The Way Under Our Feet - Bishop Graham launches a new book
16 April 2020
A new book published today by the Rt Revd Graham Usher conveys how exhilarating it is to walk into the depths of our humanity.
Walking is one of the simplest things we do as humans. It’s how most of us experience life. We become more ready to recognize the needs as well as the joys of others; we sift our thoughts; we seek to heal our battered world, even as we glory in the beauty of nature; we find ourselves companying with our three miles an hour God.
We asked Bishop Graham to share his thoughts with us on the publication of The Way Under Our Feet:
What inspired you to write this book at this time?
I love to get out walking and I’ve come to realise that walking is very much part of my spiritual life. I was intrigued to find out more so I started delving more into the subject and thinking hard about. The book kind of walked itself into being during a three-month sabbatical as I walked on the Mount Athos peninsula, in the Troodos Mountains in Cyprus, and in the Judean desert. I met some incredible characters along the way and learnt so much – not least about myself.
What were the challenges in researching this book?
I interviewed several refugees about how they walked out of their home countries. Most did so in utter fear for their lives. I needed them to trust me so that they would share honestly, rather than what they thought that I wanted to hear. I tried to ensure that each encounter was a pastoral conversation rather than an interrogation. Goodness these people have been interrogated too much in their lives! Each refugee I met is a deeply precious person – made in the image of God – and many are living very precarious lives. I hope I have accurately conveyed their emotions, their memories, and their hopes so that the reader can sense their individual story.
What is the most surprising thing you discovered while writing your book?
I knew that walking in forests calms me and relaxes me. It was good to discover some possible reasons for this, including the influence of the forest’s colour spectrum and chemical compounds, including phytoncides, on your brain.
You obviously have a deep connection to the great outdoors, landscapes and nature. Where do you think this stems from?
I think it’s because some of my deepest experiences of the presence of God have been in the outdoors. I feel close to God amongst the natural world and seeing beauty in the environment. I guess I resonate with the stories of Moses taking off his sandals when he realises that he’s treading on holy ground by the burning bush. But I love also the vision in Revelation of a river lined by trees, the leaves of which will be for the healing of the nations.
What is the significance of the title?
I explain this in the book. Jesus called himself ‘the way’ and members of the early Church were known as a group called ‘the Way’ before they were called Christians. The second part of the title comes from the great American nature writer Henry David Thoreau. When he has cut through snow and ice to reach drinking water in a pond, he looks down into the dark water and reflects, ‘heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads’. I joined the two phrases together to reflect that we make our pilgrimage with God by putting our feet firmly on the ground.
Tell us your favourite place to walk.
I feel happiest walking in the Inverpolly National Nature Reserve in the far north of Scotland. I love the lochs with their sandy beaches, the sound of the deer, the remnants of ancient Scots Pine trees, the wonderfully majestic mountains of Suilven, Stac Polly, Canisp and the others. On a clear blue, sunny day (admittedly a rarity), and with no midges, that’s the closest place I get to bliss.
If you could choose one companion to walk with, who would it be?
Many of the Scottish mountains I’ve walked have been in the company of a long-standing friend, Colin. If he wasn’t available, I would love to go back in time with one of my predecessors as bishop of Norwich, Launcelot Fleming. He was the first bishop not to live in the Palace and he was the first person to live in the house I live in now. He was also a polar explorer and geologist and, having read his biography, we would have much to talk about.
What are the key messages you hope readers will take away?
That walking is good for your body, mind and spirit. We find ourselves in the company of our three-mile-an-hour God and we walk ourselves back into the depths of our humanity.
Do hope to write another book in the future? If so, what would you like to focus on next?
Life’s a bit busy at present but I’ve got a book about the gift of ministry – as deacons, priests and bishops – that’s been brewing for a little while. We’ll see!
EDP Norfolk Magazine says:
It is a hymn to the joy and power of walking. The Way Under Our Feet, celebrates the Bishop’s love of walking and the natural world, exploring both landscapes and why walking is so good for the heart, soul and body. Full of original observations and amusing personal anecdotes, Bishop Graham suggests walking can reveal how Jesus experienced the world as a “three mile an hour God.”