Once the sidewalk ends the connection between humans and ground (Latin: humus) becomes primary. To step off the sidewalk is to reconnect with our primal origins as earth creatures created or evolved (take your pick) for life on this particular planet in this particular atmosphere. To step off the sidewalk is to retouch our wild indigenous selves.
The classic Christian spiritual disciplines do serve an irreplaceable role in connecting us with the work of God in the world. They are the necessary but insufficient foundation for Christian discipleship in the twenty-first century. But our relationship with our bodily and earthly identity is conflicted in the classic tradition. In the classic tradition the wild, indigenous self is to be feared and therefore colonized and converted.
Many people today recognize the false promises and destructive impact of modern civilization. We often do not know what alternatives exist. Most of us have an unsatisfied desire for wildness and mystery that neither school nor church, neither therapist nor pastor can address. For over two hundred years under the flags of modernity and progress our civilization has been diminishing the biotic capacity of this planet. We have already reached the point of no return. Our ability to effectively respond to our dilemma has been perilously handicapped by dysfunctional political systems and societies that can no longer nurture humans to full maturity and adulthood.
Navigating America’s suburban sprawl without an automobile is almost impossible as well as dangerous. Without sidewalks (or bicycle lanes) the automobile reigns supreme. The only safe way to avoid captivity in your suburban home is to submit to the imperatives of a fossil fuel economy, risk life and limb alongside speeding traffic, or flee the suburbs for the city or the country.
There is something virtuous about sidewalks in providing a safe, effective means for people who prefer to walk rather than drive. However sidewalks have their limitations. Having a sidewalk may be better than not having a sidewalk. The sidewalk may take you where you want to go; but sidewalks only take you where those who poured the sidewalk wanted you to go. As Shel Silverstein reminded us long ago: the adventure begins where the sidewalk ends.1
I want to draw upon Silverstein’s metaphor to explore the practice of spiritual disciplines in contemporary radical Christian practice. Classic spiritual disciplines have their necessary function. They should be taken more seriously than they often are. My thesis however is that the classic practices of formation do not form radical Christians because they were never intended to.
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Nekeisha Alayna Alexis
Liza Minno Bloom
Eda Ruhiye Uca