We often think of the Christian life as a journey, a Pilgrim’s Progress to the Celestial City, in the words of John Bunyan, or the race that we run to win the crown we are promised as St. Paul wrote. Indeed, there are many metaphors in Scripture and in theological literature that employ such a theme, emphasizing a muscular Christianity, the need for preparation, discipline and fortitude for the trials and tests ahead so we can arrive at our destination in the kingdom.
One thing I appreciate about Morning Prayer in the Book of Common Prayer is the complementary imagery of ordinary, quotidian, walking — something we all do almost every day of our lives. A baby learns to walk at about one year and her parents rejoice even as they realize they have to put away a lot of things up out of reach. If we’re lucky we keep at it, whether we’re athletic or not, every day of our lives, wherever we are. Along with eating and drinking, smiling and weeping, walking is something we do consciously but without having to think about it in order to live our lives in our world.
Some learn to dance, ski, bike, climb mountains, run marathons, or do gymnastics and other marvelous feats with our feet and legs, but we all just keep on walking through the days of our lives. We don’t stop walking unless sickness or injury prevents us, hopefully not until we’ve reached our three score years and 10 or more. When and if that happens, we may realize for the first time how dependent we are on being able to walk the ordinary paths of our life, in the home, and in the ordinary tasks of living in the world outside. As a friend once said about her mother who had raised five children in a big old house, “That’s a lot of steps every day.”
It seems very appropriate for some of the prayers we repeat day by day to speak of walking instead of running or journeying, thus according dignity to the ordinariness which is the essence of most of the days of our lives.
The prayers in the daily office that speak of walking as our call and duty remind us that, like us, Jesus spent a good amount of his ministry “just” walking. For example, the Collect for Fridays:
Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Then as we pray for the day ahead, we ask for guidance as we walk, and for consciousness of God’s presence every step of our way:
O God, the King eternal, who dividest the day from the night and turnest the shadow of death into the morning: Drive far from us all wrong desires, incline our hearts to keep thy law, and guide our feet into the way of peace; that, having done thy will with cheerfulness while it was day, we may, when the night cometh, rejoice to give thee thanks; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
O heavenly Father, in whom we live and move and have our being: We humbly pray thee so to guide and govern us by thy Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and occupations of our life we may not forget thee, but may remember that we are ever walking in thy sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Finally, in the General Thanksgiving, we remind ourselves that our response to God’s goodness to us is to walk before God, that is, in his presence and with his companionship and guidance all day, every day:
And, we beseech thee,
give us that due sense of all thy mercies,
that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful;
and that we show forth thy praise,
not only with our lips, but in our lives,
by giving up our selves to thy service,
and by walking before thee
in holiness and righteousness all our days;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
to whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost,
be all honor and glory, world without end. Amen.
It is fitting that, when we get to Evening Prayer, the theme is still with us in this prayer that recalls the experience of two disciples, who were joined by a mysterious stranger who explained the Scriptures to them as they walked to Emmaus on Easter evening:
Lord Jesus, stay with us, for evening is at hand and the day is past; be our companion in the way, kindle our hearts, and awaken hope, that we may know thee as thou art revealed in Scripture and the breaking of bread. Grant this for the sake of thy love. Amen.
Amazing things can happen even when we’re just walking!
In our formal daily prayers then, we voice the same petition as one of the favorite spiritual songs of almost every Christian in New Orleans, heard often at formal services in churches of every denomination as well as in the streets at a jazz funeral.
Just a closer walk with Thee
Grant it, Jesus, is my plea —
Daily walking close to Thee
Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.
The Rev. Jean McCurdy Meade, PhD, is a priest of the Diocese of Louisiana, now retired.
Thanks for this meditation on the Office and walking. Your meditations on the prayers remind me that walking is also a primary metaphor in the psalms that we say in the Office. Peregrinatio, as the ancients say.
I often say the Office while walking, since I am usually on my own in saying it!