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

Monday, October 13, 2008

Notes From My Knapsack -- Granville Sentinel 10-23-08
Jeff Gill

Is Granville Haunted?

What a rich and beautiful season, if you’re watching the hillsides and treeline instead of the financial and news channels.

Pumpkin patches like Devine Farms down Rt. 37 (turn left at US 40 for the Devine’s, or right a bit further to Pigeon Roost Farm) are a riot of orange and yellow and many shades of brown. Summer spoils us with green, and we brace ourselves for the whites and greys of winter, but the rich palette of autumn deserves some close attention.

You have to look fast, because of the shortness of the season, and with night falling ever sooner (and look past the political signs with their own unique color schemes). But even the nature of the darkness has a special fall quality, with mists in the early morning and still a wisp of hanging smoke some evenings.

It’s just warm enough to let a few more grills to fire up for dinner, and a fire pit or chiminea is especially welcome for a group to huddle around when the cold knife of an October night slices the sunset away.

As a general rule, I don’t tell ghost stories. We have plenty of practitioners of that art, starting at certain inns with great skill, and being told alongside the stray bonfire or camping lantern by us amateurs.

Granville is haunted, though. Make no mistake about it. I actually am quite skeptical of ghosts and hauntings and poltergeist tales; the Bible has a couple of ghosts in the Old Testament, but they seem to be more dream figures and guilty consciences than apparitions of the sort featured in your usual ghost story.

Haunted is another story. Haunted is a state of mind, and an openness to evocations that help to make us sense, more directly, of the reality of lived experience not our own. A moment that may be long past, but still moving through and past our lives today.

Passing the Four Corners, with a “ghost” of a high conical mound in the center of the original street plan, a point from which the very visible grid we now drive was platted; a block north, where “The Drag” curves up College Hill, there was set into that alcove where a stone panel now faces south, once a building, a market and school and structure whose keystone stares at you in the basement of the Granville Historical Society. It may sit in darkness most days on the floor there, but I see the sun-face gazing back contentedly, above the spot where Denison’s open book now looks blankly down Main.

East of the village, where new and comfortable homes now spread past Bryn Du, I walk often through an intersection where the first European settlers here, a young Welsh couple, spent a winter, survived a year, and then Lilly Jones died a few weeks after giving birth. Some evenings, you can almost hear the low cry of a baby, and the muffled sobs of a strong man brought low by frontier life, punctuated by the impact of a spade into cold earth, now simply still-green lawns.

Heading back towards the village, past the Great Lawn, over ground well populated two millennia ago, with the rustle of fallen leaves turning into the shuffle and stomp of moccasined feet, a chant blending into gospel cadences softly sung by escaping slaves not two centuries back.

The historic center of the village spreads out before you as Mount Parnassus, spirits of the Greek Muses hovering over the very name, recedes to your left, and John Chapman walks past you, padding along barefoot and long-limbed, invisibly returning to the forest where Mr. Appleseed is most comfortable, even if he did sleep in the stable basement of the Buxton Inn on harsh wintry nights. The sidewalk past the Granville Inn, with the remnant of one of our many vanished colleges now just the back wing, was once the favored stroll for courting Victorian era students. Kept male and female on their respective ends of Broadway, healthful walking, at least, was never discouraged, so this very promenade was where those young passions found their object and focus . . . who courted and proposed and plighted their troth in front of a tree shaded lawn where now couples marry under vast white tents, right into October.

Is Granville haunted? I should think so. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him a haunted tale at