Spiritual Walking

Walking as a Focal Practice Q&A with Arthur Paul Boers,  by John Shorb

When I was a student, I was burned out and would cope by going for long walks. I was never interested in long distance walking or hiking – just 40 minute walks here and there. About nine years ago, I was still living in Ontario and I read an article in the local newspaper about a group of women who hiked the Bruce Trail. It is 500 miles long and they walked it on a part time basis. I thought it was interesting – and that I could do it: I could take days off and walk.

I was not sure exactly why I was doing it. But while I walked, things were happening to me. It was a physical challenge, but I also started to experience time differently. I saw geography differently. I saw distance differently. I noticed that when I walked things were going on with me that usually happened when I was on retreat. When I go to the monastery for retreat, I start to relax quickly. It gave me the courage – and conviction – to re-evaluate what was going on in my life, reprioritize what was most important to me, and re-enter life in a more balanced way. Long distance walking is a lot like retreats – with the added benefit of going outdoors, seeing nature. This was good for the environment and good for me physically.

Albert Borgmann is a philosopher at the University of Montana and he has a term he uses: focal.

Things or realities that are focal have three qualities.

First, they have a commanding presence – they remind us that there are realities bigger than us, that demand loyalty from us and fill us with awe and inspire us.

Second, they have a meaningful continuity with other realities – engaging in a focal thing or practice is going to connect you with a web of relationships in many different directions.

Third, focal reality has a centering orienting power – it reminds us of our deepest and most important priorities.

People talk about our culture as geography of nowhere and no places. All our towns and cities are beginning to look alike. Our cities’ landscapes look like each other, dominated by big box stores, strip malls and chain restaurants. We don’t have architecture that is different or inspires us. Instead of preparing a meal, we heat one up in the microwave. More and more we are eating on our own and in a hurry.

Sunday morning worship is one of the few places where focal practices are offered on a regular basis across the generations. Christians exercise hospitality, they sing, they read scripture, they preach and they give testimony. One of the many reasons why worship is important is that it is because it is one of the few places in our culture now where focal practices are regularly engaged and practiced.

Arthur Paul Boers is the author of The Way Is Made by Walking. He taught Pastoral Theology at the Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana for seven years. He now teaches leadership at Tyndale Seminary. Prior to being a professor, Professor Boers was a Mennonite pastor for 16 years. He is also a Benedictine Oblate – a person who is outside a monastery but commits to living Benedictine values.

Adapted from an article at:


Three steps in the process of living a life of gratefulness.

BY: Brother David Steidl-Rast

To be awake, aware, and alert are the beginning, middle, and end of gratitude. This gives us the clue to what the three basic steps of practicing gratitude must be.

Step One: Wake Up

To begin with, we never start to be grateful unless we wake up. Wake up to what? To surprise. As long as nothing surprises us, we walk through life in a daze. We need to practice waking up to surprise. I suggest using this simple question as a kind of alarm clock: “Isn’t this surprising?” “Yes, indeed!” will be the correct answer, no matter when and where and under what circumstances you ask this question. After all, isn’t it surprising that there is anything at all, rather than nothing? Ask yourself at least twice a day, “Isn’t this surprising?” and you will soon be more awake to the surprising world in which we live.

Surprise may provide a jolt, enough to wake us up and to stop taking everything for granted. But we may not at all like that surprise. “How can I be grateful for something like this ?” we may howl in the midst of a sudden calamity. And why? Because we are not aware of the real gift in this given situation: opportunity.

Step Two: Be Aware of Opportunities

There is a simple question that helps me to practice the second step of gratitude: “What’s my opportunity here?” You will find that most of the time, the opportunity that a given moment offers you is an opportunity to enjoy–to enjoy sounds, smells, tastes, texture, colors, and, with still deeper joy, friendliness, kindness, patience, faithfulness, honesty, and all those gifts that soften the soil of our heart like warm spring rain. The more we practice awareness of the countless opportunities to simply enjoy, the easier it becomes to recognize difficult or painful experiences as opportunities, as gifts.

But while awareness of opportunities inherent in life events and circumstances is the core of gratefulness, awareness alone is not enough. What good is it to be aware of an opportunity, unless we avail ourselves of it? How grateful we are shows itself by the alertness with which we respond to the opportunity.

Step Three: Respond Alertly

Once we are in practice for being awake to surprise and being aware of the opportunity at hand, we will spontaneously be alert in our response, especially when we are offered an opportunity to enjoy something. When a sudden rain shower is no longer just an inconvenience but a surprise gift, you will spontaneously rise to the opportunity for enjoyment. You will enjoy it as much as you did in your kindergarten days, even if you are no longer trying to catch raindrops in your wide-open mouth. Only when the opportunity demands more from you than spontaneous enjoyment will you have to give yourself a bit of an extra push as part of Step Three.

The Review Process

It helps me to review my own practice of gratefulness by applying to these three basic steps the rule I learned as a boy for crossing an intersection: “Stop, look, go.” Before going to bed, I glance back over the day and ask myself: Did I stop and allow myself to be surprised? Or did I trudge on in a daze? Was I too busy to wake up to surprise? And once I stopped, did I look for the opportunity of that moment? Or did I allow the circumstances to distract me from the gift within the gift? (This tends to happen when the gift’s wrappings are not attractive.) And finally, was I alert enough to go after it, to avail myself fully of the opportunity offered to me?

