Move As If the Hounds of Hell are After You


Your way was in the sea, and your paths in the great waters, yet your footsteps were not seen. —Psalm 77:19


When I walk long distances, I pay a price.

It’s a relatively minor one: an ache in my hip that sends tentacles down to my knee. It’s an annoyance, mostly. Sometimes it makes it hard to fall asleep.

I feel it after I take an hour’s walk on the beach on Sunday mornings, toes sinking down into cool sand or sliding over slick kelp. I get ready for these excursions knowing I’ll hurt afterwards, but the long line of sand along the shoreline is more than worth the price.

I know the roots of my aching hip: 15 years of studying ballet. My toes point out without me trying, and I carry my weight on the outer edges of my feet. Walking with that stance twists my hip in its socket. It makes a loud pop when I twist it back.

Sometimes, I try to think about my alignment when I walk. I consciously try to rotate my hip.

But I have to think about every single step.

Is my puny effort of will worth it? Will a few minutes of concentration do anything against decades of muscle memory? Can I really change how I journey through the world with a little willpower?

I’ve been thinking about healing lately. My family has been talking about habits we formed as parents and children back when I was too little to know what “dysfunction” meant. When I talk to my sister over the phone, I hear the hope in her voice, and in mine, that we can all relate differently, that we can journey together in new ways.

It’s been a few months of talking now, and my first flush of enthusiasm has run out. At the beginning, I felt excited to talk about hard stuff out loud. I felt freed from shame and secrecy and people-pleasing. I felt triumphant and brave and gutsy.

But when you finally admit that you wish the past had gone differently, you find grief rushing in. It’s like a law of physics: the harder you suppressed anger or sadness or dismay, the more it demands attention NOW.

When you get to the point of admitting you are desperate for old patterns to change, you have no more tolerance for the way things are. When you finally break down and start hoping, it is terrible to realize that even in the best circumstances, people don’t turn on a dime and start walking exactly how you want them to.

People including yourself.

It’s hard to change how we journey through the world. It. Is. Freaking. Hard. And if you try, you soon slam into the limitations of one person, one force of will, one heart full of good, flawed intentions. You wonder if it’s even worth trying, with every step, to walk differently.

Here’s where I should say something about Jesus changing everything. Except I am tired.

Usually on Sundays, I take some time to read one of the prayer services in the Book of Common Prayer. I love the Morning Prayer service. It’s deep peace for my soul.

But this week, I kept finding something ticky-tack to do instead. I felt really passionate about those ticky-tack things, and so the sun dipped off the side of the earth without me praying.

On Monday night, when I had another moment of stillness, I felt a nudge to consider why I’d procrastinated.

A little God-shaped nudge.

I sighed, and decided to spend a few minutes in the Word in hopes I could understand my avoidance. The lectionary sent me to Psalm 77.

The Psalmist is crying out to God, and also questioning Him, asking, “Will the Lord cast me off for ever? Will he no more show his favor?”

And then: “My grief is this: the right hand of the Most High has lost its power.”

I realized this was what I had been avoiding. This fear, this terrible fear, that there was no power out there that could change my journey. I knew I wasn’t capable on my own. And now I worried that God wasn’t either.

I had dared to hope. I had dared to want.

Praying would expose me to more desire. Because if I said out loud I was afraid healing wasn’t coming, then I’d have to taste, again, my desperate yearning for it.

I spent years thinking that I needed to tamp down my desires in order to be holy, to take the spring out of my step and concentrate so that I placed my feet exactly right, but I’m starting to understand that Jesus calls me to run ragged and desperate and free.

He’s asking me to put yearning into my forward motion. He’s asking me run towards what I’m hungry for. He’s telling me to stop taking mincing steps, shilly-shallying, wandering off into dead ends.

Don’t worry if it aches, he says. Don’t worry about whether you’ll have trouble falling asleep later. Don’t worry what comes after.

Run through the pounding waves and I will be beside you. I will fill your lungs. I will power your legs.

Race towards what your spirit is crying for. Stop telling yourself it doesn’t matter if your heart is cold or numb, or dead inside. Stop walking slowly in circles.

Run. Move as if the hounds of hell are after you. The healing comes in chasing your desire with everything you have.

I am admitting, again, that I’m ravenous for healing. I am getting up, and stumbling forward, trusting that even if I ache, God will keep me going.