I have been walking in circles in the woods of Tennessee for most of my life. This year I am trying to walk a circle in the woods every day. I am feeling grateful for every step, rain, sleet or shine and see it as one of the places I can really pray and commune with God. This bible study is an invitation to walk more often and with a renewed sense of spiritual grounding and kinship. It is a call to church circles to leave Sunday school rooms in churchs and living rooms in homes and to go back to the woods. It is a mindful practice like prayer and service.
Walking in the woods is not an afterthought of spiritual development and practice; it is central, historical, and essential. Contemplating the creator of the universe while we are walking in God's creation opens our hearts and minds to the wondrous gift of life. A walking bible study that can be used like a field guide is offered as tool to learn more about scripture while going deeper into our spiritual journeys. The insight gained while contemplating a passage and walking will add to the depth and joy of what a bible study is about. A walking bible study allows us to partake in the study of the scripture while practicing a spiritual discipline. This is the permission some may want to move from a classroom onto a deeper sacred ground. It may be the only way some individuals feel comfortable opening themselves to scriptures again.
Walking is almost a neutral activity; it is not intended to stress our bodies but to focus our energies while our minds wander and empty. Walking is the solution to many of life's problems, it is how we make mole hills out of mountains. It is how we wander in the desert, find our way on retreat, and make our way in labryinths and to altars. There is something special about walking in a circle. It is the greatest example that it is the journey not the destination. It is the way the world moves in orbit and the way the moon finds it way around us. A cirlce is the symbol of all that is eternal and how we understand the changing seasons. Our journey begins with God and ends with God; life is coming full circle into that truth.
If there is anyone who is not able to walk, I want to say that some of the best walks I have taken in the woods have included babies in backpacks, friends in wheelchairs, my husband on a cane only able to go a short distance before the arthitus takes hold of him. It is usally a gift to have to accomadate someone who is slow; they are usually miles ahead in other ways. It's best just to trust the walk is what it needs to be and to trust your fellow walkers. Read the signs offered in front of you and mark them. Lay aside any worries that are too heavy to carry for miles in the woods and remember you can always pick them back up when you leave. Carry the minimum (maybe water, pen, paper, and a key). You don't need packs. Walk rain or shine, winter or summer and don't worry.
There is a vast difference in walking in a circle rather than going to a destination. If we have a fixed goal that we must get to that means we can only move in one direction with one fixed tangent. Our journey of faith takes us all on circuitous routes, sometimes back to square one, and sometimes around new bends we never expected. Walking in circles, is a way of placing our bodies and minds, like the pilgrims, monks, and ascetics before us, before the Lord.
While we walk we are leaving no carbon imprint; we are not eating, or drinking, or emailing, or sleeping, or waiting. We are just walking. Our goal on this walking bible study is not to overthink the scriptures, not to dress them up fancy for others to marvel at, but let them strip us down; let them form us and sink in like our footprints in the dirt.
Walking in all weather and in all seasons is an added joy of walking in circles. I have been walking the circle of Radnor lake for twenty years. On a cold, damp winter morning I can tell you where the larkspur, trout lily, and the dutchmen's britches will bloom come spring. I have felt spiritual renewal like baptism in fresh spring rains. I have felt purfied by the cleansing that happens on an August walk at noon after sweat, like salty tears, washes away pain. I have felt the awe of a cathedral worship in a fall afternoon underneath a canopy of leaves. That all of it happens on the same path, brings it all home to me as I walk the circle again.
I am grateful for the walk; I am grateful for all the people who share the walk with me. Like praying when two or three are gathered together, to walk in a group is a great gift. It brings us intentionality and allows us to find companions on the way. On these walks we will begin as a gathered group; we gather again half-way through to read the scripture once more and then end together with conversation. There is no formal liturgy, unless you think that walking is formal. I think that silence or talking are great, as long as there is some of both, and we are senstive to our fellow walkers in their need for conversation or silence.
Walking changes us; it can transport our spirits from being weighted down by life into the joy of being in the presence of God. It can clarify epiphanies, offer us grace, remind us of our need for repentance, and hold us accountable to our brothers and sisters. Walking is a gift. To go on a spiritual journey without nature as a primary teacher to me seems like a eucharist without bread. We miss in both something symbolic and substantive. Abraham, Buddha, Mohammed, and Jesus all spent defining parts of their ministry in the woods. They went for inspiration, insight, rest, and renewal. The woods are our inheritance and are offered to us as a gift. They provide an area for learning and humble us before the creator of the universe.