A few weeks ago, I took part in a contemplative prayer walk. Our small group started by walking slowly around the grounds of our seminary, on our own and yet together at the same time. When we had done that for a few minutes, the leader invited us to continue our prayer walk on the High Line.
The High Line is an old elevated rail line in New York City that has been converted into a beautiful park. A variety of plants, trees, and art installations accompany the walker as they make their way above the busy Manhattan streets.
We are incredibly lucky to have the High Line just a block and a half away from the seminary, so I was excited to walk on it in a more contemplative fashion. What I didn’t plan on, though, was our group attempting to walk slowly and prayerfully for the block and a half to the High Line. I learned very quickly that walking prayerfully in New York City was WAY more difficult than I thought it would be.
Prayer Walking in the City
We left the seminary campus and proceeded to the High Line together, silently and slowly in a single file. New York City people are not used to slow and prayerful walkers. I heard exasperated sighs from the people behind us as they rushed to pass us. A man pulled his dog along with him when the dog stopped to look at us strangely.
This was all very weird, but it got weirder– it was time to cross 10th Avenue. The pedestrian crosswalk screen across the street was counting down the seconds, and we only had five seconds to cross. I expected the prayer walk leader to stop and wait for the light to change again before crossing, but she started walking across 10th Avenue completely unphased.
We followed her, continuing our slow place. We did not make it to the other side before the five seconds were up, but surprisingly we did make it only a few seconds later. I am grateful that the drivers waiting for us did not try to run us over or honk loudly, which are both standard practices in NYC.
We ascended the stairs to the High Line, and continued our slow, silent, prayerful walk in single file. Parks are pretty much the only places in NYC that you can walk slowly and not get run over, so I assumed people would be cool with us.
No one on the High Line got as frustrated as they did down on the streets below, but we did get a lot of stares and some folks rushing to pass us. Even in this park setting, New Yorkers had no idea what to do with slow, mindful walkers. Since the High Line used to be a train line, at many points the walkway is somewhat narrow for 2-way traffic, so people had no choice but to see us and deal with us as they walked by.
We passed a woman with a child in a stroller twice, and the second time she asked (with genuine curiosity), “Why are you walking like this?”
Our prayer walk leader responded simply and warmly, “We’re praying.”
The woman gave us a knowing smile and nodded. “Have a great day.”
We finished our time on the High Line, slowly made our way back to the seminary, and closed our time together in group prayer.
The Hustle and Bustle
It’s no secret that New York City is an incredibly busy and fast-paced city. Things happen in a “New York minute,” and it’s known as “the city that never sleeps.” The pace of life here can feel energizing one minute and overwhelming the next. Many people find the pace frenetic and eventually opt to live where the pace of life isn’t so quick.
During our prayer walk, New York City’s break-neck speed of life was in direct opposition to our mindful and contemplative walking. As a group walking slowly and deliberately, in prayer and awareness of God’s presence, we were at odds with the normal way of functioning in the city. Here in NYC, it’s normal to try to keep up with the pace around you. We were doing the opposite of pace-matching– obviously and deliberately– and many folks around us were frustrated or confused by it.
After the walk, I thought about the people around us, as well as my my own responses. I felt equal parts thrilled to be slowing down my pace and being mindful and prayerful– while also feeling like an outsider and shameful. It was a jarring experience, one I won’t ever forget.
Christian Minimalism and Slowing Down
In many ways, living as a Christian minimalist is like doing a contemplative prayer walk in New York City. As Christian minimalists, we aim to live intentionally, counter-culturally, and mindfully– the way Jesus lived and wants us to live. And this lifestyle includes slowing down the pace of life regularly to listen for God.
Desire without knowledge is not good, and one who moves too hurriedly misses the way.Proverbs 19:2
While we did our prayer walk, I was struck by how much I had missed in my neighborhood because I frequently match the pace of the city around me and walk as fast as possible to my next destination. This time I noticed features on buildings, aspects of the weather, the light filtering between the leaves on the trees that lined the street. I was also much more aware of God’s presence.
In our fast-paced and busy lives, what are we missing? How are we missing out on experiences of God and the people around us by rushing through life?
We were not created by God to speed through life. God invites us to slow down. We are better able to hear God’s guidance and experience God’s presence when we aren’t always rushing and too busy to catch a breath.
Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.Psalm 46:10
How is God inviting you to slow down and become more aware of God’s presence?
Did you like this post? Check out the Christian Minimalism book!