My Prayer Walk to Jerusalem


Yesterday I began My Prayer Walk to Jerusalem … a pilgrimage in the Spirit, a journey of but 6500 miles, made 4 prayerful miles a day. Four miles of my journey completed and but 6496 miles to go.

jim mcwhinnie

Second day of my Walking Pilgrimage in Prayer and I traveled a good two miles of the four with a stray dog. He trotted along with me until I accidentally (or maybe providentially) passed by his rightful home. He was a mongrel, I suppose much like myself, with a share of coon hound somewhere in his mix, but a little short in the legs. He was a cheery enough fellow, though he didn’t say much. And he seemed even happier when he found familiar ground and finally made it home … there is something spiritual about that … that yearning to make it home. And even more so, the joy of finally making it there. Eight miles of my journey completed and but 6492 miles to go.

jim mcwhinnie

On the 3rd day of my Prayer Walk to Jerusalem, the heat was pretty fierce. A humid day with heavy air … and even my beloved straw hat could provide me little shade. I left three of my Peace Doves at random doors that I passed and today I will check to see if they have found a home. I am thankful that I found the joy … of doing bits of tangible love in unseen, anonymous ways. It somehow enchants my existence … and I think Jesus tried to teach us the joys found in such ways.

Some workers with chainsaws were trimming the trees to make room for the power lines. As I walked on by I noticed a black and orange caterpillar clinging to a leaf on a fallen branch. I thought it rude for him or her to be treated in such a way. So I offered the caterpillar a few steps of transportation to a quieter place down the way.

So I made it through that noisy place where the chainsaws screamed away … and it took a ways and it took a while … but I finally reached space and air, where the violence of it all had died away.

We humans are a very loud and noisy kind of creature … now and then. Personally, I like my soul much better when it quiets down … from all the noise we humans tend to make.

Twelve miles of my journey completed and but 6488 miles to go.

jim mcwhinnie

Fourth day and I walked through but peace and quiet.

I pray through the knots on my Orthodox prayer rope when I walk, one hundred “Lord, have mercy” prayers with five other acts of praise and prayer interspersed … the Lord’s Prayer, the Gloria, Psalm 23, the Beatitudes, and the Shema.

Along the way a rabbit ventured out from her hiding place, and I took a measure of joy in that my nearby presence seemed to cause her no fear … so I tipped my straw hat … and, for reasons unknown, I almost expected the rabbit to wave back. (I hope I am not losing my wits!)

However, I do find the life of contemplation does bring a deeper, brighter share of enchantment into life. Creation seems to sing in the contemplative moment.

Still the air is too heated for my comfort … I do believe I am best-suited for a milder clime in which the cool of Autumn stays for the longest while. I am looking so forward to those few days when I can make this journey in my treasured flannel shirts. I hope heaven allows me to wear my Pendletons all year round … I feel more myself when I stroll about in plaid and flannel shirts.

Now 16 miles of this road traveled and but 6484 miles to go.

jim mcwhinnie

The fifth day of my journey was blessed with a crisp day, one of those crystalline mornings where the light is just right to bring the colors into richest hue. The walk had a little more dance in it than the overheated treks of the past days. I even thought the songbirds were in better voice. Amazing how much your inner state affects the world you see about you!

A lady who seemed of more years than mine came rolling by on her bicycle, a pink and white bicycle with sparkly streamers dancing from the handlebars. She rang her bell and smiled hello … and then passed me by. It has been years since I rode a bike. Being a man of substantial girth, I have been reluctant to dare such younger joys … but then, I thought … I ought … I do not know why … but I sensed my soul has need of such a foolish lark.

As I prayed my way along this day’s path … verses of Scripture learned long ago surfaced freshly in my thoughts. And I found myself quite thankful … that they were still there within my soul, waiting to come alive.

Twenty miles! Now that sounds more in the scale of a noble journey. And to think… I still have 6480 miles to go.

jim mcwhinnie

Day six … and still keeping faithful, pressing on, and making good time … in a contemplative way.

I decided to do my miles in the cool of night, but it was more the heavy air of night. Too much rain trying to make its way back to heaven, so my journey was more a sultry stroll beneath the stars.

The world feels different at night; for that matter, life and my self feel different at night. One has the feel that a soul is one-on-one with his Creator … a certain loneliness that makes one feel a little less lonely in a cosmic, spiritual sensibility. Add to this the mystery of the darkness, that wonder which comes with seeing only the forms of things and the moonlit shadows they cast. It is as if life has transformed itself into a vintage black-and-white movie where the lighting becomes far more dramatic and the mood a bit more magical.

Not another soul did I come upon last night … except God, myself, and a dusty grey cat that sat rather stoically beneath a streetlight. He did little else but keep a close eye on me as I walked past on the other side. I suppose he thought some thoughts about this nighttime pilgrim … but I have no idea what thoughts such a nighttime would have.

The praying in the nighttime – at least, for me – is always more personally, more reflective, more pensive … that my praying in the light of day. Not sure why … and I suppose that doesn’t really matter. I must do more miles late at night … I really ought to …

Twenty-four miles I now have traveled with only 6476 miles to go.

jim mcwhinnie

Seven days into the journey and I finally made it into the cooler realms, the first cool of Autumn and what I would think is most like the air of heaven.

The squirrels were busy at work this morning, apparently the Sabbath comes differently among these creatures. A couple of the squirrels were playing chase around and around the trunk of big oak tree, first winding upwards, then downwards, then upwards once more. They stopped only to chatter at me, scolding me for my drawing to near their tree. Ownership and property law are well-defined among forest creatures … but somehow they maintain a peace among themselves. Too bad we human types are not more adept at resolving such territorial disputes.

I have the practice of praying for five named souls on my walk … five souls I have come upon here and there. For me, five names and faces are all about I can care for in a meaningful way during my daily prayers … that is in an authentic, sincere way. I do not like the hollowness of saying I will pray for someone and then never really doing so. So I pray for all and I pray for five … it is my way. Over my four miles of journey, I come upon their names about ten times as I pray through the knots of my prayer rope … and those names become part of me throughout the day. Now and then, I find I will even dream about them … as if my subconscious mind had chosen to continue on in prayer after I have said Amen.

I am trying to make this journey … prayerfully. As I am seeking to live the remaining days of my life … prayerfully.

Twenty-eight miles behind me, 6472 miles ahead of me.

jim mcwhinnie

The eighth day … I have often wondered what the Good Lord did on that “eight day”. Then again, I think I know.

On my eighth day I walked past a freshly mowed field, the mowers having just finished their work, heading out through a far distant gate. And the air through which I traveled was filled with the fragrance, that sweet-savory fragrance of fresh cut grass. I love that smell … it smells like … well, it smells like “providence”.

It is that time of year when the hope of spring and the work of summer comes into its fulfillment … the harvesting of providence … even though it came slowly this year.

I can easily see the harvesting of a field of hay or crops… and a harvesting of lifelong pension savings … and even … if I look graciously enough … the harvesting of a pastor’s labors in a church. But have I taken the time … to consider the process for harvesting the subtler blessings of life … those aspects of Divine Providence that do not come in bales of wheat or dollars of cash. But rather the harvesting of those gentler fields… those fields of beauty, those fields of harmony, those fields of the exhilaration of becoming more and more vividly aware of the wonder of being a living, feeling, creating, singing, dancing soul, those fields of peace, those fields of love matured.

Into that field of freshly cut grass, a flock of white birds set in do their own harvesting of that field … and they quite elegant in their manner of working the field … and somehow they seem thankful … thankful for the field, thankful for the seeds and the bugs, even thankful for the mowers who knew not how they were an integral part of the Providence of God. And for me … I came home perfumed with the scent of an October harvest that had finally come upon us.

Thirty-two miles I have journeyed so far and still 6468 miles awaits me.

jim mcwhinnie

Now in my ninth day of my prayer journey and with the comfort of cooler weather, I found my steps had become more lively, even ambitious for this old man with MS. For a good share of my four miles early this morning, I whistled some tunes … among them, “Zippedy-do-dah” and “I’ll Fly Away” and that whistling tune from the Andy Griffith Show. This burst of whistling stole away from my praying time … I guess… of course, the Lord may have heard it as a burst of joyful praise!

