This post is part of a series on spiritual disciplines called Merely Beloved. Kiran and I went to seminary together, went on runs, sang, studied, and generally, she became one of my favorite people. For more information about this series, click here.
I’m not a huge dog lover.
Ok, I used to be much more of one before I had kids. Now our beagle, Tsuki, has gone way down on the totem pole of our affection. But there’s one thing I do love about my dog, and it’s that she makes me go for walks. Some of you might have dogs that don’t absolutely have to be walked, ie you can let them run around the backyard while you stay in the house and tick things off your to-do list. Well, if we let ours do that she will without fail find the tiniest hole in the fence, squeeze through to the other side and be gone for days, eating dead things while she’s at it. Hence the need for the chaperoned walk, every day, at least once a day. It’s something that often gets in the way of the other millions of things that need to happen in a household with three kids under the age of four. It’s not something that I always look forward to. But it’s something that definitely, most definitely, keeps me sane.
This forced walk has become, for me, a spiritual practice. When I set off I’m usually in a foul mood (what that says about me I don’t know). I curse at my dog for actually needing to do her “thing” when I am clearly not in the mood to hang around while she sniffs for the perfect place. I’m usually cold (after all, I do live in Ireland), and I’m often stiff from hunching over a computer or carrying laundry up and down the stairs. That first part of the walk is my least favorite part. And the key is to walk through this part. If I turn around then – say, after my dog has cleared her system – then the walk has failed. I return home annoyed that I had to do that, annoyed with dog for being a dog, and no one is any happier.
If, however, I push through that first yucky part, a transformation begins to take place. My legs get into a quick rhythm, and by the time I get to the top of the hill that’s about halfway through, I’m warm. My lungs take in the fresh air and my eyes start to notice the world around me – the leaves still on the trees that are changing shade, the leaves I’m kicking in light piles on the ground, the strangely maroon-colored hydrangeas that grow in this climate, the smells of the bushes and flowers that hang over people’s gardens into my path.
And while I notice what’s around me, I also notice what’s inside of me. Thoughts spin through my head completely at random. I think it’s really annoying for anyone who ever walks with me, because trying to follow my train of thought is nearly impossible. Sometimes it’s completely mundane stuff – “Oh, I need to fill out that form for my daughter’s school.” Sometimes it’s a little deeper – “It was so sweet how my son wanted to kiss me goodbye this morning.” Sometimes it’s angry stuff, like stewing over a fight with the hubby. Sometimes it’s sad stuff, like missing my far-away family. Sometimes it’s intense stuff, like “What am I going to do with my life?” I talk about all this stuff to myself when I’m walking, but I also talk about it to God. I can be pretty matter-of-fact about it, just putting it all out there like my spiritual director tells me to do.
It doesn’t really matter, actually, what the thoughts are that spin through my head. I just let them spin, and spin, and spin, and eventually – they stop coming. I run out of things to say. A calm spreads over me as my legs and arms continue to propel my body forward. I used to be a runner and I know there’s a science to the whole endorphin thing, but it is truly amazing the way it happens, every single time. I begin to get this blissful feeling, and all the negativity, impatience, worry, fear, anger, just melts away.
Then I’m ready to listen. I get the best guidance and wisdom when I’m on my walks.
And create. Creativity seems to flow in an unrestricted way when I’m out there in the elements.
And get clear. More often than not, things I found completely muddling before I left the house look embarrassingly clear by the time I return home.
And forgive. My husband after the occasional fight. Myself after a failure of one kind or another.
And get excited. I get ridiculously excited about things when I’m walking. I’ve always been a dreamer, but when I get going, all the projects I’m in working on become the most amazing things ever (in my mind), and all plans for the future look very positive.
And, interspersed throughout all of that, woven into it, rising to the surface again and again, is thankfulness. Thankfulness for all of the gifts that God has given me. I don’t need to name them. There are so many, for all of us. All I know is, by the time I get home, I am ready to face it all again. The chaos. The tasks. The routine. The crises. Parenting. Marriage. Ministry. Living in my own skin. Seeing the goodness, the beauty, the fun, the hope in it all.
So, Tsuki. Maybe I should raise you up a notch or two on that totem pole.
Kiran Young Wimberly is a mother of three and a PC(USA) minister. She currently lives in Belfast, Northern Ireland and is Pilgrimage Director for the Centre for Celtic Spirituality. Now that she’s had her third kid, she’s decided to start blogging with all her free time at kiranyoungwimberly.wordpress.com.