When I am stressed, harried, anxious, concerned, or when I simply need to think, I walk.
I walk sometimes at work during my lunch hour, in heels and nice flats that preclude me from doing anything other than making a loop through my particular concrete jungle on flat sidewalks. When I am off work I walk in the mornings, before the sun gets out, in small quaint local neighborhoods, or on ridgelines.
In fall, though, and of late, I walk at night.
Late at night, when it is already dark and the stars are out. The autumn chill is finally in the air and I exult in it. When I step outside under the stars and into the dark and the light chill, calm blankets my mind. I don’t do anything other than look at the sky and walk, and talk to God, and leave my other thoughts behind.
When I walk like this, and at night, I almost always experience deep moments of spiritual intimacy with God and profound calm. Somewhere between the full moon of last night and the harsh-brilliant stars and the smell of woodsmoke and the crunch of leaves under my feet, a space opens and in that space I am drawn to the Lord.
Lately, this nightwalking has been teaching me new ways to relate to the Lord, and to live out my faith.
I am a thinker, a reader, a scholar, an analyzer. I live a lot of my life in my head, and it is tin this way I often grow close to God. I meditate on spiritual concepts and thoughts. I analyze Scripture. I read Christian books. I mull it all over, and I ask God my questions, and I listen, and we start all over again. This has been great and wonderful, and it is an important part of my life of faith – one that, I must say, I feel has been undervalued a great deal by the modern church.
But the nightwalking exercises a different spiritual muscle, strengthens a new urge. I don’t think or question or analyze or mull: I drift. I marvel at the moon, the stars, the smell of the air. I praise the Lord, sometimes for something specific, sometimes for everything. I think, during those walks, that this is an echo of what it must have felt like in Eden: to be with the Lord, with nothing else intruding, in a quiet communion. To feel a strong sense of His presence. I just walk, and I feel God alongside, and that’s all I need or want.
Genesis 5:24 says that Enoch walked with God, and then he was no more, because God took him away. And I know that here and in other places in Scripture the metaphor of walking represents the living of one’s life, in Enoch’s case, alongside God. And yet on my very real and tangible walks, I think about that verse and understand it in a new way, too: I feel very much at those times, when God is so close, that if Enoch felt anything like I feel when I walk, perhaps he just kept walking and walking and being so pleased in God’s company that He eventually looked up, startled, to find that God had taken him somewhere else entirely. There was never a transition: only and always God’s presence.
It always amuses me how comparatively little the Holy Spirit is discussed in church and in small groups. One has the impression that nobody knows quite what to do with this aspect of the Trinity, it feeling far too nebulous and much more “mystical” than many find comfortable. And yet I sense that space for the Holy Spirit is exactly what I making on these walks: a time in which I am not asking for something, not searching for something, not seeking to extract or act on knowledge, but am simply enjoying. Listening. Allowing God to do something and work something that can’t be discovered in a book or taught with a series of steps, but that must be invited and waited for, and which comes entirely at His discretion.
Henri Nouwen wrote that “when we walk in the Lord’s presence, everything we see, hear, touch or taste reminds us of him.” On my night walks, I feel like I’m getting that training: the sense of what it is to be in the Lord’s presence. And though that sense disappears the minute I step back into my warmly-lit house and reality and the needs of the day and the moment reassert themselves, it is a sense and a memory I carry with me until the next time, that reminds of what it feels like when God is close.
However you experience that sense of the Lord, I pray you indulge it as much and as often as you can.