Kenotic Walking, Wilderness Sojourning, and Hospitality

  • Kip Redick


In previous publications I have explored long distance wilderness hiking as a contemporary form of pilgrimage wherein meaning making rises in the interplay between contemplative walking and the flow experience, a merging of action and awareness. The practice of long distance walking in remote places distances pilgrims from their everyday lifeworld. They encounter new possibilities and script new meaning. Hospitality has also been shown to be a key phenomenon in these sojourns. As hiker/pilgrims learn to receive hospitality, especially in the context of wilderness, wherein the givers of hospitality are the extra-human inhabitants of the land, these hiker/pilgrims might return home and begin to show more hospitality to both human and extra-human constituents. This paper extends these explorations with the introduction of kenotic walking, or walking-self-emptying. I will employ a phenomenological approach, listening to the voices of philosophers such as Martin Buber, Emmanuel Levinas, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Jean-Luc Marion, and Martin Heidegger, to name a few. Kenotic walking will be shown to be distinct from mindfulness meditation. In drawing this distinction, I will reflect on the ecstatic religious experiences of St. Teresa of Avila and compare them to kenotic walking on wilderness trails. She describes her ecstasy as stopping all discursive reasoning but not suspending the understanding, nor ceasing from thought. But unlike St. Teresas mystical love union with a focus on the divine Majesty, kenotic walking evokes a mystical love union with the constituents of the immediate milieu. A phenomenology of pilgrimage, wherein I distinguish pilgrims from tourist, illuminates the mystical experience of kenotic walking through another hiking practice, reflective walking. The pilgrim, unlike the tourist, receives absolute hospitality. Tourists remain located in an economy of exchange wherein the tourist industry has coopted the term hospitality. I will employ Jacques Derridas thoughts on hospitality in showing the difference between pilgrims and tourists. In receiving absolute hospitality, the pilgrim becomes aware of mutual existence and begins emptying human centered economic strategies while searching for a more inclusive ecology. This essay will show the connection between the religious experience of wilderness sojourning and a more inclusive ecological consciousness.