There are times, I must admit, when stopping at night to review my day seems to be the first stop on an express train. Then I look back and realize with regret how much I missed. Not only was I less grateful on those non-stop days, I was less alive, somehow numb. Other days may be just as busy, but I do remember to stop; on those days, I even accomplish more because stopping breaks up the routine. But unless I also look, the stopping alone will not make my day a truly happy one; what difference does it make that I am not on an express train but on a local if I’m not aware of the scenery outside the windows? On some days, I even find in my nightly review that I stopped and I looked, but not with alertness. Just yesterday, I found a huge moth on the sidewalk; I did stop long enough to put it in a safe spot on the lawn, just a foot away, but I didn’t crouch down to spend time with this marvelous creature. Only faintly did I remember, at night, those iridescent eyes on the grayish brown wings. My day was diminished by this failure to stay long enough with this surprise gift to deeply look at it and to savor its beauty gratefully.

My simple recipe for a joyful day is this: Stop and wake up; look and be aware of what you see; then go on with all the alertness you can muster for the opportunity the moment offers. Looking back in the evening, on a day on which I made these three steps over and over, is like looking at an apple orchard heavy with fruit.

This recipe for grateful living sounds simple–because it is. But simple does not mean easy. Some of the simplest things are difficult because we have lost our childlike simplicity and have not yet found our mature one. Growth in gratitude is growth in maturity. Growth, of course, is an organic process. And so we come back to what I said at the beginning: To superimpose on the organic flow of gratitude a mental grid like a series of “steps” will remain arbitrary. When I am grateful, I am neither rushing nor slouching through my day–I’m dancing. What is true in dance class is true here too: Only when you forget to think of your steps, do you truly dance.

What is Spiritual Formation?

From the Office of Spiritual Formation of the PC(USA)–

Spiritual formation is the activity of the Holy Spirit

which molds our lives

into the likeness of Jesus Christ.

This likeness is one of deep intimacy with God and

genuine compassion for all of creation.

The Spirit works not only in the lives of individuals

but also in the church,

shaping it into the Body of Christ.

We cooperate with this work of the Spirit

through certain practices that

make us more open and responsive to the Spirit’s touch,

through disciplines such as

Sabbath keeping,

works of compassion and justice,




spiritual friendships, and

contemplative silence.

This too shall pass…

A theme that circulated through our class last Sunday was, “this too shall pass.” Jennifer contributed the video below that she mentioned, along with the lyrics.

You know you can’t keep lettin’ it get you down
And you can’t keep draggin’ that dead weight around.
If there ain’t all that much to lug around,
Better run like hell when you hit the ground.

When the morning comes.
When the morning comes.

You can’t stop these kids from dancin’.
Why would you want to?
Especially when you’re already gettin’ yours.
‘Cause if your mind don’t move and your knees don’t bend,
well don’t go blamin’ the kids again.

When the morning comes.
When the morning comes.

Let it go, this too shall pass.
Let it go, this too shall pass.

Let it go, this too shall pass.
(You know you can’t keep lettin’ it get you down. No, you can’t keep lettin’ it get you down.)

Let it go, this too shall pass.
(You know you can’t keep lettin’ it get you down. No, you can’t keep lettin’ it get you down.)


Let it go, this too shall pass.
(You know you can’t keep lettin’ it get you down. No, you can’t keep lettin’ it get you down.)

When the morning comes.
(You can’t keep lettin’ it get you down. You can’t keep lettin’ it get you down.)

When the morning comes!

Seventeen Words

From the PCUSA Office of Spiritual Formation’s  “Lord Teach Us to Pray:”  A Guide to Prayer:

Seventeen Words…and so much more

In a tradition handed down through the generations, the seventeen words found below have been shared as a gift in many a Jewish family. They are considered by some the most important words for living a God-centered life. It is said that they were even found written secretly on the wall of a concentration camp, as a testimony of faith.

Reflect silently on the words, whether alone or in a group. Allow yourself to be drawn to one particular word, and then to follow your thoughts as the Spirit leads. Why this word? Why now?


A Morning Meditation

This is a beautiful meditative video from Brother Steindl-Rast, from the Gratefulness.org website.

From PCUSA Office of Spiritual Formation

Spiritual Practices and Disciplines

The practice of a discipline

two hands clasped in prayer

A spiritual discipline is a broad understanding of life choices that a person makes for the purpose of entering into deeper awareness and relationship with God. Practices are specific exercises or techniques one might employ in keeping with a more general discipline. For example, “honoring the body” speaks of intentionally raising up the sacred nature of the human body, and as such is a spiritual discipline; practices such as fasting, physical exercise, or dressing are specific things one can do to honor the body.

It is important to understand that disciplines and practices, like those that follow, are not understood as a means to make God love us more than God already does; there is no earning God’s love. But such exercise does open us up to hearing God’s love for us more clearly. Paul uses the analogy of an athlete for those engaged in spiritual discipline and practice, and it is an apt one.

First, the strengths gained in one practice spill over into all of life; the endurance of the long distance runner makes for an easier trip when the elevator is not working, and saying “No,” to food or certain types of food during a fast strengthens us to say the same to other temptations.

Second, the athlete does not train for the last race, but for the one to come: we are not trying to gain God’s love or forgiveness for what we have or have not done, but preparing to live out of God’s love and forgiveness in the future.