Friday, October 17, 2008

Faith Works 10-18-08
Jeff Gill

Take a Hike

October 4 was the “feast day” or commemoration of Saint Francis of Assisi, who brought an appreciation of nature and animals back into the heart of Christian faith and imagery.

Give Francis credit for those sheep and ox and donkeys that are so prominent in our coming Christmas celebrations and decorations; they’re in the Bible, but had been dropped from our iconography until Francis led them back into the heart of the stable where they belong.

The outdoor tradition of that rustic saint has led to his religious community, the Franciscans (the friars and monks who still wear a simple brown robe and a belt made of rope), keeping up the practice of “prayer walking,” praying and focusing on God through the rhythm of step and pace and slow, steady progress.

The tradition of walking meditation can be found today in Dominican houses, Franciscan monasteries and retreat centers of all sorts today; Methodist “Emmaus walks” and Orthodox Easter processions round and round the churchyard, even an interfaith expression with Buddhist meditation teachers like Thich Nhat Hanh, with a book and DVD on “Walking Meditation.”

So when Church World Service’s multi-denominational work invites churches to join in a “CROP Walk,” they’re not only raising funds to fight hunger, but giving you a chance to practice a form of prayer and devotion that has a long and broad tradition perfect for this beautiful season of the year.

The central Licking County CROP Walk starts after 1:00 pm and an opening prayer and registration at OSU-N, walking along the bike path to the YMCA and back. Other communities, such as Granville and Buckeye Lake, will have their own walks at the same time. Pledge envelopes are available at many area churches, or you can bring and/or make your own donation that day and just join in the procession.

CWS does work around the world in the name of dozens of Protestant denominations, and works closely with other denominational relief and development bodies in the “Third World” or Global South, while a major percentage of the dollars raised by a CROP Walk stay for hunger relief efforts right here in Licking County. The Licking County Food Pantry Network is a major participant in this program each fall.

Walking as a tool for sustaining and deepening prayer may be just the approach your prayer life needs, and a CROP Walk may be the place to get it started. The distractions even in a quiet home can be multiple, and most who struggle with keeping a prayer practice talk about their challenges to keep in a prayerful state for an extended period, or just maintaining focus.

A prayer walk can address all of that: you have the progress of the walk as your indication of where you’re at, and that you aren’t done; you can steadily increase the length of the walk to bump up the time spent in prayer; there may be less distraction in your mind when your body is needing to keep up the thump-thump-thump of walking steadily along.

If you’re just looking for a beautiful environment and less people right around you to try a prayer walk, the Octagon State Memorial, also known as the grounds of Moundbuilders Country Club, is having an open house from 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm. The Ohio Historical Society will have formal tours leaving regularly and children’s activities and such, but the over a hundred acres that enfold the majestic 2,000 year old mounds are filled with fall color and are a wonderful site for a prayer walk.

Did Native Americans two millennia ago have prayer walking? I can’t imagine that they didn’t!

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him about a prayer practice that works for you at

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