The Prayer Walk is a physical prayer. If you’re new to physical, body-oriented prayers, an introduction is in order.
Our perception of the world and our bodies change with each other, even if we don’t know it. Our bodies react to stressful situations by increasing heart rate and breath, and sweating, even though we’re not doing any physical activity. We tend to unconsciously stand taller with better posture when we’re feeling confident, maybe in new clothes or after nailing a job interview. And when we’re in pain, we can feel more negative about the world.
Because every experience, including our experience of God, is filtered through some part of our bodies, we ought to involve our bodies in prayer now and then. Our post-Enlightenment world prioritizes the mind, so it’s sometimes hard to remember to do as Orthodox mystics did — to allow our minds to sink deep into our body’s center and pray with movement, senses, and breath. In this exercise, we walk to pray.
Physical prayers are designed to call attention to the role of your body in communication with God. Forget about how you look or even how different these prayers are from your daily style of prayer. Focus only on your presence with God and using your body in all the different ways we pray — giving thanks, praise, supplication, silence, and lament.
Mindful walking is a devotional practice in many religions; it’s prayer in motion, walking calmly and confidently with an openness to God’s revelation. This is not a “power walk,” because you’re not setting a goal — you’re not trying to get through it, or even get somewhere — you’re walking in the light of God’s love, listening to the gentle music of your breath, your stride, your heartbeat.
The Prayer Walk
- Decide where you will be walking.
- Begin the walk with only one intention: to experience God in the walking. Express that intention to God and ask for God’s grace along the walk.
- Ask God to use the walk to communicate something to you.
- Keep your senses open to any sight, sound, smell, or taste that you may experience. Be open and accepting but do not be anxious for this experience. Let it unfold.
- Listen to your breath as you walk slowly. How many steps are you taking per breath? Just observe. Do not control.
- Listen to your heartbeat.
- Listen to the sound of your footsteps.
- Listen to the environment around you.
- If you have a “prayer of the heart” that you want to recite, say one half on the inhalation and the other on the exhalation. For example: “Lord in your grace” (inhale), “Grant your peace” (exhale). Repeat this along the walk.
- When your walk is finished, stretch your arms toward heaven and say a prayer of gratitude for mobility, breath and life.
- If you wish, you may journal about this experience at the end. What was it like to pray in this way? Where did you experience God’s grace along the walk? Where did you feel God communicating with you? What did you notice? What part of the prayer was easiest for you? What part was most difficult?
You may want to read more about “mindful walking” from Buddhist monk Thic Nhat Hanh. His book The Miracle of Mindfulness (Beacon Press, 1996) would be a good place to start.
While engaging in this prayer, if you are enjoying the awareness that comes from simply listening, watching and soaking in the environment, feel free to skip the step in which you begin to say a word prayer.
Looking for More?
If you like this prayer and are looking for even more ways to pray, you might enjoy my book, “50 Ways to Pray,” from Abingdon Press. You’ll find this prayer and 49 others to experiment with.
Want to try spiritual direction? I have openings in my schedule for new directees — regardless of where you live. I can work by phone, Skype or if you live in the Phoenix metro area we can meet in person. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.teresablythe.net.
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