from the Fall/Winter 2015 issue of Reflections magazine
by Mary Carolyn Watson
In my mid-twenties I worked at Washington National Cathedral for several years, designing and teaching educational programs for children and adolescents.
I adored my job, but some days were pretty hectic filled with large unruly tour groups or throngs of overly inquisitive children. On such days, after the chaos subsided and everyone had climbed back on board the school bus, I would often retreat to a small chapel around the corner from my office to sit for a few blissful moments in silence and stillness. I always emerged feeling centered and renewed.
Now, over a decade later, as a mother of two young (often unruly and overly inquisitive) children of my own, my only option for escape is shutting myself in the bathroom while small fists pound the door and little shrill voices scream on the other side. Not exactly quiet and stillness! I never come out of these brief moments of retreat feeling any better than when I went in.
I had always assumed that contemplative practices required both quiet and stillness in order to bring about a sense of peace or rejuvenation. I had also resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn’t be able to regularly engage in any such practice until my children were older and a bit more independent.
Then, about six months ago, I went on a walk. It was a gorgeous spring day so I strapped my two girls (aged three and one) into our double stroller and we walked the Museum Reach stretch of the Riverwalk.
They rode only part of the way, also choosing to amble along on foot down the concrete path. We watched ducks swimming in the water, waved at several tour boats that motored by, and looked closely at many of the beautiful flowering plants growing beside the riverbank. My children also greeted every person we passed with a friendly smile and wave. There was noise and plenty of motion, and yet at the end of our walk I was surprised to find how refreshed and at peace I felt.
Quite unintentionally, I had stumbled upon a contemplative practice that I could do. Even better it was a practice that I could share with my children instead of trying to exclude them. We now go on walks at least several times a week. The Museum Reach is probably our favorite, but we also roam around our neighborhood or along several of the greenway paths close by.
Beyond enjoying the outdoors and God’s creation, walking as a spiritual practice teaches us to slow down and live in the present. It encourages us to pay attention to the wonder of our surroundings and to joyfully greet each person we meet as a beloved child of God. It is a physical reminder to focus on the journey and not the destination, relishing the simple pleasures of small surprises along the way.
Mary Carolyn Watson is a writer and stay-at-home mother. She lives in San Antonio with her husband and two daughters, where they attend St. Mark’s Episcopal Church. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
To read more articles from the Fall/Winter issue of Reflections magazine, or to read the entire issue, go to this page.