Ever since first encountering the story of St. Francis of Assisi, I have often wanted to become a pied piper of birds. I have this flight of imagination that one day I will be walking and whistling and songbirds will fly down and follow me on my journey. For some reason that simple vision is my evidence that I have reached some measure of sainthood. Kinda crazy … but that would be the zenith of my ministry … to become a modern St. Francis with a band of songbird disciples. I suppose we all have our definitions of the holy life … mine is filled with the ideas of purity, simplicity, humility and beauty.

But alas, no songbirds joined me today … but I am hoping one or two watched me whistling and walking and thought …”Now there goes a kindred soul!”

I wonder if Jesus whistled as He walked from town to town … I kinda think He did … not sure why … just seems like He would.

Now 36 miles – 6464 to go.

jim mcwhinnie

Day 10 of my pilgrimage in prayer … and the day was clear and crisp … one of those clear thinking days, a day when the mind wants to explore beyond the frontiers of what you have already known (p.s. the letter “e” is broken on my computer … so any plac wher an “e” is missing, fill it in) .

Yes, this was a thinking day. Sometimes prayer is mostly a feeling process… sometimes prayer is mostly a soul-ful process … and now and then … prayer takes place in the intellectual air of one’s life. Today as I walked … my prayers were as a Q and A session with the Lord. We thought much about the matter of peer pressure keeping us from being honest to God. We talked about how the group about us overly influences our belief about God, ourselves and the world. I suppose we are still terribly tribal in our ways.

I came upon a discarded bag of trash strewn across my path. That made me sad … but after the sadness and after my pity for the soul who had done this … I picked up the trash and found a trashcan along the way. And oddly … I felt the Lord helping me to clean up that trash … Now that I think of it … I always do when I choose to do servant’s work. I ought to remember that …

But also … I spotted an eagle’s nest in a tall, tall tree … and I saw a fish eagle bringing home a fish.

Have journeyed 40 miles and still 6460 to go.

jim mcwhinnie

’tis amazing how many “e” ‘s are in the nglish languag

A clear sky and a bright sun and a warmth too warm for an October day made my 11th day of prayerful pilgrimage to Jerusalem a tough four miles. Much sweat on my brow and I returned with both my back and my red bandana soaking wet. But it had, in the completion of it, the good feeling of doing holy labor in the fields with the Brothers of the abbey. Not all good things in life come easily; some struggle does strengthen a soul. I sense that both the human body and the human spirit were created with the intrinsic need for manual labor … that somehow we weaken ourselves by being too much eased by our labor-saving inventions. I wonder if our servants do slowly become our masters.

My prayers began as prayers for others I know are struggling … but then as the journey became as labor … I prayed for the Lord to help me with my present struggle, the struggle to make it home once more. But then … as the struggle continued … my prayers returned to others who were struggling. While in the beginning the prayers for them arose from my distant compassion, near the end, the prayer for them arose far more from my very present empathy and understanding.

As I wiped my forehead and changed my shirt and drank my lemon-aided water … I remembered … that faithful journeys are not always strolls down shaded lanes.

44 miles down the road, 6456 still to go.

jim mcwhinnie

The 12th day proved to be a most beautiful day, a day well worth the living.Saturdays I find the most difficult of days to take that first step. Reluctance is a seductive charmer, but that first step out the door always leads me to all the rest.I came upon a giant pine cone, from a pine tree I couldn’t find. Not sure from where this single pine cone came, but there she was (or is it he was) for the taking. An ancient memory came to mind, one of those boyhood things that tend to get lost in the growing up and the growing old – I used to kick rocks or cans or even pine cones down the road when I was a lad and I thought I’d do so again. I found I was out of practice, but soon the knack returned.That pine cone and I. we made the whole journey and that pine cone now sits waiting on my front step. It is funny what one gathers when on a pilgrimage, sometimes things most unexpected and surprising. Today, a stray pine cone left for lost, and now in God’s unpredictable Providence, with a new found home.I have always known this and I knew it once more when I started this journey to Jerusalem … I knew the most gain of the journey would be gathered before I ever got there. It’s all about the wonders that one finds … on one’s way to heaven.

Now that’s 48 miles behind me and 6452 ahead of me.

jim mcwhinnie

On this 13th day I decided to make my journey at daybreak. I started out in those moments when the darkness is still lingering as if reluctantly giving way to the lightness that the darkness knows will always come. A few bright stars could still be seen though each quickly departed to hide itself in the Day. (I always wondered what the sky would look like if Day and Night exchanged their times?)About halfway into the four miles, the nested birds began to wake, first one, then five, then many, then many more. And I asked the Lord, “Why do they sing at the dawn’s first light?” And I thought I heard in God’s prayerful whisper … “They sing to reassure each other that they made it through the night, so that the lonely might have no more fears at all.” And I thought … we human souls ought to sing as well with the coming of first light … monks do … they do it every morning. Maybe that is the true rhythm of the pulse of life.I walked through shafts of low slung light as it passed through the trees, that light that carries a much richer color, a honey-gold, than does the light in later day. I breathed in the freshness; I breathed in the dew; I breathed in the glory that comes with awakening of Life in this few acres of Creation; and I had no choice but to rejoice.I made my journey … the four miles at steady pace, like all the other days … but in this early hour when Life stirs awake … I noticed I kept stopping to breathe in the morning … in deep, full-bodied breaths. I suppose to breathe in the fresh, virgin air of a day still yet untarnished.52 miles I have traveled, slowly making fewer the 6448 left to go.

jim mcwhinnie

Day 14 and I had the joy of walking with a most joyful fellow traveler, a playful breeze. He had the feel of a blond-haired lad, maybe ten years of age, that tree-climbing age, that running through the hay fields age, that age when skipping stones on a lake is a master craft, that age when boys and dogs are well-suited for one another. This jolly breeze met me at the door and skipped with me through all four miles, even managing to make the turns I made, for he was still with me when I made it back home.Your prayers change when accompanied by a chuckle of a breeze. They become more the prayers of thanksgiving than the prayers of need. They become prayers filled with smiles … no, not those smiles you see when people try to be caught up in praise, but the smiles that come with being unbelievably pleased with simply being alive.I so enjoyed today’s share of the journey … I love the whisper of trees as the wind passes through … and I love to see the tall grass sway as the breeze comes to play… to me, it looks wheat waltzing in the wind.Thank you, Lord… that was a mighty enjoyable four miles.Miles covered to this date, 56. Miles left to discover … 6444.

jim mcwhinnie

On day 15 of my Prayer Walk to Jerusalem I came home with wet shoes. My travel parka kept my shirt and trousers dry, except for the cuffs of my pants and my poor shoes. But they have been wet before … and in their drying out … they seem to gain the character of weathered, rawboned cowboy. Yes, it rained … and for awhile, it poured. But the rain is not so worrisome for me, it is the thunder that warns that you have strayed into lightning country and that your fragile mortality is exposed.I never have cared for thunder and lightning, even when I am cozied up in a blanket in my reading chair in front of a friendly fire. But when I am outside … when the lightning flashes, the wild part of life becomes too wild for me. I do walk faster when lightning is near … somehow it convinces me that lightning has trouble hitting a moving target. I suppose Moses and Jesus had to travel through thunder and lightning … and I suppose their humanity felt exposed as well … though I would think their faith in God’s protection was probably stronger than mine.Yet, after the thunder and lightning have passed by or passed on … I do always remember that there is a Wild side of God. In that loving, gentle manner that God has always shown to me … there is also the thunder and the lightning. It is not an easy thing for a human soul to do … to be able to both fully love and fully respect the person of God … but, yet, I and many have found a way to keep both of the qualities of God in good harmony. Oddly, the thunder and lightning remind me that I am only mortal … that I am only human .. that I best find shelter… but the thunder and lightning in God reminds me that I am but mortal … that I am only human … but with God … the Wild in God’s soul somehow makes me feel safe and I find my shelter in Him. I suppose, like my struggle to both love and respect, it is not all that easy for God as well … to be both Loving and Holy.With my shoes drying by the fire … I have journeyed now 60 miles and have a mere 6440 to go.jim mcwhinnie

