Before he departed for Sabbatical Adventure 1, Dave read to me a quote from John Muir:
“I don’t like either the word [hike] or the thing. People ought to saunter in the mountains – not ‘hike!’ Do you know the origin of that word saunter? It’s a beautiful word. Away back in the middle ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going they would reply, ‘A la sainte terre’, ‘To the Holy Land.’ And so they became known as sainte-terre-ers or saunterers. Now these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not ‘hike’ through them.”
Sainte-Terre, French for Holy Land. Which made saunterers, sainte-terre-ers, pilgrims.
Apparently this lovely idea originated with Thoreau. It’s likely Muir was referencing Thoreau, and it also gives me some small comfort that even brilliant thinkers can be less than 100% correct. Sadly, dictionaries and linguists largely reject this word origin.
The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) also rejects saunter as a twist on s’aventurer, which looks like adventure and means to take risks – and also holds appeal. It seems that the word at one point meant to muse, and later took on the idea of a leisurely stroll, possibly because one walked slowly while pondering their thoughts.
Yet one might argue that all land is holy. That Moses stood on holy ground, that the pilgrims walked on holy trails toward holy land, and that wherever we place our feet, you and me and all of us, that place is holy. Whether we hike – rather saunter – through the pure beauty of Thoreau’s Walden, or the staggering beauty of Muir’s Sierra Nevadas, or on the pilgrim trails through beautiful European scenery, or through the inner city look-for-it beauty of Oakland, we are on holy ground precisely because we are there and God was already there and God walks with us in all places.
In the next month, we will drive from California to Nashville, from Nashville to Montana, from Montana to California – approximately 7,400 miles. Depending on the length of the drive between destinations, we will spend one or two nights in most destinations. We know that’s not nearly enough, that we are attempting to cram too much in too fast. We’re taking the highlights tour. I’m sure some days it will feel like we’re flying through the country, watching blurry countryside flash by the windows of our (thankfully air conditioned) SUV.
We belong firmly to the camp of those ready to infuse God-sight and spiritual meaning into our activities and surroundings. So whether we drive through, stop by, adventure, hike, or saunter, we are ready to take it all in and encounter God in all of it. We will take some healthy risks. We will leisurely consider the landscape as we walk, pondering thoughts silently and aloud. We will warmly greet fellow travelers and those who call each place home (and I do mean warmly greet, as we travel through southern states in June).
Thoreau also wrote: “Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, resign yourself to the influence of the earth.” We intend to live fully in this season of travel. Breathing, drinking, and tasting the deliciousness of our time together exploring the United States. I don’t feel at all resigned but rather wild about the possibilities of abandoning ourselves to the earth’s influence. After all, as Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.”
I’ve been praying the prayer below each morning for a year, and it has taken on new meaning with Dave’s sabbatical and the playful planning for this trip. Pray with us?
May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you : wherever he may send you;
May he guide you through the wilderness : protect you through the storm;
May he bring you home rejoicing : at the wonders he has shown you;
May he bring you home rejoicing : once again into our doors.
–Common Prayer, Shane Claiborne
I will be away from my computer while we travel, so follow me on Instagram for more on our adventures across the United States.