Do you want to be in better health? Then…Solvitur ambulando.
Feeling stressed, depressed or anxious? Solvitur ambulando.
Are you feeling like you’re about to lose it? Solvitur ambulando.
The baby won’t stop crying, the kids driving you batty, work is killing you? Solvitur ambulando.
Need to work through a problem with a friend? Age catching up with you? Solvitur ambulando.
Are you lacking inspiration? Are you spiritually dry? Solvitur ambulando.
If your Latin is rusty, or non-existent, let me explain. “Solvitur ambulando” means “It is solved by walking around.” This phrase was articulated in an article on a website called The Art of Manliness, which supports the book of the same title—and now gives you a glimpse into my Google searches and insecurities.
However, the book was co-written by a man and a woman and the lessons often apply to both genders. The online article addressed all those situations I just mentioned, and a few more, and maintains that, often, such problems can be resolved or improved by, simply, taking a walk.
Now granted, walking can seem unexciting, so much so that the word for a person on foot—“pedestrian”—is also a synonym for ‘dull’ and ‘ordinary.’ Still though, the authors highlight walking’s beneficial effects on our bodies, minds and souls, and they are neither dull nor ordinary. The positive impacts of walking can actually be extraordinary.
In support of their remarks, the authors quote numerous writers from the past who praised walking. One example comes from Alfred Barron, who in 1875 wrote, “I walk chiefly to visit natural objects, but I sometimes go on foot to visit myself, and discover a good deal of my own thought. He is a poor reporter, indeed, who does not note his thought as well as his sight. These [legs], when in motion, are so stimulating to thought and mind, they almost deserve to be called the reflective organs. Walking, Barron believes, benefits the body and the mind.
But the benefits of walking are recorded even earlier than 1875. In the first century, the apostle Paul, in discussing the liberation of our human nature through Christ, wrote “For God has done what the law could not do: by sending his own Son to deal with sin, God condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but walk according to the Spirit.”
Yes, Paul is using “walk” in a symbolic way, not in the literal sense the solvitur ambulando article does, but nonetheless, Paul’s use of “walk” means to “tread all around” or to “walk at large.” Thus, Paul would likely say that not just any “walking around” will address our problems and struggles, but only solvitur ambulando that includes the Spirit of God in our perambulations—solvitur ambulando per spiritu. It is solved by walking around with the spirit of God.
For Paul, walking in the Spirit is the way to the life God intends for us. In other words, we solve the problems of life by living them while embracing what God is doing for us. But to be clear—we should not hear this “just walk in the Spirit and you will live a ‘victorious’ Christian life,” for the fact is, many of the problems and struggles of life do not lend themselves to tidy and “victorious” solutions.
Sometimes the solutions come only by walking in an obtuse yet familiar way. And that familiar way is…muddling. That’s how we often walk, isn’t it? Rare are the days when our feet hit the bedroom floor running, and we burst out the door spine straight and tall, chin up and out, and legs feeling full yet light. No, most days, we’re just muddling through, willing our legs forward when internally we are screaming; “I’m going back to bed.”
Muddling through the problems and struggles of life— Solvitur ambulando per muddling.
The concept of “muddling through” is defined as “to continue despite confusion and difficulties,” or as “to succeed (often clumsily) despite being ill-equipped or untrained.” Doesn’t that describe the reality of much of what we face in life? In fact, if we want a definition of what “normal” is, muddling through probably works about as well as anything.
Perhaps when we were young, we naively believed solutions to most problems were “out there” somewhere, and that if we let the right people know about our difficulties, or got in touch with the right agency, or hired the right life coach, or read the right book, or whatever, things would be fixed or solved.
But what has life taught us since our younger years? Yes, there are wise people and helping agencies; yes, there are how-to books and what not— but in many circumstances, there’s only so much others can do or are willing to do. Much of what remains is up to us. And that often means muddling through— willing one foot in front of the other, somehow doing what needs to be done today, tipping the urns to find one more drop of life. That’s muddling through.
