I am hiking up the Old Mac trail at Frozen Head State Park in Tennessee, near where I live. Early settlers named the peak after its winter appearance. Ice and snow would remain on Frozen Head long after it melted on the surrounding hilltops. I can hike Frozen Head alone, just Bones and me, and not see anybody the entire time. Bones is my dog and he likes to hunt squirrels. Bones is all about squirrels.
I, on the other hand, am all about prayer. That statement, of course, sounds pretentious, and far more pious than I really am. I am nothing if not an irreverent reverend, but, and this is my point, praying while walking has become a staple. I process life events while walking, complain to God, and most importantly, worship God. Praise God, which I believe is a priest’s, perhaps every person’s, number one job. Worship and praise, verbally acknowledging the depth of eternal grace flowing downhill as a river towards me. Worship diverts energy away from the self, away from the terminal temporal.
On this day, I imagined that I would walk through the woods (think Bill Bryson, here) as I have so many times, verbalizing my worship and prayer in silent crescendo. The ritual connects me by making me aware that I am both fully alive and joyfully human.
As I hike up along the mountainside towards old Frozen Head, the air feels far more humid than it should in early May. I am sweating, my leg muscles feel the usual tightness from climbing. I can hear Bones sniffing the ground in the forest to the right. He must, I think, have discovered the scent of a squirrel. He stops, points, then looks over at me to make sure I am still walking. He circles around me behind me and up to touch my hand. He is a pack animal, his instincts deep, and I am the only other member of his pack. He wants to know where I am at all times.
Where I am is waiting. Walking and waiting. Waiting for the right time to speak. With God.
I’ve been waiting a long time. The past several years have been difficult, for any number of reasons. I find myself in a holding pattern, one I suspect to be of God’s making, and I would like to talk to God about it. God must know more than s/he is letting on. Moreover, I feel as though my life will soon take a turn. I have more than a few questions and opinions to express to God in this regard, but am in no hurry. I can wait as I walk.
What do you see? Jesus asked the blind man. He saw men as trees walking. I, too, a blind man, see trees.
A blind man, and if I could manage it without hurting myself, I would close my eyes while I walk, not because one needs to close one’s eyes in order to pray, but because closed eyes along with the cadence of footfall might make praying easier. To set aside that which I do see in favor of that which I cannot see. I want to walk by faith, and not by sight. To hear by faith, and not by sound.
I try setting aside conscious thought. I hear a woodpecker drilling into the branch of an oak tree high above me, hoping to find an insect to eat. He stops, and as soon as he stops, his partner across the forest starts pecking. The second woodpecker stops, and the first one starts up again.
Next I hear the cardinals calling one to another, and grosbeaks doing the same. The breeze rustles the new spring leaves. The branches sway. I can see the underside of the leaves. They say when you see the wind blowing the leaves upside down, a storm is brewing. I look up. The clouds appear to be darkening, but I cannot smell the storm. Not yet. What I can smell is the mulched leaves that wintered loamy on the forest ground, juxtaposed against the soft spring and forest wildflowers. Time past and time future; my past and my future.
I think again about when I might use my words to pray, and I realize I’ve been praying all along. Praising all along. Physical prayer with each fall of the foot a brand new word. Each inhale a new gift. Right about now, Bones circles back around to make sure I’m still walking. Or maybe, he circles back around to make sure I’m still praying.
And I am. With each step.