Day 16 was a crisp journey, a light-footed walk through a sweet, fresh dewy morn. It felt so good to be alive… and to somehow be renewed.Funny how some days are especially made for the renewing of things. Oh, my Benedictine practice is to treat each dawn as a new beginning … and I try my best to make that belief of heart into the reality of my experience. But some days are faint with this experience, yet some days, this experience of renewal cannot be denied. This morning, while the birds and squirrels were readying in the trees for another day of work, I felt as if I were emerging into an undiscovered realm of this Creation.It is vital for the Christian spirit to know personally the wonder of resurrection, for much of life that we do live, it needs a time to die away and turn to dust, so that the better part might have much more room to grow. I believe that is the genius of Christian death and resurrection … we can leave behind the dust and bathe in the morning dew. It is Christ’s way of enabling us to still be so imperfect yet continue on in a more perfected way.I did come upon a woodpecker already at work on a stately palm. He was very noisy … though as I walked past … he paused for a few moments. I tipped my hat to him, out of the same respect that he paid me.Now this is 64 miles … and it did not seem that far at all … now … the 6436 I have yet to go … makes me remember that some journeys are very long.

jim mcwhinnie

On the 17th day of my Prayer Pilgrimage to Jerusalem, I tripped over a ghost that had fallen prostrate on the path. My straw hat went one way, my cane another, my dignity fallen in the dust … and as I gathered my wits and crawled over to retrieve my cane that I might lift my soul to its feet, a squirrel came near me, sat on its haunches, chewing on an acorn, and taking in with fascination my fallen predicament. At any moment, I thought he would ask, “Hey, Buddy, what happened?” But he didn’t. If he had … then I would know that my stumbling was worse than I thought.Life’s journey will have its stumbles. It simply will. And a part of faith, a most important part, is that most stumbles will be survived, most of the dust will be brushed away, and after a deep breath and a soothing touch upon your scrapes … you will journey on.Though I understand Jesus was a most perfect soul … I have got to think … that once in a long while … considering all the dusty miles he traveled … that even He stumbled and God sent a squirrel to see if He were okay. You never think about Jesus stumbling … but I am sure He must have … at least, once. If that is the case … it must not be a sin to stumble … only a sin if you don’t get to your feet, dust yourself off … and then journey on.I hope one day … that squirrel that lives on my daily path … will one day take a tumble … so I can sit there and be fascinated by what I just saw … and ask him …”Hey, Buddy, what happened?”Let me see … that’s now 68 miles and a scraped elbow and still 6432 miles and a few more stumbles to go.

jim mcwhinnie

I shall name this 18th day of the journey, “Glorious”.All days are of God and are thus “good” and a reason for rejoicing. But, Lord, there are some days … that are greyer than others … that ought best to be nearly forgotten … but …. there are days like this Day … that is Glorious. And by Glorious I mean that the Presence of Heaven that is always latent within all Creation is especially evident today. If heaven were to have a climate … it would be the climate of this day … with its breeze, a cooling breeze but not one too cold, with its sunshine that is bounteous but not overbearing, with its clarity that brings the colors of Life into a deeper, richer hue. Yes, as I walked this morning … it was as if heaven had slipped in through the windows … and came to play with us creatures of this Earth.Although I sense I may be adding mystical charm to my four miles … but I swear a flock of blackbirds of some kind followed me on my journey outward this morning, flocking noisily but also rather cheerfully from one oak tree to the next. And when I made my turn to my homeward path, they took flight to another appointed place which they all seem to know quite well.Life is joyful when blackbirds sound as if they are having a jolly good time and when the Perfection of Life seems somehow possible.I am beginning to notice that the miles traveled are reaching a respectable number … now 72 miles … and the far distance of my destiny is becoming more and more real … with only 6428 miles to go.

jim mcwhinnie

The 19th day and yesterday’s perfect day was surpassed by even more perfect day. But that ought not surprise me … in God’s Realm, the Perfect becomes all the more Perfect through the grace that keeps transforming souls and Creation into even greater fulfillment. The maturing of the Perfect would be a greater Perfection … and this evolution of life is the manner through which God has always been creating and perfecting. It is we that too often stop short … becoming satisfied with a certain point of maturity when there is much more maturing to be done.We each mile I travel my soul imagines, if not senses, that progress is being made. Oh, each step seems to be of little gain … until each step becomes linked with the million more. It is the power of perseverance. I see it in the mighty oaks that shade my path … they grow and grow … but in each moment, they stand serene and stable. And I am finding that Christian maturity is the product of such patience, such willingness to faithfully take one more step in the journey.High above me … across a blank canvas of light blue sky, too jet trails cross. The planes are far beyond my sight, but still I know the planes are there. I often find that God and followers of Christ become to known to me … by the traces of grace they leave in their wake. I may not see them … but I know they are there.Such a perfect day … crisp, clear, and quite consequential … in the making of four more miles, now 76 of the 6500, making just 6424 left to explore and savor.jim mcwhinnie

Twenty days and I am still putting one foot in front of another. I did have a weak spell about halfway in today’s stretch of the journey, one of those times when the MS decides to send me into cramps. But a few minutes ‘neath a friendly oak restored my soul. While I was sitting there … trying to look as though I was doing so out of whimsey and not distress, a young couple rode by on their bikes. They waved a friendly wave and returned to their “stroll” on bicycles. Is there a word for that riding slowly for the sake of riding slowly? There ought to be one. On horseback, I think the word is “saunter” but on a bike … don’t know. I guess old men sitting ‘neath oak trees think about stuff like that … at least, this one does.It has felt like Sunday all day in these parts … I wonder if it felt like Sunday in other parts of this world.As I walked and prayed today, faces and names came to mind … and I try to lift a prayer when that happens. I sense there must be some reason why they suddenly appear forefront in my soul … usually I have no idea of the need … so I tend to pray, “Lord, how is ____________ doing? I pray he or she is doing okay. Hug them for me and I will try to remember to see how they are doing?”I am not much into flippant or magical-thinking prayer… but I do know that it is a most wonderful feeling to know that someone is thinking of you in loving and caring ways … At least, I do … and I think others do as well. So know … that I often think of so many of you … more than you might realize … especially when I see photos of you and yours posted on the Facebook Wall.I wonder if the Lord has ever thought of having a Facebook page …

(I’ve got to get out more!)

Four more miles of praying, now eighty completed in this journey with 6420 to go.

jim mcwhinnie

It was rather late in the 21st day when I grabbed my straw hat and cane to make my four mile portion of the journey. I almost chose instead my brown felt hat … but decided that the cool was not quite cool enough.I saw a different assortment of souls on this late afternoon walk, among them, a trio of cheerful older ladies who possessed a skill to walk at good pace and still carry on full conversation complete with hand gestures. I also came upon a racoon, an oldster who may have thought to get a head start on the night’s gathering. He didn’t care much for my walking by, choosing to hide himself behind a large cluster of bushes. A telephone line of blackbirds were all facing west to take in the sunset … in the early morning, I think it is the same crew, they face the east. I wonder what that is all about in the making of their being…The day has a different feel in its drawing to its close … it feels a bit mellower, a bit softer, a bit lazier, a bit more at peace. And I found my prayers in this late afternoon walk took on a similar quality … a gentler quality, the quality of spirit that mixes together the feeling of tired and the feeling of thanksgiving.Eighty-four miles and whatever the math figures to be the miles remaining.jim mcwhinnie

Day 22 and the walking was at a slower pace and the praying was an outpouring of thankful memories and in the midst of the good memories, the confession of a few regrets. I suppose it is expected to happen when walking a path of solitude … sometimes nostalgia sets in and a soul long in miles takes stock of what’s been and what’s yet to be.I think that this sifting through a life must be some form of prayer … and maybe that is precisely what it is … a time of sifting prayer, a time for leaving behind and for keeping with you, a time for letting go and taking on. And all that takes time … if a soul expects to do such work in a satisfactory way. And taking a walk to Jerusalem does provide you that … time enough to consider a lifetime.Eighty-eight miles behind, 6412 miles ahead.jim mcwhinnie

The 24th day and I traveled the four miles with a stranger who happened by. He was a retired gentleman who was far older and far fitter than me. But he was willing to slow his pace so that we might share a few of miles of getting-to-know-you. A retired employee of a northern state power company, a lineman who climbed high into the air to do work that I never could imagine doing. So he must have been a bold soul, a confident soul, a soul who had conquered his fears. He was widower twice over with five grown children now living faraway. He was a lonely man … but he seemed to be surviving his loneliness. And as he told me his story … I kept thinking … “I would struggle if I were lonely as he.”

