Walking and the Slow Life of the Spirit

In my recent posts, I’ve tried to make three big points: being attentive to the Holy Spirit requires more than just self-introspection, but by neccesity includes being attentive to life in the world with others. Second, the speed of attentiveness is slow. Third, congregations should think of themselves as “attentional commons,” places rooted in the world, that take their located-ness seriously, and that slow people down for the sake of pursuing the Spirit of God and the living Jesus.

And I’m saying that few of us participate in the world in such a way that would make this a reasonable outcome. We’re out of touch with the world in which we live, opting instead for the virtual world given to us by Google, Amazon, and others. Thanks to the garage door opener and air conditioning and Netflix, we don’t know our neighbors. The most socially accepted complaint in our culture is, “I’m so busy,” excusing our lack of attentiveness for the virtue of greater speed. And our congregations, program driven, are constantly asking for more activity from volunteers who drive by their neighborhoods to escape the world for a worship experience aimed at inspiring the interior landscape of the individual.

If I’m wrong about this, (in general, I know there are exceptions) I’ll eat my iphone. I’m sure there’s a recipe on an app that will save me time so I can multi-task.

So, where do we start to get a handle on this? Let’s save the church stuff for a few later posts. Congregations are exceptionally hard to change, especially at such a deep cultural level. I’ve got suggestions about this, but let’s start with slowing down and paying attention.

Let me recommend walking as a place to start. Frederic Gross, in his book, The Philosophy of Walking, suggests that walking “is the best way to go more slowly than any other method ever found.” Beyond being a method of slowing down, researchers have also demonstrated a link between walking and creativity. By being a body in motion in the world, the mind becomes more fertile, more attentive.

I walk nearly everyday. I chose a neighborhood to live in because it was within walking distance to my work. It’s also now in walking distance to the congregation I attend on Sundays. And it’s in within walking distance of my favorite coffee shop where I am now typing my blog. Beyond the enormous gas saving and ways I am doing my part for my own health and the health of the planet, I find myself more acutely aware of my environment, my neighbors, and my community. I often have brain storms, bursts of creativity, as I walk. And I am more prayerful.

I often ask people I’m teaching to identify times when they felt closest to God, and to see what those times have most in common. For me, walking and/or running outdoors is the common denominator (very different than a treadmill for me). I slow down. I become more present to the world around me. I am more mindful of others. I am more prayerful.

I recently discovered this statement by Iris Murdoch on prayer: “prayer is properly not petition, but simply attention to God, which is a form of love.” I like this a lot, and find myself prayerful in this way when I walk. I am more self-forgetful, which in turn, makes room for others, including the Holy Spirit.

Now, I know you may not be able to build as much walking into your life as I have. But I bet you could find at least one way to make walking more a part of your life. (Though I would recommend making your life as “location specific” as possible, especially your church life). One less tv show. A walking lunch two days a week. A family walk on the weekends.

But beyond walking there are several ways to reverse the attetional demands in our life and be more a part of the world. I now only check my facebook (twitter, etc) page from my computer, not from my ipad or my iphone. This is a huge deal. My eyes are up and around more, not down in my lap as I check how I’m doing according to the social media world. I refuse the ear buds more often at the coffee shop or as I walk so that I’m more aware of what’s going on around me. I sit outside more and read and think and pay attention to the world around me.

And here’s the thing. I am confident that by the very virtue of these ways of slowing down, that I am more in tune with the life-giving Spirit of God. Because the Spirit that is at work in my is also at work in the world and among others.

Come, Holy Spirit.

About Mark Love

I am the Dean for the School of Theology and Ministry and Director of the Resource Center for Missional Leadership at Rochester College. Part of my job includes directing a master's degree in missional leadership, a situated learning degree. I am married to Donna and have a son, Josh Love, who is a practicing new monastic in Abilene, TX. With Donna, I have also inherited three great daughters and two amazing granddaughters.
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