10,000. That’s the number of steps health gurus say we should walk every day to manage our weight and improve our overall physical health. But the average American takes just 5,000 steps a day — about half the number of steps we need to get in shape and stay that way through a daily walk.
That’s too bad because a daily walk can do a lot more than lower your blood pressure or help shed a few pounds. For centuries, walking has played a role in Christian spirituality — and with the right perspective, a daily walk can become an important spiritual discipline.
The spiritual discipline of a daily walk
Walking is part of Christianity’s DNA. In the New Testament era, walking was the only method of transportation for Jesus, his followers and anyone else who couldn’t afford to keep a horse or donkey.
In the centuries that followed, the itinerant ministries of the Franciscans, the Methodist circuit riders and other clergy were influenced by the pedestrian meanderings of the earliest Jesus followers.
Historically, walking has also been used as a metaphor to describe the Christian life. Even today, Jesus followers from a wide range of denominations and spiritual backgrounds commonly refer to their spiritual practice as a “daily walk.” I think one of the reasons why walking and Christianity enjoy such an easy relationship is because both require progress — walking and faith are both about moving beyond where you are now.
By committing to the routine of a daily walk, 30 minutes of exercise can be transformed into a tangible reminder of our faith journeys. More importantly, a brisk, daily walk can even become a spiritual discipline that yields benefits not only for ourselves, but for other people.
A daily walk creates a rhythm for everyday life.
Routines are important for our spiritual well-being. But routines have a tendency to get lost in the chaos of our work, school and social schedules. And when routines evaporate, our lives lack rhythm, i.e., a metered pace of activities through which we connect with God, other people and our inner selves.
In our footsteps and stride, we experience the rhythm of life in a practical way. Even more, by setting aside a half hour or an hour each day for a daily walk, we anchor our daily schedule around a block of time that we can use to collect our thoughts, quiet our minds and nourish our souls.
A daily walk can be a little pilgrimage.
Pilgrimage has been a part of Christianity since the 4th century, when Christians started making spiritual journeys to Jerusalem and the Holy Land. Although pilgrimages sometimes involve walking long distances, the purpose isn’t really about the destination. It’s about encountering God on the journey.
A daily walk provides the perfect opportunity for encountering God through prayer, meditation or nature. Like a pilgrimage, a daily walk can become an act of devotion — but only if we intentionally and consistently use it as a touch point for our relationship with God.
A daily walk is an opportunity for grace.
Grace is the free and undeserved favor of God. We can experience grace in many different ways, including those moments in which the light of God breaks through the seemingly insignificant moments of everyday life.
In my experience, daily walks almost always present opportunities to receive and share the grace of God. I’ve experienced grace through things as small as the song of a chickadee or the way the pale, winter sun shines through the clouds on a January afternoon. And I’ve shared grace through simple acts like sharing a kind word with a stranger or (most recently) helping a lady chase down her runaway dog.
The bottom line
Grace is everywhere if you know what to look for. And every daily walk is a chance to experience grace in new and unexpected ways.
By making a daily walk part of your normal routine, you make space in your life for a more constant encounter with God. You create opportunities for your soul to breathe and grow. And you’ll probably lose a few pounds along the way.