By Mark Buchanan The prayer life I’ve most tried to imitate is Tevya’s, the patriarch in Fiddler on the Roof. He talks with God everywhere, face to face, friend to friend. His prayers are intimate, jovial, querulous, wondering. He thanks and gripes and puzzles. He confesses and he pleads. He complains and he concedes. But […]
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By Mark Buchanan
The prayer life I’ve most tried to imitate is Tevya’s, the patriarch in Fiddler on the Roof. He talks with God everywhere, face to face, friend to friend. His prayers are intimate, jovial, querulous, wondering. He thanks and gripes and puzzles. He confesses and he pleads. He complains and he concedes.
But he’s always moving. None of his praying is done sitting. It’s almost as if movement triggers his praying, that his legs are connected, by strings and latches and pulleys, to his heart and mouth: once his legs engage, the other parts join in.
That’s how it is for me. When I walk, I pray. Prayer starts stirring the inmost places the minute I set out. I venture a guess that for most of us, walking is so close to praying that, with minimal effort, we could marry the two and hardly notice where one ends and the other starts.
But it’s good sometimes to tie together, on purpose, walking and praying—to set out on an actual prayer walk.
The church where I pastored did this a fair amount, mostly under the urging of my wife. Admittedly, we usually did these walks in summertime, in warm dry weather, and called it off when it rained, so our commitment to the kingdom of God coming on earth as it is in heaven was perhaps not absolute. We would gather, usually no more than a dozen of us, at a certain time in a certain place. We began with a general prayer, agreed to meet back at the same place in an hour, and then broke off into groups of two or three to walk through the community and pray for it.
Some of the praying we did out loud, though to passersby it probably sounded like we were merely chatting with one another. Much of our praying was silent. Sometimes we paused, but most times we moved, not fast, but not pokey, either. The point was to cover ample ground in good time. Once in a while, someone would get talking to a dog-walker or a woman watering her roses or a man shepherding his children and end up praying for them—for an illness in the home or a child gone wayward or a toxic work environment. It was surprising, when it did happen, how natural it was, for us and the person we prayed for. We hardly met anyone who was not wide open, after maybe a moment of awkwardness, to receive prayer for healing or blessing. Many people wept. Most hugged us afterward.
Friendships sometimes formed among those who walked and prayed together. It is, after all, an act of vulnerability and intimacy to pray with another person. Prayer comes from and speaks to deep places in us. Some prayers descend quickly from head to mouth and usually are spoken in a series of stock phrases: Oh, God, I ask that you’d just protect and bless Joe as he drives to Williams Lake; keep him safe, O Lord. But other prayers rise slow as a male bear emerging from his winter’s sleep or fierce as a mother bear defending her cubs. These prayers come from storehouses of wild longing. They are stolen, it seems, off the altar of God’s throne room. Some seem like prayers from God’s own heart, uttered by God’s own lips. They have a powerful effect on both those who speak them and those who hear them. They knit us together, fiercely, tenderly.
I came back from these walks deeply refreshed. It was an experience, I think, similar to what Jesus had with the Samaritan woman at the well. When the disciples left him to go fetch food in a nearby village, Jesus was hungry, weary, thirsty. When they returned with food, urging him to eat, he was already full and rested and satisfied. He had not tasted a bite, taken a break, or gotten even the drink of water he asked the woman to provide.
“I have food you know nothing about,” he tells his disciples. Which puzzles them, literalists that they are. Does he have a secret stash? A shadow supplier? Did he turn stones to bread?
“My food,” he tells them, “is to do the will of my father and to finish his work” (from John 4:27–38).
Prayer walking helped me in the same way. What I felt, what I think we all felt, returning from them, especially when they involved these chance encounters with strangers or moments of deep calling to deep with one another, was this fullness, this refreshment, this satisfaction: this food we too often knew nothing about, but which, once tasted, replenishes completely.
Did God change anything for the neighbors by those prayers? Did the spiritual climate in the community shift? It’s hard to say. We were poor at following up, which is a nice way of saying we didn’t at all. So we had no way of knowing whether crime decreased or illnesses abated or sadness and anger lost their strangleholds in the communities we walked and prayed through. But we did sense God’s presence, in us, with us, around us.
The prayers—and the walking—changed us. It made us more sensitive to human need, our own and others. It made us less judgmental, more humble, less likely to jump to conclusions. We became better listeners and keener observers. We worked through much of our own stuff—our fears and worries and jealousies.
And maybe, just maybe, a few prodigals came home and some spouses reconciled and someone finally admitted they had a drinking problem and another cried out to God to reveal himself and he did. Would such things have happened anyway? God alone can answer that. But were any of those prayers wasted or foolish or unneeded?
Is any prayer or walk ever that?
Adapted from God Walk: Moving at the Speed of Your Soul by Mark Buchanan. Click here to learn more about this title.
Drawing on Jesus’s example of walking, bestselling author Mark Buchanan explores one of the oldest spiritual practices of our faith.
What happens when we literally walk out our Christian life? We discover the joy of traveling at the speed of our soul.
We often act as if faith is only about the mind. But what about our bodies? What does our physical being have to do with our spiritual life? When the Bible exhorts us to walk in the light, or walk by faith, or walk in truth, it means these things literally as much as figuratively. The Christian faith always involves walking out, as again and again we find the holy in the ordinary.
“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, and then he was off. The most obvious thing about Jesus’s method of discipleship, in fact, is that he walked and invited others to walk with him. Jesus is always “on the way,” “arriving,” “leaving,” “approaching,” “coming upon.” It’s in the walking that his disciples are taught, formed, tested, empowered, and released.
Part theology, part history, part field guide, God Walk explores walking as spiritual formation, walking as healing, walking as exercise, walking as prayer, walking as pilgrimage, suffering, friendship, and attentiveness. It is a book about being alongside the God who, incarnate in Jesus, turns to us as he passes by—always on foot—and says simply, “Come, follow me.”
With practical insight and biblical reflections told in his distinct voice, Buchanan provides specific walking exercises so you can immediately implement the practice of going “God speed.” Whether you are walking around the neighborhood or hiking in the mountains, walking offers the potential to awaken your life with Christ as it revives body and soul.
Mark Buchanan is a professor and award-winning author. He and his wife, Cheryl, live in Cochrane, Alberta. He is the author of eight books, including Your God Is Too Safe, The Rest of God, and Spiritual Rhythm.
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