When I was ten, I tried to invent the zip-line! Instead I broke my tibia and fibula. A compound fracture. I languished in the hospital forever and wore a stone-like a cast for months. It was the dark ages before physical therapy. I think some doctors were still using leeches!
Later I suffered four separate surgeries on the bottom of my left foot to remove tumors. Again I spent months on crutches. I crutched to school. I could walk backward and forward on them without either foot touching the ground. I was a talented kid! By high school I worried I would be crippled like my grandfather.
Thank God I can walk, though not barefoot and always with a limp. It took years for my left leg to recover from the muscle atrophy caused by so much trauma and disuse.
The Lost Spiritual Discipline
Over the years as a pastor and counselor, I’ve similarly watched the spiritual formation and faith of many people atrophy.
Why? We no longer walk with God. Literally!
To God walking is more than a convenient way to find our lost car keys. Walking describes the activity central to a life spent with God.
Our bodies need to move or die. So too our souls. Yes, we should read the Bible, pray, meditate, journal, and worship. These disciplines are essential. But notice that we call them “Quiet Times,” as if God is some bespectacled librarian shushing us every time we move.
Unfortunately, these passive “prayer closet” disciplines communicate to us the heretical idea that body and spirit are separate and that spirit is more valuable than body. But God created both and declared both good. The truth is spiritual formation—growth in God—is not passive but requires and reflects movement.
Metaphor and More
From Genesis to Revelation the Bible is packed with walking.
- Adam and Eve physically walked with God in the garden. But it was also spiritual communion.
- Enoch spiritually walked with God physically.
- Jesus discipled, healed, and challenged as he walked, calling himself the way. And instructed his disciples to physically and spiritually follow him.
But isn’t walking with God for us just a metaphor? The late Eugene Peterson said metaphor “means what it says and what it doesn’t say.” The metaphor of walking with God speaks to a spiritual truth and a physical reality. God also uses metaphor in this way for the sacraments. Bread and wine is physical sustenance and spiritually Christ’s body and blood. Physically walking with God is sacramental.
Life is Like a Hike
Pilgrimages also reflect the truth of the importance of walking as a spiritual discipline. The ancient Israelites physically sang spiritual Psalms of Ascent as they pilgrimaged from their homes to the Temple. They walked with one another and God!Spiritual life is a pilgrimage not a statuary.
On our forty-first anniversary The Redheaded-Wildflower and I began a pilgrimage of our own. We’re hiking—walking’s more athletic cousin—the Colorado Trail. The CT snakes through through six wilderness areas, traversing alpine landscapes, pine forests, aspen groves, burn areas, lakes, and creeks. It starts near Denver at 5,500 ft. above sea level, eventually climbs to 13,271ft., and then terminates 486 miles later at 7,000ft. in Durango.
We’re hiking it in segments. It will take a few years.
Sounds like life doesn’t it? Dangerous! Crazy. Up and down. Wild. Exhilarating. Long. Beautiful. Rugged. Transformational. Hard. Rewarding!
Recently we hiked twelve of the sixteen miles of Segment 4, mostly up (both ways) shouldering heavy back packs. Exhausted, we camped in an aspen grove near Lost Creek at 10,500ft. We pitched the tent, ate, and tried to escape the mosquitoes. I settled on a bare log to write in my journal.
I wanted to capture what God had spoken to me during the hike. Mostly this, this blog.
God reminded me during my hike that this was not a spiritless adventure but a physical and spiritual one.
Keep your eyes open, God seemed to whisper. I’m here.
Then a peace, a touch of light washed over me. I looked up and meadow and mountain were painted with a soft, gentle evening light like fine golden linen pulled up over the day.
After months filled with fear over COVID and angst over racial injustice, I sighed. I heard the wind in the aspens. Or maybe it was God sighing too.
Scripture tells us, Fear not. God is with us. God took a truth I had read passively—God is with us—and with the rhythms of my tired steps drove it from my head to my bones. That hike became sacramental, combining in me spiritual truth and physical reality. I felt God’s presence.
I had walked—literally—with God!
Walking is a physical spiritual discipline God wants you to add into your life. Not everyone need climb to 10,000ft. for an epiphany. Or walk even three miles an hour. You can hobble or roll or scoot or draw close to the open window and experience God as he walks with you at your speed of love.
Suggestions for Turning Your Walks into a Spiritual Discipline
- Take a prayer walk. No audio device. Listen.
- Take an audio device and listen to the Gospels, focusing on how Jesus walked.
- Take scripture cards and memorize.
- Walk with a friend and engage in God-life conversations.
- Practice silence.
- Notice God in nature, including people.
- Walk at the speed of love, greeting others, petting dogs.
- Leave your cell phone home. God doesn’t need it to reach you.
- Talk to God as you walk. He’s there and is listening.
- Plan a pilgrimage.