Dr. John Ratey is a fan of walking with no purpose. A professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, Ratey has done extensive research on exercise, creativity and depression. His research suggests that when we walk without any goal or agenda—when we wander, in other words—our brains are able to pick up more information. In fact, walking aimlessly allows the free flow of thoughts and ideas that don’t occur when we focus on something specific. In addition to inspiring creative thought, Ratey has found that exercise can be therapeutic for depression and ADHD. When patients would walk for even ten minutes a day, these ailments would lift.
The thought here is not to challenge belief, but unto aim and purpose as we come out of a gripping Pandemic season that has shaken stability. In a fast-paced and efficiency driven world, these ideas seem counter-intuitive. For many, walking without any purpose sounds like a complete waste of time. After all, there is so much to do!
Days overflow with so many demands on time and attention. Flooded by obligations, it is no wonder that hypertension, depression, and other stress-related diseases are so prevalent. Living life becomes all about doing, without much thought for being. Exercise is for most, just one part of a day’s hoped-for accomplishments. “Bucket lists” are created so that even the living of one’s life – is marked by checking off one event or experience after another. Moving at hyper-speed then, wandering for the sake of wandering sounds ridiculous.
It’d be unlikely to characterize the earthly ministry of Jesus as time spent wandering aimlessly. Our progressive world might wonder at His unusual pace and priorities during those short, 3 and a half years. Some might wonder, for example: Jesus is willing to be delayed by an unnamed, unknown woman grabbing the hem of his garment in spite of the throngs of people pressing around. In other words. Jesus willingly allows himself to be interrupted by a seemingly unimportant individual, on his way to the synagogue official’s home. Other times, the gospel writers tell of Jesus going off to ‘lonely places’ to pray.
Why would he have done it this way? From our modern perspective, it can seem like such a waste of time. Didn’t he need to save the world? Weren’t there more important things he should have been doing? Perhaps it is in these examples from his own life where even the casual reader might see a different set of priorities than those that govern most in the modern world. Considering Jesus’s way of being in the world—even when he knew his life would be cut short. I have been inspired to think about my own priorities and the manner in which I move throughout the day. Generally rushed and hurried, I too, wander from the path of “busy”, unto rest and withdrawal, prayer and stillness.
And yet, the busyness is not what is useful nor is it what brings meaning, beauty, joy, or wonder to living. Creating space for wandering in the crowded days and weeks of our lives allows our thoughts to roam toward new priorities and paths, toward encounters along the road that surprise and nourish the soul, like the disciples who walked unknowingly with the risen Jesus. Wandering—whether that involves the purposeless walking of Dr. Ratey, being distracted by beauty in the person right in front of us or in the natural world, or the intentional withdrawal into silence, stillness, and prayer—is itself a purposeful work.