It's easy to get lost in the busyness of every day. But taking a walk and discovering God's presence along the way will bring you back to where you need to be.
The Walking Bible Study, a series of short readings and meditations, is your field guide to learning more about Scripture as you travel through nature and life. Wherever you walk, take it along with you and follow the paths of God.
"Walking changes us; it can transport our spirits from being weighed down by life into the joy of God's presence." - Becca Stevens
Each study consists of four sessions. Sessions include prayer, Scripture, Becca’s thoughts and stories, questions to think about or discuss, and activities.
The Path of Love
The world was created when God took the two chaotic elements of the universe that do not allow life---the deep and the darkness---and encompassed them into a loving creation that is called Good. The story of Love is rooted in creation and is so powerful that in its culminating act, it rolls the stone away at the break of Easter morning.
About the Author
To date, she has raised nearly $13 million and gained nationwide press coverage for the organizations she supports. She has won numerous awards from organizations including the Frist Foundation and the Academy of Women in Achievement. She has been named the "Alumnus of the Year" by the School of Theology at the University of the South, "Nashvillian of the Year" by the Nashville Scene and "Tennessean of the Year" by The Tennessean. In October 2011, she was recognized as a "Champion of Change" by the Obama White House. She has written a number of articles, is a widely traveled speaker, and has both a blog and podcasts available online at www.beccastevens.org. She lives in Nashville with her husband, Grammy-winning songwriter Marcus Hummon, and their three sons, Levi, Caney, and Moses.
Read an Excerpt
Walking Bible Study
The Path of Love
By Becca Stevens
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2010 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
Week 1. The Creator's Vision
Genesis 1:1-4, 11-13, 20, 24-25, 31
The story of our faith begins with the Creation narratives, in which the act of Creation itself becomes the unfolding of God's love for the whole world.
God's love is written all over creation. It begins when God takes the deep and the darkness and, instead of destroying these things, makes them part of creation. God calls it very good. To me, this means that nature is good, we are good, and we are all created together by a loving God who destroys nothing in creating—deep and darkness, earth and light, knit together in a creation that is both unified and diverse.
In this story, creation comes effortlessly from the spoken word of God; and Eden springs from a dream of what is good and lovely. Nature is sacred; it was made by the same creator who made us. If we want to love, worship, and be with God, then it makes sense for us to stand in the midst of creation. The closer we are to nature, the nearer we must be to the heart and desire of the Creator. God is the source of creation.
Recently I took a long walk on the coast of Ecuador. I wandered down a dusty road in a small town at noontime. The town was empty. I thought maybe the residents were out gathering their fishing nets or working in the fields.
I saw a church, and on the cross atop its steeple were perched two huge buzzards. I wanted to look inside the church, but the front doors were padlocked with thick chains. The glassless windows had vertical wrought-iron bars; and I peered between them into the gray, unlit chancel. The sanctuary was completely abandoned. The only one left in the church was Jesus, hanging life-size on a dusty cross above the altar. It looked as if he had been hanging in that same spot for a hundred years.
Between the buzzards, the locked doors, and the dusty crucifix, the church looked like death incarnate. It scared me. It called to mind all the places in the world and in my heart that seemed forsaken. I wondered if maybe our creator had finally had enough and had abandoned creation. I got a terrible sinking feeling, and it made me want to run or cry. What if love won't have the last word? What if creation fails?
I thought about walking away but didn't want to give up. So I looked through the barred windows again, this time with conviction instead of fear. And I saw something else in that old church. Hanging across the front of the church was a row of small, square cloths that children had painted with suns, trees, and butterflies. It looked like a rainbow of prayers carrying the deepest desires of their hearts to a living and loving God. How could I not have seen that before? There was a vase of flowers set in front of the Blessed Sacrament, a sign of living bread. There was a dove's nest in the rafter between the tin roof and the concrete wall. Creation was still giving life to the church and its people, and love was still there.
On the path of love, it is not so much what we look at that is important, but what we see. There is no place on God's green earth where we can look and not see love. That is why, when we finally make the earth our bed, we can rest easy. Love always has the last word. It is the fabric of the earth.
The gift of creation comes to us in a million different ways, and it will take a lifetime of walking in that creation to absorb even a part of it. The gift is in every animal of every kind. It is in every bird of every kind. It is in every plant of every kind. Everything in the Creation story was a part of God's unfolding act of love.
Our job in walking the path of love is to keep looking with new eyes, over and over and over again, trying to take in the manifold gifts before us. They are unbelievable gifts; and it is a joy to celebrate, protect, and honor them.
Questions for the Walk
1. Where do you see evidence of God's loving Spirit in nature? Where do you see evidence to the contrary? How do you reconcile these very different elements?
