The Spouse and I used to be long distance walkers. The kind who bought maps and expensive hiking books. We owned telescoping walking sticks and took time away from work and study to follow old pilgrim routes and new hiking trails. Then came our grounded years – the weighed-down, diaper-bag-toting days and months of balancing-naps-and-enthusiasm-and-how-many-picture-books-do-I-need-to-carry-this-afternoon-to-get-us-all-through? Heavy days and shorter trails. And so much joy. These have been different pilgrim routes, and just as well-trodden. But somehow the seasons turn. Our youngest will be four this summer, and we’re noticing a shift. As his stamina stretches, the older two kids are growing keener to explore and we find we’re dreaming of circuit routes and hill walks again.
Last Sunday, we dug out the hiking books from the back of the cupboard and headed out to launch the season. The path was still muddy in the woods, but even in the shadows, there were flowers – bluebells and harebells and everywhere the small white stars and strong, green scent of wild garlic. Heaven.
Hiking with kids is different from hiking as a couple. There are far more stops along the way, and it’s noisy and full of questions and observations. There is so much to see. And suddenly, as often happens in the midst of this family-full life, I find myself stopped short, surprised by a new understanding, a metaphor that felt entirely new.
Children by the handful
In that moment, I saw that hands are meant to be held. Plum struggled with all the ups and downs along our rocky path. When he was nervous or unsure, he took my hand. He needed me there to give him balance as he sorted through the work of climbing. Blue, who is racing towards nine as fast as he can, held my hand when he wanted something. A stop for water. A square of chocolate. Encouragement or an explanation about how to judge the strength of a log before you walk across it. Beangirl walked beside me, keeping pace with her lengthening legs, and she only slipped her hand into mine when we reached the top of the hill and she felt happy.
All of these moments felt right. Each time my child was there and reaching for me, a rightness sparked in my heart and I felt something like understanding begin to kindle. I watched as the children galloped ahead of me or walked behind more slowly, keeping time to their own rhythms. Sometimes, they reached for each other’s hands, too, and that also felt right.
That’s how prayer works, I thought. Prayer is holding hands.
Of course, no metaphors are really new. Their truth and vitality lies in their familiarity. Watching my children reaching out for my hands and for each other, I recognized our prayer life. Different kinds of prayer surface in different moments and different seasons for each of us.
This month, we will be sharing the story of the Ascension, which brings the post-Easter season to a close. It is a season that feels right for me and one that I am often slow to let slip away. I feel sheltered and at home, sitting with the disciples as they see-saw through devotion and doubt in the earliest days of the newborn church. It is a much needed moment to let the good news of the Gospel sink in.
But the Ascension marks the beginning of something new. Now every hope is called to step out from the shadow of the cross and into the light of the resurrection. The road is real and the disciples have to learn to walk it without the visible leadership of Jesus. They must have been so anxious about staying together and doing things the right way. Today, with two thousand years of church history behind us, we are blessed with distance and the lived understanding that there are different stages and manifestations of faith and our prayerful life.
What I glimpsed on a hike with my children is what we live daily in the global Church. And Christ’s words live among us: I will be with you always. Yes, even to the end of the age.
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