Praying with Your Feet

As I look back on my hike and the first couple of days of journaling, I remember the first quote I was reflecting on as a prayer exercise while hiking.

Charles Spurgeon wrote these words: “God is too good to be unkind and He is too wise to be mistaken. And when we cannot trace His hand we must trust His heart.”

The hashtag #PrayWithYourFeet had become one that I often used when posting photos about my pilgrimage on Instagram and Facebook. To me, the idea is that prayer not simply be a routine spiritual exercise but something grounded in physical activity…integrated with the hiking itself. As I hiked the first 10 miles or so to get to a shelter area that first day, my hope was that the very act of walking along this blazed trail would become a way of spiritually engaging with God.

It is difficult to say exactly at what point in my hike prayer became fully integrated with the physical journey, but I know that it did not take very long. And after experiencing significant struggles with prayer over the past few years, I was pleasantly surprised to find my conversations with God while on the trail were coming more freely than they had in years.

By the 2nd day of my hike, I had also made some relational connections with a couple of fellow hikers. “May” and “Catfish” would be my main hiking companions for the first few days and then “May” continued to journey with me for the first two weeks on the trail. We had some great experiences and conversations together, but I found myself eager to hike ahead of these guys for the first few hours each day in order to protect my times of solitude and prayer on the trail.

For the next few days, I would slowly immerse myself in the 23rd Psalm which became the most impactful passage of scripture for me during the entire 23 days of hiking (coincidence?) and I began each hiking day prayerfully quoting each section of the Psalm as I walked along. Although it took a few days of hiking meditatively to get through the whole passage, each day of my hike would begin with these words:

“The Lord is my shepherd, I have everything I need!”

God as shepherd and Christ as our “good shepherd” (John 10:11) are very familiar images and motifs in the Bible. All throughout scripture, this image of being a sheep under the care of the Good Shepherd recurs but it has often felt like churchy or religious language that doesn’t make much sense to non-agrarian folk like myself. However, over the next 23 days, I owned this language and began seeing more deeply into the words and David’s proclamation in Psalm 23 that the Lord is my shepherd.

Pray with your feet! This phrase has become more than a hashtag, it has become something like a prayer activator for me. To walk…to take steps along any path towards a destination reminds me to keep in step with the Spirit.

What is a pilgrimage?

While I was out on the Appalachian Trail for 23 days, perhaps the most common question put to me was something like this: Why are you out here?

Typically, I would tell people that I’m on a pilgrimage and that would usually prompt the next obvious question: What is a pilgrimage?

To put it mostly simply, a pilgrimage is a physical journey with a spiritual purpose. (My definition)

Others have defined ”pilgrimage” in some of these ways…

—a long journey to a sacred place as an act of religious devotion

—a spiritual quest

—a trip taken by a pilgrim, usually for religious purposes

I would also bring up the word “sabbatical” at some point because the AT hike, for me, was also part of what I would consider a ministry sabbatical. After 11+ years of college ministry, I decided to take about 5 weeks as a sabbatical to pursue spiritual renewal and guidance for future ministry & vocation.

Sabbaticals are often taken by academics or people serving in ministry. The etymology of the word is obviously connected to “sabbath” which refers to the seventh day of Creation in the Bible in which God ceases from his work and then rests. So a ministry sabbatical is a release from the routine of one’s calling in order to pursue physical, emotional, & spiritual rest for the well-being and health of the minister.

Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing a series of posts sharing some of my experiences on the Appalachian Trail while also processing the spiritual & emotional benefits I received from this time away and the last 2 weeks of my 2020 sabbatical. Any questions and comments are welcome along the way! Feel free to make this more of a conversation than a monologue. 👍🏼