by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM, June10, 2018
Many of us follow a daily practice of prayer, and there’s a reason we call it a practice. We need to return to it over and over, connecting ever more deeply on a soul level with the Holy One. Whatever the practice, we hope to enter into a contemplative space where we can most clearly notice the Spirit at work in our lives, where we can open ourselves to listen to whatever the day may offer. We may follow a routine including meditation, morning and evening prayer, lectio divina, or pausing during the day to review how the Holy has accompanied us and how we’ve responded to that presence.
We may also engage in informal practices that have a contemplative feel to them although we might not name them as contemplative prayer. Does sitting on the beach gazing at the ocean restore your soul and invite you into stillness and wonder? How about breathing in the scent of mock orange, lavender, or freesia? Pulling weeds or broadcasting seeds? Filling the kitchen with the aroma of baking bread? Sitting back and inviting the sounds of a loved piece of music to spill into a room?
One of my favorite spiritual practices is walking, walking any time but especially in the early part of the day. In a rural area, that’s the hour when nervous rabbits nibble and curious fawns move on shaky legs, their mothers standing, statue-like and ears erect, nearby. That’s the hour when honeysuckle and phlox are shaking off the night’s rain, when all of creation seems to wake, to come alive, to wait expectantly for what the unfolding day may bring. In a busy city, that’s the hour when the work of renewing the face of the earth is revealed in trash collectors clearing a path on sidewalks, maintenance workers hosing down pavement, delivery persons dropping off bundles of the morning paper, and grocers arranging symmetrical rows of apples, pears, and other produce. While life is bustling all around, that’s the hour when it still feels as if there’s a hush and the fresh promise of something new.
Whether we stroll or saunter, walking—as any spiritual practice that renews our soul—offers us many gifts. Walking mindfully is sometimes described as massaging the Earth. I’ve come to believe that when the body is in motion, the rhythm of walking liberates the mind and engages the unconscious. The steadiness of the pace, the mindfulness of our steps, can open up creative space and offer a pathway to centeredness and peace. This spiritual practice can jump start our imagination and deepen our awareness of the world around us and our place in it. Whether we walk alone or in the company of others, whether we are in silence or engaged conversation, walking invites us into a space of listening, noticing, paying attention, all elements of a spiritual practice.
Walking was one of the few methods of transportation available to Jesus. He trekked up mountainsides, strolled the seashore, wandered the desert, and walked through the small towns and villages of his time. Sometimes he walked alone enjoying the stillness; other times he trudged the dusty roads of Nazareth and Nain and Bethany surrounded by his disciples or the crowds that were drawn to him.
After the chaos, confusion, and heartbreak of Jesus’ passion and death, and during that period of intense mourning before his rising became known, what were two of his grieving disciples doing? Walking on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). Luke tells us that while they were conversing and debating about the horrific events they had just witnessed, Jesus himself drew near, and what did he do? He walked with them. And what a conversation came out of that walk!
In How to Walk, Thich Nhat Hanh shares that the Buddha was also a walker. “During his forty-five years of teaching,” writes Hanh, “he visited and taught in perhaps fourteen or fifteen countries of India and Nepal. That was a lot of walking. Many of his teachings, many of his insights, came from his time of walking everywhere.”
So what about us? How and when and where do we pray most easily? What helps to create or support a graced space for our own growth and for a deeper understanding of our place in the universe? What slows us down, pushes our “Pause” button, renews and restores our soul?
While you’re mulling that over, please excuse me. I think I have to shut down my laptop, go outside, and practice. It feels about the right time for a good, long walk.
Sit in a relaxed stillness with the Holy One.
Reflect on your own spiritual practices.
What do you currently engage in that nourishes and restores you?
Might there be anything new that seems to be inviting you to deepen your way of praying?
Offer thanks for the practices of renewal that are part of your life at this time.
Now, go out and practice!
Please hold in your prayer all who will be part of these events I’ll be leading in the near future:
June 9 – 16, Guided Retreat, “Bearing Witness to the Holy,” Sisters of Mercy, Sea Isle City, NJ
June 20, Social Justice Ministry, Christ the King Church, Springfield Gardens, NY
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4 thoughts on “Practicing the Way Forward”
Thank you once again, Chris. I realize that more than ever I need to get out and walk. I don’t know why I have found that so hard to begin doing again . It used to be a practice and I have gotten out of it with the cold of winter. I appreciate your encouragement to begin again.
I will miss you at the Cape May retreat week this month.
Blessings and gratitude,
Sent from my Samsung Galaxy smartphone.
It’s a wonderful practice for me and many. I think the key is to find what is restorative and renewing for you. Thanks, Marylouise.
Thanks so much, Chris, for your thoughts on walking. It makes me want to go out for a walk on this wonderfully bright clear spring day with a nice breeze and perfect temp/humidity for walking here in NYC!
Thank you, Joan. I’m feeling the same in my corner of the world.