Yet, by his chattering, I sensed he was a soul who had never learned to be at peace with solitude … so I shared bits and pieces of my monastic pilgrimage. And in the end, he seemed intrigued by a man choosing to do such lonely things.

But as I sat down to recover and reflect over the four miles and my traveling companion … I thought … but here was a man who worked a rather lonely kind of work high on the wires … but then again, that lonely was a lonely he chose and the lonely that haunts him is the lonely that chose him.

And now I wonder … will he come looking for me on the road ahead …

jim mcwhinnie


On the 25th day I reached my 100th mile. A hundred miles is not nearly so daunting when traveled four miles at a time. I thought my fellow traveler yesterday had decided to travel on alone, but on my outward course, I found him in his returning home. And there, in a meeting beneath a canopy oak we talked of yesterday and we talked about how life does bring it changes and wisdom is dealing with those changes well.

As I continued on my walk I found myself for a few moments mesmerized by a swirl of butterflies, yellow butterflies dancing in pairs all through the air and never seeming ever to land. I suppose they must come to earth … at least to sip a bit of nectar now and then. But in this early morning, they seemed to no more than simply dance.

For myself, I am a late night dancer, a moonlight dancer with one or One I love. But early mornings, I am still deep in the labor of coming full to life. But these butterflies, in their seemingly romantic way, just danced and danced, seemingly never to grow tired.

Walking four miles still leads me into an afterglow of ache within my muscles … though I hope with time … and with loss of parts of me that I really have little need for … my four miles will become more a dance.

You don’t hear much about dancing anymore … it seems all the dancing is done by those on stages by entertainers. I believe we need more dancing … I like those Jewish dances like the ones in Fiddler on the Roof. Those dances look like holy joy to me .. the joy of dancing with others who are willing to dance with you, all dancers in the Lord.

But now — my legs ache and so I wait for my weary self to recover.

jim mcwhinnie

The 26th day was the most challenging day yet. If it were not for the help of a mild and kindly October sweetness to kiss my cheeks and embrace my soul, I may not have completed my daily measure. For you see … like a runaway freight train, my Black Dog came to visit last night and took a big bite out of my inner peace. It was about the time in my cycle and a difficult crossing through the sundown amplified by the yet another flash of school violence … allowed the Black Dog to pounce upon me with an unusually vicious snarl. So this morning … after a night of little sleep, the pre-dawn prayers and the pre-dawn walk felt like a vigil along the Via Dolorosa. But by the time the Psalms were sung and the liturgy prayed and the beauty of yet another Day appearing, I had gathered strength and was able to settle the growl of my Black Dog. The day is still heavy, but the Light is walking me through.

It is remarkable how one’s inner climate colors the experience of the Creation about you. This morning – though I doubt it true – the birds seem subdued in their singing and the colors that usually glimmer among the leaves seemed to be of a darker shade, of a weaker hue than other days. Yet, the sunshine was bright … and so I must accept the fact that the climate deep within does cast itself, to some degree, upon the world around us. And as talk this aspect of my being over with the Lord, especially in these later years, the Lord reassures me that it is but a gift that provides for me a certain means to create but its wages are the struggles of surviving the darker nights. In my study of the saints of centuries gone by … even the joyful St. Francis of Assisi, so many knew both the glorious Light and the Shimmering Night. It is … a part of me … and the Spirit of the Lord helps me make it something holy.

But I am now better prepared for the Black Dog days to come … for each time I learn more of his ways. So we journey on … even through the darker nights …

jim mcwhinnie

The sunshine broke through on this 27th day with the Black Dog having retreated back into the night. This morning, the four miles were filled with hymns being sung by a congregation in my soul, all the while I was praying through the liturgy of my prayer rope. Yes, that ability to have hymns being sung and still praying at the same time, it is a skill acquired through hours and hours of centering prayer. How thankful I now am to have received this training – though rather late in life – the power of focus is a powerful skill … especially now … you know … the Grey Lady.

The breeze was but a ripple of cool, and though the trees were on the quiet side and the crickets had gone off early to bed … the morning still was brilliant with the colors of new life, those vivid greens mixed in with the sparkles of reflections of white. Not a cloud, not a cloud …and when I passed by the phone lines, the starlings were lining up one by one for their ritual of welcoming the sun.

I got off to a bit of a late start so I best be hustling off to Church. I like Church and especially on cool October mornings. It is good to be alive … and to hear the Black Dog snoozing away.

Thank you, Lord, for the sunshine in my soul.

jim mcwhinnie

The 28th day and a genuine Autumn cool had come our way. I reckon everyone has that “perfect” temperature that is just right. For me, the temperature one will find in heaven is 64 degrees. I am assuming … God will be sure that the thermostat is customized for each soul who ambles about those realms.

My pace was with a bit more zest this morning, the step fitted with a little more spring. And as far I can tell, it did my soul good to pick up the pace.

I find the contemplative life is one in which one must change the pace every so often. At times, you must slow yourself down … and at times, you must quicken one’s soul. The key is … for you and the Lord to be the one’s who control the throttle.

So far, this prayer walk to Jerusalem has been a stroll, a wander, a walk, a dance, and maybe, most often, an amble. But surprisingly … I guess … it has yet to be a march or race. I am not closing out those possibilities … but for me, slow and steady seems my destined course.

I like slow and steady … especially in these autumn years … it is a pace which allows me to “savor” . Yes, I do believe that prayer-fulness does have something to do with the savoring of life.

jim mcwhinnie

Day 29 in predawn air on the verge of being cold at 52 degrees. After vigil prayers – 4:00 am! decided then to take my walk on a course they call “The Round-about”. It circles the grounds of the monastery and the seminary and guest house. I thought I might be alone but four seminarians passed me three times as they were doing their morning run in their jogging shoes and sweats. Nice young men who assumed I was a guest, a visiting professor possibly. They smiled and nodded and ran on, lapping me twice, both times with proper and polite courtesy.

It all seemed so strange – this new air, this new terrain, this place so far from home, yet for the next three days, it would be my home. I saw none of the monks on the walking path, most of whom had duties to do, preparing breakfast, tidying house, heading to the brewery which is the industry of this monastery, a few preparing for another day of teaching at the seminary. But my lectures were late in the morning and early in the evening, the rest of my time would be monastic time, time to write, time to pray, time to converse with any of the Brothers who might have time to converse. I was introduced at vigils as our Guest Protestant Monk, a member of the teaching team on American Protestantism.

The four miles caught me about two hundred yards short of the end … but as is with so many practices in life, when applied in other places, they must adapt as they can.

jim mcwhinnie

This 30th day was a journey filled with a most special blessing, the Abbot of the monastery asked if he might walk with me. So we left immediately after the pre-dawn prayers, skipping breakfast. (An oddity of the Benedictine Way is that the Abbot does not usually eat with the Brothers, only the guests, I believe to preserve the Holy Quiet for the monks.)

We walked and talked at a more leisurely pace, a conversational stroll. We talked of things Catholic and Protestant, Benedictine and Methodist, of life within the Cloister and the life outside. It was peaceful, heady yet heartfelt, gentle conversation, a quality of sharing thoughts that I find is becoming rarer in these days. We tend to chat or argue, talk about things that matter little or debate about things as if we were at war … but not any of these things this morning with the Abbot … we talked as kindred spirits, as souls in need of soulful conversation.

As we walked midst cricket song, I became so aware that even human souls are an aspect of the beauty of Creation … if we but allow ourselves to relax and settle into its wonder.

jim mcwhinnie

This morning, the 31st day in my Prayer Walk to Jerusalem, I walked in the mist of one of those Northwest drizzles. Not really a rain, but more than a fog, rather as if the dew were late arriving on the morning grass. It felt rather magical, a place that was somewhere between Camelot and Eden.

