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Acquiring More With Less
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RENEWAL LEAVE REFLECTION #10

In walking, we acquire more of less.” Robert Moor, On Trails: An Exploration

 

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The hiker monument at the end of the

West Highland Way, Fort William, Scotland.

The 96 mile trek of the West Highland Way ends at the end of a pedestrian shopping plaza in the city of Fort William in northern Scotland. After six days of walking 15-20 miles per day up and down munros, traversing moorlands, viewing mystical and jaw-dropping scenery, and reading place names that seemed straight out of a Tolkien novel, the trail’s end has an ignominious sort of “exit through the gift shop” quality. Nonetheless, we welcomed the opportunity to celebrate our accomplishment with a healthy plate of fish and chips, and the inevitable picture with the footsore hiker statue that marks the trail’s terminus.

 

For quite some time I’ve been intrigued by the prospect of taking a really long walk like this. As an infantry officer in my pre-ministry life, walking was a utilitarian chore that meant staggering through the bush with a 40-60 pound combat load in your rucksack, but after a few years out of that world I became intrigued by the prospect of walking as a spiritual discipline that was more about the journey than the destination. I especially became intrigued by stories of those who have done long distance hikes. Bill Bryson’s book A Walk in the Woods, the story of his trek on the Appalachian Trail, became a favorite of mine not least because it’s also hilarious (and one must have a sense of humor and a touch of derangement to subject one’s feet to 15-20 miles of walking per day).  A couple of years ago I convinced my friend Chris Howlett to join me on a 40-mile trek of the Jesus Trail in the Galilee region of Israel to see how I might like this kind of multi-day hike. That trek was a bit disappointing in terms of scenery (the first two days were essentially a tour of the garbage dumps of northern Israel) and the route was one Jesus would have only taken had he imbibed too much of the wine he made at Cana, but it whetted my appetite for more. 

 

Part of the appeal is that walking like this is a test not only of one’s physical fitness, but also a great discipline for the spiritual life. In my last post, I mentioned John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress as a kind of model for this kind of trek—more of a pilgrimage than simply pounding out mileage. For thousands of years, people have taken such long walks for their spiritual health, especially here in Britain and Europe where medieval pilgrims arranged long treks to visit holy sites containing the relics of saints. The West Highland Way grabbed my attention as a similar kind of route that would take me on a pilgrimage into holy and mystical places in the land of my ancestry, discovering the relics of rock and loch that somehow help me remember who I am. I’ve been to Scotland three times now, and each time I discover that it’s a place where God speaks to me. Then again, God is speaking all the time, so maybe it’s just that here in this quiet place I can hear him better! 

 

I was especially glad to have my favorite hiking partner with me on this trip. Jennifer and I have shared the journey of life together for 31 years, celebrating that anniversary while on the trail. It seemed more than appropriate for both of us, since hiking is one of the things we both love in common. We have helped one another keep pace over the course of three decades and it was no less true on the trail. Normally, we hike fast—especially uphill where I have to stretch to keep up with her—but during this six day walk we learned to pace ourselves and enjoy the journey. 

 

When I booked the trip, I knew I didn’t want to haul a big load with me, nor did I want to sleep on the ground. A heavy pack and a restless night of hearing rain pelting the roof of a tent holds even less appeal now than it did in my infantry days (where a tent would have actually been a luxury). Much of the Way uses old military patrol roads cut by British troops in the late 1740s and early 1750s to quell the Jacobite revolts among the Scots highlanders, and I could still hear the echoes of those redcoats griping as they hauled their heavy leather packs up and down these hills. I have felt their pain, so I arranged to have our luggage transferred to a pre-booked B&B at the end of each day’s hike where a hot shower, a soft bed, and a filling meal awaited us. Ok, maybe you’d call it “glamping” but I call it “smart.” We passed a lot of weary backpackers slogging up a steep track who asked us why we were only carrying daypacks and, when told about our plan, they invariably looked at each other and said, “We should have done that.” A small daypack means that you only carry what you need for the day, which frees you to focus on other things. 

 

The view from the summit of

The Devil’s Staircase.

For example, a light pack enabled us to look up at the world around us rather than being bent over under a load and focusing downward on each step. As I posted in an earlier piece, I am often moving too fast to notice things like a trail turnoff and often wind up backtracking. On this trail, however, we only made one wrong turn in six days, taking a small detour on a bike path on the first day when we should have stayed on the road (the bike path was a much more inviting option, coupled with obscure signage). Looking up also caused me to stop many times during the day to simply marvel at the beauty we were seeing. Colorado is one of the most beautiful places in the world, but Scotland has its own stunning green mountains and valleys that rival anything we see in our own backyard. Living at 7,000 feet back home, I often joked with our fellow trekkers that Jennifer and I were “drunk on oxygen” so close to sea level, but there were some climbs like the aptly named “Devil’s Staircase” that surely felt more like a hangover. Cresting those peaks, however, yielded views of landscapes that looked they had been carved by the finger of God—indeed, they had been via the forces God set in motion at creation. 

 

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With our fellow hiker and new friend Robert

from Germany at the Bridge of Orchy Hotel.

Carrying less also allowed us to have some great conversations along the way, not only with each other but with some new friends we made. We spent our fourth day traveling from Crianlarich to the Bridge of Orchy with Robert, a high school history teacher from Germany, who was out on a four-week trek through all the major trails in the Highlands. We enjoyed comparing notes on life in our respective countries and hearing about his life and family. On the long 21-mile day from Bridge of Orchy to Kinlochleven, we fell in with Paul and Mark, brothers from London who were out hiking the Way together. We also kept tabs on two Scottish ladies who were nursing some blisters and another young German couple whom we leapfrogged trail sections with the first three days. We talked about others we had seen on the trail, like the guy we called “Hooper” because he had a large hoop-tent strapped to his pack that seemed to snag on every tree. I hope he made it to the end! 

 

 

 

 

There were many other lessons gleaned on the trail that I look forward to sharing, but I’m saving 

those for a sermon series when I get back (don’t want to give away the store just yet!). But the one that sticks out to me is the one contained in that quote from Robert Moor in his book On Trails: An Exploration that I leafed through in a lovely little bookshop in Fort William after finishing the hike. The trail taught me the value of acquiring more with less—more attention with less hurry; more of the value of the journey and less about reaching the destination; more about simplicity and walking lightly than acquiring more and being efficient and expedient; more about cultivating relationships than checking off way points. Moving forward step by step every day changed the rhythm of life for me and I believe it will also help to change the way I lead. I’ve often been so concerned about getting a congregation to a certain place, a certain stature, a certain number, or a certain level that I’ve had the tendency to carry way more of a load than I needed and burdened others with more than they can bear as well. To walk forward together, we need be careful to remind one another to carry only what we need so that we can enjoy the journey and make it there together. 

 

Jesus invited his disciples to share their loads with him. “Come to me, all you who are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). That’s an invitation to living more simply, both personally and professionally. I look forward to considering new ways that we can journey together as pastor and congregation with lighter loads and lighter hearts, and with Jesus as our guide. 



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