“As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and and walked along with them” (Luke 24:15)
What a delightful story, this picture of the two men walking along a road, chatting with the resurrected Jesus, not even knowing who it was! I wonder how many of us are like that when we walk: unaware of the presence of the resurrected Jesus with us. What might happen if we made times of walking into a spiritual practice? Going on a walk with Jesus. Lots of potential.
We walk for body, soul, and spirit. Yes, walking benefits heart health, improves coordination, and fosters longevity. Walking also facilitates memory and cognitive function. But here we draw our attention to walking as a spiritual practice. Yes, Jesus instructed us to pray in our closet, but he prayed on mountains, and he had to walk to get there. Perhaps he even prayed on the way. I have known people who have a hard time sitting down for ten minutes to pray, but can walk with Jesus for an hour without even trying. Just think: God made us to walk. Ready to put on your walking shoes?
Yes, you must think of shoes. Good preparation is important for the spiritual practice of walking, just like any spiritual practice. You will need to consider clothing, items to take, and your journey. Check the weather and if you have to drive somewhere, bring an extra coat just in case. Usually, you identify your location in advance (unless you are the real adventurous prayer type). Some people love the familiar while others like to visit new places with God. Some walk in the country, others in the city, and still others on a treadmill. Some bring God the depths of their heart while walking a Labyrinth. Others lift up a neighborhood to God by taking intercessory prayer walks. With a little experimenting you will learn what works best for you. As for what to take, less is usually better. It is often helpful to carry a small notebook or something to jot down a few notes. You could also do this on your phone, but it might also be too distracting to carry your phone on a prayer walk.
But what do you do in walking prayer? It all depends. There are lots of possibilities. I recommend starting out just “going on a walk” with Jesus. Walk and talk just as you would with any friend. Yes, there will be long pauses when you just pace for a while or look at something along the way. But isn’t this the way it is when you go on a walk with someone? If there is something to say, fine. You don’t need to “fill time” when you walk with Jesus. You can just enjoy the stroll together. (though if you wanted to you could fill the entire time repeating the Jesus Prayer or something like that) You may want to stop and write something. Some people like to walk for a while, stop and read something (like a passage in the Bible) and then walk a bit more, thinking about the passage.
At times your walks will be all about some agenda. Sometimes—just as with walks with human relationships—a walk can be a time where we need to deal with a matter. Intercession prayer walks often involve lifting homes and families and schools and more before God as you pass them by. Other times, however, you just let yourself spend time with Jesus, enjoying the surroundings and paying attention to what the Spirit might have to say to you.
You can end a time of walking prayer by reaching some destination and perhaps having some special ritual or prayer to say there. You might also decide to just saunter wherever, until you are finished for the time. When you are done it is often helpful to briefly remember what went on, attending to this time with God. We often review meetings with others in our minds after we leave. By noticing how we were present with God and how God was present with us we take a step further in the relationship.
St. Dominic considered walking one of his primary prayer “postures.” Maybe its worth a step.
- Preparing – location, clothing, stuff, spirit
- Walking – stroll, talk and listen; possibly recite, stop, read, intercede . . . mostly just be with Jesus
- Closing – think back: What did I do? How was I present with Jesus? How was Jesus with me? Any “take aways”?
For more, see Thomas R. Hawkins, Every Step a Prayer and David Hansen, Long Wandering Prayer.