Somewhere along the way, on that portion of the route that skirts a few wooded acres, I was startled by a fox that darted across my path. Foxes are but grey shadows at that predawn hour, his true colors dimmed by the night. He must have been accustomed to monks and seminarians for he seemed to have little fear of me.

And it was this matter of fear upon which the Lord and I contemplated in the wordless part of our prayers. What do I still fear? What do I no longer fear? And the strangest, must surprising thought …”Are there those who fear me?”

I prayed to the Lord … “Please, Lord, as I want to have no more fear, neither do I want to be feared … by anyone.” And I thought I heard the Lord whisper …”We all have fear before the Love sets in… it is the Love and its being Perfected that fades away the fear.”

We create a lot of fear … we humans do … we threaten quite often … and it seems, but in the end, create a culture of fear in false quest of peace.

The Lord and I thoroughly enjoyed our four miles or so … I felt as if I had wandered through a more heavenly place.

jim mcwhinnie

The 32nd day, miles 125-128, was a time of recollection and reflection on the days I spent here with the Brothers of the Abbey and the young seminarians. Far, far too short a time, and I vowed one day to return for a longer season in this place of prayer, study, and humble servanthood.

As I walked through a cool and misty air as yet another dawn was stretching itself awake, I thought of why my soul finds itself in such kinship with this way of life.

I fear the world has become too noisy for me, so filled with chatter and data that the thoughtful life has become rather frayed. Here the words are fewer than the thoughts, so the words that are expressed are words of worth.

I fear the world has become far too tribal for my soul, tribes of political persuasions and theological perspectives that are so filled with fear about the encroachment of the other that they are in a state of constant war, and in being so readied and armed, they have sacrificed their peace, the peace within and the peace among. Here … community and harmony still are primary concerns, and they are drawn together not by solidarity of a cause nor by forced assent to a certain creed, but by a focus on Christ and the practice of keeping in good prosperity their community of Quiet Love.

I fear the world has become far too greedy for my soul, an overheated consumerism that knows not the beauty of contentment reached and the luxury of the simplicity that gives true worth to little things. We are too much a world always wanting more and more and more … in search of a satisfaction that never comes to stay. Here … even a simple flower or a glass of water or a raven’s caw or a brother’s smile is something treasured, savored, and enjoyed.

I will try with all I have to bring the air of this Quiet Place with me when I travel home today… when I pass through busy, bustling airports and wait in lines to check our fear, then to sit in cramped and crowded seats as people watch movies they have seen before and flip through magazines they never truly read. And I will miss my Brothers … but yet … somehow they will be with me still.

jim mcwhinnie

Day 33 turned out to be a twilight stroll. I didn’t plan on it being such, but delay after delay and the day almost got away from me.

For the first time on this pilgrimage I can say that I was cold. Cooler air, a bit of a wind, and too many years in Florida, and I felt the chill. I didn’t mind it … actually, I enjoyed it for it allowed me to fetch my first flannel shirt in a long, long time.

As I prayed myself into a mellow contemplation – the cool air tends to do that to my soul – I considered how I am a soul of two natures – I love stable, unchanging routines and yet I also love change. ‘T would seem to be a point of inner conflict in my soul, but somehow it is not. I do believe I am what you might call a seasonal soul … a patterned soul that goes through its seasonal transformations. And somehow in allowing my daily discipline to have also its seasonal changes, my soul stays in tune with the rhythm of Creation and my own childhood nurture.

Churches have seasons … or at least, they used to. Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost … times when all that which is stable undergoes its seasonal change. When things are always the same … those things seem to die away … . And when things are always changing … those things seem to fall apart … . Too rigid an order and to chaotic a freedom … does not seem well-suited for a healthy soul and a healthy community.

So I will live my daily discipline and I will live my seasonal change … and I will somehow feel in kinship with the nature of God’s Creation.

jim mcwhinnie

I found life to be sweet and oh so good on this 34th day of my journey. ‘Twas another flannel shirt day … and any day I can pull on my woolen plaid is a good day, a day when my spirit feels young and frisky.

The cool air brings a certain vigor to my steps and, while in the depths of contemplation, I took note that the cool air also brings a certain vigor to my prayers. I pray more energetically, more creatively, and for reasons I have yet to find, I pray far more relationally. Somehow the cool, autumn breeze sweeps my soul outside myself to places and people far away.

I think it may be the reflex that we have to “snuggle” ourselves when the wind has a bit of frost in it … causing us to think more of the embrace that God and others do offer and provide. People snuggle more when they find themselves in cooler Autumn air … maybe, they remember that harsh winters may be drawing near. And I find when people snuggle they tend to remember how much they need the warmth of others.

I love my flannel shirts … when I go to heaven, I must bring one for Jesus … for I sense … that Christ understands the joy of snuggling in the cozy warmth of well-worn, beloved, woolen plaid.

jim mcwhinnie

I found life to be sweet and oh so good on this 35th day of my journey. ‘Twas another flannel shirt day … and any day I can pull on my woolen plaid is a good day, a day when my spirit feels young and frisky.

The cool air brings a certain vigor to my steps and, while in the depths of contemplation, I took note that the cool air also brings a certain vigor to my prayers. I pray more energetically, more creatively, and for reasons I have yet to find, I pray far more relationally. Somehow the cool, autumn breeze sweeps my soul outside myself to places and people far away.

I think it may be the reflex that we have to “snuggle” ourselves when the wind has a bit of frost in it … causing us to think more of the embrace that God and others do offer and provide. People snuggle more when they find themselves in cooler Autumn air … maybe, they remember that harsh winters may be drawing near. And I find when people snuggle they tend to remember how much they need the warmth of others.

I love my flannel shirts … when I go to heaven, I must bring one for Jesus … for I sense … that Christ understands the joy of snuggling in the cozy warmth of well-worn, beloved, woolen plaid.

jim mcwhinnie

Day 36 and all is well … at least, on my Quiet Path.

The squirrels were busy at work harvesting whatever squirrels in the part of the world harvest … with no snow and year-round green, I am not all that sure why they need to do what they do .. but they do. A pair of cardinals were flitting among the bushes and the trees, accomplishing something very urgent … but what the something was ... well, I don’t know. By the inlet, I startled a snoozing turtle and he took off into the water. I guess I am a rather frightful beast to him … I wish he could sense I intend him no ill will… but people are like that too.

Yes, day 36 and all is well … at least, on my Quiet Path … though the more quiet it did become … the more lively I found it was.

On this pilgrimage, I am finding … that there is so much more to life … than first we do assume. And there is so much more God is doing … than at first we are aware.

And along the way this morning, not far from arriving home … I amused myself and I think maybe I amused the Lord as well … I was singing a chorus of the old gospel song, “O Happy Day” … and somewhere along the way I segued into Pharrell Williams, “Happy”. Oh, well …

jim mcwhinnie

The 37th day and miles 145-148 was another starlight stroll, this night escorted by my wife. One of the qualities I love about her is her sensitivity to the needs of my soul and when she joins me occasionally on my prayer strolls … she respects the Holy Quiet so I can pray through my pattern of prayer.

The reason for the escort tonight … last night I had a seizure, and I knew she would more at ease serving tonight as my guardian angel. Such is love … being there … especially when the being there brings an extra measure of peace to both souls involved.

Even after all these years, starlight strolls still have a romance about them … though I have never been much of a hand holder when I walk … but now and then I give it a try. But though the hands may not be touching, our souls also become more and more intertwined with each step we take together.

I always envision walking with Christ, yet I have never imagined Him holding my hand. Yet, I have often imagined Him lending me a hand … and I have imagined Him lifting me up by my hand … but never walking hand in hand. I wonder if my wife has a different imagining on this walking with Christ and holding hands? I must ask other ladies of faith that very question.

