In the first reading for this 5th day in the octave of Christmas St. John tells us that
he who says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.
The ambiguity of the pronouns in this text is actually helpful. Do we abide in Christ or does Christ abide in us? The answer is both.
But what caught my attention was this image of walking.
We describe the stages of childhood as infant, then toddler, that phase when the child makes his or her first unsteady steps, when they seem to always be on the verge of falling, and often do. But once we pass out of the toddler phase most of us never think of walking again. We just do. We get up and go. Just drive near a university campus and you can see scores of people with their earbuds in, walking mindlessly. We humans can even sleepwalk.
With the years of physical therapy for my cerebral palsy, I know that I should stand up straight, put my hips under me, extend my legs and plant the heel first when I walk. I don't. I drag the toe, wear out the muscles in my back, and go through a pair of shoes about every three months.
Why? Because it's easier. It's the way my body naturally wants to walk. Is it bad for my back, my hips, my knees and ankles? Of course. But I do it anyway, because walking properly is hard work. It requires that I constantly pay attention. I can't walk properly and think about other things. Just ask how often someone has gotten mad because I walked past them without speaking. Real walking is work.
On a deeper level we are all in the same boat. St. John tells us we should walk as Jesus walked. And most of us love the idea in theory. We know that we would be better off if we walked that way. But in practice, it's just too much work. It's just easier to let ourselves walk however we walk. One of the great myths of the modern age is that natural always equals good.
God became incarnate and walked the earth to show us a new way to walk. It is not our natural way. It requires concentration and often feels awkward and uncomfortable. It is, in fact, the way humans were always intended to walk, before we were hobbled by sin.
The good news is that regardless of our physical condition, on this deeper level we can all choose how we are going to walk. Are we going to wander aimlessly through life, being blown about by the demands of others or our own emotions? Or are we going to make the conscious choice to change our stride, stand up straight and walk like Christ?