In high school and college, I participated in prayer walks. We marched silently, praying as we had been instructed: for strongholds to fall, that the area would be “claimed for Christ,” whatever that means. We were instructed not to talk to anybody, as if that might break the spell. I questioned that rule even before I saw people I knew and had to walk on by them without more than a wave and a nod.
As you can probably guess, I have a certain amount of ambivalence about that exercise when I look back now. Are there evil spirits that were trying to claim my college campus, or is it just a place where 19-year-olds do normal stuff? I don’t think it was right to walk past my friends and barely acknowledge them because I was too busy praying for them to turn to Jesus. At the same time, there was something about walking by the dorms and holding their residents in my heart that was a positive experience for me overall. I went rogue and thanked God for my favorite English class, for spaces for learning, for education that hopefully leads to wisdom. I don’t think God minded my insubordination.
When I saw my colleagues setting up their classrooms last week, I thought about those prayer walks. There’s that one room in the school building that seems to be cursed, the one that has a new teacher at least once a year. Maybe she moves, or he’s not cut out for teaching. We all joke about bringing in holy water and exorcising the demons, but we’re not joking exactly, either. I wondered if there was anything I could do to help. I wondered if I could have a prayer walk, all by myself. If I should. If it makes any difference at all.
Barbara Brown Taylor says in An Altar in the World:
To pronounce a blessing on something is to see it from a divine perspective. To pronounce a blessing is to participate in God’s own initiative. To pronounce a blessing is to share God’s own audacity . . . All I am saying is that anyone can do this. Anyone can ask and anyone can bless, whether anyone has authorized you to do it or not. All I am saying is that the world needs you to do this, because there is a real shortage of people willing to kneel wherever they are and recognize the holiness holding its sometimes bony, often tender, always life-giving hand above their heads. That we are able to bless one another at all is evidence that we have been blessed, whether we can remember it or not. That we are willing to bless one another is miracle enough to stagger the very stars.
I had to get to school early on Monday anyway, because projectors needed setting up and computers needed cords and printers needed fixing. Anointing the walls with oil is not my style, but as I pushed my cart of equipment down the deserted hall, I made a silent blessing. This is a place where we partner together. This is a space where learning happens. There will be something different in this room this year. These students and this teacher will know how they are loved.
Do I believe, deep down, that a blessing walk will make any difference? I am not totally sure. I do know that I believe in it as a practice, as a way of asking myself to see things in a different way. And I know that part of what I love about the message of Jesus is that I get to speak these things and then help make them happen. I look forward to seeing how that story unfolds this year.