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Solvitur Ambulando

November 25, 2014
walkingfeet

Members of my congregation prayer-walking during one of our “Walking Church” services.

This fall I have been reading What Shall We Say? Evil, Suffering, and the Crisis of Faith, by Thomas G. Long. In the book there is a section titled “Solvitur Ambulando,” a Latin phrase that means “it is solved by walking.” This section has particularly stood out to me as I consider what it means to participate in community contexts like neighborhoods, families, and churches.

Long describes solvitur ambulando as

a completely different way of knowing, a knowing that comes only to those who are actively engaged in the questions they are asking. (115)

This phrase connects thought and action. Which makes it a counter to passivity and distance, which is often a path of lesser resistance. The experience of walking can open us up to discovery and understanding.

I preach and teach often in my suburban Mennonite congregation. This role is part of a larger list of responsibilities that make up my pastoral job description. I enjoy this role and feel the need to take great care in practicing it. Sometimes the weekly process of prayer, meditation, study, and writing quickly leads to a sermon, or at least the general outline of one. But there are also times when “preacher’s block” sets in, and I can’t find the right words or I don’t know where to start and it’s Friday but Sunday’s coming. During times such as these I have found it helpful to take a break and take a walk. Conveniently, the county trail system runs through our neighborhood and provides a fantastic route for exercising and for experiencing nature. The combination of physical exercise and space for silent reflection allows for refocusing and provides refreshment. Though I typically have good results with this practice, I still have to convince myself sometimes that this walking is helpful (even needed), and that it’s not a diversion or a waste of precious time. In this area of my life, walking has led to discovery and to a lessening of anxiety.

My local church conference gathered recently for our annual assembly. The word “conference” itself is a term that feels like a corporate form of solvitur ambulando-actively engaging, working, and walking with one another. We gather to share, to speak, to “confer.” We are reminded of a common mission (the theme of this year’s gathering was “Esperando: Waiting & Hoping”). And we visibly see that we are part of something larger and more diverse than just ourselves.

What might be solved, learned, and experienced as we walk together?

One of the highlights for me of this conference assembly was the opportunity provided for table conversations. The meeting agenda wasn’t too large and the time required for voting was pretty minimal, so there was space created to be with one another in conversation. Building relationships requires that we learn to inhabit the same space well, and intentionally seek to know and value each other. Walking requires some working.

DanisaNdlovu

Danisa Ndlovu, President, Mennonite World Conference.

For me that weekend, Solvitur ambulando meant learning to sing a Haitian worship song in Creole, listening to a message about global Anabaptist relationships from Danisa Ndlovu, and hearing my friend and colleague Pastor Marta Castillo remind us that “Waiting on God is expectant and hopeful.” My view of the world and of faith is continually enriched as I commit to walk with a wide variety of friends. 

Thomas Long particularly connects the idea of solvitur ambulando with how we engage theological questions.

The most important theological questions are often “solved by walking” – that is to say, they are questions that yield the deepest insights when they are explored with the eyes of faith… exploring issues and questions as a person of faith can be a bit like looking through night-vision binoculars: faith enables us to see more of what is genuinely there, things we would have missed otherwise. To love God and to walk in faith with God is to be joyfully drawn into a deeper and deeper understanding of the ways of God. (116-117)

When we find ourselves struggling to hope, or wrestling with the anxieties of living in a complex world, perhaps we might recall “solvitur ambulando,” and keep walking together in faith. May we be drawn in to the hopeful expectation that, as we participate with one another, the Spirit will do transforming work in us and through us.


Thomas G. Long. What Shall We Say? Evil, Suffering, and the Crisis of Faith (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011).

 

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