Sometimes I have a difficult time knowing how to pray. It seems like such a simple task, but then it feels so complicated all at the same time. In the past few years, I’ve been learning about the practice of walking prayer. You have most likely heard of various versions of this as well - walking meditation, prayer walks, neighborhood walk, praying a labyrinth, pilgrimage, even tree bathing - I’m not an expert on the topic - simply a woman meandering her way through life.
I am also a first grade teacher. This spring, a most unexpected event occurred at my school. The body of a deceased young woman was discovered on our school grounds. She was found in March as the snow began to melt. She had been buried under a large snowbank, and from what we were told, had been there for several weeks. She had no connection to our school whatsoever. There was no safety concern for anyone at our school, however, it was unimaginably unnerving to all of us.
If you’ve ever spent time in an elementary school in March, you’ll know that energy is high! This event only added to that tension in the air. Something was really “off” and we could all feel it. I could feel it deep in my bones. The atmosphere of the building itself was unsettled. The adults were chatting about this often. We needed some peace. It was as if we needed our chakras balanced, a spiritual cleansing of some sort, something to refresh and renew the spirit of the building, staff, families and students.
A school parent and friend of mine was feeling it, too. About a week after the event, she offered to lead a prayer walk in the neighborhood and around the school. I immediately said yes!!! In my heart, this was the perfect start to healing our school.
We were able to meet on a Sunday afternoon. We walked through part of the school neighborhood, back to the school campus and around the building.
We walked mostly in silence, offering our own personal prayers. Myself - I just breathed. As we rounded the building, they quietly vocalized prayers of thankfulness for the teachers, students, and parents of the school. Asking God to watch out for us and bless us. To keep us safe and calm. It was utterly beautiful. Me, I continued breathing.
Walking through the neighborhood allowed me to see my school community from a different perspective. I noticed how incredibly large and deep the apartment complex is where many of our families live. I noticed how many proud grandparents live in the neighborhood. I noticed many loving pet owners and several honorable veterans. These are things I wouldn’t see on my normal drive to school.
I take the exact same route into school. I park in the same spot. I walk in the same door. Every day. If I’m not in my parking spot or I am late, I get a text to see if everything is alright. Are we like that with our church community, too? Do we drive the same route, park in the same spot and sit in the same pew? Every Sunday? This brief prayer walk was both healing and enlightening for me.
I continued leading the prayer walks throughout the school week with several colleagues. We simply walked around the school building in silence. Our philosophy was that we were giving our school a big hug to start the day. We each took the time to breathe and pray in our own faith tradition. Not everyone who joined in the prayer walk with us was Christian. We called this time our Peace Walk.
I don’t know if our Peace Walk actually changed the vibe in the building…but it did change me. That morning walk around the school - with quiet breathing, in communion with others and in simple prayer - gave me the peaceful start that I needed more than anything.
Colleen Spillers is a member of Calvary, Rochester.