Staying on the path

Lately, when weather allows, I venture out on prayer walks — some contemplative and free-form, others guided by Bible verses with instructions. I find these walks ground me in a very physical sense, but also spiritually. As this pandemic and all its challenges, losses and uncertainties persist and our fear of what might be next gains momentum, I need to be intentional about connecting to God, creation, others.

My neighborhood presents the juxtaposition of glorious views and a busy rural road of blind corners and fast-driving pickup trucks. I am careful to keep one ear free of headphones, lest I end up in the ditch or worse. These meandering miles mark time in a way that anchors me in the middle of an unmoored season — a season devoid of other means of noting important transitions. There was no graduation ceremony. There has been no summer vacation to our usual destination. Sunday morning no longer contains many of the normal rituals. Walking the road in front of my house reminds me that there are still rhythms to life, ones not beholden to commerce or COVID-19. The trees have grown leafier. The appearance of Queen Anne’s lace unmistakably told me summer had arrived. The temperature steadily climbs. The shadows and light vary depending on the time of day I venture out my door.

Birds still chirp. Rabbits bolt at the sound of my feet. The winds blow where they will and I hear their sound rustling through the pine trees on either side of the highway. Inevitably, many of the greens will turn to yellow and orange and brown and bare limbs will replace those currently laden with life. These prayer walks remind me to look up and out, look down and inward. I remember now is not forever, and the great world still spins. Beauty persists, unfazed by diesel fumes and trash. I can still put one foot in front of the other.

One of the guided meditations I use asks me to find a threshold, a way to delineate the beginning and ending of my walk. As I start, the lilting voice speaking directly into my ear tells me that once I cross that threshold, I should assume everything is sacred and holy, so ponder what God may be saying through whatever I encounter. Some days everything just looks like what it is: an empty beer can, a plastic spoon, a dragonfly, a dying wildflower. But other days everything all but audibly says, “This is the Word of the Lord!” The discarded water bottles call out, “Come to me and never be thirsty.” The electricity cables tell me that God’s power is immense, immeasurable, readily available. The lilies, orange and impossibly present in a scruffy patch of earth inches from asphalt, say I should consider them and be not anxious.

I cannot tell you why on some days the heavens are telling me of the glory of God and on others I simply do not have ears to hear. Either way, I am never sorry I have gone on the walk, even when I do not return feeling a clear sense of direction or a distinct connection to the Most High. I always somehow imagine God is pleased I wanted to spend some time in prayer, in relationship, seeking in the hopes of finding.

Last week, after hearing again to consider all I encountered as holy, to meander and not march, to linger and allow myself to wonder, I came across a piece of paper. I almost didn’t pick it up, but decided to take the narrator’s admonishment seriously and bent down and unfolded it. I beheld a grocery list, written on a piece of notebook paper with a Bible verse printed on the bottom. I read the list and the text and smiled. The verse was Psalm 63:8, “My soul clings to you; Your right hand upholds me.” The grocery list read: tomatoes, bread, toilet paper, cereal, candy. And then at the top of the other side of the page: lottery ticket. The combination of faith in God and a wild hope in long odds seemed a divine message in that moment and it was enough to keep me moving forward.

Grace and peace,