Solvitur ambulando. It is solved by walking. ~ Variously attributed to Diogenes and to Augustine.
I was a small child when I absorbed the connection between walking and spirituality. A short gravel drive connected our house to that of my grandparents’ – my first regular walk, no doubt seemingly a long one for short legs. Destination? Welcome, warmth, attention, love. No one in my extended family was religious in any overt way, and no one would have extolled the value of hospitality as a dimension of Christian life. They simply practiced it, straightforwardly and modestly.
As I grew older, walking bridged daily life and its ordinary delights. Nature walks at summer camp, a counselor identifying plants and butterflies. Lunchtime walks at boarding school, the requisite activity before mail landed in our hands. Much longer walks in college and law school; time to reflect upon the events of the day and the small dramas that marked the pathway to the future. Long walks between office and courthouse, navigated in pencil skirts and high heels – but even so, providing time to ponder and collect myself. If one were inclined to see God in all things, which I was not, one might have understood walking as the way in which love for creation, experiences of friendship, and practices of discernment were honed in my life.
As a young adult, hiking and backpacking became my preferred forms of recreation, and led to a smattering of knowledge of the woods, the mountains, and their non-human inhabitants. I had grown into a young woman who could easily cover several miles in a day, pointing out new birds and pausing to take photographs along the way. I thought of none of this as spiritual, because I thought of nothing as spiritual. Despite many middle and high school years in religious schools, God was not someone to whom I gave any thought.
When I did, however – when I became curious about the Holy, about the One who sustains the universe, I was already a persistent walker, already accustomed to paying attention, to cultivating a sense of awe and wonder at what I encountered on the road, be it a dipper — a small gray bird walking upstream in the Rockies — or a vast range of rock hollowed out by glaciers and alight in the setting sun.
Now, decades after it occurred to me to walk into a Methodist church, I still walk miles and miles each week. I still use my walking time to daydream, to wonder, to organize, to remember, to discern. I do most of my sermon “writing” while I walk. I listen and pray with Pray As You Go, or with music, or with Krista Tippett, as I walk. I still pause to take photographs and watch birds as I walk. Sometimes, at a loss for any other way to focus, I organize specific prayer topics by street block or other walking segment: people, events, organizations, ideas, concerns – each one gets a block, or a portion of a trail, or a curve of a labyrinth.
There are people, renowned experts, who will tell you that you should sit still, or kneel, or stand with your palms open, in order to inhale the presence of God. All faithful and reverent practices, no doubt, at those times when they are meaningful. But I find that the rhythm of walking, the sense of moving forward, the shifting of weight from one side of the body to the other, the feel of muscles in motion, is all mysteriously conducive to weaving one’s body into the natural world and into the world beyond.
Rev. Robin Craig is a PC(USA) pastor in northeast Ohio. She is also a spiritual director, a contributor to There’s a Woman in the Pulpit, and a blogger here.
Would you like to contribute to our summer series on spiritual practices/disciplines? Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Read earlier posts here: Sewing, by T. Denise Anderson; Never on Pointe, by Mary Beene; Photography, by Catherine MacDonald; and Pinteresting, by Amy Fetterman.
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