A return to weekly walking prayer is one of the many “back to normal” blessings experienced by our church members this fall. Alternating between the path at Walden Pond and the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail path in West Concord, the prayer walkers enjoy a time of sharing followed by a walk in nature that is meant to connect us more deeply with God and one another. Both paths allow for short or longer walks, and for those who prefer something a little more stationary, the Labyrinth in the Welcome Garden at church is also an option.
Walking Prayer meets every Monday morning @ 9:30 a.m. in person as weather permits. In case of inclement weather, we also now have a Zoom option – a silver lining left over from more intense pandemic days. Newcomers are always welcome! If you’re interested, please be sure to email firstname.lastname@example.org to get on the weekly mailing list.
Enjoy these throwback pictures of walking prayer throughout the seasons…
I felt pretty strange describing my sabbatical before I left. I’ve always enjoyed nature but camping and environmentalism were hardly defining interests. These are just some of the things people said: “Why are you so interested in trees all of the sudden? And why Ireland? Didn’t you go there a few years ago? You say, you’re planning to do yard work during some of the time? That’s the last thing I would do during vacation time.”
I can understand why people responded this way. I didn’t know why I craved green things so much. I just did. My body and soul seemed to want green in an almost visceral way. It didn’t seem to matter whether I was gardening in my backyard, devouring books about the science of forests, or biking though the green hills of Ireland.
I’ve returned from my time away with a deep appreciation for green things; not just because of their physical beauty or usefulness, but because of what they teach us about the nature of life. I never realized that forests are comprised of complex networks of organisms which together have an essential role in the climate. For example, did you know that the size, shape and type of trees growing in a given area can determine the temperature and water level? And apparently, huge trees depend on the tiny threads of an underground network of fungi to send and receive information from one another. Different species of trees will actually warn each other about approaching pests and diseases! And some trees work together for years to keep their parent trees alive if they’re damaged. There’s so much more I could say about how incredible forests are. If you want to learn more, check out “The Hidden Life of Trees” by Peter Wohlleben or “To Speak For the Trees” by Diana Beresford-Kroeger.
You know the old saying: “You can’t see the forest for the trees?” It means not being able to see the big picture because of being overwhelmed by the immediate concerns that surround us and block our view. I’d say that’s a pretty good description of my mental state before the sabbatical. In our chaotic world, with its 24 hour news cycle, it’s been difficult to hold on to hope while tragedy after tragedy arises to demand our attention until we feel utterly surrounded by suffering. It has felt like unbridled self-interest, violence and bigotry have gained the upper hand, especially over the last several years.
Little did I know that the trees could help me find the forest and see the big picture again. Like Hildegard of Bingen, I heard God calling me recognize her in the greenness all around me regardless of what else was happening in the world and to notice that my soul was already returning to its green and life-filled state, like a plant greening up after long-delayed rain.
What inspires me so much about green things is that they clearly demonstrate the benefits of valuing diversity and interdependence over competition and artificial homogeneity. I don’t think it’s an accident that some of the oldest, most natural systems on earth resemble the spiritual values of most world religions: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Deuteronomy 6:5, Leviticus 19:18, Mark 12:31, Matthew 7:21, 19:19, 22:39, Luke 10). “None of you truly believes until you wish for others what you wish for yourself” (Sahih Muslim, Book 1, Number 72). Sounds like a blueprint for diversity and interdependence to me.
Spring is finally here and the walking prayer group is enjoying Walden Pond once again. We meet on Monday mornings @ 9:30am for sharing and a blessing, followed by a walking meditation. Newcomers are always welcome! Email: email@example.com for more details.
This week’s blessing:
All is quiet on the [path] this early [May] morning.
Forsythia cry out their colors while the mist still enfolds them.
The [pond] has nary a ripple and the trees stand silently.
Only bird songs break the bonds of the tranquil breath of dawn.
Inside of me it is quiet. No forsythia are blooming there, but I feel the aura of stillness and the beauty of calm waters.
It has been so long since silence rested her wings in my heart. The earth has gathered me in her arms, rocking all my weariness to sleep.
Months of running and stumbling are lain down beside the wooded path;
I lift only beauty of the present moment, and when I place it in my heart all my life looks differently to me.
