When I protested that as an elementary school teacher and married woman I didn’t have time for walking every day, this busy pastor described his own “morning constitutional” (rain or shine) and the many personal benefits he’d reaped from this daily ritual.
My personal and professional life had reached an all time high in stress. I had, after all, asked his advice. So, I laid out my teaching supplies each night, changed my alarm clock setting, and stopped off at a large park each morning on the way to work.
The discipline of getting up earlier and dressing for the weather was a little challenging at first, but as the weeks passed, I began to look forward to this time of silence before being swarmed with energetic children each day. I delighted in the changing colors of the wildflowers, the squirrels and bluebirds that darted and danced before me, and the huge expanse of the ever-changing morning sky.
And, I confess, I began to pray. I remembered that my pastor had said not to pray. But, when I saw a fresh carpet of snow, sparkling in the sunshine, I couldn’t help but thank the God for the beauty of nature. As I walked, I sometimes mused over various challenges in my career, devising new strategies for teaching, and the next thing I realized, I’d be asking the Lord for help with a “difficult” student. Other times, I would feel a quiet, peaceful feeling of solitude with God. I just couldn’t help but pray!
As a busy mom and teacher, Janet Holm McHenry has discovered that combining prayer and walking provides additional space for her personal prayer time. In her book, “PrayerWalk” (WaterBrook Press, 2001), McHenry explains that, although she is not a “morning person,” prayerwalking in the early morning works well with her family’s schedule, provides the exercise she needs, and allows her time to pray without interruptions.
At first, McHenry prays for her family while she is walking. Later, her daily walks open her eyes to the needs of others outside her circle and she begins to pray for them as well. As the months pass, McHenry notices little changes taking place in herself that she attributes to prayerwalking. She gradually overcomes some of her fears. Her general mood and outlook on life improves, due to what she calls “spiritual endorphins.” One morning, her son even catches her singing while making school lunches.
In the magazine “Spiritual Life” (Spring 2002), Richard Hurzeler, a grandfather and retired college professor, also writes about the benefits of prayerwalking. Naturally he enjoys time with his family, but prayerwalking provides him with some quiet time while also stretching and toning his muscles. Hurzeler enjoys the change of scenery while looking and listening for the presence of God within himself and others. He reminds us of Mother Teresa’s words: “We should make every effort to walk in the presence of God, to seek God in all persons we meet, to live our prayers through the day.”
“Don’t pray, just walk!” When I think back to these words, spoken to me so many years ago, I wonder, was the priest using reverse psychology? Or was he opening me to new prayer forms? Or maybe both?
Note: Article above reprinted from the syndicated column “The Prayerful Heart” by Julie McCarty, which appeared in Catholic newspapers around the country a few years ago.