When you pray, move your feet!

Sanctuary’s taking a summer break. This month, many of us are on leave and outside every day, so here’s a little something from the archives on praying while out for a walk.

Prayer is a way of deep listening. Yet when our minds are busy and distracted, we cannot listen well; and so we need methods to still our minds. One of these is to go for a walk. The repetitive rhythmic movement, and the regular intake and exhalation of breath, can help us find that still centre: the space where we notice the spirit bubbling up and gently prompting us.

There are many ways to take a prayer walk. One way is to bless the earth with your feet. Ideally, this is done barefoot on sand or soil, not shod on concrete; but either way is possible. This is a slow walk. With each step, gently press first your heel, then the ball of your foot, then your toes, into the earth. Feel the earth connect with your feet. Feel the soil or grass or tide sift between your toes; allow yourself to become aware of the earth’s solidity and softness.

With each step, intentionally press love into the earth. This is serious business: there is no hurry. You may feel a little awkward at first. We are so used to rushing that taking such slow and intentional steps will feel odd. But persist. Gradually you will find your rhythm and lose your self-consciousness; gradually you will fall deep into the act of blessing; and in time you will discover that God is using the earth to bless you right back.

Another method matches the rhythm of our steps to the rhythm of a song of blessing or praise. When I am walking around town, I usually sing to the beat of my footsteps. When there’s nobody else around, I sing aloud; when there are others out and about, I sing in my heart (actually, sometimes I sing out loud then, too, but it’s accidental and, let’s be honest, a little embarrassing!). Doing this turns a simple walk to the supermarket into a prayer, for the rhythm lifts my mind out of its self-important spirals and towards our primary task of praising God. After a time of walking, singing and gradually finding my rhythm, my mind quietens and I can begin deep listening.

There are a few songs or chants I find particularly helpful for walking and singing. The first is Ana Hernandez’ “God bless every step that I am taking // And bless the earth beneath my feet.” For the musical among you, the (very simple) score is here. A second is Many and Great, which we have sung together on Sundays. The tune is a Dakota Indian tune, and it evokes a great column of people walking through the prairie. If you need a refresher on the tune, you can listen to it here; scroll down this email for the lyrics. There are others, but no doubt you will have your own songs which help focus your walking and praying.

There is a beautiful concept in Islam that we pray aloud throughout the world, so that all creation hears and echoes the prayers to eternity; while, in our own tradition, rivers, rocks and ravens all praise God. I love that, while we’re out and about, we can add our voice to this cosmic song, using words which give thanks for the world around us and which bless the earth beneath our feet.


First emailed to Sanctuary 18 September 2019 © Sanctuary, 2019. Image credit: Esther Ann on Unsplash.

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