And though Christ and I probably make our journey shoulder to shoulder and not hand in hand … I still do walk with Christ and I suppose He walks with me … and we often talk about things in life … and just as often … just walk along … and all the time our souls become more and more intertwined with each step we take together.

jim mcwhinnie

Day 38 and I returned to my pre-dawn stroll. Last night with my wife and caregiver, I had to do a serious amount of debate and reassurance that I would do just fine on the walk. I would carry the cell-phone – though I find that concession to be counter to my sense of the Holy Quiet. But, to my surprise, she assented, or to be more accurate with the truth, she consented.

Not as cool this morning as in recent mornings and that was somewhat of a disappointment. But the coming upon of two bunnies grazing on a grassy patch, more than made up for that loss. When I stopped to enter into conversation with those two rabbits [we Benedictines make it a practice to talk with creatures!] I noticed in the distance behind me, a neighbor taking his walk at this early hour. He is usually a daytime walker who walks in circles about the neighborhood. So his presence did bring a moment of surprise. But wanting my own solitude and respecting his, I walked on making my tour of around the edge of the meadow, along the inlet, around the abandoned pasture, down the dirt lane and across the meadow in a crow’s flight, back to the neighborhood and home. More than once, probably at least four times, when my path begins to turn back on its past, I noticed my friend, back their mist of the dawn … following my route.

And it got me to wondering …

… and when I was done with wondering, I smiled, the smile which comes when one recognizes love … I am thinking my wife called my neighbor last night. God, I love that woman. She does so many things in the way that the Lord does things.

jim mcwhinnie

On the 39th day of my Prayer Walk to Jerusalem I picked up an unwanted stranger – a stone somehow jumped into my shoe – and it hobbled me in tiny, irritating ways. I tried walking through the pain – I don’t know why I do that, but I do, though fully knowing that eventually the stone will win. It took but a moment to rid my step of that stone … but then I noticed how much better felt my step now have endured the stone and then had the stone removed.

A while later, further on, I came upon a rather whimsical squirrel, whimsical in a way I had never seen before – or at least, not to my recollection. As the squirrel was scurrying across my path, it appeared as if the squirrel had stubbed a toe on his right rear paw, for he ran on favoring that one paw. And I thought, maybe even contemplated, “God, is it possible that even squirrels stub their toes and are hobbled by pesky rocks? Is it possible that all of life – or a good deal of it – has its moments of wounded-ness?”

Then I began to wonder about Jesus and His sandals. Did He ever stub His toe or take time to remove a pesky stone? I would think He did for He traveled along many rocky roads.

So I decided to pray that squirrel and his hurting paw … I am not sure he needed my prayers but I felt better for having prayed for him. I would suppose the squirrel chattered with an angry chatter … when he hurt his paw … or the road hurt his paw … and I think the Lord understands the need for saying “Ouch!”

I am slowly learning that it is wisdom … to not travel far with stones in one’s shoes – it is best to pause and toss those wayward stones aside. And I am slowly learning that it is wisdom … to cry out to the Lord, “Ouch” when the hurting hits our paws. For the “Ouch” tells the pain that it has not won. And besides, the Lord, One who walked many, many miles on stony roads … fully understands what “Ouch” does mean and that, in time, the Ouch will go away and the feeling better will feel all the better… that is unless we leave in the stones within our shoes until they make us cripples.

jim mcwhinnie

At the finish of my 40th day of walking, I have but a mere 6340 miles to go. But as I have journeyed further on, the miles that I have left to go fade into a lesser significance with the miles I have already come to know.

This morning was a gentle morning, all of life felt soft and fluid. It was as though I were flowing through the texture of grace, a veil of wonder that felt so divine. The birds sang, but they softly sang; the squirrels were awake but had not yet rushed fully into their day’s labor; the mist was as light as faint gossamer; the morning light was of a muted white as if the day had chosen to enter quietly. And as I walked and the mist filled my breath, I felt in a most authentic way that I walked within a heavenly moment that had chosen to settle close upon the earth. And it felt like Peace, not the temporary peace that we humans try to desperately sustain, but a heavenly Peace that draws a soul and a world into a Forever Realm of what was meant to be.

My praying was deep and rich this morning and my words seem to take on an echo of a vaster realm all about me. It is mornings like this … that chase away any vestige of doubt that God and heaven are so very real.

jim mcwhinnie

Day 41 brought me a journey of an unexpected kind. As I was only a few steps from where I began, my wife beckoned me back. “You have a call. Hospice!”

A family called from their home and they asked if I might come by. You see, an old man’s time had come. I did make it there before the old man began his crossing, giving us a few moments to pray. I thought the old man squeezed my hand … I really do … before his soul walked away.

There is a certain Holy Quiet in those moments when one travels from here to There. And it is a very prayerful time. Oh, you might hear a sniffle here or there, or a saddened sigh … but if there is love and that love has had time to do its work … there is mostly a Certain Peace that has deep within it a nearby waiting joy.

When I did return home, I wondered if I should still walk my own four more miles. But I figured I had walked with a soul I had come to know as we walked to heaven together, and then I had to quite reluctantly walk back home again.

jim mcwhinnie

The 42nd day began with a longer-than-first-planned snooze and so my walk began in that pre-dawn, daybreak light, whatever the morning version of twilight is called. The muted light had already arrived over the horizon, while the sun itself was seemingly late arriving.

As I passed the docks at the inlet, an elderly couple, dressed in their fishing garb, were casting their lines far out into the water. They appeared to be having such a peaceful, joyful time together. I could not resist. So I took it upon myself to make an impromptu, uninvited pastoral call upon this couple of fishing souls. They were gracious and mentioned that they had seen my passing by on my pilgrimage. Usually she would see me through her kitchen window – the one with the bright yellow curtains. And I knew of which window she did refer. We chatted – not for long – but I do believe just long enough – for a new acquaintance-ship to be formed.

One matter she mentioned and with a nod affirmed by her husband was a surprising and then enlightening bit of confession. She said, “We never catch any fish; we just like to fish.”

When I arrived at the far end of my words and entered into that mile of contemplation that I take, I considered the beauty of that confession, one made so free of guilt and shame. “We never catch any fish; we just like to fish.” Two souls in love with a process rather than in love with an outcome.

We are a culture where all things tend to measured in outcomes, in profits, in accomplishments, in goals reached, in milestones reached, in quotas met, and awards achieved. And this is sad … and I believe for a culture and for many in a culture something dispiriting and discouraging. So much of life … as I believe God created and I sensed in my contemplative moments that God did agree … is meant for the living of the process itself and not so much the gathering the profits at the end. Too often in our desperation to make a living, we forget to merely live … too often in our desperation to make a name for ourselves, we forget to nurture a soul for ourselves.

jim mcwhinnie

On the 43rd day, the Lord provided me the perfect temperature for my walk, cool enough for my heavy flannel and my felt Indiana Jones hat, but not so cool as to cause a shiver. The air was light with but the slightest trace of mist.

In the stretch of meadow that I travel through, some late blooming heather of some sort had sprung up during the night. They were the tiniest of flowers, some yellow, some white, peeking up out of the recently mowed hay grass that is the only remembrance that this was once – way back when – pasture land. And as the first light of morning started to warm the field, I noticed a flurry of bees, not big bumble bees, not wasps, but honey bees of some sort. I got to think that this might be their last harvest before a coming freeze.

You know … I have learned and even more so on these morning walks that you need to harvest what each day brings. If you delay in harvesting the little white flowers that bloomed today … who knows, they might come and go before tomorrow. So when it rains … harvest the rain; when it is cool, harvest the cool; when it is warm, harvest the warm … for each day … I do believe … does have a God-given reason for its being.

jim mcwhinnie

Day 44 and I feel in my bones and in the rising wind that a cold front is heading this way. It is one of those changing times in nature over which we have no control and to which we can only adapt. When the cold comes, we can curse it … but the cold will pay no heed. Instead, we bundle up and light our fires … and live well within what the day has brought our way.

I like cold weather … for awhile. I like bundling up and I like making a fire. The cold makes me feel cozy … and I have noticed that my wife and I are cozier when the cold comes our way.

Now I do not like the “dead” of winter, but I like the “warmth” that the cold somehow brings to life in our human ways of living together. I do not care for the long darkness of winter nights … but I do like how the stars seem brighter and how we decorate our world with lights.