WCUC’s walking prayer group has resumed its in-person meetings on Monday mornings beginning at 9:30am. Alternating weeks between the Welcome Garden and Walden Pond, this is a group of fellow travelers who come together to share life’s challenges and celebrations, enjoy the company of friends, and walk in nature to absorb the beauty of creation and listen for God’s guidance.
Quaker author and activist, Parker Palmer, writes:
“When the world’s heartbreak threatens to take me down, it helps if I can remember that this is not the only world to which I belong. Like every human being, I have “dual citizenship.”
I’m not talking about another country, or a world we create with wishful thinking. I mean the vast and very real world of nature that stretches from our bodies to all the life around us, then to the stars, and on to the immensity we call the cosmos. I mean a natural world so vast that we can never do the harm we have done on earth.
Remembering my “dual citizenship” is not an effort to evade the world of human heartbreak. By understanding that I belong to a cosmos that has seen it all, embraced it all, and folded all of it into what is, I have a better chance to “see life steadily and see it whole”.
When I can look at life that way, I’m better able to engage creatively with the here and now, neither crushed by a sense of inadequacy nor lost in fantasy.
Rooted in the serenity of that cosmic reality, return to the heartbreak of everyday life to contribute whatever you can to healing and peace.”
Scenes from our walk this week:
Newcomers are always welcome! Please email Joyce DeGreeff (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information.
In trying to take advantage of the gorgeous weather this fall, the youth have enjoyed once a month outings out in nature. After kayaking in September on the Concord river, the group ventured to Acton in October to explore the Nashoba Brook trails. https://trails.actonma.gov/nashoba-brook/
Our next destination was going to be Walden Pond, but too many others had the same thought on that sunny day in November, so we quickly made a Plan B and ended up in the nearby Hapgood Wright Town Forest. https://www.concordma.gov/DocumentCenter/View/2090/Hapgood-Wright-Town-Forest-Trail-Guide
Soon we discovered that sometimes Plan B turns out to be better than Plan A! Walking along the trails we enjoyed several art exhibits, “fairyland pond”, and eventually the “reflection circle” – a beautiful sanctuary of stone benches with carved words of wisdom from various spiritual teachers. It was the perfect place to gather, rest, and reflect before heading home.
In these times of physical distancing, it’s more important than ever to find social connection and solidarity. Our youth group is Zooming into connection every Saturday at 4pm, for sharing what’s hard and what helps, playing games, and joining together in mindful meditation. Laughing and breathing together has been a remarkable way to bond and to find some calm in these challenging times.
It also helps to have some recent memories of being together in person. The middle schoolers spent over two hours running around at Boda Borg in Malden, solving mental and physical challenges to successfully complete several rooms. And the high schoolers managed to “escape” their 13th floor apartment room with 6 minutes to spare at Puzzlescape in Hudson. Teamwork was key in both of these outings!
We also enjoyed some outside time at our last youth class. This memory of walking the labyrinth together is one that is keeping hope alive that better days are ahead!
At our most recent Zoom Youth Group meeting, we closed with these words from Carrie Newcomer and then closed our eyes and listened to our own breathing, alone and together. With God and with each other, we can do this hard thing!
March 14, 1860, “Walden Ice Melted,” from the journal of Henry David Thoreau
“As I stand there, I see some dark ripples already drop and sweep over the surface of the pond, as they will ere long over Ripple Lake and other pools in the wood. No sooner has the ice of Walden melted than the wind begins to play in dark ripples over the surface of the virgin water. It is affecting to see nature so tender, however old, and wearing none of the wrinkles of age. Ice dissolved is the next moment as perfect water as if it had been melted a million years. To see that which was lately so hard and immovable now so soft and impressible! What if our moods could dissolve thus completely? It seems as if it must rejoice in its own newly acquired fluidity, as it affects the beholder with joy.”
God of the March winds, blow over us and play in ripples over what is beginning to melt inside of us. Dissolve what has been glacial, and sweep tenderness into our frozen hopes, softness into our brittle moods, fluidity into our spirits, joy into our hearts. We have lived for so long with this winter in our souls. Promise what is essential has not gotten lost; gone underneath the surface, perhaps, but still strong currents, rushing rivers, living waters deep and running, waiting for spring. Amen.
Rev. Andrea Castner Wyatt, at the time (2002), Assoc. Pastor, First Congregational Church, UCC, Holliston, MA