Photo by Julia Gerlach on Unsplash

Prayer walker

January 31, 2023
Daily walking has been said to lead to good health. For me, walking has now become a way to be with God.

In the past two years, I have walked the Camino de Santiago. In 2021, I walked the Caminho Portugués with our daughter who was envious that I walked the Kumano Kodo in Japan with her brother a year earlier. In 2022, I walked the Camino Primitivo with our son who wanted to become an UNESCO Dual Pilgrim as I have become in walking both the Kumano and the Camino. There are only about 10,000 people in the world who have walked and completed both the Camino and the Kumano.

I walked and walked to settle sibling rivalry, but in the end, I discovered something quite unexpected. I discovered the role of a prayer walker.

Before I walked the Caminho Portugués beginning in Tui to Santiago in 2021, I was playing my last tennis game when my tennis partner told four women playing in the other court that in the next couple of weeks, they wouldn’t have to compete with us to find an available court. When I told Shirley where I was going, she asked if she could hold both of my forearms. When I said yes, she asked if I would pray for her daughter. I left the courts that day with a purpose to walk the Camino.

Privileged with this task, I placed stones on granite markers that look like miniature Transamerica buildings that show the way to Santiago. I fashioned grapevines into a cross and knitted it to a wire fence. Every day I took a moment to stop and prayed for Shirley’s daughter, never needing to ask what the reason was for prayer but only to lift up a stranger’s need to be in God’s mercy.

Daily walking has been said to lead to good health. For me, after walking the Camino de Santiago twice over the past two years, walking has now become a way to be with God.

Growing up a Baptist and trained as a Protestant particularly in Catholic Boston, I was familiar with the belief that believers can pray directly to God without an intercessor. I always wondered about the confessional booth. When Jesus taught the disciples to pray what we have come to know today as “The Lord’s Prayer,” we recite it in Sunday worship as a weekly reminder that we can pray directly to God, “Our Father…”

If there’s no need for me to pray for others when they can do that for themselves, why do we as pastors receive prayer requests? Before my Camino Primitivo, a colleague asked me to pray for safe travel as he and his wife were traveling overseas for a family member’s funeral. I accepted this request as I have done for years as a pastor at every Sunday worship when it was time for the “Prayer of God’s People” in worship. Again, I stopped every day from Lugo to Santiago to pray for safe travels and soon unexpectedly, others on my Facebook universe started to request prayers. There was a recent death of a longtime member, a friend in the hospital, a family member experiencing ADHD. I became a prayer walker.

I know that I can’t command God to heal someone; only God can do that in God’s time. I know that if I usher all my might and strength that I can’t prevent suffering from happening. I know that I am the creature and God is the Creator of all things and all life.

After walking the Camino twice, I discovered that what has changed is me. My part in God’s will is to simply be one who prays as he walks on the Camino as well as anytime and in any place in God’s vast world. While some might see me as “humanly holy,” I only see myself as one who is present with people and who has been given the grace to be in the presence of God our Maker.

For me, it has taken extraordinary journeys to Spain to discover the power of prayer. While not everyone can travel overseas for a variety of reasons, some have experienced the meaning and power of prayer through walking the labyrinth, found in many spiritual sites closer to home.

The meaning of prayer has never been what I can do, but it has always been to trust God to do what God does. When I walk and pray to God to deliver us, I witness God’s immanence every day. I have become a prayer walker.

Rev. Donald Ng was president, American Baptist Churches, USA, 2014-15, the first Asian American to serve in this elected position. For 17 years, he was senior pastor of the historic First Chinese Baptist Church in San Francisco. He retired from full-time ministry in 2015.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.

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