Sometimes we describe the world as cold and dark … and if that be sometimes true … I wonder if we ought then to become souls that are more like a warming fire and twinkling lights.

Tonight I shall build a fire and my wife will find a cozy blanket … and we will write notes of love to those who have of late been too far away.

jim mcwhinnie

Day 45 was one day late, having to take a day of down-time to heal the soul.

Sweet, fresh air, a little mist, a little cool, and a whole lot of it-is-good-to-be-alive! Four wonderful miles and almost all the prayers were prayers of thanks.Did you ever have those days when if a genie appeared you would be at a loss for what to ask. And this morning … I just didn’t feel the need to ask for a thing – oh, later today, surely tomorrow, the needs will come back to mind … but today … Lord … I’m more than okay.

Contentment is a rather disrespected virtue in America today … but somehow I find contentment is close kin to peace. In these later years, contentment has come more easily … I suppose I am losing my need to prove myself to others … or even to compete … where once I raced, now I stroll.

jim mcwhinnie

Day 46 was actually night 46, a walk of desperate prayer. Last evening, my old Black Dog pounced on me after a bad bout of sundowning. He was snarling and growling, and his teeth were bared. It was a long night and I am thankful for the Lord and a few of my Brothers and Sisters who kept watch with me. At about 2:00 past midnight, I made my journey, this time with a flashlight lantern in my hand, for I felt the need to carry a lamp of extra light with me. These nights when I take my Black Dog on his walk are times of mortal prayer, the kind of prayer that arises from those secret places so many of us try to keep hidden. Something that is not wise at all to do. But as I walked and as I prayed, as I walked and even cried, the Black Dog within began to quiet down and this morning he seems to be fading away, tiring himself out from his latest hunt.

During the walk I heard that owl hoot and call my name. But once more, the Lord and I, we just walked on by.

And the sun rose this morning and I ready for Church.

jim mcwhinnie

On the 47th day I was surprised, very surprised by an encounter with a most unexpected soul … a red fox who in the pre-dawn, moonlight I saw trotting down the wooded lane that is midway on my route. Without an ounce of fear, or so it seemed, he or she, I could not tell but for some reason she seemed to me to be a she, seemed headed straight toward me. It was only as our approach to each other had come remarkably close, so close I could see the glint of light in her eye, that she darted into the woods. And I wondered … if this fox had already come to know me … from a hidden, watchful distance morning after morning, I had come to the conclusion that I was merely another creature, one that meant him or her no harm at all. [Or it is possible, that this fox took measure of my speed or lack thereof, I judged I would not that much of a challenge to flee from me.]

It is the way of familiar places and familiar paths that if one keeps a sense of beholding wonder throughout the distance of one’s travels, more and more of what is present all about you becomes more and more revealed. But sadly … we tend to grow numb and blind to the common places of lives and the everyday paths we travel … and instead of seeing more and more, we tend to see less and less.

I do believe… that a vital, central and essential aspect of the holy life is … the refining of one’s awareness of the our Time and Place in God’s Creation. And in so doing … we make the common places, places of more holy worth, and we turn our everyday paths into explorations of wonders yet unseen.

One hundred and eighty-eight miles I have traveled and yet so many more to go.

jim mcwhinnie

Brrr was indeed the theme of this stretch of Time and Distance this morning … felt hat, two layers of flannel, and a brisk pace and it was still a bit cold … but at the same time, it was very, very invigorating. Funny thing about the cold … we human creatures are not well adapted for the cold, and if we are too cold for too long … the cold seduces us into frozen slumber … yet, a splash of cold somehow does bring a soul to life.

This morning I paused to drink hot coffee from my thermos that I carry in a strap around my shoulder on days such as this … four times I paused … to drink a cup of warmth and to lift a prayer for warmth. In my Methodist tradition we used to speak often of the heartwarming experience … “I felt my heart strangely warmed [by the love of God]” For reasons that are not all that clear to me … I hear it less often nowadays .. except that is when I am in chapel with my Benedictine monastic brothers. Each early morning … we offer each other the blessing … “may the Lord be warmly with you this day in all your labors” — and each night, just before we enter into the Holy Quiet till early morning prayers … we bless each other …”And may the Love of God keep you warm and safe until when we rise again.”

I guess that is one of the reasons why many of us enjoy a bit of the cold … it prompts the giving and receiving of loving warmth …

From infancy to our final days … I sense we love the feeling of being bundled in someone’s arms.

jim mcwhinnie

Day 49 and the cold got colder. I fear the northern bear within me has spent far too much time in these southern woods. But we a bit of shiver and a bit of quick step, four more miles were put behind me. I never did think that my Walk to Jerusalem would have these cold spells … but I am told … that even Jerusalem has its days and nights when the cold does come to visit.

I do believe I did hear the teeth of the squirrels chatter and the few birds that braved the cold sang with a bit of vibrato in their voices. But God created the world to have its cold days … though I cannot imagine what God had planned for the Garden of Eden.

They often speak of venturing out into the cold … which makes me think for we human creatures we need warm dens into which to find our shelter.

I have been thinking lately about warm hearts in a cold world. We quickly think of how in Christ we bring are to bring Light into the Darkness, but we also ought to consider the importance of bringing Warmth into the Cold. In a bit of irony, maybe a paradox, I find the world of today is a rather cold world, icy, freezing, sometimes heartless, and the heat seems to be the fierce heat of overheated words that had wood and more wood to every growing bonfires of conflict. Yet, that fiery heat seems to do little in the warming of the frost off the souls of the world … no, it takes a gentle warmth, a warmth gathered at the hearth of God and then carried out as warm blankets and hot cocoa into a shivering world.

Yes, I do believe that Christian love is like a cup of cool water on a hot, thirsty day and a warm, cozy blanket on cold, heartless night.

When I made it home this morning just as first light was appearing … my wife had cups of hot chocolate waiting for us both to share.

jim mcwhinnie

The fiftieth day – the Pentecost of of my pilgrimage – and I came upon a certain sadness. Not far from my beginning I came upon a bird, a bluejay who had somehow died in the night. Oh, I understand quite fully how living things do reach a certain time … but still, I find it sad. This morning it was especially somber for from what I could tell … it was only the bluejay and me, and, of course, the presence of God whom I sense is as much at the moment of a bluejay’s passing as will be with with mine. Soon the scavengers would come and do their work, first the vultures and then the ants. The blue feathers would eventually get picked up by the wind to then be scattered in a different place … and there to fade into earthy shades of grey.

I had no prayer to offer except to thank him for his song. I am sure his voice was among the many I have heard on this trail. His song I will remember. And when I hear the songs of younger bluejays, I may think of him, this one whom I came upon in the cool of a November dawn.

I suppose God grieves … even though God fully understands the wider vista of how all these moments become a part of eternity. At least, he must grieve for me for this momentary loss within my soul … and how much more so, God must grieve with the woods who find themselves with one less singer in their midst. I have the comfort of heaven … and as I scooted this once bluejay over into a more natural, leafy patch of earth … I began to contemplate if bluejays have their eternity. I really don’t know … but I hope they do.

Our time together, this bluejay friend I barely knew and I, was too short … at least for me … but then again, we did have our time together. And I thank him for his cawing song and his splash of colors … and I hope I gave him reason to be thankful for having seen this pilgrim who for fifty days kept walking by – listening while he prayed.

jim mcwhinnie

Day 51, now passing the 200 mile marker. Today, in a most intentional and conscientious way, I tried to walk my miles through the eyes of Christ. We often hear the slogan, What Would Jesus Do, … well, I wondered … What Would Jesus See”… And I found it to be a most challenging spiritual exercise, for I fear we (and I) so seldom try.

Through Christ’s eyes … I saw deeply the powerful Hope that God invests in the creation of each new day. The pre-dawn mist does possess a feel of Genesis, a beginning again … but now… out of the all the former days that have settled into these woods and this trail.

Through Christ’s eyes … I saw how the new light of day comes slowly in … a sure, steady, and gradual process … that you know will become the fullness of Day, yet it seems to takes it time … as if New Light must come in gentle steps … lest the Light be shocking for the world.

Through Christ’s eyes … I saw how God puts to bed the creatures of the night, tucked away before the dawn, and then awakens seemingly before their need to awaken, the creatures of the day, insuring them time to devote and say their prayers in all their God-given ways.

