A Testimony given in worship at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church of Logan Square on Sunday, June 10, 2018
by Haley Toresdahl
I most often choose to walk over taking a bus a few blocks, or twenty. Or instead of hopping on the train I convince myself a 20 or 30 minute walk is not too long. Often when I’m out in the city, I choose a destination and make my way there, leaving time for turns and wandering and stops in bakeries. And yes, I do enjoy the movement and exercise, but walking is more than physical. It’s a spiritual practice. One that invites curiosity, creativity, wonder, learning, beauty. It’s freedom to move and stop as I wish. To let thoughts mull around as I process and come to understandings. Maybe you enjoy walking in this way, too, siblings. This appeal of walking or exploring pushes me to see my communities and others in big and small ways, and drives my desire for travel and adventure. I am often tired after walking but in a way I feel lighter. Lighter, both with the ordinary and mundane and the complicated, remarkable. And the beauty between it all.
A few months ago I went on vacation with a friend for some much needed time away to rest and relax after a hectic, busy few months at work. Halfway through the trip I was robbed on the walk back to the place we stayed after dinner. Robbed and left on the ground just steps from the gate where I was staying. I won’t go on to say more about the actual event in this space other than to say I was left with a feeling of violation and a loss of control: loss of control over my body, my movement, decision-making, physical possessions and likely more yet to be realized.
I returned to work the day after my vacation ended, telling just my manager and another coworker about the event during the trip. And largely did not tell any others. I felt guilt, shame, embarrassment, and sadness. I didn’t want to welcome questions. The kinds of questions that folks sometimes ask out of curiosity and concern, but aren’t really helpful or kind. Those weeks in February and, honestly March and April, were really difficult. I was exhausted and sad and overwhelmed. Every weekday morning I get off the train and make the walk through a series of parking lots then sidewalk before spotting our office building. I would think to myself each morning in those weeks following the trip, “Wow, Haley, this is really hard, maybe what feels like the hardest thing you’ll do today, and it’s not yet 8:30 a.m. But just keep walking. You’re almost there.”
I think back to a conversation with my sister over video chat, just after I returned from the trip. With both of our eyes filled with tears she said, “I just don’t want this to change you and what you like to do,” referring to walking and exploring and meeting, interacting with people. For me, I go back to this moment and look to it both for strength in resistance to fear and powers at work in this world and also as concern, knowing I am supported. It’s the tension I find within myself.
Walking now has become even more important, and perhaps more difficult, than I thought. I still like to walk but it’s taken some time to get back into the practice. To choose to leave the safety of my apartment and bed to enter the world, in all the unknowns and often chaos. Walking is now an act of resistance to fear and the way I am choosing to reclaim control over my movement. To resist lazy narratives about complexities of our world. To persistently choose healing and joy and curiosity and celebration.
Maybe you, too, were taught when learning to drive about checking all the mirrors and rotating your vision when you drive, anticipating what may come into view. I do this sort of eye movement when I walk. I look ahead, then to the side, then the other side, then turn my head behind. Over and over. Anywhere I go. It’s become second nature to me. To be on guard and vigilant. But, sometimes I end up in my thoughts. Consumed by the walk itself or by what I see or what’s happening around me in that moment or day. Then I catch myself. How long has it been since I looked behind me? Who is the person walking fast next to me? Why are they walking so close? And then, when I feel like I’m okay, I think about how beautiful it was that I could let go for a few seconds or minutes to just be. And to know healing is ongoing. I think this has to be some kind of spiritual remembrance. For I do truly feel my most honest, true self when I’m walking.
I am beginning to reclaim myself in what has felt slow work in this season of undoing and becoming. To reclaim who I am in community and in relationships. And St. Luke’s is a big part of that. I think back to Easter Vigil, now two months ago, and just how special and holy that night was. Among all the readings, liturgy, singing, and fellowship, it also feels special because I was welcomed into the community of St. Luke’s as a member. Deciding I want to practice and live out my faith with this assembly. Worship on Sundays and you all, you who are wonderfully made, have shown me love and community.
I am especially feeling energized to work with St. Luke’s and other community partners on the mental health campaign for a free, public mental health center in our neighborhood. It feels timely to do this work together and also healing for myself, and our community, too. To remind ourselves and one another that we belong to each other, that the needs of our neighbors, and selves, matter. And that we do not have to do the hard work alone. We are an assembly of complexity and healing, of struggle and joy, and we are the body of Christ.