I’ve never been sporty but I usually make an effort to go for a walk a few times a week. According to Runkeeper in 30 minutes or so I can cover around three or four kms on my walks around the neighbourhood. I find it a great way to get some quiet head-space, prayer time, or one-on-one time with each of my five children.
I don’t use a step tracker, and while I’m sure that some days I don’t hit the oft-recommended 8000-10,000 steps per day, most days I probably do. It’s easy to rack them up when I’m at home with the kids or out and about at the shops or park or something. Here’s how I manage to get lots of steps in on the days I do writing/editing work and am therefore more sedentary.
1. I park a couple of blocks away from the office
Actually, this is not me being virtuous – there’s often no parking outside the office I sometimes go to so I use a nearby street, sometimes a block or two away. And there’s mostly two-hour parking available in these streets, so I have to leave twice to walk a few blocks to pick up the car, move it, and walk back again. It’s a great way to get lots of extra steps in, and some fresh air.
2. I do tidy-up sprints around the house
If I’m working from my desk at home I’ll take a natural break, like after finishing a written draft or a few emails, and run around the house and see how many little jobs I can do in a couple of minutes. As in, I literally sprint around the house, picking up stuff and moving it to where it belongs, stripping beds and and running to stuff sheets in the washing machine, getting washing off the line in 30 seconds flat, that kind of stuff. I’m sure I would look like an idiot to anyone who was watching, but I’m get steps done and get puffed in the process, so I figure it works.
3. I make use of any extra evening daylight
I often invite one or two of my children for a walk down the local reserve, or a park near our house. If a couple of them come and are happy to entertain themselves, instead of sitting down and reading stuff on my phone like I’m tempted to do I walk laps around the park or the reserve footpath until they’re ready to walk back home.
4. I walk on the spot
When brushing my teeth or hair, I sometimes walk on the spot. This is actually really helpful in the morning because I’m not a morning person and I am not going to get up early to go for a walk and it can take me a good hour to feel properly awake after getting out of bed. The on-the-spot walking elevates my heart rate a little and helps to get me energised and out the door. Whatever works!
5. Make walking dates instead of coffee dates
A friend suggested meeting up for a walk through the local forest and I thought what a great alternative to catching up over coffee! I’m going to suggest this myself to people more often too.
6. Grab whatever opportunities pop up
We’re at my mothers and the kids are asking her to take them to feed the ducks at the local park – instead of taking it as a bonus babysitting pass to sit in her quiet house and read the Sunday paper I go along too. We take the kids into the city to visit the cathedral and do the pilgrimage of Mercy. Why not wander into Hyde Park as well, walk a few of the paths and play catch with a ball for a while? In shopping centres I tend to take the stairs rather than an escalator or lift. I just generally look for opportunities to to be more active because I know that as my children are all out of toddlerhood I may generally move to a more sedentary lifestyle.
Praying while you walk
When interviewing celebrated Clonakilla winemaker Tim Kirk for FRANKLY magazine, I was charmed to learn that every single morning after reading and praying over scripture he goes out for a walk and continues to pray as he walks.
I asked him what he prays while he walks, and he said it was often prayers of praise and petition for needs of others. Every person is unique and will pray in a different way, and I’m always curious to know how other people pray. This is how I pray while walking:
1. Remember that God is always present to us
It’s hard to remember sometimes, amid the school run and extra-curricular and homework and dinner time schedules, bulging email in-folders and unreturned phone calls, that God is always, literally, with us and that it is possible to constantly remain with God in prayer.
St Teresa of Avila wrote that:
God is always present to us, but the manner is different for the one who prays.
(I can’t remember where she wrote this, or the exact words, maybe someone can help me out.) But how is it different? How do we become aware of God’s presence in the middle of a grocery shop, a traffic jam, the crush of a work deadline or a parent-teacher meeting, a swim, a basketball game?
Through habit. Making a habit of remembering that God is always present to us. No matter where we are, or what we are doing. Praying, conversing, working, running for the bus, making beds, reading the news headlines. And we can make a habit of remembering that every time we remember to ‘touch base’ with God, it’s because God has thought of us first, holds us in his thoughts always in fact.
St Ignatius also wrote that
“it is a higher virtue of the soul, and a greater grace, to be able to enjoy the Lord in different times and different places than in only one”.
This is a consoling thought at those times when I feel like I desperately need a quiet, peaceful chapel somewhere for an hour to pray and and collect my thoughts, but all I can do instead is grab my sneakers and hat and head out to the pavement for the 20 minutes between the end of homework supervision and starting the dinner prep.
“God is always present to us”. God is here wherever I am. I just need to remember that and be grateful for the opportunity God is giving me right now, in my pre-dinner dash around my neighbourhood streets, not pine after what circumstances I would prefer.
(And if I don’t even get out of the house because one of the children want my help with something, or the phone rings, or I remember I’ve left damp washing in the machine and need to hang that out instead – I can still do it conscious of the presence of God and this can be the way I pray today.)
To paraphrase Deuteronomy 11:18-19:
You shall impress these words of mine on your heart and on your soul…when you sit in your house, and when you walk along the road, and when you lie down and when you rise.
On a recent walk, the words kept coming to my mind that I’d heard recently on a homily about the Prodigal Son: Life is a purification of motive. Those few simple words were great food for meditation and self-examination that day. it’s a great opportunity to think over something I’ve come across in a homily, or talk with someone, or something I’ve read of a spiritual nature, that I don’t in the normal course of my day get the mental space to reflect on.
3. Pray the Rosary
The rosary is a perfect prayer for walking and is a meditation as well. It’s great advantage is that it can be prayed alone or with like-minded friends. When St Pope John Paul II announced the Year of the Rosary in 2002 he said it was perfect for walking too:
Do not be ashamed to recite the Rosary alone, while you walk along the streets to school, to the university or to work, or as you commute by public transport.
I have a mental picture – a little snapshot in my mind from an afternoon years ago, when after collecting two of my children from their school and driving home in a very distracted frame of mind I noticed a man walking along the path, slightly stooped, with his hands clasped behind his back. His lips were moving, and then as we passed him I saw that swinging gently from one of his hands were rosary beads. It was such incongruous sight, and one that still inspires me.
4. Prayerfully walk with someone else
I did this while on retreat with a friend recently. We had a lovely roam over hills and through green paddocks, and it was really nice space to share and reflect on our lives at the moment and how we feel God might be working in them right now. Alternatively, I haven’t done this myself, but you could do the Ignatian thing and imagine you’re in a particular scene with Jesus where he was walking along with his disciples, and chat to him instead.
We might not all have a gorgeous vineyard to roam through prayerfully each morning, but we can tread all kinds of paths all over the place, making our own memories of walking with God.
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