Try walking, my spiritual director said on Monday, when I confessed my inability to sit still long enough to listen to God. She reminded me of a beautiful book I’ve owned for years, Living In the Presence, in which Tilden Edwards writes several spiritual exercises to be done while walking.
This morning I took my meditation timer to the church sanctuary, removed my shoes to mark this time as holy, and began to pace along the front of the balcony. I chose a tortoise pace, reflective of the slowness with which God’s will seems to be unfolding in my life these days. Front foot laid gently against the carpet, heel then arch then toe, as the other foot peeled off in the opposite order. An inhale for one foot, an exhale for the other, over and over as my mind settled down.
Within minutes, I was struck by two insights, the second a surprise. I was amazed at how difficult it was to keep this snail’s pace, even for what I knew was a limited time. I wanted to walk quickly, to move forward, to hurry even through this. My spirit is anxious these days to know what it coming next in my family and career, and it manifests in my body. That I have learned to expect.
It was the difficulty balancing that surprised me. Moving at this ponderous pace threw my stabilizing muscles into confusion. Are we walking or are we not? Is this forward movement or standing still? It turns out that neither my spirit nor my body adjust well to slowness. When I am moving quickly, there is momentum, driving me on without much effort to the next step, the next choice. But at this pace, every move requires intention and energy, every decision demands disciplined discernment. I had the same sense within my body as I’ve had for months within my soul: that I am standing, but not firmly, that at any moment I could either find solid footing, or fall apart.
For every long minute I kept that deliberate pace, I triumphed over the natural human inclination to flee from discomfort. It is work, but for Christians in search of God’s will, staying in the uncomfortable liminality of discernment is essential. Walking with God, at least in my experience, requires patient submission to a journey whose ending is unknown.
Finally, seventeen minutes into my twenty, I began to walk like a dancer. It started out of boredom, but became a revelation. Instead of focusing on the speed of my movement, I began to think about the grace of it. Could a walk this slow also be beautiful? Could I make it into a leisurely celebration of my body’s ability and my spirit’s unfolding, rather than just a torturous discipline?
As my limbs stretched and my toes pointed, I remembered that even discipline can be a celebration when it is lived within God’s grace. The Spirit may be forcing me to move slowly through my life right now, but it doesn’t have to be painful. There are unused muscles and unstretched skills that can strengthen and grow if I dance instead of plodding. There is joy to be found in the smallest movements if they are done with grace. And it may just be that this small joy is enough to sustain me until God’s will is revealed.