By Sister Jeannie Masterson
In a burst of creative genius, the Health Ministry in my parish joined with local Episcopal Retirement Homes to create a motivation for us to exercise from July through September. Whether walking, swimming, bicycling, gardening, or even chair exercises, we’re encouraged to keep a tally of our miles (if you don’t have a Fitbit or its cousin, 20 minutes of any exercise is considered a mile). As we exercise, we’re invited to consider the millions of refugees and immigrants whose only choice for life is to walk: away from everything they’ve ever known, with no clarity about where they might be welcomed to begin anew. Thus the exercise is known as “Walk to Freedom”.
Because I happened to be born in a country that has not fought a war on its own soil in my lifetime, I can only imagine what it’s like to be so terrorized as to leave everything behind. Circumstances would have to be very challenging for me to make the decision that it’s safer and more hopeful to take whatever possessions I can carry than to stay where all my roots are. Things I take for granted, like having available bathrooms, a place to brush my teeth, three meals a day (and usually ample snacks in between), a safe and warm/cool place to sleep, accessible health care, the knowledge that my family and friends are safe, even wi-fi access on demand – all vanish when one hits the road as a displaced person.
Throughout these months of mindful walking, the parish will offer insights about refugees through speakers, movies, articles, and discussions, leading to some action in solidarity with our brothers and sisters. We will map the total miles the parish walks in comparison with the most traveled routes of modern day refugees. With all our supports, will we collectively walk as far as one person from Damascus walks to find safety? We have no children to carry, nor sick parents to assist, nor family members from whom we have been separated in the migration. Our walk is totally voluntary, and at our discretion. What a difference from the forced marches of children, often as young as 6, who are kidnapped into various armies in our world!
A further offering of our parish “Walk to Freedom” is weekly devotions: scriptures, quotes, poetry and music to keep us connected with both our spiritual forebearers who journeyed, from Abraham to Mary and Joseph to St. Paul, and these modern journeyers. Our journey is to be spiritual as well as physical, to walk in others’ shoes to get a glimpse into their lives: their fears, their struggles, their challenges, and most of all, their hope. What a gift to be offered more than the thirty-second news feeds, to connect my life with those of my brothers and sisters, to become all the more alert to my multitude of blessings and comforts!
I hope that, by the end of our three months, I have become more sensitive to a wide variety of ways I can become connected rather than distanced, to live with hope rather than fear, to offer generosity of heart rather than greedily clutching the benefits with which I have been blessed. If I’ve moved even inches in these hopes, I will have indeed walked to deeper freedom in the strongest sense of the word.
About the Author
Sister Jeannie Masterson is currently serving her second term on the Congregation Leadership Team. Earlier she served in provincial leadership, teaching, high school administration, and as a pastoral associate for adult formation. Sister Jeannie was the founding and active director for eight years of Cincinnati’s Jordan Center, which brought health attention to uninsured working people and their families.