The Scenic Route (or Rediscovering the Pleasures of the Geographical Parish, Part I)

By automobile, the distance to St. James of the Valley from our home in Hartwell is a mere mile, just a slight jaunt up Vine until it tuns into Springfield Pike.  As far as Catholicism worldwide goes, as well as in many parts of our fair country, we are blessed with being a quite manageable and neighborly distance from our local tabernacle.  And so, capitalizing on the locality, we awaken about the same time we normally would for Sunday mass, don some sensible church-appropriate shoes, and set out, not for Rte 4, as mapquest tells us to do, but for the more ambling scenic route, resplendent with summer blossoms, curious rabbits, and perhaps even more curious neighbors (I think they are more used to seeing walkers in jogging regalia and sporty shoes).  And sometimes we must speedwalk to make it to mass before the bell (such as when I can’t find sunglasses or Matt can’t find his other shoe), but we inevitably saunter back at half pace – slow enough to peruse the bulletin, not rush the elderly getting to their cars in front of us, and not rush ourselves. 

Recently, while studying a reading from Maria von Trapp on how Austrians traditionally kept Sunday holy, I was struck by how foreign some of her concepts of simply readying the house, wearing one’s Sunday best, and the joys of walking through the hills to mass were to my high school students, and, in some large part, myself.  While we had always tried to walk on Sundays, whenever possible, the very real romance available to the individual who takes the slower way has very much taken itself from the page to practice.  Sundays are, to a good extent, far too rushed for us, but the deliberative action involved in leaving the car in its spot to really pilgrimage (just 1.5 miles each way!) toward celebration is, in its own way, one that has been both revolutionary and transformative for us.  

As gas prices continue to rise, more cars are left unpurchased in car lots, and we as a nation are reevaluating this beautiful and bold, reckless and really very valuable thing called the automobile, maybe now is the time to reclaim Sunday in your Cincinnati neighborhood, in whatever ways are possible for you.

-Colleen Swaim


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