We’ve been playing with the “journey” theme at Tiny Church this year, with a Journey to Jerusalem during Lent—people kept track of miles they walked, biked, ran, etc., then we plotted plotting them on a map in the fellowship hall. We are now continuing that journey for the remainder of the year, which you can read about at the end of this post.
Two Sundays ago we had a mini-retreat after church called Journey in the Spirit. I’ve read about neighborhood prayer walks, in which folks walk around a neighborhood and “pray with their feet”—being attentive to the needs, struggles and beauty in their own community and prayerfully considering how to respond. We can get so insulated going from home to work to church, etc., so getting us out of our cars and journeying on foot helps us see things differently. I heard of one church that did this and discovered a number of homes of elderly folks that needed minor repairs, yardwork, etc. So they became the church that does that.
We are not quite ready for this kind of prayer walk, but we took a step in that direction (pun intended) through this retreat. Here’s what we did—it was very simple, but meaningful I think.
After church we headed over to a church member’s house. Our hosts had prepared lunch for us in the slow cooker, but we opted to have snacks and eat later.
We began with a theme of questions. I had printed up simple questions on slips of paper and each person drew one and answered it. Easy things like “what profession other than yours would you like to attempt?” (Yes, that’s from Inside the Actors’ Studio.) Then I read Rainer Maria Rilke’s bit on “living the questions” and asked them to identify a question they were pondering right now. We did not share these aloud, although you could do that, depending on time and the group.
Then I talked a little bit about the idea of pilgrimage, and how when we go on a pilgrimage we often bring questions and discernment with us. I spoke about the Iona pilgrimage, in which people walk around the island and stop at various Celtic sites. I set the stage for the prayer walk by encouraging people to be open, to “notice what you notice and see what you see,” as a friend of mine likes to say. I didn’t suggest they complete the walk in silence but asked them to be sensitive to the other people they were with—some folks might have something heavy or deep on their hearts and not feel like being chatty.
Then we had our prayer walk. We started all together with an opening; I used many of the prayers in the pilgrimage section of the Iona Worship Book. During the walk I would go slowly to each stopping place, pause, and wait for others to arrive at their own pace. Then we had a short reflection, silence, or prayer, depending on the place. (Side note: Caroline and another fourth-grade girl came with us. This is a great intergenerational activity. The trail we took was not strenuous, so folks 80 and above came along. If you were to do this as part of a larger retreat, you’d want to plan something for people to do who aren’t able to walk.)
The church members’ house is right next to a park, and I had gone over there a few days before to walk the trail. Rather than come in with a pre-set idea of what I wanted to do, I let the trail guide me into the various stations. Here are a few:
1. The beginning of the trail was a threshold space. I talked about some of the threshold spaces in the Bible (e.g. the people in the wilderness before reaching the Promised Land) and asked them to consider times they had started something new—to consider the feelings that came up in that experience, what they learned, etc.
2. There was a footbridge over a small creek. When we paused there I remarked on the fact that someone had to come along and build this bridge for us. I asked them to think about the people who had come before us, who had prepared a place for us. We offered up these names verbally as a practice of gratitude.
3. A decomposing log inspired us to consider the things in our lives that needed to pass away in order to make space for something new.
4. The path diverged into two paths—one went further into the woods and the other led out to the main road. I asked them to consider times they had chosen the harder path, and what that experience had taught them.
5. There was no specific destination, but our furthest point was a small creek, where I shared images of baptism, living water, etc. (Caroline and her friend put their hands into the water at this point—others were invited to do so!)
6. We completed the prayer walk on the road, which left the woods and went through the neighborhood. I reminded them of the walk to Emmaus, in which two friends journeyed together and Jesus came alongside them. I invited them to walk two-by-two and again, “notice what you notice,” and sense the presence of Christ with them.
When we got back to the house, we had lunch. Following lunch I read people Jacqueline Woodson’s Show Way, a beautiful picture book which tells the story of seven generations of an African-American family, through slavery, Reconstruction, the civil rights era, and to the present. The image of quilting appears throughout the book, most notably in the beginning when slaves used quilt designs to share coded messages about safe houses along the Underground Railroad.
The mini-retreat was from 12:30-3, and unfortunately we were running out of time at this point. I had printed up simple quilt square patterns like these:
I was going to have people choose one and write, draw or cut out images to fill their quilt piece to represent their own journey—their own Show Way—or whatever they felt led to do with it. Instead I had people choose one and take it with them as “homework,” or at least a reminder of the patterns and designs that make up their own life in the Spirit.
Then we closed with communion. The communion liturgy leaned heavily on images of journey, the wandering Israelites, Jesus’ pilgrimage to the cross, etc.
And that was it! Very simple, but a lovely afternoon.