hear him tell warm-hearted stories about his family and community on the reservation.

The shoeshine guy talked tough and gruff at first. Then he started asking about my work and life. When he realized I am a minister and would preach the following Sunday, he said: “I’ll try to put in a good word for you with the man upstairs.” After that he asked each week if I was preaching. And he held out his hand, wishing me gracious blessings “from above”.

I believe that the Holy Bible can be a helpful book. One quote I relate to deeply is: “For all the peoples walk, each in the name of its god…” Micah 4:5a NRSV. This quote puzzles many people. After all, the Holy Bible hardly leaves room to tolerate other than one God – Yahweh. This god is often portrayed as exclusive, not inclusive.

Even Micah sounds that way in other parts of his book. But, in this verse, we see a catholicity which opens a window to freedom and tolerance for ALL who walk after the spiritual.

Yes. It can be carried too far. Any thinking person knows there are unitive powers, principles and structures in the world and in our lives that must be observed.

We have much to learn

As our insights continue to grow in science, wisdom, and spirituality, we discover that we all have much to learn. To cling to the certainties emanating from our small intelligence is the quickest way to dogmatism, intolerance and nihilistic violence, instead of daring to see all walking in unique ways to come closer to the ultimate ground of our being.

My walking has drawn me closer to many others walking in unique ways, and my own spirituality has grown ever more meaningful.

The Rev. Dr. Bernie Wiebe is a retired professor of Conflict Resolution Studies at Menno Simons College, affiliated with the University of Winnipeg. He has been editor of The Mennonite , and has served the church in a variety of ways since being ordained in 1960.

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