Preaching: Pastor Rebecca Henry
Date Presented: Sunday, February 12, 2017
Scripture Reference: Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Sermon: Spiritual Affective Disorder: Walk this Way
Our reading today tells us we have a choice. We can obey God, love God, walk with God and enjoy an abundant life full of joy, or we can refuse to listen, do things differently and experience hardship and agony. Moses is speaking to God’s people just as they are about to enter the Promised Land, and he knows that there will be so many paths, so many other possibilities demanding loyalty when they move into this new land. They will be told what other gods can do for them, and that at times will seem simpler and easier. They were to face choices much like we do that challenge our commitments, that call us to do what is right.
Only truth be told sometimes it doesn’t feel like we have a choice at all. Sometimes it feels like circumstances have already made the decision for us, that our hands are tied. There are moments where we struggle to see the other possibilities or choices we have.
I have found that walking, however, is a wonderful way for me to begin to clear my mind and see the choices, the possibilities. I can think things through. When I sit at home or in my office I get caught up in details. I get anxious to produce something, to make some progress, but I also get distracted. When I walk, though, the other distractions aren’t there, not just physically but also they begin to sift away in my mind. I begin to center in on the question before me, and I find myself becoming more aware of my own feelings. I find clarity around what the real issues are, and how my own feelings are influencing what I see. My mind opens up to see other possibilities, to think creatively.
That is one of the reasons I have valued my worship planning retreat in the summer. I get away from the distractions, but I also have opportunities to walk. So often I will get stuck in planning, not sure what I should do, overwhelmed when thinking of other factors like World Communion, children’s programs, vacation time, that I find I need a walk. As I walk I find those details being put on the side, and instead praying, asking God what needs to be happening in the church, what messages need to be shared. Not only do I start to see the choices, but I begin to see which direction I need to go.
Some of my more powerful walks personally have been on a labyrinth. I have shared a little before about this ancient prayer tool that is often mistakenly seen as a maze. Unlike a maze, though, there are no choices to make, just one path to follow that leads you closer to God. Just that time of walking in, asking myself what is going on in my life, what I am wrestling with, puts me in a place where I can be attentive to my feelings, but then to listen for God, to hear God’s response that I can take back out with me. I don’t ever leave a labyrinth full of joy that my problems are solved. Sometimes I don’t even have the answers completely, but I do feel closer to God. I do sense God being with me on the journey. I have a greater sense of peace, at least, about the situation because I feel connected with God.
It shouldn’t be all that surprising that after walking and praying I feel better, not to mention anyone else who might because when we exercise we feel better. The body releases endorphins that help us feel good. Just a few weeks ago I shared with you that I was struggling with my mood and trying music, laughter, right down the list. It wasn’t until that evening, after I exercised, that I began to feel better, more like myself.
It is probably for all of these reasons that in many cultures prayer involves movement. For example, you have probably seen Jews praying at the Wailing Wall, swaying, or in charismatic churches how they wave their hands. In Malawi there is clapping and dancing. It is different from what we are accustomed to, of sitting with our hands folded and heads bowed. It is certainly not to say there is anything wrong with this. In fact, there can be great value in the stillness; it can be a gift in itself since we live in a culture that doesn’t slow down or stop. We may need those moments of quiet stillness.
Only as we hear in Psalm 119 and Deuteronomy, we speak of walking in God’s ways, of moving towards God. Prayer is certainly a vital way in which we move closer to God. So it only makes sense that at times our prayers involve movement.
One of my seminary professors, Dwight Judy, speaks of how walking is an important part of his prayer life. He says a prayer as he starts and then proceeds with intercessions. My sister finds running to be a time when she can be alone and talk with God. Some swimmers have a breath prayer they use as they swim laps. I can remember as clear as day how valuable that was for me as I prepared to go before the Board of Ordained Ministry. At that time they met at a hotel, and I can remember utilizing that pool, praying, and finding my confidence, my grounding in God. Many experience dance to be powerful because it isn’t just a rote message, but something they feel and experience as their bodies move.
What if we found ways to incorporate movement into our prayer life? How might that draw us closer to God? Even if we are limited due to our bodies there are things we can do. One gentleman in a retirement home carries Psalms with him so that when he gets tired and sits down, he reads a psalm and thinks about it. Perhaps it is simply raising our arms in praise or asking for help. Maybe it is simply sitting straight and taking in a deep breath, inviting the Spirit. There are so many ways movement can be part of our prayer life and it can be such a benefit. Not only will we physically feel better, but we will see things differently, more clearly. We can see what we need to be doing, what choice we need to make so that we can experience for ourselves the joy of walking with God.