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Walk and pray in awe and wonder
A refreshing spiritual practice for Lent
“Ahh!” I cried out as I fell briefly through the air, nothing under my feet. I’d unexpectedly slipped off a 30-foot-high wall.
Thankfully, the rope, harness, and trained belayer on the ground caught me before I fell very far.
For me, rock climbing has become a spiritual practice of sorts. Besides helping me learn how to better trust myself, others, and God, it also grounds me in the present moment. When I climb, I’m not dwelling in the past or considering the future. There’s only this moment, right now. Learning to ground myself in the present moment has been key to developing a relationship with God that involves spending time with God in the everyday moments of life.
As ministry leaders and parents, I think we want the same for the teenagers we know and care about. We want to help the young people in our lives flourish as whole people—mind, body, and spirit—and to develop and deepen a relationship with God that will last them a lifetime.
Experiencing God’s presence during Lent
For many churches, the season of Lent is a six-week period leading up to Easter in which we reflect on who Jesus was and why he was crucified. It’s a time to reflect on who we are as human beings, and why we need Jesus.
It’s a time to notice and reflect on how big and all-encompassing God’s love is.
This Lenten season, we at FYI want to offer a free youth ministry resource that helps young people cultivate relationship with God through a guided walking prayer. This free 8-minute audio download trains students to integrate mind, body, and spirit as they find grounding in God and experience awe and wonder in their everyday surroundings.
Why cultivate awe and wonder?
Research has shown that experiences of awe and wonder cultivate humility.
From a faith perspective, this connection makes sense: “The heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the works of God’s hands,” says Psalm 19:1. As Christians, we believe all that inspires awe and wonder in this world does so because it was created by God. We don’t worship nature itself; we worship the One who created it. And taking some time to slow down, breathe, and look at God’s creation—really look—leads us to a place of a more accurate assessment of ourselves, which is a key component of humility.
In fact, one study found that “awe led participants to present a more balanced view of their strengths and weaknesses to others and acknowledge, to a greater degree, the contribution of outside forces in their own personal accomplishments.”
Cultivating awe and wonder is also shown by research to increase compassion, kindness, generosity, and perseverance, and to improve mood. It’s an uplifting and refreshing way to connect with God, and a spiritual practice that can ultimately help us live out kingdom values within our communities.
In her new book, Atlas of the Heart, Brené Brown offers a helpful definition of awe and wonder credited to researchers Ulrich Weger and Johannes Wagerman:[i]
“‘Wonder inspires the wish to understand; awe inspires the wish to let it shine, to acknowledge and to unite.’ When feeling awe, we tend to simply stand back and observe, ‘to provide a stage for the phenomenon to shine.’”
When we experience awe and wonder, we’re reminded of how small we really are and how big God is.
Remembering God in our bodies
Did you know that cognitively, memory and our body’s physical location are often intricately connected? Research on episodic memory formation shows that when something memorable happens in a particular location, the brain links the two.
Throughout all of Scripture, God implores, over and over, to “remember.” The Israelites are told that their physical acts (building altars, wearing tassels, etc.) should be in memory of who God is and what God has done. Similarly, at the Last Supper, Jesus says, “Do this in remembrance of me.” He invites us to remember him through communion with each other.
Remembering God is a key concept in Scripture and in discipleship.
Why is all of this significant for a prayer walk? When a young person walks through their neighborhood, spending time with God during a positive experience of cultivating awe and wonder, each time they're back in that spot, their body will recall the experience. On a level beyond conscious awareness, they will indeed remember their time with God.
A healing spiritual practice
When I prayer walk, it’s never more apparent that God created me with a body that can see, hear, touch, and smell. A body that experiences joy, pain, and every other sensation and emotion. A body—just like God created Jesus in a body.
During the Last Supper, Jesus said, “This is my body, broken for you” (1 Corinthians 11:24).
Jesus, in his body, broken on the cross, could relate to our moments of deepest suffering. God sent a son who could physically relate to the suffering of George Floyd in his final agonizing moments. A son who could physically relate to the suffering of those who’ve lost their lives to COVID, those who’ve suffered the impacts of racism, or those who are suffering in the brutality of war. God sent a son who could physically feel the grief in his body of losing someone he loved (John 11:34).
Many say grief lives in the body. Research shows that grief certainly impacts our bodies, disrupting eating and sleeping patterns, elevating heart rate and blood pressure, and lowering immune response. The effects of grief seem to be even more profound in the bodies of developing adolescents.
From losing time with friends to losing loved ones, young people have experienced so much loss in recent years. As you journey through Lent and remember what Jesus endured in his body, time with God through this guided prayer walk can be like a healing balm for your students in the midst of grief this Lenten season.
