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Creative prayer: Walking and memorizing psalms

Lynne Baab • Thursday August 8 2019

Creative prayer: Walking and memorizing psalms

I am so pleased that my good friend Steve Simon has written a book about the prayer practice that took his faith from his head to his heart. Steve memorizes psalms as he walks his dog, and then he prays those psalms. Holy Walks: Learning and Praying the Psalms is practical, humorous, and so helpful. He asked me to write the foreword, and here’s what I wrote.

Foreword for Holy Walks: Learning and Praying the Psalms. By Lynne Baab.

When I read a psalm—or listen to a sung version of a psalm—I am invited into something amazing and wonderful. The Psalms encourage me to approach God just as I am, with my messy emotions and disordered thoughts. The psalm writers model an extreme honesty before God that lightens my heart. I see that I, too, can be honest, that God welcomes my anger, frustration, sadness, and pain. Whatever has caused these emotions, however much I blame myself for feeling these things, God says, “Come.”

When I stay in a psalm, something else happens, equally wonderful and freeing. In almost every psalm, God turns negative emotions into praise, thankfulness, joy and singing. “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5, NRSV). For me, the period of weeping is often much shorter than a night because the psalm writers’ words lighten my heart as I pray along with them.

Steve Simon knows this. In Holy Walks, Steve describes the ways he has grown in becoming a person who loves God with his heart, not just his mind. Steve is one of the smartest people I know, and it has been a delight to the see the ways the Psalms have taken Steve’s faith from his mind into his whole being.

Steve’s fine mind is visible in Holy Walks, as he explains the variety of types of psalms, how psalms are structured, and how the language of the psalms works. But even more valuable is Steve’s description of the specific habits that enabled him to engage with the psalms:  memorizing specific psalms, pondering them, and praying them—while he walks his dog.

Memorizing passages in the Bible has been a key practice for me. The passages I know by heart have shaped me deeply. They have given me fodder for thought and prayer. They have helped me draw near to God. Countless other Christians throughout the ages have benefitted from memorizing portions of the Bible, and each person who wants to memorize scriptural passages has to come up with a system for doing it.

Steve provides helpful specifics for how he memorizes psalms. His method may well be beneficial for many readers.

The walking component of Steve’s engagement with the Psalms is also significant. Christians have long underemphasized the significance of the body, and I am thrilled that in recent years Christians have begun to rediscover spiritual practices based in the body, including fasting, pilgrimage, walking a labyrinth, and the stations of the cross. Friends increasingly tell me they are finding joy in a variety of bodily positions while praying. The rhythm of my feet hitting the pavement has always enabled prayer to flow easily for me, and I love Steve’s combination of walking while memorizing, pondering and praying the Psalms.

The strong presence of Emma, Steve’s beloved dog, adds lightness and humor to Holy Walks. The dog, the varied weather, the early morning air—Steve has grounded his book beautifully in the physical world made by God, the Creation mentioned so frequently and so tenderly in the Psalms.

Steve calls the Psalms a “remedy for lifeless prayer.” Amen to that! As I pray along with the psalm writers, I get to experience such a range of prayer forms and moods. In times of trouble, the Psalms help me experience God restoring my peace and joy. And as I pray outside in nature, I experience something wonderful about God’s creativity in our beautiful world.

Because the Psalms, scripture memory, and praying while walking have been such important aspects of my faith journey, I can enthusiastically tell you that if you adopt some or all of Steve’s method as he describes it in Holy Walks, you will grow in intimacy with God.

Next week: the gift of music when praying the Psalms. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” below (for cellphones) or in the right hand column (for laptops).

Some other posts about praying and walking:

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