I have been a walker for most of my life. I have walked around Glenmore Park, close to home, thousands of times. About twenty years ago I discovered walking holidays and since then have walked in many countries. Once I experienced traveling step by step, instead of whizzing by, I can not imagine getting to know a country in any other way. I am more aware of nature, of the people, of the architecture.
However, until I read Barbara Brown Taylor's book, I had not thought of walking as a spiritual practice. She writes, " Regarded properly, anything can become a sacrament, by which I mean an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual connection." (P. 30)
Like most spiritual practices walking as a sacrament does not come by second nature. We live in a society which admires efficiency and speed above all else. How do we change our usual aerobic sprint into something deeper and more meaningful?
There are many views on this subject. Some see walking meditation as quite structured, something we do in nature that we intentionally dedicate to the praise of God. Some suggest using a mantra as we walk. One suggestion is to repeat, "Glory to God", in appreciation of the beauty around us. All suggest we walk slowly with our senses attuned to our surroundings
Professor Taylor describes walking as a spiritual practice more simply. She writes, "Not everyone can walk, but most people can, which makes walking one of the most easily available spiritual practices of all. All it takes is the decision to walk with some awareness, both of who you are and what you are doing." (P.56) Then she throws us a curve by adding, "Where you are going is not important, however counterintuitive that may seem." Counter intuition is not something we have been encouraged to develop in our Western world. We are taught to be goal oriented and to use our common sense. Sometimes, God has other ideas for us in developing our spirituality.
Rumi, the ancient Sufi poet puts it this way
"God turns you from one feeling to another and teaches by means of opposites so that you have two wings to fly, not one."
- in Love Is a Fire by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee
Barbara BrownTaylor suggests that detaching the destination from our walking is one of the best ways of opening our senses to what she calls, " the altars of the world" all around us. Walking without a destination is a huge challenge for me. I am so used to going somewhere, and usually in a certain amount of time.
She also suggests attempting to walk barefoot when possible, to feel the earth, the grass, the rocky stream, or the concrete pavement all pressing back on our feet. She is also aware that not everyone has access to a large space so says it it is possible to walk in a circle, even if it is small. The goal is to be attentive to the experience of each step.
As a more intentional way of walking she suggests walking a labyrinth "you do not have to know what you are doing to begin. You just begin and the doing teaches you what you need to know." (P. 56)
As you probably know, a labyrinth is not a maze but a single pathway leading to the centre and returning on the same path, a symbol relating to wholeness. It represents a journey to our own centre and back again out into the world. It is an ancient spiritual practice of pilgrimage and self discovery with the movement being a body prayer. It is a metaphor for life's journey. Retaining one's awareness of each moment can make it a profound experience. One Sunday in March those who attended St. Laurence were invited to experience the labyrinth in our usual discussion period after the service. In June we offered the experience in the out doors at Church of the Good Shepherd (408 38 St. S.W.). There are many labyrinths we may take advantage of, both in our own area, and around the world . The experience is different every time.
Our intention in this practice of walking, whether it be an everyday walk, or a labyrinth, is to become more spiritual. It is like we are in training for a marathon. Only by repetition, and with heightened awareness, will we be able to increase our spiritual "muscles".
Taylor believes that walking on the earth and being aware that where we are is where we are supposed to be, can help us to ground ourselves in God.