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Walking Prayer

 Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisble though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. Romans 1:20

I have heard and believe that the original Bible is creation itself. In other words, for those desiring a knowledge of God in the days before written scrolls and before most people were able to read any scrolls they had access to, people could learn everything they wanted to know about God from nature, as we can still today. To me, it makes perfect sense. If all of creation springs from God, all of creation must be imbued with God’s nature. In other words, I believe God is in all of creation, and so by absorbing an in-depth knowledge of the essence of any created thing, we find the imprint of God. Believing that God is in everything is called panentheism, as opposed to the belief that everything is God, which is pantheism.

To believe that God is in everything means, to me, that God experiences through us. As we go through life’s sorrows and joys, God rides the waves of our emotional ups and downs with us. God weeps as we weep, hurts as we hurt, laughs as we laugh, and loves as we love. When we say that we are God’s feet and hands, we mean that God literally works through us – serving the needy, healing the sick, welcoming the outcast. Of course, God also grants us free will, so we must cooperate in order for God to work in and through us.

The following prayer, written by St. Teresa of Avila, expresses the panentheistic nature of God well:

Christ has no body now but yours.

            No hands, no feet on earth but yours.

            Yours are the eyes through which

            He looks compassion on this world,

            Yours are the feet with which He walks to do good,

            Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world.

            Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,

            Yours are the eyes, you are His body.

            Christ has no body now on earth but yours.[1]

One of the many ways we can connect with God in nature, as well as allowing God to experience nature through us, is through walking prayer, also called meditative or mindful walking. It involves walking in an unhurried, deliberate manner, focusing on the various details our senses take in. We stop to gaze at the amazing intricacy of a single leaf and the veins of a pebble, we breathe the intoxicating fragrance of the honeysuckle, listen to the soulful coo of the mourning dove, or taste the sweet nectar of a buttercup. We take our time and focus our attention on the amazing particularities of the world around us, one small detail at a time.

We focus particularly on what is rising into our body from the earth through our feet. We feel the firm, dependable support of the earth beneath us. More than that, however, we feel the spirit, the energy rising from the earth – the earth from which our bodies were formed and to which they will return. There is a constant flow of loving energy between us and the earth that we completely miss as we hurry about our days. The gravity that holds us to the earth is loving energy cradling us to itself, as is the gravitational field keeping the earth in its orbit around the sun, and the force holding atomic particles in their infinitesimal structures – all divine love in action: attracting, giving, and receiving. We recognize ourselves as one station in the infinite flow of love energy, permeating the unique creation we are, and sent off again into the universe with a blessing only we can give. As we mindfully move in walking prayer, we sense our part in this flow of the life in which we live and move and have our being. Walking barefoot, where it can safely be done, is optimal.. Even seated, with bare feet in the grass, can connect us with the earth in wonderful, moving ways.

Getting in touch with God in nature through walking prayer is one way to focus our awareness on God’s constant presence with and within us. Once we are aware, and once we consent to God’s promptings within, we become available as instruments of good for God’s will and work on earth, as St. Teresa reminds us is our calling. Walking prayer is one way for us to be Christ to God’s creation, while allowing God’s creation to be Christ to us.

This is the 22nd in the series of Life Notes titled, Praying With One Eye Open.

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[1] https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/66880-christ-has-no-body-now-but-yours-no-hands-no

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Contemplative Practices, Part 2

Put these things into practice, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. 1 Timothy 4:15

Contemplative practices do not have the same purpose as other things we practice. When we practice a musical instrument, we have a tangible goal to be able to play a song. We are certain that with enough practice we will have something to show for our efforts, something we can even show off to others. Contemplative practices are different because the work is internal. The only outward show of progress might occur when someone notices we have something in our manner that is spiritual, soothing, or healing, but he or she will probably not be able to verbalize what it is. Spiritual development is subtle and mostly invisible to the outside world. In his book The Inner Experience1, Thomas Merton wrote, “More often than not, the way of contemplation is not even a way, and if one follows it, what (s)he finds is nothing.” He continues, “One of the strange laws of the contemplative life is that in it you do not sit down and solve problems: you bear with them until they somehow solve themselves. Or until life itself solves them for you.”

In last week’s Life Note, I described the contemplative practices of Centering Prayer and Lectio Divina. I will give an overview for two additional practices here: Welcoming Prayer and Walking Meditation. Before I do, as I did last week, I wish to first issue two cautions:

  1. While most contemplative practices are relatively simple and can be self-taught, I recommend learning them from a teacher or experienced practitioner. There are nuances to the practices that are easily overlooked or missed in self-teaching, resulting in an ineffective practice.
  2. One of the ways contemplative practices aid in spiritual growth is by opening a channel from our subconscious levels of being to our conscious awareness. While this is subtle and slow enough for most of us to process without difficulty, for some people a flood of difficult memories and unresolved experiences may ensue. If this happens, discontinue the practice and seek professional assistance.

Welcoming Prayer. This is a prayer practice intended to be used whenever one feels stressed or in pain. Once one is familiar with the process, the prayer can be done quickly and just about anywhere. The purpose is to remind us of God’s active presence and work with and within us, including in our pain. Here is a condensed version of the process as presented in Welcoming Prayer: Consent on the Go2:

  1. Feel and sink into what you are experiencing this moment in your body.
  2. Welcome what you are experiencing in the moment in your body as an opportunity to consent to the Divine Indwelling.
  3. Let go by saying the following sentence: “I let go of my desire for security, affection, control and embrace this moment as it is.”

One can use the Welcoming Prayer throughout the day as needed or desired. More detailed information is available at www.ContemplativeOutreach.org.

Walking Meditation.  This practice involves walking, but not as exercise or as a means to efficiently travel from place to place. Here is the practice:

  1. After taking a few deep, meditative breaths, move slowly and deliberately, savoring each step.
  2. Quiet your mind, focusing on the contact between the bottoms of your feet and the earth.
  3. Feel the energy of the earth rising up through your feet, loving you, embracing you.
  4. Each step IS the destination. Be present.
  5. Engage your senses: What do you see, hear, smell, or feel?

Walking meditation should be done in a quiet, safe place. Walking barefoot through the grass is a sensual experience for those comfortable in doing so. Practicing meditative walking for an hour or more is sometimes required to effectively quiet the mind and feel God’s presence entering one’s body through the earth, but shorter time periods can be helpful, too. A good resource for this practice is www.walk2connect.com.

The justification for committing to regular contemplative practice is well-summarized by author Barbara Holmes:“(Contemplative) practices beckon earthbound bodies toward an expanded receptivity to holiness…Receptivity is not a cognitive exercise but rather the involvement of intellect and senses in a spiritual reunion and oneness with God.”3 These are not superficial self-improvement methods to help us avoid the unpleasant parts of our days. Contemplative practices help us get into our days and experience deeply whatever the day brings, pleasant and unpleasant, knowing and acknowledging it all as a gift from God.

This is the 12th in the series of Life Notes titled A Contemplative Life.

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  • Thomas Merton, The Inner Experience. HarperCollins, New York. 2003, p. 2.
  • Welcoming Prayer: Consent on the Go. Contemplative Outreach, Wilkes-Barre, PA. 2016.
  • Barbara A. Holmes, Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Practices of the Black Church, 2nd edition. Fortress Press. 2017, p. 3.

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