Through Christ’s eyes … I saw how so much of life does seem the same from dawn to dawn, yet, with careful look, life changes everyday … as if to remind us that God is the same, but an attribute of the steady character is the steady flow of river almost changing as it makes its way.

Through Christ’s eyes … I saw some tears … some tears of joy in hope renewed, some tears of hurt in wounds not quite healed from yesterday.

jim mcwhinnie

Day 52 and, for some reason, I decided for the first time to take with me on my walk a recording of the monks of Greyfriars Abbey chanting the office for morning prayers. Usually I find the holiness of God in the music of nature and the incense of the morning mist. But today, again in response to some unidentified impulse, I walked with the voices of my Brothers.

And it was beautiful … as if the Lord had intended Creation to be experienced as cathedral or chapel, a cathedral with all its majestic reverence, a chapel with all its intimate reverence. And the experience reminded me how much my soul has need of the embrace of holy reverence.

I realize that “reverence” is experienced in different ways by different souls … but I am one of those, possibly a vanishing breed, that finds the holy far more readily and thoroughly in that Quiet Reverence. My soul so needs that resting place of Holy Peace. My soul so needs that re-ordering of my Inner Life in the slow settling of all my frantic, scattered thoughts and feelings in the hushed, well-ordered holy quiet. I need a quiet place, though not a deathly silent place, a place where the Spirit of the Lord and I can untangle all the knots and reform the fragments of my tattered efforts into a fabric of a new and reborn hope.

I find I already have too much excitement in my soul, too much, too fast, too frantic. What I need is that Still Center around which the Lord and I can make it all make sense.

I find I already have too much noise echoing throughout my being, too many opinions, too many shouts, too many facts, too many voices, too many honks and bells. What I need is not more stimulation but rather that Quiet Place where once more I can find the holy whispers that enable me to hear that which is beyond all the worldly chatter.

Yes, I realize that “reverence” is experienced in different ways by different souls … but as for me … I find the holy in morning walks and monastic prayers… and in the Holy Quiet and the Sacred Place … and in the place where less is More and where a sparrow’s song can still be heard.

But I fear … that I am of a vanishing breed … and I wonder “why”.

jim mcwhinnie

The 53rd day turned out to be four miles of teary eyes and sneezes. Each year at this time, something blooms and my allergies roar to life. It doesn’t last that many days, but when it comes, it comes in a mighty way.

I find it challenging to pray when I have a cold or allergies … my thoughts are fuzzy and the sniffles tend to come forefront in my consciousness. Yet … I pray …as best I can … and possibly because I must focus and fight through the barriers my praying takes on a different tone. No, it is not one of “Pooooor me!” But rather I become more a warrior of prayer, a little tougher and a whole lot more determined. And I think that might be okay … to have different tones of prayer life for when one is in different moods of soul.

You never think of Jesus having a cold or having allergies. But I suppose he could have and did … somehow the notion of Jesus healing Himself doesn’t feel kosher with me. If we suffer in human ways … I would suspect He would as well.

So today, I contemplated today … how did You, Lord, handle a less-than-perfect day?

After four miles, I was a bit disappointed with the answer I thought Christ might be offering …”Jim, certain days, it is a major accomplishment to simply make it through … to the better day that’s waiting.”

So for now … and the next few days, I will sniff and sneeze … and the Lord will keep whispering, “God bless you.”

jim mcwhinnie

Day 54 and a fit of sleeping in required me to take a noontime stroll. All was bright, maybe too bright. The world for me is not as mystical at the noon of day. Noon is a time for lunch and a nap before returning to work. The prayers at noon are prayers for strength and endurance, a blessing of the ham and cheese sandwich, and a time for taking measure of how much accomplished and how much yet to go. It is a slowing down time, in the summer, a time for lemonade, in the winter, a time for hot coffee, and if on a Sunday, a time for family dinner and giving the Lord an extra measure of thanks.

Today’s walk was one of those tasks done for sake of the task. And that is not all that bad … this discipline of doing when the creative inspiration is waning and weak. There is much about the life of faithfulness which is about “just-keep-on-going.” It is the sanctification of the will. We yearn for holy thoughts and holy emotions … but we seldom think about holy will power to keep going when the going is not that enticing.

So, Lord, it is early to rise tomorrow … but thank you for tapping on the shoulder and shouting in my soul …”Jim, let’s get this done.”

jim mcwhinnie

Day 55 was a trail of tears and anguish as I took my walk at about 2 o’clock in the morning, or in the night, I guess those hours after midnight are a blend of both. With the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, I felt called and I felt the need to sit and pray in vigil all through the night. I am not sure what the Lord did with my prayers … but I prayed them anyway. I prayed over and over in an almost sobbing prayer, “Lord, help us to rise above the blaming and to be about the work of working through the problems that so linger with us. Help us to move beyond our past, help us to understand what life looks from the other side, help us to conquer our instinctive and cultivated fear with a Perfect Love and may that Perfect Love fall everywhere as gentle rain upon my fields, their fields, our fields.” Over and over I prayed. And as I walked with weeping in my soul, I though I heard the distant thunder of God. Was God expressing His anger? Possibly … or maybe God was getting ready the gentle rain. And then again … maybe God was weeping along with me.

As the sun rose, my irrepressible hope that I do believe comes from the soul of God did rise once more … but it seemed to rise with a weariness in its Spirit. And then I thought of a phrase that Christ uttered more than once when struggling with the reluctance to understand and to change …”How much longer … will you close your hearts to the new realm that I bring? How much longer …”

As I walked through the night, I became aware that I was a disturbance in the Holy Peace as I was passing through … and yet, the Peace was deep enough … to slowly blanket me and see me through the darkness of that night.

So tonight I will light one hundred candles … and begin to push back upon the darkness.

jim mcwhinnie

Day 56 and now 224 miles I have traveled on my way to Jerusalem. But now the destiny seems to have become less and less of the journey and now the journey is more about the steps I take and the airy moments through which I walk.

Cool and crisp … and very much alive. One of the wonders I love most about life is that it always moves on. The crises come and the crises pass, the memories linger and yet the memories fade, and the dreams … why they keep changing.

From the woods, I heard a number of birds singing their morning song … but it was a song of which I had no memory. I could not see the birds. I could not see the colors of their feathers but their song was filled with lyrical color. Their song had the sound of turquoise and lighter shades of blue. They had the sound of the sky in their voices. Maybe one day I will meet them eye to eye, but this morning I only knew them by song.

In my contemplation I thought how wonderful it is that we have no photographs of Christ and our paintings of Christ are but our imagining the color of His feathers by way of the sound of His song. I am one of those who carry an image of Christ in my mind … yet I would hard-pressed to bring to life on a canvas. I am of one of those who carry the sound of His voice in my mind … yet I would be hard-pressed to mimic that voice … my imagining of Christ Himself is left to the artistry of my soul … and I suppose is left to the artistry of other souls. And then I wondered … when we finally meet Him face to face will He look like you imagine Him to be or as I imagine Him to be, or maybe both, maybe neither.

However those unseen birds this morning might look to my eye … to my ears, they were beautiful. And I find that I do better with human souls … when I listen to their songs.

jim mcwhinnie

6 Responses to My Prayer Walk to Jerusalem

  1. Lata Hall says:

    We will journey with you. I save all this on my memory stick, so I can read it again and again. what a gift, you have been blessed with. Thank You and God bless, Lata

  2. Lata Hall says:

    We do miss your prayer journey. Pray you will get to write soon. You have been a great comfort to many. Love and prayers always, Jim and Lata Hall

  3. Oh, my I have been forgetting to post them on the Blog … they are on Facebook … I must take care of that this evening.

  4. Lata Hall says:

    Thank you ever so much for posting it. I am not on the Facebook. I am so glad I asked. My friends will be happy as well. God bless, Lata

  5. Lata Hall says:

    Missing many many days of your Prayer walk. All of us who read it in Nova Scotia do not have computers and some can only read emails, so we hope Brother Jim you will post it here again. Thank you and God bless you, Love and our daily prayers, Lata

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