A few years ago I came to a realization: I never really know a place until I walk it. In fact, it probably takes me a few dozen walks to feel like I’m not a stranger to a place. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately as I’ve been attempting to take up a daily prayer walk as a spiritual discipline.
Walking keeps me grounded. (I always have a least one foot on the ground!) Without the bubble of separation given by my car or my house, I am able to experience my environment more fully. I hear the sound of children playing and birds singing. I smell freshly cut grass or that wonderful earthy scent that you get when there are lots of old trees nearby. I see the incredible variety in the plants and animals. And sometimes I get eaten by bugs, too. Nevertheless, walking keeps me grounded.
Walking also gives me the time to notice things. I learn more about a place by walking it once than by driving by it a hundred times. Someone recently told me that they live “up the hill” from the church. My first thought was, “what hill?” Then I realized that I hadn’t walked that way yet (something I’ll soon be correcting!). Driving seems to flatten out the landscape in my mind. Walking emphasizes all the contours of the land.
Walking also seems to help my sense of direction. At any given time, I can point to where I came from and where I’m going to. I can’t remotely do that while traveling at highway speeds. I’m not quite sure why that is. My hunch, however, is that it’s because my mind shifts into autopilot while I’m driving. I just try to stay within the lines and not miss my exits. When I walk, however, I seem to be reorienting myself with every step, finding the route that is more direct, easier to navigate, or perhaps just more scenic.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to drive through life. I want to take time to be thankful for all of the abundance of God’s good creation. I want to walk through life, and I want to walk with God.
Praying is a lot like walking. It’s not very useful if your goal is to get it over with, but it’s exactly the antidote to the race from A to B that my busy-seeming life always presses me to take on. Prayer grounds me in God’s Word. An hour of facebook leaves me feeling empty. An hour of prayer leaves me feeling full and connected.
What’s more, prayers of praise and thanksgiving allow me to take in and receive the incredible abundance of God’s goodness to me. Praying for others allows me to begin to see people and situations through God’s eyes. In one hour of prayer, I learn more about myself, God, and my environment than I do from 100 hours of, well, anything else. When it’s so easy to follow the lines on the road mindlessly and not even consider contours of the life, prayer orients me to the reality of who God is and of who I am in Christ by the Holy Spirit.
Can you take a walk? If so, do it. If you can’t, then still try to get outside and notice things. And while you’re at it, turn some of those thoughts and observations into prayers of thanks to God. Don’t do a drive-by on life. Slow down. Walk. Pray. I think you’ll be glad you did.