For the past few months, perhaps even the past couple of years, my desire for some kind of hiking pilgrimage was evolving from wishful thinking to an actual plan.
Originally, I was hoping to get to Spain and hike the Camino Santiago. But with traveling restrictions due to COVID-19 and financial limitations, that was not going to be an option.
It is solved by walking.
This is a common phrase and hashtag you will see often as people talk about pilgrimage, especially on the Camino.
Many see prayer as merely asking God for things but I came to know prayer in a different way as I hiked up, down and through the southern Appalachians. Richard Rohr talks about prayer as “opting into the divine” and submitting one’s life to a union with Christ. Although I certainly spent time interceding for my family, friends, and circumstances…prayer became more like invitation. In prayer, we have the opportunity to participate with God in his project of redeeming and reconciling the world around us. Prayer should probably be more about God changing us than our own petitions for God to change the people and circumstances around us. There’s certainly a scriptural call to intercede and ask God to work, but as I was hiking, prayer became more about my own awareness of God and the abundant opportunities I have to participate in the life of the Kingdom.
In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus coaches us on prayer and challenges us to pray as if we would like for the way things are “in heaven” to be the way things are here on earth. “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
When you spend 8-12 hours a day hiking along a path, it is easy to focus on the creatures you see, the interesting plant life along the trail, the pain in your knee, the sweat dripping from your nose, the gnats and flies buzzing about…but as I re-developed the prayer muscle of my mind and heart I found that there was a sense of the Divine, of God’s presence all around me.
Now after returning to day-to-day life OFF trail it is even easier to be distracted from prayer. Yet I find that opting in with God through prayer can be as simple as directing my thoughts towards the One who invites us to live in constant awareness of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and all the goodness around us.
Backpacking on the AT taught me something new about prayer and how to be in constant conversation (speaking and listening) with God.