Patheos Peeps: Elizabeth Nordquist on Walking as Spiritual Discipline

Every Friday, I post a link to a blog post written by one of my fellow bloggers at Patheos, a web portal devoted to religion and spirituality. I encourage my blog readers to click through to read these posts, comment, and if you like what you read, follow these bloggers as well.

I am 43 years old (44 in a few months), but when I first arise from my bed each morning, I look and feel more like I’m about 80. I have severe arthritis due to my genetic bone disorder, so I wake up with joints stiff and sore from seven or so hours of inactivity. My first steps are not so much steps as they are a sort of lurching forward momentum. I usually can’t straighten up fully until I’ve reached my bathroom door. Walking the first few steps of the day is an act of will. A rather painful one.

For me, walking is an act of will throughout the day, even if it gets a bit easier once my body is warmed up. Walking points to the paradox that we folks with arthritis and chronic pain live with: Movement hurts, but it also keeps us from hurting worse than we do. If I take a neighborhood walk, I know I’ll end up with sore knees and back. But I also know that if I don’t keep moving, I will be more and more hobbled by pain and stiffness. So I walk, accepting short-term discomfort for long-term maintenance of health.

It’s not unlike the spiritual life: We pray and worship and gather in community even when it’s uncomfortable, even when we don’t feel like it. And we trust that if we are faithful in these actions, we will know greater spiritual health in the long run.

My fraught relationship with the simple act of walking brought me to fellow Patheos blogger Elizabeth Nordquist’s blog this week. Elizabeth chose walking as her Lenten discipline. Walking as spiritual discipline is a fairly new idea to me. I’m familiar with the practice of walking a labyrinth, which Elizabeth includes as one of her Lenten activities. But she also simply walks in her neighborhood, and points out the many ways that even this simple act reveals important spiritual and emotional truths. She has to deal with fear of walking in certain areas of her neighborhood at certain times of day. She has to persevere in getting up to walk when she would prefer to stay at home, cocooned with a cup of tea and a book (boy, is that tug of war familiar!).

In her first post on her Lenten discipline, Elizabeth writes:

Jesus walked, maybe as much for location and culture as for Spirit. But much of his teaching and presence was done while walking. But Jesus also uses walking as a prescription for wholeness. One of the most compelling stories that appears in John’s gospel takes place by the pool called Bethzatha: a man has been lying these for 38 years trying to be healed. Jesus asks him, “Do you want to be made well?” (John 5:6). This question has been a constant one in my ongoing examination of conscience for many years now; do I want to be healed of the things that make me less than whole–my wounds? my judgmental attitudes, my cherished lists of hurts and slights? I believe that I do want to be healed of those things, and made it a spiritual practice to participate with healers in the work of transformation that the Spirit is doing in me. So, Jesus says, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” It’s about the walking, the moving off the stuck place, the getting out of the toxic place, the pool of self doubt and self-pity.

After this first post, Elizabeth has written two more posts on her walking discipline—one for each week of Lent. I found them inspiring and thought-provoking. I think I’ll take a walk today.

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