Last spring, I had an eleven week sabbatical. It was so refreshing, and helped me discover so much about faith and life. But something really surprised me about my time off. Something completely unexpected became a major theme for me and is still sticking with me half a year later.
That’s right – Walking.
The first three weeks of my sabbatical were intended to disconnect from the realities of the congregation, to read or re-read a number of C.S. Lewis books in preparation for the course I would be taking in week 4, and to spend time in prayer.
I had decided that I would use Canadian Mennonite University as a place to study, and for some reason I thought it would be a good idea to walk there each day from home. I discovered that the walk was about 90 minutes. On the way, I would generally listen to audio book versions of Surprised By Joy and Mere Christianity, as well as spend time praying. Some time was spent walking through the dust kicked up by the wind and the speeding cars along Roblin Blvd., but the best time was spend on the trails of the Assiniboine Forest (largest urban forest in Canada, by the way).
As I walked and listened, I came across several gems from C.S. Lewis which connected walking with such things as imagination, freedom, and adventure. Here is one of my favourite quotes from Lewis as he reflected on his walking as a boy and how not speeding around in a car helped him to notice the world and experience freedom.
The truest and most horrible claim made for modern transport is that it annihilates space. It does. It annihilates one of the most glorious gifts we have been given. It is a vile inflation which lowers the value of distance so that a modern boy travels a hundred miles with less sense of liberation and pilgrimage and adventure than his grandfather got from travelling ten. Of course, if a man hates space, and wants it to be annihilated, that is another matter. Why not creep into his coffin at once? There is little enough space there. Surprised By Joy
Lewis himself continued to take long daily walks throughout his entire adult life.
Of course, I began seeing the idea of walking everywhere, even in some of my daily devotions. On May 6th, 2016, I wrote the following short reflection.
Don’t Sit With the Worthless
Psalm 26 has this wonderful contrast between sitting and walking.
verse 1: “Vindicate me, O LORD, for I have walked in my integrity…”
verse 3: “For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in faithfulness to you.”
verse 4: “I do not sit with the worthless, nor do I consort with hypocrites;”
verse 5: “I hate the company of evildoers, and will not sit with the wicked.”
verse 6: “I wash my hands in innocence, and walk around your altar, O LORD…”
Interesting that sitting is associated with wickedness, hypocrisy, worthlessness, and walking is associated with faithfulness, integrity, innocence. It makes you think, doesn’t it, especially for those of us (like me!) who love Netflix? Faith and God seem to have something to do with being on the move.
What’s stopping you from moving?
In the walking I discovered a real focus to prayer. This continued throughout the sabbatical and beyond it. I am now continuing to look for time during my week to do “prayer walks,” and am wondering about the best way to keep this up in the winter (which for some reason has been delayed by a very extended autumn here in Manitoba!)
I also spent some time reflecting on the value of walking not just physically, but as part of a spiritual practice, as “walking with Jesus” is a powerful metaphor for our faith.
Walking in Advent
With all this walking on my mind, I was thrilled to see the Presbyterian Church in Canada offer a devotional for advent based on walking called “Walk to Bethlehem.” Originally developed by Grace Presbyterian Church in Calgary, AB, I simply love the way the guide starts… “Mary and Joseph walked 111 km from Nazareth to Bethlehem.” So cool!
If you are interested in exploring walking as a spiritual practice during advent, you should definitely check this out.
Even if you’re not going to start prayer walking, you might want to think about how you are moving for God, or how you are following Jesus. Our faith never stays still. Our God is never sedentary. In the timeless words of Mr. Beaver from the Chronicles of Narnia, “Aslan is on the move!”
God is on the move, and so are His people.