“Mom let’s take a walk today.” It’s a common request in my house now. He asks this question so casually. Mostly it’s not even an question behind it the assumption that we will be walking. It’s only a matter of when and where.
Walking has been my solace since I was a little girl. I can remember taking a walk from one corner to another when I was way too tiny to be let off the block least of all across the street. I would walk up and down the street taking notice of the houses, the trees, the cars. I loved to walk with the sun on my face. I loved to walk when it was cloudy and breezy outside. I would put my boots on in winter. The walks may have been slower but still the crisp air touching my face was just the medicine I needed to cure my cabin fever. This is one of the beauties of living with four seasons. Walking through the seasons is a wonder and a blessing.
When I was a young girl, my parents took me on a church retreat. It is was north of my home town but it felt like we were headed down south to my grandparents’ farm. When we got to the retreat site, I found out we were camping in cabins. It was an adventure. I thought it would be fun. And in true introvert fashion, I gathered up my books and journal and headed out to watch the water the second my mother gave me the green light. I have no idea what the retreat was about, I don’t know if it was a revival or a rehearsal. All I know was I was given unmitigated access to nature for an entire weekend. I was in heaven.
I remember taking a walk to the lake (it was probably a pond but in my memory it’s a lake). Once I arrived, I looked for a spot to set up my personal retreat away from the retreat. I found a picnic table and promptly placed my ‘found’ snacks, books and journal on top. Then I sat on the table and listened to the wind. My pastor walked past me. He noticed my upturned face and closed eyes. He chuckled at me and asked, “Wanda what are you doing?” I wasn’t even startled. My pastor was such a gentle and loving man, his voice seemed to naturally blend in with the tranquil environment. I just looked up and told him, “I’m listening to the wind.”
He smiled at me and told me, “Looks to me like you’re conversing with God. Looks to me like its a good talk too. Never stop listening. Never stop conversing. God wants you to talk to Him in just your way.”
The conversation with pastor probably lasted all of about 30 seconds. We had many more conversations, he was the perfect pastor for me, but that one always seems to stand out to me.
“Never stop conversing.”
I believe that in that brief conversation I stopped learning how to pray and started learning to listen. Growing up Baptist in the black community, you hear magnificent prayers of supplication every Sunday morning. You sit through long arduous litanies, some last an hour. Others just shy thereof. There is pressure placed on you to pray publicly with the same fervor. In our brief conversation, my pastor confirmed for me a secret I had believed a long time…prayer for me was not about long winded supplications. For me prayer was communion. For me prayer was conversation. For me prayer was taking time to listen.
So I walk. When I can’t think straight, I take a walk. When my heart is heavy, I take a walk. When I feel like the walls are closing in on me, I take a walk.
My walks with my son began as my marriage was ending. He was so small and at the time I also had 2 dogs. My son would be antsy after a long day away from home and my dogs were home bound so going outside for them was a requirement. I must have looked like a crazy person trying to push a stroller and hold on to two leashes. I’d been so overwhelmed with the condition of my life I started walking so I could start breathing. Walking and praying. We were a parade. The four of us. A complete parade. If I had a picture I would show you.
But in walking and praying with my son and my dogs, I started to get a vision for what my life could be. I started to see my way through a very troubled time.
My walks are slow, steady. There are times when I use music. But mostly I walk to listen. It’s become a ritual for my son and I. At this point in his life, walking with me is so common place, it bothers him if we go a few days without it. Just the other day after we’d been to a marshmallow drop he told me, “We need to go for a walk today because walking to the marshmallow drop site doesn’t count.” The expectation is that when we walk we don’t actually have a destination. Walking for he and I means taking the time to think out loud, explore and listen.