Prayer walks.

by K.W. Leslie, 17 October

’Cause walking and praying is super easy. Well, for most of us.

One of the few activities we can do, yet pray at the same time, is walk.

For this reason certain Christians take prayer walks. More than just pacing back in forth in our rooms while we pray, we take some time out of our day to just go for a walk. Not to any specific destination; we’re gonna loop around and come back home. Not for exercise, although we might do that too. (Turn it into kind of a prayer jog.) Walking’s not the purpose. Prayer is.

Although sometimes we Christians turn the prayer-walk route into something significant. Fr’instance at the beginning of every year, Christians in my town wanna pray for the town. So they take a prayer walk which is specifically mapped so they’ll reach certain important places. Like city hall, the town square, the civic center, certain parks and schools and fire departments, maybe the run-down or more criminal parts of town, maybe certain businesses Christians do and don’t approve of. But while we call these things “prayer walks,” I remind you a proper prayer walk isn’t about the physical destination. It’s about the spiritual destination. We’re not trying to go someplace; we’re trying to grow closer to God.

Hence certain Christians (and our churches) put together prayer walks which deliberately go nowhere. On the church property, you’ll find a “prayer walk” trail which goes round in a circle, and takes you right back to where you started. Or there’ll be a sidewalk which goes all the way around the building… and if you were wondering why it goes round the back when there’s nothing back there, now you know.

Other churches have labyrinths, a diagram on the floor, or on the ground outside, where Christians can walk through the diagram and pray. A lot of pagans imagine labyrinths are cool and “mystical,” and have tried to co-opt the idea (and as a result have weirded out a lot of Christians about their use). But relax; labyrinths are a Christian thing. A prayer walk when your church doesn’t really have the space for something larger.

Walking the labyrinth at the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres. Wikimedia

And of course some churches have stations of the cross dioramas or paintings placed round the building for us to walk to and pray at.

How to take a prayer walk.

Prayer walks are as simple as walking round your neighborhood and praying. But you know how some Christians are: I gotta spell out every little detail. And if you’re one of those Christians, fine. Here’s every little detail.

Wear practical, comfortable shoes.

Figure out your route. Make sure it takes you from home and back, or from your workplace and back. If you wanna have it conveniently pass a coffeehouse along the way, that’s fine. But make sure it doesn’t take you that long to go all the way round. Ten to 15 minutes is plenty.

If you wanna prayer-walk to a destination—like pray as you walk to work, to church, to the grocery store—make absolutely sure you’re not pressed for time. Don’t rush through your prayer walk. Plus be careful lest your mind wander way from God, and towards all your plans for the workplace. Or your shopping list. Or whatever. Maybe walking home is the better destination.

Should you wear headphones? Only if music helps you focus. And of course a conspicuous pair of headphones tells everyone who sees them, “I’m not listening,” so they’re less likely to interrupt. But if they’re a distraction too, don’t.

Don’t know what to pray? Pray the Lord’s prayer. Pray about what’s going on in your life—what’s been happening, what upcoming events are about to happen. Pray about what you’ve been reading in your bible lately, and meditate where appropriate. Pray other rote prayers.

Thank God for whatever’s going on in your life. Thank him for the nice day, for the free time you have to prayer-walk, for any other blessings which come to mind.

Spend as much of that time praying, and paying attention to God’s presence, as you can. It’s not complicated unless you make it that way.

Like any spiritual practice, it might not work for you the first time. Or the second time, or the third. Don’t assume a rotten first attempt means prayer walking isn’t for you. If the first time goes great, great! But it might be five or six times before everything clicks.

How often ought you do this? Up to you. Some Christians prayer-walk daily, and have even turned their backyards into prayer-walks of some form. Some keep it a weekly thing. Some even less often, though I don’t believe it’s as effective as it can be if we practice it less than once a month.

Walk if it helps you focus. Otherwise don’t.

Like many forms of physical activity, the walking is meant to help us focus on our prayers.

But for some Christians the walking is a distraction. There are too many things to look at! Or the walking itself—especially if your legs aren’t good, or you’re walking uphill or through snow—takes too much focus. If it becomes about the walk, and less so about the prayer, we’re doing it wrong.

Walking is exercise, and like I said, some Christians wanna turn their prayer walks into a combination of prayer and exercise. And again, it turns into a distraction: They’re concentrating on their heart rate, not God. They’re multitasking religion. That’s not how we get closer to him, y’know.

So if you’re too tempted to exercise, too easily distracted, or hate walking and would gripe about every step of the way, prayer walks aren’t for you.

Hey, not every technique works for everyone. And there are many ways to pray. Find one which works for you. If it helps you get closer to Jesus, do it; if not, don’t. But prayer walks might, so here they are.