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Loving God

with Devotional Walking

And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. Mark 12 Background Loving God is the first commandment. Yet for myself, it has been only been in the last half year that I've taken this to heart and found my "own way to love God". I'd heard "Love God" throughout my childhood and during virtually every Sunday Service at church while an adult. Yet it had still remained an abstract concept for me. My spiritual focus was on what to do to feel good, to feel God's love, to feel inner bliss. Prayers, meditations, eating habits, exercise, ... most everything done was motivated to acquire good feelings for myself. While these activities did allow for progress, I always felt somewhat desperate. Finally about 6 months ago I learned that far from being an abstract concept "loving God" should be an active, personal, daily activity. For the past year and a half, I have been driving my son to school and then volunteering with his math class. During the 45 minute gap between school starting and math class, I'd usually drink coffee and read the newspaper. I had tried praying in my car during this 45 minutes, but I couldn't hold onto inspiration that long. I had also tried walking to feel God's love. But the focus was on getting God's love, and it also wasn't inspiring enough, so I stopped. About 6 months ago, feeling desperate about not having a deeper communion with God, I tried walking again. But this time instead of trying to feel God's love, a strong inspirational voice spoke inwardly "God needs your love, He wants your love, love Him". So with tears in my eyes I started walking, just focusing on loving God. After a 30 minute walk, I sat in my car for a short devotional prayer. What a difference, what incredible sweetness. Since then, almost every day, I've been doing these devotional walks followed by a short devotional prayer. And I've been experimenting to find the most effective & easiest method for myself to love God during these walks and while sitting afterwards. The description below details the techniques I use. While "everyone must find their own way" maybe this will be helpful to some others.

Devotional Walking Technique Description Go to a flat place to walk. A residential neighborhood is good. Stand straight, chest somewhat pushed out. Keep head level. Don't tilt head down or up. Smile slightly. Force a smile if needed, it will quickly become genuine. Without tilting your head, look up from eye level about 30 degrees, ahead as far as possible. Try not too look around at gardens or other attractions. Walk at least 20 minutes, up to an hour or more. Pick a street that is relatively quiet, no leaf blowers, or construction. Walk up and down a stretch of the same street at least 200 yards long, (2 or more blocks). While breathing in, feel God's love filling your heart. On the out breath, feel all that love going out through your heart and out through your forehead to God. Feel God as a loving presence right where you are gazing. Your heart feels like a bellows, breathing God's love in, breathing love back out to God, over and over. Silently repeat "God". Usually one "God" per out-breath. After walking I immediately sit still, with eyes closed, for at least 10 minutes, many times much longer. I continue gazing up (but with eyes closed and head level) and repeating "God". I picture God right outside my forehead. On the in breath, I raise love from the bottom of the spine, through the heart, and out the forehead to Him as an offering. On the out breath, He pours His love back into me, down the spine. The results of this devotional walking and sitting, for me, seem like clockwork. The first 10 minutes, I feel distracted and somewhat frustrated about not having a good connection with God. From 10 to 20 minutes, I start feeling better and a closer communion. From 20 to 30 minutes on, the heart and forehead tingle and joyful waves surge in and out. On some walks, the joy is so intense that my head feels like it might burst. Sitting afterwards is sweet communion. Keeping the mind silent and the heart focused on just loving God is a challenge. But surprisingly (to me at least) even only short moments of "just loving God" amidst massive, random, daily thoughts will raise my spirits considerably. During one walk, I was initially feeling downcast about my lack of ability to fully focus on "just loving", when in the back of my mind I heard: "that's ok, any love you give Me, no matter how little or short, I am eternally grateful". It still brings tears to remember this phrase. It helps me relax and not "beat myself up" whenever feeling too uptight about not focusing enough. During walking, I probably am only able to spend <5% of the time just loving God without thinking. The other 95% is spent on thinking about God and random daily thoughts. I look forward to the day when this ratio will be reversed! At first when doing this it was necessary for me to focus only on "loving God with devotion". After a few months, though, the focus become more of "sharing love with God".

This practice can be done while performing chores, driving, garden work,.... I just focus on the heart as a bellows; breathing love in, then breathing it out to God, while silently repeating "God, God, God". Also I try to see the important activity is not the chore, but how well I'm loving God while doing the chore. God's giving me this gift of a chore to help me strengthen my "loving God muscle". Even if I do this a small percent of the time, for me it changes a chore from drudgery to joyful activity! I'd always wondered how some people can work cheerfully for long hours. Now I know that actively practicing the first commandment is one way! One time when on a devotional walk, I was thinking about how long it took me just to actively try loving God. Immediately an inward voice said jokingly and lovingly: "Yes, you were quite thick, it took a minor act of grace just to get you to grasp the first commandment". Now, even when in a low state, there's this secure feeling knowing that God's love is just one devotional walk away.

Technique Comments: * I find quiet, familiar residential streets the best place for devotional walks. If the street is not familiar I end up looking around too much and not focusing as well. * When doing this on nature trails, I need flat trails, it doesn't work on hilly ones for me. So usually I'll find a flat stretch and just walk back and forth. Interestingly though, I find quiet residential streets better than any nature trails. While in nature I can relax much faster, but it is so lovely that I can't focus as well, some of my attention goes away from just loving God to enjoying the beautiful surroundings. * With head level, my eyes look up as much as possible while walking. But not so much up that I worry about tripping. At first I gazed only slightly up. Now, though, I gaze about 30 degrees up and find this more effective. * Set up a walk so you have somewhere to sit right after. Park benches are good. Cars with high enough roofs are good. Vans, trucks, SUVs & some box-style cars are good for sitting straight in. If you prefer privacy while praying in your car, you can put up sun reflective shades around all the windows. * 20 minutes of walking with 10 minutes of sitting, seems to be the minimum to time needed. 30-45 minutes of walking is much better for me. * Walks should be with God alone. It's not as effective if walking with someone else. * Anytime of the day seems to work well. I however, prefer dusk because the sun won't shine in your eyes, which is distracting and it is quieter with no construction or gardeners working. * Adding a "Devotional Walk Pathway" to church or spiritual retreat grounds could help members strengthen their inspiration and commitment to the church. The paths would need to be long, 200+ yards, level and with benches along the side.

Diagrams: (coming from an engineering background, diagrams had to be added)

Be still, and know that I am God The Lord of hosts is with us Psalms 46

For me, residential streets are the best location for a devotional walk.

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the LORD Psalm 121

Nature trails with a view of distant mountains are another great location for devotional walks, as long as you don't need to look down to secure your footing.

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