An invitation to a guided prayer walk
There are many ways to prayer walk that can be meaningful for students. This one is focused on cultivating awe and wonder as we explore humility with young people during Lent—an incredibly humbling season. Ash Wednesday is a reminder of our own vulnerability and mortality. And reflecting on our own sinful nature during Lent is also humbling, to say the least.
This resource can help you and the young people you serve take some time to slow down, be fully present, and experience the fullness of life that Paul references in his letter to the Ephesians:
“I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (3:17-19)
Depending on where you live, your students (and maybe even you) might say your surroundings could never inspire awe and wonder.
Hagar might have said the same. In Genesis 16, Hagar, an Egyptian slave, was suffering an unbearable situation. Out of desperation, she ran away to the desert where, unexpectedly, God met her. Dr. Christin Fort, a clinical psychologist and assistant professor at Wheaton College, recently preached a sermon exploring the awe and wonder Hagar experienced in the midst of suffering in a desert. God met her in a beautiful and unanticipated way through an experience of awe.
I used to lead a group to help new moms find support and connection. We commonly practiced a guided awe exercise similar to this one. Instead of a walk outdoors, these women were invited to relax and simply look—really look—at their child. In silence, the moms would gaze in genuine wonder and awe, taking a moment to step away from the chaos of new motherhood (dirty diapers, sleepless nights, crying babies!), and take in the beauty and wonder of God’s creation in the form of their own child. You could hear a pin drop in the room, despite being filled with little ones. Children who’d been screaming or agitated would suddenly calm down. Their mothers were taking a moment to really see them. To me, those moments reflected the loving way that God saw Hagar. Hagar—a pregnant Egyptian slave, a woman with no status in society—was seen by God, who, throughout scripture, shows care for those most vulnerable and marginalized. Hagar was the first and only person in Scripture to give God a name: El Roi, which means, “the God who Sees.”
Opening ourselves to awe and wonder is vulnerable. It’s sacred. In the group of new moms, I think we all hugged our kids a little tighter after those exercises.
Writing about awe and wonder, Brené Brown shares, “As a parent, simple moments with my children have rendered me speechless with awe. I thought this would change as they got older, but even with a sixteen-year-old and a twenty-two-year-old, the awe still takes my breath away on a regular basis.”[ii]
What I love about awe and wonder is that experiencing it in God’s presence is accessible. Sure, it might be easier at the Grand Canyon or watching the Northern Lights. But it’s possible anywhere. The most important thing is openness of heart.
How to use this resource
The guided prayer walk is recorded as an easy-to-follow audio file. Once you download onto your device and press play, you’ll hear all the instructions you need. But here are some tips for your students to help them get the most out of this resource:
- Try it out for yourself first. Download the audio file, grab some headphones, head outside, and enjoy! And if you or a student are unable to walk outdoors, sitting near a window and/or imagining a walk can be effective, too.
- Breathe. This spiritual practice begins with some deep grounding breaths to become more rooted in the present moment, in our bodies, and in our time together with God.
- See the world for the first time. In A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith writes, “Look at everything as though you were seeing it for the first time or last time. Then your time on earth will be filled with glory.”[iii]
- Use all of your senses. Listen, look, smell, touch, recognizing God’s presence in the midst of all of it.
- Look in new directions, like up at the sky, or closely at something at your feet. This one is about new perspective. It can be particularly helpful if your neighborhood environment doesn’t feel as peaceful, nature-filled, or beautiful as you may wish for.
- Once your students have taken their prayer walk, talk as a group about the experience. How did cultivating awe and wonder in God’s presence impact each person? What was surprising about the walk? If done together, how does the experience impact the group as a whole?
Awe and wonder
We hope this Lenten resource is helpful to you and the students you serve. In an act of being fully present with the Creator, we hope that young people find a helpful new way to take in God’s abundance, goodness, and love for them. And in turn, they can pour that love back out into the world.
Jesus invites us to love God with all of our heart, soul, strength, and mind (Luke 10:37). A practice like this integrates all of these in an act of full-body worship.
As we walk prayerfully during this Lenten season, we remember that God created God’s only son in a body. Jesus walked the earth knowing joy and pain, knowing what it means to be human. The spiritual practice of prayer walking grounds us in Christ, building resilience for the storms and pains we face each day. And from a groundedness in God’s presence, we can act with more humility, generosity, kindness, compassion, and love. These are the foundations for strong relationships, strong community, and a positive presence and witness in the world.
Tweet this: Cultivating awe and wonder as a spiritual practice ultimately helps us live out kingdom values within our communities. Here’s a free youth ministry download to help your teenagers grow in relationship with God through walking prayer.
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[i] Brené Brown, Atlas of the Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience (New York: Random House, 2021), 58.
[ii] ibid. p. 59.
[iii] Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (New York: HarperPerennial, 1943).
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