Muddling through is often exhausting, but it’s frequently the only way through, because much of the time there are no big, one-stroke solutions to life’s problems and struggles. And while this is true, the Apostle Paul is telling the Roman church, and us, that though we often muddle while we walk through life, there is for the faithful follower of God, always, the chance to walk with Christ—the one who promises to always show us a way through—even if all we can do is muddle. Because after all, it may not seem very efficient, but muddling is still walking.
We all know muddling through is the opposite of efficiency, the antithesis of a well-oiled machine, and there are always people and seminars and books ready to tell us how to be more efficient. But the trouble is, the world itself seldom runs efficiently.
What’s more, the situations in life that makes it possible for us to do such things as “grow in the Spirit” are seldom models of efficiency. For example, one of the places where we learn to care about others is our family, an institution that’s never been accused of efficiency. Growing up, my family, nuclear and extended, put the “fun” in dysfunctional.
Writer Eugene Kennedy takes this a step further; looking at pre-family ambulations, noting that one way men and women grow is by falling in love, a process that “has never had high marks for efficiency.”
“Falling in love”, says Kennedy, “preoccupies and drains a man of his energy, making him moon around during hours when he should be working; and yet it is still the best experience he knows, the experience that opens the magic of the world to him.” Further, Kennedy says, “Christ lived an intensely human [read ‘inefficient’] life and he invites us to do the same. That’s the whole meaning of Incarnation, and that the Spirit can only touch us and change us when we drop the armor of efficiency and are able to let ourselves out with all the rough edges of life showing.”
“Rough edges”—who doesn’t have any of those? “Rough edges”—who hasn’t been trying to hide those from others—including maybe ourselves. Working to smooth the “rough edges” of our lives is the framework in which we muddle that makes all the difference. And that’s the heart of Paul’s message in in our passage for today—this passage of muddling through in the flesh.
Paul is helping us understand the options before us. We can… muddle through in the “flesh”— in dread that life has no meaning and that, in the end, everything and everyone amounts to nothing.
We can muddle through in the flesh— in the hope against hope that we’ll somehow find peace in self-indulgence.
We can muddle through in the flesh— in the fear that some past misdeed, real or imagined, will haunt us for our lifetime.
We can muddle through in the flesh— believing we are alone and it’s all up to us, and thus having little hope of resolving anything.
Or… Or, Paul says… We can muddle through in the Spirit— looking at things as they really are, but with the assurance that sin and death do not have the last word. We can muddle through in the Spirit— with the belief that what cannot be resolved can be endured through the grace of God. We can muddle through in the Spirit— with the comfort that the Spirit of God is a Spirit of peace that passes understanding—solviltur ambulando per muddling per spiritum! Or something like that. We may muddle—and maybe that’s the best we can do on any given day—but do it in the Spirit of God, and it will be infinitely more efficient.
J.B. Phillips, contributor to “The New Testament in Modern English”, renders a few of Paul’s verses to the Romans in ways that can help us with the Apostle’s epistle about muddling in a slightly more nuanced manner, saying, “No condemnation now hangs over the head of those who are ‘in’ Jesus Christ. For the new spiritual principle of life ‘in’ Christ lifts me out of the old vicious circle of sin and death. The carnal attitude sees no further than natural things. But the spiritual attitude reaches out after the things of the spirit. The former attitude means, bluntly, death: the latter means life and inward peace.”
“Inward peace”, is the remedy for “rough edges.” “Inward peace”, is what makes our muddling bearable, if not even pleasant. And “inward peace” comes when we chose to solve, or manage, or endure life’s challenges by putting first, not our desires and will, but the desires and will of God.
Muddling in the Spirit means that as we face the problems of life, especially those that seem to defy solution, when all we have left to do is muddle through— we do not muddle through alone.
So may we… view our problems and struggles, our pains and losses, our terrors and closed doors… against the backdrop of what it means to walk in the Spirit— Solvitur ambulando per muddling per spiritum—it is solved by walking, if only muddled walking, but walking nonetheless, with the Spirit of God. And then, may we carry on, clumsily if necessary, but in the certainty that God’s inward peace flows through our inefficiency, showing us a way through, to healing and wholeness. Amen.