AN ETERNAL WALKING SPACE OR THE COLLAPSE OF SPACE

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We have added depth to our view of Missouri as we have covered most all of the parks in the northwest portion of the State. At Van Meter State Park we came closest to walking in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark as they described the bend in the Missouri River from where the park is presently located. The old Indian ruins in the park predated their expedition but within a few miles of the park Lewis and Clark encountered a tribe of their descendants. The high ground of the park provided its first inhabitants a view of the valley below explaining the location of the large fort, and for this same view Lewis probably climbed the hill and committed to his journal a description of the scene as it still presents itself.

At Mark Twain State Park, though we saw Samuel Clemens boyhood home, I feel sure the man himself would have avoided the dense forest from which we emerged with hundreds of ticks attached to us. Though Twain was himself a walker, he was as happy walking in downtown New York, and now I understand why. Twain enjoyed people and carried his fame with such ease that when he and a friend were walking in Manhattan, despite his friends suggestion that they avoid St. Patrick’s Cathedral due to the crowds, Twain insisted that was precisely why he wanted to walk there.

Our walk in Babler State Park presented views like Daniel Boone himself might have seen. Boone was on our mind as we walked and then dropped in on the old Boone homestead. The stone house built by Daniel and his son, Nathan, still stands straight and strong and indicates the man was incapable of crookedness – despite his detractors. It was only in Missouri, stalking game into his eighties, with his Kentucky land deals and law suits far behind, that the old man found contentment. Kentucky so wanted him back that they exhumed the body and moved the grave, but our school’s historian, Professor Pelfrey, assures me Boone rests in Missouri soil. Kentucky was given the body of Boone’s old slave. Boone swore he would never return to Kentucky and I would like to believe he had the last laugh on the State that treated him so poorly.

Wallace State Park, outside of Kansas City, provided trails covered by a thin forest canopy – thin enough to dapple the trail with sprinkles of shadow and light. No great event marked the occasion but the scene of butterflies passing in and out of the light and the sheer pleasantness of the walk is now a permanent part of my memory.

The walking has expanded our sense of the State perhaps in the same way that every child’s first steps develop their spatial sense. Walking is linked to the development of children’s spatial orientation and eventual self/other differentiation. In turn, moral, emotional, and intellectual development and the complex meaning attached to human relationships is linked to learning to walk.

Mircea Eliade’s History of Religious Ideas describes how the vertical/horizontal axis organized around the vertical body extends to the cosmological symbolism of religion. In Eliade’s description religion is an extension of the attempt, begun in walking, at orientation. His two-fold explanation of religion, as sui generis (transcendent and mystical) experience focused on cosmic repetition (as opposed to history), seems contradictory. The cosmic immanence and the subjective immanence linked to a particular notion of absolute transcendence (entry into the Good or the One) resolves the problem of disorientation by passage beyond space and time. In other words, where walking begins the project of orienting the self in space and time, religion fulfills the project by obliterating space and time and absolving the need or capacity to walk.

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Eliade’s picture of the problem and answer bear the marks of the peculiar spatial disorientation brought on by the Fall. When Adam and Eve hear the sound of God “taking a walk in the cool of the evening” (Gen. 3:8-9) they take flight into the Garden in the attempt to put as much distance as possible (an infinite amount?) between themselves and God. The flight into the dense foliage (nature – with its “infinite cosmic repetition?”) and the unbearable fear and shame are in no way relieved by subsequent events. God’s question, “Where are you?” reverberates throughout the narrative of the Bible and idolatrous religion is the continued attempt to put God at an infinite distance by absolutizing the immanent.

God’s pursuit of humankind is an invitation to join him in a walk: “If you walk in My statutes . . . I will walk along among you and I will be your Almighty” (Lev. 26:3, 12). According to Jewish Midrash “God’s walk in the Garden, originally planned to proceed with human accompaniment, will finally be realized.” “In the end of days God will skip over the mountains and hills (Song of Sol. 2:8) and when they see His light and realize His voice issues from the Garden of Eden, as it was with Adam, as it is written, ‘I heard your voice in the Garden’ [Gen. 3:10]—then the righteous, as they are aroused and hear the voice of the Holy Blessed One, will say, ‘This is the voice of my Beloved Who is coming.’” As David Greenstein puts it, “Adam’s moment of dread at hearing the sound of God’s walking will be transformed into an eternity of joy.”[1]

Two forms of religion and two modes of doing theology present themselves in the comparison of Eliade and biblical religion. This is illustrated in Plato’s resolution to the problem of the One, which in Eliade’s description simply sums up the religious resolution, and the Jewish Sh’ma. 

In the first, humankind is in pursuit of the absolute One or God with focus on the vertical and resolution is had in achieving unity (without distinction) with the One. In Eliade’s picture sui generis experience (mystical and ineffable) makes transcendence available in negation of the world. The need for orientation is eliminated as transcendence is without time and space.

In the second, the Bible pictures God in pursuit of man through his Word. The declaration of the oneness of God as King above and below and to the four directions of the world provides orientation, in that God unifies the multiplicity of directions in himself. Walking in and through the Word in the world pictures the world as a nexus of relationships in which an infinite space is opened in God for humankind.

1] David Greenstein, Roads to Utopia : The Walking Stories of the Zohar, 28-29

 

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