I had an absolute blast teaching at The Salvation Army’s National Music Camp for the Canada and Bermuda territory a few months ago. One message in particular has been resonating with me since that week.
“Walk gently upon the earth.”
There was a group of students and instructors from the northern parts of British Columbia that I spent a lot of time with. They were from places like Gitwinksihlkw (“Git-win-silk”) and Gitsegukla and Gitaus (I have no clue…). They willingly shared with me stories of their culture and history and a few of them spoke in their native languages. We talked about how Christian faith and experience has grown in their culture. It’s always fascinating to me, and humbling, to see how God speaks and reveals himself in different ways and to different cultures.
They welcomed me to their table and we sat together meal after meal. Our conversations carried throughout the days. More than once, we would begin our days together over coffee and end them in the same way as we walked to our rooms. I was fascinated by their stories.
The group represented a number of indigenous groups from the northern BC area. Many of those in the group were members of the Nisga’a nation, a people who have lived in the Nass River valley of northwestern British Columbia since before recorded time. They still build on an ancient code of law, most of which has only recently been documented. Their language is based on sounds, not on symbols. While they use and spend and earn money, their cultural currency, or their perception of wealth, takes into consideration far more than monetary value. Wealth is salmon and storytelling, it’s measured in families and the growth of a wilp, or “house.”
To close one of our evening programs together, this group of beautiful people shared a glimpse of their culture with all of us. In native dress, several of them danced to a drum beat and a song. They shared a brief history and closed with the words, “Walk gently upon the earth.”
What does it mean to walk gently?
To walk gently upon the earth is a way of living and being with God, with others and with the world. It’s a deeply spiritual rule that affects all of life. The beauty of the idea lies in its necessary harmony. You either walk gently in your whole being, or you do not. You cannot walk gently in one area but not another. For instance, if I am truly walking gently with God, then I am also walking gently with others, with creation and with myself.
If I could try to distill the idea to a paragraph (which is still insufficient), to walk gently means to listen, to feel, and to walk with another as long as is needed, as long as is fruitful. To walk gently means to come alongside, to carry, to endure. It may mean silence or it may mean yelling at the sky. It may mean a good belly laugh together or it may mean shared tears. It is a living intercession of presence, a continual prayer of awareness on behalf of another. It almost never means advice. It is our life shared that matters and not our voice.
In utter contrast, we live in an age where the clamor reigns supreme. The loudest voice wins no matter what is said. Value is measured in likes, followers and whether or not something has “gone viral.” In the midst of all of this, the art and being of walking gently is almost alien.
We’d rather speak than listen. We’d rather be heard than hear. We’d rather teach than be taught. We’d rather be right and alone than wrestling together, yet we are communal people meant for relationship and fellowship. So isn’t being alone already wrong enough?
As I read more and more about the Nisga’a culture, I was convicted by their approach to community and their accountability to one another. I read things like “If a man is hungry, the nation is hungry. If one lacks, the nation is lacking. If any warrior is wounded, we are all wounded.”
When we do not know how to heal, may we learn to walk gently. When we do not know how to carry the other, may we walk gently with them. May we incline our ear and not our tongue and walk gently, that we may know the heart and rest with the other. May we walk gently when we do not know how to wrestle with the things of life, of God, or of this world.
May we learn how how to walk gently. May we learn to walk gently upon the earth, to walk gently with God and to walk gently with one another. May we learn to walk gently with ourselves.
Damian, Anthony, Isaiah, Christian, Jamie-Lee, Madelaine, Hannah and Cyrus… thank you. I am grateful to and for you. Thank you for willingly sharing your time, your history and your culture with all of us at “National.” May you continue to walk gently upon this earth and may God continue to bless you and yours. May He use your gentle walking to change this world.