October 31 of this year marks the five hundredth anniversary of Luther’s posting of the Ninety-Five Theses. It marks a more modest anniversary for me as well: the seventh anniversary of the conclusion of the long walk Andrew and I took in Luther’s footsteps.
The idea germinated back in grad school, when one day it dawned on my hiker husband that the great reformer himself had once been a hiker, too. Friars on pilgrimage to Rome were expected to go on foot the whole way (a ferry crossing was apparently the one allowable exception). Luther must’ve been a lot tougher than the portly portraits of his later years suggest.
Luther’s way was probably a bit shorter than our final tally of one thousand miles since he could go direct on the main roads, whereas in our day the main road has generally become a pedestrian-deadly Autobahn. We took roundabout Jakobusweg (=Camino de Santiago) routes in the northern half of our journey and steered clear over to Liguria on the western coast of Italy in the southern half.
But even if Luther’s total was shorter, he probably walked far longer each day than we did. One estimate we read suggested forty-two kilometers a day, or about twenty-six miles. Once we went thirty-nine kilometers in a day, and it was too much. Of course, it didn’t help that this was only on day three, due to a mistake in calculations, before I’d really acquired my walking legs, and we were suffering over some bad pizza eaten in the late afternoon. By the end of the trip, with all that practice, I could do twenty or twenty-two miles, no problem. But twenty-six? Every day? Clearly, I’d make a lousy friar.
One advantage we had that Luther didn’t was social media. True, a few years later and Luther’s ideas would go viral in his day’s equivalent of social media. And actually, if we’d done our walk much earlier than 2010—which is to say, if Luther had done his walk earlier, so that our attempt to recreate it on its five hundredth anniversary would have had to come sooner—we wouldn’t have had much of an edge over Luther at all. Facebook opened to the general public only in 2006 (can you believe it?) and Twitter was launched the same year. Even blogs date back only to the late 1990s. We used all three media, all under the name “Here I Walk” (a variation on Luther’s “Here I Stand”), to advertise our historic re-creation and its ecumenical intention.
So instead of walking alone up into the Alps, as Luther and his companion did, we got to share news with hundreds of people about the unexpected first snowfall already at the end of September (and the offering of roasted marmot on the menu); we could tell of our serendipitous welcomes by a Lutheran family in Oettingen, Bavaria and a Catholic family in Chiavenna, Italy; I could complain bitterly about the chilly August rain in Germany and how I had to make a rain-skirt out of a garbage bag so as not to get soaked through; Andrew could wax rhapsodic on the Baroque excesses of Vierzehnheiligen or the zebra stripes of Siena’s cathedral—and we’d get instant supportive feedback. It sure helped.
But speaking of waxing rhapsodic, I’m not really the one who should be telling you about this. The official Scribe of the Pilgrimage is Andrew, who was asked soon after the walk ended to tell our tale. As he says now in retrospect, the writing of the book was the second and far more arduous pilgrimage! The outcome is Here I Walk: A Thousand Miles on Foot to Rome with Martin Luther, published last fall by Brazos Press. I may not exactly be the most objective reader (full disclosure: I’m married to the author, I wrote the Afterword about converting from a couch potato to a walker, and that’s me on the cover—that is, the one who isn’t Luther), but I think it’s a beautiful, eloquent, and wise account of our own experiences interwoven with meditations on Luther’s theology and the passage of time. In a way, our pilgrimage was as much about experiencing time passing through the centuries as about space passing underneath our walking feast. Andrew captures that sensation beautifully.
And I’m very happy to say—especially since our pilgrimage was originally undertaken in an ecumenical spirit—that Catholics are captivated with Andrew’s Luther, too. The St. Anthony Messenger, the largest-circulating Catholic magazine in the U.S. with seventy thousand subscribers, has put Andrew’s telling of our tale on the front cover of their October 2017 issue! Lots of great photos are included there, too.
Take a look. And then take a walk! You don’t have to go a thousand miles to be a pilgrim or meet your neighbor.