Published July 21, 2012
Walking for exercise became spiritual practice
I walk as a spiritual practice. I walk to the church. I walk downtown Olympia. I walk everywhere it is practical to walk. I walk during the day, and I walk at night. I have a car, a bike, even a bus pass, but I choose to walk. It helps me to slow down. It allows me to see things I would miss if I were driving. It gives me time to think, to pray and to meditate. It affords me the opportunity to encounter people. It is ritual in my life. And while I consider it my spiritual practice – a way of practicing my faith – I also have come to understand it as a luxury. At the end of every day no matter how long, no matter how late or how tired I feel, I get to walk home. I also have the option of driving, taking the bus or riding my bike when I don’t feel up for the walk. Every day I encounter people who have no choice, Adult men, women, teens and children who have no home to return to at the end of a long day and no choice but to walk wherever they go. I am a Christian. I follow in the way of Jesus. I follow not because I believe it is the only way. I walk in this way because for me it is the way in which God is most fully revealed. I did not begin walking everywhere because I thought it would be a great spiritual practice and a way of making me feel closer to Jesus. I began because I wanted exercise and I love being outdoors. I love the smell of fresh air even when it is raining. I love the scenery; the Black Hills, the Sound, on occasion the Olympics, the Capitol and the lake. It did not take long before I began to see other kinds of sights, another kind of beauty. The moment I forgot about exercise and became excited about what and who I might encounter on the streets is the moment walking became a spiritual practice, something sacred. There was a young woman who appeared to be living on the streets sitting on a corner holding a cardboard sign. It was a very long hand-written message. I stopped to read it. To be honest I didn’t feel like stopping, but I didn’t want to dismiss her. It was a message about how she feels powerless in the power structures of society. I didn’t know what to say when I finished reading. In my mind I began to worry about what my response should be. I finished. I looked at her, she looked at me, I said, “OK.” (I didn’t know what else to say.) To be honest, I expected that she would begin a verbal rant and try to get me to give money. But she looked back at me and simply said, “Thank you for taking the time to read my sign. That’s all I want. People to take the half a minute to read it. But everyone is too busy running by. No one looks at me. So thank you.” I said, “You are welcome,” and I went on my way. Walking doesn’t solve the problems of our city, our state, our country or the world. But it does help me to slow down, to take the time to see and listen to people who I might not necessarily see if I were driving. Walking allows me to practice my faith. It allows me to do something. On that street corner with that young woman on that particular day, noticing her and taking the time to read her sign was enough. That’s what walking has taught me: Slow down, pay attention, do what you can do to help make the world a little better. You might be surprised how little it takes. Amy Walters is the minister at First Christian Church in Olympia. It is a Disciples of Christ denomination. Perspective is coordinated by Interfaith Works in cooperation with The Olympian. The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by Interfaith Works or The Olympian.