Walking along the way

This week we asked our bloggers what they had learned from spiritual practices and disciples. This is how they responded.

Confession: I’m a walker.

Unlike “running,”its sexier sibling, saying you go “walking” for exercise doesn’t lead to energetic conversations about races and training schedules. “Walking” brings to mind eccentric writers from a bygone era or those who loop the shopping mall.

But I am a walker. I get up early, encase myself with winter clothing and set forth on a favorite route that meanders for three miles around neighborhoods and river valleys. As unexciting as it is, I enjoy it.

Walking is such a prosaically practical part of our life that we often can ignore what we’re doing when we go from point A to point B. Yet, what would it mean for all of us to pay more attention to our regular walks? What would it mean to see walking as a spiritual discipline?

Recently, I heard an interview with a poet and teacher, who asked her students to write 10 things they observed on their way to class that morning. In the beginning of the semester, the students couldn’t do it. Slowly, over the subsequent weeks, they retrained their eyes and brains to notice what they had dashed past before. How many of us likewise need this retraining? (Note: Those with a dog or small child are forced to learn this – and tap into deep wells of patience – with each step!)

It seems we rarely set forth without a plan to cover X number of miles or get our heart rate up to Y speed. When was the last time we walked towards our own workplace, stretching our neck to look up at the building or sky, rather than down at our feet or phone?

Probably, my workplace is where I first began learning (or relearning) that walking is a spiritual discipline. As any pastor knows, there is no “quick” walk from the church office to the parking deck. Along this well-worn path, we see church members and visitors, notice things that need to be done and deliver paperwork that (oops!) should have been dropped off days ago. I’m continually amazed by all I can learn along that way. (And while I end up surprised by how long such a walk takes, my husband has learned to add an extra 20 minutes to whatever I plan as my ETA.)

For a while, I knew that walking through the church building was an important professional act; only very recently have I started to understand it as a spiritual one as well.

The same can be true of the neighborhood. Walking without agenda might mean asking a neighbor, “How are you?” and actually being prepared to stop and talk about the response. Walking without distraction might mean discovering the mystery of an emerging daffodil or a hidden deer trail along the road. Walking without needing to arrive somewhere might mean tapping into a whole new fount of prayers. Along our meandering way, we discover opportunities for gratitude, help, forgiveness and joy.

I don’t do these all the time, but in watching and listening to others, here are some small suggestions I’ve picked up to make the next walk something closer to a spiritual act.

  • Take your patience. Say hello to every person. Be prepared to stop and talk. (This will be more common if you’re in the south!)
  • Take a camera. A real camera. Or at least a phone disconnected from the Internet. Take photos along the way, whatever catches your vision, whatever makes you actually notice it. (Two church members do this and then share their photos. Their photographic gems become spiritual reminders of beauty for the rest of us.)
  • Take a notebook and a pen. Write ten observations of things you see along the way –whether in the church building or around the neighborhood. Don’t note judgments or emotions. Just describe what you see.
  • Or with that notebook and pen, sketch something. Remind yourself that this is not for any competition. Just train your hands and eyes and brain all to work together.
  • At the end, pray. Give thanks for what was lovely; offer prayers for those whom you saw along the way; ask forgiveness for what you missed.

After all, we all are limited, flawed humans with eyes that gaze through a mirror dimly. We all miss something that the Spirit wanted us to notice. The beautiful thing is: by God’s grace, we always have tomorrow to take another step forth and try again.