“I’m going to walk” was the first thing I said to a quiet room and sleeping Cyndi. I was still prone in bed, but my inclination was in the direction of getting up. It was 6:20 am and I had been lying in bed arguing with myself whether to get up and walk around the neighborhood pond since my alarm first went off at 6:00 am. Unfortunately, I’ve become adept at turning it off and going back to sleep.
But this time I did the right thing. I got up, pulled on gym shorts, T-shirt, and Hokas, waited while Cyndi got dressed (she hadn’t been thinking about it for twenty minutes like I had), and we made our morning walk.
Our neighborhood has a beautiful private park created from scratch by the developers, who turned a drainage project into one of the coolest places in Midland. It has two ponds, lots of trees, and even a small man-made bubbling stream. The walking path is one mile long if you circle both ponds, and this morning it had a Disneyesque quality about it: birds singing, ducks quacking, bunnies hopping, and fish flopping.
When we first moved here eleven years ago, we had an aging Labrador, named Lady, and we’d walk her around the pond twice a day. In her long life with us, over twelve years, Lady ran thousands of miles, with Cyndi early in the morning before sunrise, and with me in the evening after work. By the time we moved here in 2008 she was too old and infirm to run. She wanted to but had neither the stamina nor ability. She was so slow, even accompanying her on a one-pond shortcut was a test of patience. But Lady loved it, and she’d earned it.
After Lady died in August 2010, we no longer had a pressing need to walk the pond every day, so we didn’t. Maybe we ventured out a few times, on and off, but never consistently. I missed the regularness of it, the twice-daily meditation and prayer time.
Last fall, as part of my 40-Day Challenge, we started getting up at 6:00 am to walk the ponds, and we had several successful streaks of daily trips. But something inevitably interrupted our schedule and the pattern would go dormant for weeks. Or months. This morning, we resisted the resistance, and took our walk.
Why am I writing about this? Even the simplest activities can take on spiritual meaning if repeated often enough.
I believe in the magic of daily practices. I especially long for practices that take me inside myself, allow my thoughts to wander, and allow my heart to be open and vulnerable. Walking the ponds was once a daily practice of mine and I want it back.
In his book, Soul Keeping, John Ortberg wrote, “Prayer, meditation, and confession actually have the power to rewire the brain in a way that can make us less self-referential and more aware of how God sees us.” That is my strongest motivation for daily practices, and my greatest expectation, to let God rewire my brain.
It’s like those phone apps that ask permission to access my location, and I have to agree if I want to use the app, knowing that the app will use the data for its own purpose. When I pray, when I meditate, when I practice daily, I’m opening myself to God, giving him my password, giving him permission to access my ideas and thoughts and dreams and loves and goals, and asking him to manipulate those to his pleasure.
That’s what I want to happen. That’s why I want simple activities like walking in the park to become daily practices. I know how a repetitive act can speak to my heart and open my thoughts, and that’s what I am after.
But first, I need the discipline to get up and do it, day after day. Deep spiritual practices start out as chores. It takes a lot of reps to convert ideas into habits into practices. I started again this week.
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32