I don't know if there's a silver lining to our gasoline woes, but I believe I am seeing a few silver threads. For example, I'm seeing more people — more families — walking to church.

It's a sweet sight. Not just because they look like a Norman Rockwell painting but because going to church is something of a pilgrimage. And a pilgrimage has always required footwork.

Whether pilgrims trek the hundreds of miles along the road to Santiago in Spain or just move from one station of the cross to the next around the interior of a cathedral, they vote with their feet. Walking keeps time and space on a human scale. It keeps the surroundings real.

Besides, a pilgrimage to church chimes in the mind with the greatest pilgrimage of all. Each Sunday we leave the safety of our home, go out to learn and serve, then return home again. That's a model for the bigger trek people make from the bosom of God, into mortality, and back again.

Remember the T.S. Eliot line?

"The end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time."

That's a walk to church.

But more than metaphor, what I enjoy about people walking to church is the sight of them triggers a flock of memories in me — families walking to church opens up my childhood.

My wife Carol and I grew up in the same LDS ward. When I was about 10 years-old, I'd always see her strolling to church with her four sisters. They were like "beautiful children" from Victorian literature — decked out in their array of petticoats, white socks and shiny shoes. They looked like poster girls for the movie "Pollyanna."

But there was often one fly in the ointment — the family's sloppy old Springer Spaniel named "Jingles."

Jingles would tag along behind them — like smudge on a lovely postcard.

They'd try to chase him back home or shoo him away. But the dog was determined to trail them all the way church. Sometimes it would even wait for them on the church steps and tag them back home again.

I've often thought there was probably some kind of lesson in that. No matter how well-ordered and spiffy we try to make things, something unexpected will always crop up to muddy the water. No matter how hard we try, we can never really control destiny. The best-laid plans of mice and men and all that.

And that's the kind of lesson, I think, people learn when they make a pilgrimage. Striding along, your feet meeting the ground, the breeze in your hair and sun in your eyes, we find ourselves "popping awake" to the wonders around us. And once awake, we start to learn and understand.

"The best way to lengthen out our days," wrote Charles Dickens, "is to walk steadily and with a purpose."

While ambling along on foot, you see, hear, smell and learn things you will never glean from the window of a car.

And though that fact might not be enough to offset the pain of the current gas crisis, at least, I think, it offers a little beam of light through the gathering storm clouds.


E-mail: [email protected]