Walking Prayer

Saturday of the Third Week of Lent

O Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.  Luke 18

One of the first courses I studied in seminary was called The Jesus Prayer. The story is simple: a man leaves home and walks throughout Russia as a pilgrim, searching for spiritual teachers.

As he walked – and walked – he repeated the prayer, “Lord have mercy on me, a sinner.” The task of the seminary course was to walk with the prayer and to see if the experience could teach us something about prayer or about “prayer without ceasing.”

As a child, I’d heard the Pauline injunction to “pray without ceasing,” and never could understand how you could have a life and work and take care of family and eat and all that was required in simply living AND pray.

I had the same question about The Jesus Prayer. The task was to walk, continually repeating the prayer until it became one with the beat of your heart. I lived out in the country outside Santa Fe at the time, on a gravel road, and walked daily. So I began practicing.

But I needed to change the prayer. I believe the focus on humans as sinners has done a terrible harm to all of us. But I figured I could always use mercy.

And so my prayer as I walked and in time with my steps was simpler.: “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy.” Repeating that constantly in a half hour walk several times a week, week after week, made the prayer become pretty automatic. It resonated within the beat of my heart and the steps I made on the gravel. It became my mantra.

I learned that prayer without ceasing has more to do with an intent to breathe and pray without thinking or plan more than focusing on any set of particular words. The words simply were. Simple words; simply asking for grace.

It doesn’t matter the tradition, it’s often called “Centering Prayer,” but focusing on intent and breath can become an automatic mantra for peace.

Practice walking with a simple prayer. See how your body relaxes into the beat of it. Be the beat of it. Create words for your link to the divine.

Heart link to heart link: have mercy on me.

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