I have found things while I was lost that I might never have discovered if I had stayed on the path… Anything can become a spiritual practice once you are willing to approach it that way – once you let it bring you to your knees and show you what is real, including who you really are, who other people are, and how near God can be when you have lost your way.” – Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World
It happens around 4pm each afternoon: my happy smiley girl disappears and a grumpy growly one appears on her place.
I wrestle her into warm clothes and into the buggy and we head out the door, down the lift and out along the road.
To begin with, I stayed close to home. I was still learning my baby’s habits and I didn’t want to get stuck far away with a hungry baby needing a nappy change. So we’d walk to the nearby park, do as many short loops as I could fit in before she started fussing.
As my confidence in myself grew, I started exploring. I turned down a different road each time, curious. We’ve lived in this neighbourhood for three years now but it’s amazing how few of the pavements I’ve trodden. I tend to stick to the direct routes, the main roads. Now I had no destination in mind, so I slipped away from the traffic and got lost.
I discovered the curving path round through the new blocks of flats alongside the stream, a bee hive standing beside the path, quiet now.
I turned down one road I’d always assumed was private and discovered the track between the allotments, and the further out under the trees dropping their bright leaves into the river below.
Men walking their dogs and a couple of grandmas with pushchairs greet me with Moien or Bonjour, but I am often alone.
Yesterday I walked around the corner I’ve never noticed, under the railway, and suddenly I’m in open countryside. We walk up the hill and watch the planes heading in to the city above our heads, notice the ginger haired cows standing in a tight group in the corner of the field. At the top of the hill I turn and there’s the city laid open below me, lights coming on in the evening gloom, a mist hanging across the rooftops.
Horses stand in the field behind me, and there’s the distant rumble of cars on the ring road, but we’re alone here, me and my girl. As I walk along the ridge, I start to sing, and it’s the old hymns – words memorised since the days I stood on the pew between my parents – that emerge from my chest.
Half an hour later, we recross the train tracks and are engulfed by the city noise again. The streets are full as people head home to their families and evening meals. My cheeks are red and my hands stinging with cold because I forgot my gloves. But I’m happy.
As we near home, baby girl rouses in her seat and watches the trees over her head, the lights of the cars. She catches my eyes and I’m gifted a broad smile. She’s rested and refreshed from her walk. And I am too.
My walks began out of necessity. In the moment where no toys were interesting any more, no games entertaining enough to pause the grumbling.
What I see now, is that they have become a different kind of necessity, the kind that you look forward to, the kind that renews your soul.
Lacey at A Sacred Journey wrote of her walks as spiritual practice and I see this is what my own have become. There I find quiet. I heart slows and I can hear my own voice again. And then, sometimes, I hear that different still voice, that is peace and love and hope.