So, walking the neighbourhood. It’s something many of us do every day: but we can add a layer and turn our walks into an opportunities for reflective prayer. This way of praying is not about praying for the neighbourhood, although you can certainly do that. Instead, it is about ‘reading’ the neighbourhood, and seeking the presence of Christ there. For “the Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14, MSG); and so, just as the Word is present in the Scriptures and speaks through them, so too is the Word present in the neighbourhood and, to those with open hearts, speaks through the neighbourhood also.
The neighbourhood walk adapts the method of lectio divina, or divine reading. However, whereas we have previously used lectio divina to read the Bible (here), or read the sky (here), this time we’re reading the spaces and people in our local area.
This is how to do it. Get up, and go for a stroll. You might like to go alone, or with a friend, a small group, or the dog. As you walk, ask God to guide your steps and open your heart to God’s longings for the neighbourhood. Look for Christ’s presence, and ponder questions such as these:
- What do you notice about the buildings and homes you pass by, and about the streets in general?
- Where are the signs of life, hope, beauty or community?
- Where are the signs of struggle, despair, neglect or loneliness?
- Imagine Jesus is walking with you. What might he celebrate? What might he grieve? What might make him angry?
- What words, images, Bible verses or songs are bubbling up inside you? What might they suggest about God’s heart for this place?
- Might God be saying something to you about this neighbourhood?
As you go along, you might scribble down notes or take a few photos as memory triggers; but don’t do this if it distracts you from the real work of paying attention and discerning. Make sure that, even as you look around and think, you also allow plenty of space for those hints, intimations, images and verses to bubble up; give yourself plenty of time to mull over them.
You may find one thing keeps nagging at you. If so, pay attention to it and pray about it. Perhaps you feel God is inviting you or the church into some action or response. If so, tell God what you feel called to do, and ask for God’s guidance and help.
Gradually, you will feel done. When you get to this stage, walk for just a little bit longer. Enjoy strolling along in the presence of God, who loves not only the neighbourhood, but also you.
Of course, like any good liturgy, the neighbourhood walk can be repeated over and over again. For if you repeat the walk at different times of the day, different days of the week, different weeks of the year, and with different companions, then different patterns of presence and absence and beauty and despair and holiness will gradually make themselves known: and it is in the variation, depth, contradictions, surprises and paradoxes that you may very well encounter Christ.
These ideas are adapted from ‘An Exegetical Walk’, found in Simon Carey Holt’s God Next Door: Spirituality and Mission in the Neighbourhood (Brunswick East: Acorn Press, 2007) pp 95-110. Image credit: Balkouras Nicos on Unsplash. And no, our neighbourhood does not look like that. My old neighbourhood did, and I miss it!
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