I have been dealing with spiritual disciplines for a long time now. In theory anyone who begins to live the spiritual life takes on some disciplines to grow in that life. The spiritual life is like human life. We begin as babies and grow into our potential. As humans this is inevitable. Once we are born, we need food to grow. But if we are fed, our bodies begin to develop. Babies inevitably learn to crawl and walk. So it is with the spiritual life.
That will enable me to see the many altars around my world. An altar marks the place where God shows up. It might be an ocean beach or a mountain spot. It could be a tree, a grove or a bush. It might be my backyard or my backyard friend. As a spiritual discipline walking is not is not meant to be useful; it is meant to be a spiritual connector. I just might go for a walk!
As nearly as I can recall, I engaged some spiritual disciplines at a certain point in high school. Although I meant well, I don’t think I was ready. Doubtlessly, my commitment was weak. I think I was more committed to girls and basketball! My priorities were clear and spirituality was not at the top. I don’t feel badly about that; I was young and full of life.
At some point, life changes for all of us. I got married and others were much better at basketball than I was. I could play for fun, but certainly no one was going to pay me to play. Basketball was not going to answer the deeper meaning in life. And even being married does not necessary solve the mysteries of life. Through college those questions about meaning in life became more pressing. It was the late ‘60s with all the mayhem characteristic of those times.
God entered the picture, along with spouse and pick-up basketball games. Only one of the three would deal with ultimate meaning and purpose. My relationship with God began to take on an importance that it deserved. And I learned that maintaining a relationship requires some discipline. I explored the classical disciplines.
As I wound my way through college and higher education, I acquired more knowledge about spiritual discipline. In fact I began to teach about them. To this day I am still teaching a class called “Spiritual Disciplines.” I acquaint students with the classical disciplines like prayer, meditating, fasting, etc. They are tried and true…they still work. But there are other disciplines.
I am bumping into some of these other disciplines as I continue reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, An Altar in the World. In the chapter I have just read, she focuses on the spiritual discipline of walking. She entitles the chapter, “The Practice of Walking on the Earth.” Again, I find it very interesting how she deals with this and opens it up for us who have not thought about walking as a spiritual discipline. She begins by narrating a personal story about her husband and herself.
The story is about a walk that she and her husband made one night when they we at a camp in North Carolina. She described walking through a tree-lined canyon. Neither she nor her husband could see a thing. She describes the walk in a creative way. “Pretty soon Ed and I were walking by faith and not by sight.” I really like that way of talking about the walk. And clearly, it has obvious connections to our spiritual journey---our spiritual walk.
For the most part my spiritual walk has been “by faith” and not “by sight.” I have never seen God in all the Divine Splendor. It probably would be as God told Moses; no one could look directly at God and survive. If you doubt it, try looking directly into the sun. God’s light would be even more brilliant!
As I understand them, the spiritual disciplines are aids that help us walk by faith. For example, prayer is not some magical cantation automatically making God show up. For me prayer is a communication. It keeps the relationship connected and functional. To pray to God is to “talk” with God. It keeps us in touch. As I read Taylor, I wondered if walking has a similar discipline function. She helped me see that it might have.
She is convinced walking can be a spiritual discipline. She says, “All it takes is the decision to walk with some awareness, both of who you are and what you are doing. Where you are going is not important…To detach the walking from the destination is in fact one of the best ways to recognize the altars you are passing right by all the time.” She helps me see how I might add walking to my list of spiritual disciplines.
I usually walk with awareness. That is the first step. However, I typically walk to get some place. My walks almost always have a destination---to get there. As a spiritual discipline, I will unhook the walking from the destination. The journey becomes key. Walking as a spiritual discipline will slow me down and open me up. As I write that sentence, I realize how spiritually inducing it can be. Slow down and open up.