“We can train ourselves to walk with reverence. Wherever we walk, whether it’s the railway station or the supermarket, we are walking on the earth and so we are in a holy sanctuary. If we remember to walk like that, we can be nourished and find solidity with each step.”
Thich Nhat Hanh, “Shambhala Sun,”August 6, 2012
Thich Nhat Hanh, teacher and social activist, advises his students to sit in meditation for 20 minutes at a time, no longer. This meditation does not bring us to other realms of experience, but to the world as it is around us right now. Whether we are sitting or walking, meditation helps us realize we are in a “holy sanctuary” no matter where we are.
Sister Tri Hai, a student of Thich Nhat Hanh, was arrested in Vietnam while working for peace. He says, she “practiced walking meditation in her prison cell. It was very small—after seven steps she had to turn around and come back. Sitting and walking mindfully gave her space inside. She taught other prisoners in her cell how to sit and how to breathe so they would suffer less. They were in a cold cell, but through their walking meditation, they were grounded in the solid beauty of the earth.”
Prayer is simply creating space so we can consciously step into the very place we are. In fact, the ground under our feet is the only place we can meet God. Rummaging over the past, wishing, pondering the future… these thoughts crowd out God. The mind needs to open, drop theological rumination, doubts. These thoughts will not go very far away; we can turn to them any time we want. Meditation teaches us to be open, to experience what is freely given, to meet God without mediation.
“When [Dorothy] tried to pray on her knees, arguments against prayer and religion overwhelmed her thoughts, but whenever she set out walking – no matter what the direction, the purpose, the hour, the distance or the weather – the debate was stilled and she found it impossible not to pray.”
All is Grace, Jim Forest p. 77
In The Long Loneliness, Dorothy describes her time living on Statin Island. She says, “I found myself praying, praying with thanksgiving, praying with open eyes while I watched the workers on the beach and the sunset, and listened to the sound of the waves and the scream of snowy gulls.”
Theresa of Avila is famous for her, sometimes cranky, conversations with God. I suspect these must be a nice break from all the rote, sentimental words that find their way to heaven. She spent her life clearing out “The Interior Castle,” finding her way to the inner-most room where God lives.
Prayer is simply cleaning up the living room to have room for your guest. Or just stuffing all the detritus into a closet for a while.
After a walk, Dorothy says, “…on the trip back I neither prayed [with words] nor thought but was filled with exultation.”
Dorothy Day and Thich Nhat Hanh are leaders who embody the “open to Presence” that is the foundation of their work for justice and peace.