The sacred walk

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(This article first appeared in the April issue of the Anglican Journal.)

I have heard elders describe the way of life God desires and designs for every creature as “the good walk.” This is, I believe, a dynamic translation of the word Bimadiziwin, which means to live and also, to walk. To live is to walk. Elders use it to holistically describe ethics, spirituality, sociology and psychology in a comprehensive term-they are all needed for the good walk. It is an animating, challenging and imaginative description of the core of creaturely existence, not confined to humanity, but encompassing all that God has made. For Christians, the good walk is exemplified and fulfilled in the life of Jesus.

It is not surprising that Canada would become a primary generator of the sacred walk: the often literal long-walk that uncovers deep pain and injustice, but is ultimately an act of hope. It reaches toward communal solutions, and trusts in the merciful gaze of a God who walked compassionately on the Earth. Canadians, along with many others, remember Terry Fox and the walks he inspired to help others. We may think of those who have walked for missing and murdered women. Others have walked for reconciliation and Indigenous rights, including our elder brother, Bishop Gordon Beardy. As this is being written. British Columbia Bishop Logan McMenamie is walking on Vancouver Island in search of reconciliation and justice for Indigenous peoples. All in all, the sacred walk is a distinctly Canadian and Indigenously flavoured act of political, spiritual and social witness. We might say that it is often a prophetic act.

At its 2015 General Assembly, the World Council of Churches invited its members to join humanity, creation and the creator in the “The Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace.” In North America, the response has often been confused and halting. Pilgrimage is seen as something you do when you have enough time or money. The churches don’t seem to have much of either these days, so pilgrimage seems like a distraction from institutional survival. Some see pilgrimage as something that is Roman Catholic. For Indigenous Peoples, pilgrimage is a reminder of colonialism, as many colonists saw themselves as pilgrims.

But I would suggest that we understand pilgrimage in a different way. Seen from our experience with sacred walk, it is something that has been calling us for a long time. We are, in a sense, part of the modern innovations of this act, in both its literal and figurative sense. Pilgrimage is sacred walk: an outward act of spiritual witness that, quite often, involves real walking. Sometimes, however, it involves spiritual redirection and revolution-going in one way and then turning toward new life. Other times, it means both real walking and spiritual redirection, together.

In 1998, the Anglican Church of Aoteroa and New Zealand animated a great deal of understanding and action through its “Hikoi for Hope.” Hikoi is a Maori word that can be compared to our sacred walk. People walked from their diocese to Wellington, advocating on education, poverty and reconciliation. This act of public witness captured the imagination of church and the larger population alike. Isn’t it time we join this ancient sacred walk of justice and peace?

Mark MacDonald

Mark MacDonald

Archbishop Mark MacDonald is national Indigenous archbishop of the Anglican Church of Canada.

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