On Saturday morning I went to the House of Prayer in East Molesey, near Hampton Court, for a day of ‘walking and praying’.
I stumbled across the House of Prayer a couple of months ago. It’s pretty tucked away and offers all kinds of retreats – day retreats like this one and themed weekend retreats. Until now I had no idea it existed.
I was the last to arrive. Four people were gathered outside the house waiting for me, including Sister Genevieve, a French sister at the convent, who was leading the walk. I was introduced to Rachel and Susan – friends who had travelled down from North London for the day, and Robert, a man in his 50s who was a regular at the House of Prayer.
It became apparent really early on that Robert was super-chatty, leaving me wondering how he was going to fare on a day’s silent walk.
We all jumped in Genevieve’s car and she drove us to Esher common. To start the day we gathered on a sunny spot of heath and paused for a few moments of reflection and meditation – it was a beautiful September day.
Genevieve encouraged us to let God speak to us through what we saw in nature during the walk, and through what we observed in passer-bys (mostly families and couple with dogs).
As I was still feeling bleary eyed after a late Friday night and early start, it was a relief not to have to make polite conversation to the others, nice as they seemed. So we walked together, in silence, mostly through forests, with Genevieve stopping occasionally – map in hand – when we came to a clearing or an attractive view point.
I wondered what people who passed us thought of us. It wasn’t so obvious we were walking in silence apart from the occasional pause here and there where we all just stood and observed a nice view. During one of these pauses I noticed a man with his dog looking at us curiously as we walked in prayerful silence up to a lookout point over fields and a river (a group of walkers would usually be making some kind of noise). Maybe he thought we were in awe of the view – unlikely though, given that it was just fields and a river. After a few minutes he walked on.
At lunchtime we stopped by a river and were given the option of taking if we wanted to. I was happy with the continued silence so found a spot by the river – I heard Robert talking and laughing somewhere in the forest (he had clearly gone for the talking option).
There were several advantages to the silence. I could really listen to what was around me – wind in the trees, birdsong – and I could observe nature more closely than if I’d been talking. The colours were beginning to turn with autumn setting in.
I’ve also always found it easier to pray while walking, particularly in countryside or hills. This was hard at first, as my thoughts were everywhere. Gradually, with the rhythm of walking, the silence, and the company of others doing the same thing, it became easier.
We stopped off at a tea room in a garden centre at the end of the walk (as is customary at the end of a day’s silent walking!). It was a chance for us to feedback what we had gained from the walk if we wanted to – ‘because we enrich each other when we share things’, said Genevieve.
If we didn’t want to speak it was okay – there was no pressure. We each said a few things. Then Robert went off to buy a pot plant and I explored the homeware section.
During the last half hour of the walk we could speak if we wanted to. It was good to have this outlet and chat to one another a bit. Genevieve said that although we walk in silence there is still connection between us; that God is working in each of us in different ways during the silence. I can see how there is something powerful in that – more so than if I had gone on my own solitary walk that day.
On my return home, my house housemates gave me strange looks when I told them where I’d been all day. ‘A prayer walk – in silence? Oh right…’
I wouldn’t normally spend a day walking in silent prayer, but on reflection there was something special about it – about this sister leading us though woodland, silently, and prayerfully, as we listened to nature around us and to how God wanted to speak to us.