Faith Works 5-25-13
Prayer on the move, on foot
My friend and colleague Martha Grace Reese, author of "Unbinding the Gospel" and Newark native, pointed me years ago towards "walking prayer."
She cheats and uses snowshoes and cross-country skis part of the year up in Minnesota, but the idea really is the same. You don't have to sit, or kneel, or stand in a church building let alone in your "prayer closet" or what-have-you to pray, to pray meaningfully and effectively.
You can walk.
Walking prayer is a tradition going back to the desert fathers of monasticism in the Egyptian wilderness, and you can even look back to Jesus himself in his forty days of preparation, where it's not at all said that he sat and prayed. He moved through the desert, even as he walked up a mountain for spiritual retreat.
I doubt he waited to start praying until he got to the top!
"Long Wandering Prayer" by David Hansen has been a touchstone for me since Martha Grace recommended it, who uses so beautifully Tolkien's phrase about Strider "not all who wander are lost."
Recently, many of us in Licking County, in Franklin County, and beyond, had to say good bye to Mark Welsh on his recent, unexpectedly sudden death. Mark walked through his life into a deeper understanding of Native American culture, both as it relates to our local landscape, and to the Indian nations now mostly resident in the West, but with vital ties still to the eastern woodlands, to our own Newark Earthworks.
He and I got to lead together a number of walks around the remnants of the walls and enclosures and mounds scattered between the more formal parklands better known, and Mark would gather us in a circle on a grassy plot by Union Street to lead in prayer. That spot would be full of industrial noises and many distractions, but his voice and words would remind us of the many ancestral voices once raised in the "Ellipse" where for hundreds and thousands of years the honored dead were laid to rest.
But he would always refer to the walk itself as a form of prayer, and tease me about not having yet made the walk from Chillicothe's mounds to Newark, as he'd done repeatedly. I hoped to make it with him someday.
On Tuesday, the Newark Earthworks Center has one of the four "open house" days at the Octagon Earthworks, at 33rd St. and Parkview near Licking Memorial Hospital. It's a weekday, and school not out yet, but we're going to use the time, in part, to invite folks to come at either 10 am, or 5 pm, to take a walk that starts and ends at the Octagon (135 acres of earthworks that's but one component of a formerly four and a half square mile complex), and walks through the streets and alleys of modern day Newark, looking at traces of the 2,000 year old architecture.
It's an interpretive walk, taking about two hours and covering barely three miles or so, but some of us will be remembering Mark, and his reminders to us to be aware of the ancestors, and of the deeper meaning of walking.
And at my church, we've been talking about taking this the next step, and doing some "Scripture walks," Bible studies on the move if you will. We'll have one in nature with pauses for readings and reflections, which we'll do out at Dawes Arboretum on a Saturday in July, and then a walk through the streets of the city, because Isaiah and others in the Bible have much to say about urban life, too. Prayer, reflection, and health for body and spirit.
In fact, I'm focused on walking and spirituality because of my summer plans to head to Philmont Scout Ranch in just a few weeks, where backpacking means everything we do is tied to walking, being centered while on the move. And my training time with full pack has reminded me again of how well walking prayer suits me.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; yes, he's looking forward to ten days and 81 miles without a shower. Tell him where you find peace and connection at firstname.lastname@example.org, or @Knapsack on Twitter.