2. Can you see yourself as a reflection of the image of God? Can you see others? What does it mean to be a reflection of God's image? How does it make you feel?
3. Describe a place or experience that made you feel that God had forsaken the world. What are your thoughts and feelings about it today?
Walk in Silence
O Heavenly Creator, who has filled the world with love, open our eyes to behold your gracious hand in all your works, that rejoicing in your whole creation, we may learn to serve you with gladness for the sake of your love that created all things. Teach us the path of love where walking closer to you is our desire and serving others is our joy. Amen.
Meditations for Week 1
In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints. (Colossians 1:3-4)
I sat in the back of a dimly lit cathedral. Outside, the bright spring day was in full bloom. Inside, the lights were low; and a row of flickering candles on the altar pointed toward a sacred and shadowed space.
There were about fifty priests in front of me, mostly with gray haloed hair, bent forward in prayer. What struck me, beyond the sea of black shirts draped with old sweaters, was how all their backs looked a little stooped. I imagined the years of prayers they had said and the thousands of miles they had walked, trying to sow love in their part of the vineyard. Picturing that journey was almost too much to bear.
I thought about the thousands of trips to backyards for weddings and to cemeteries for funerals. I thought about all the prayers they had offered that floated in the air around me, forever sealed in the heart of God. I thought about the years of listening and bearing the burdens of those who had suffered and reached out for help. There was something beautiful about the suffering they seemed to be carrying in their bodies, and I wanted to believe that it was worth it all.
Then we said amen, and I headed back into the bright sun to continue my own pilgrim's walk.
As I looked, a stormy wind came out of the north: a great cloud with brightness around it and fire flashing forth continually, and in the middle of the fire, something like gleaming amber. (Ezekiel 1:4)
Ezekiel has wild visions, presents vivid imagery, and preaches dramatic sermons. He sets it all in a rich, natural world that is a powerful teacher.
A deep and complex man, Ezekiel preached from around 593 to 571 BC during hard times to a suffering people about a rich God. He begins with doom and ends with consolation, reminding all of us about the importance of hope, even when we feel exiled or hopeless. In the midst of his visions he sees something gleaming, something beautiful and promising in the midst of something frightening.
I walked with a woman who was recovering from a brain aneurism. She walked every step of the path carefully and slowly, and she talked about nothing but love meeting her at every turn. She revealed the gleaming amber she had found in the prayers and presence of her friends and caregivers in the midst of her storm. While much of the previous month seemed to her like a hazy vision, she could feel deep love imbuing the days with light. While she was telling her story, she would stop and remark about how beautiful a tree or plant was that with normal vision would seem unremarkable. She was a prophet, reminding me to see love in stormy skies and hope in the midst of troubled times.
Ezekiel told us always to trust God, even as we face new challenges. Ironically, it is believed that Ezekiel himself was exiled as he was writing his final words about God's undying care for us.
Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.... Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. Keep straight the path of your feet, and all your ways will be sure. (Proverbs 4:23, 25-26)
If we want to guard our hearts, the source of the springs of our lives, we'd better head to the hills.
John Muir, one of the great lovers of the woods and a protector of wild lands, urged us fifty years ago to climb the mountains and get their good tidings. He told us that the winds blow their freshness into us, renewing the wellsprings in our hearts. In the hills, all our cares will drop off like autumn leaves.
To refresh our hearts and keep them healthy and loving, we need to walk to the mountains. We can get there on just a whispered prayer offered for the sake of love. To go to the mountains is one of the lessons of every prophet, teacher, and sage. It is where we can keep our hearts strong, where we can glimpse the possibilities of our lives, where we can find strength to go back into the valley to serve. The lesson for me is simple: No matter what, keep walking toward the mountains.
Just because we go to the mountains, though, it doesn't mean we are out of the woods. We must stay focused on why we are making the journey. If it is not to learn about love, we might as well not make the effort.
Thoreau says that all we have to do is pursue some path, however narrow or crooked, that we can walk with love and reverence. If we can walk with love toward the mountains, all our steps will be sure.
Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:16, NKJV)
I didn't notice the bluebird until she took flight. Her color blended into the branches, and she was small and unremarkable in the midst of the forest scene. But when she spread her iridescent blue wings and darted through the air, my heart flew with her. Three other bluebirds followed, taking flight through the woods that now seemed lovelier for their beautiful presence.
Whenever we are given the grace to take flight on our path, I pray we are that beautiful. I pray we are not ashamed of our beauty or hide it from anyone. Our light, if we let it shine, can be as lovely as the bluebird's wings in flight. That light sparks light in the hearts of others, making the whole world glow. Hiding its beauty means that the world, like the woods before the bluebird took off, will be less remarkable.
All of us have some stunning shade of blue in our hearts that could add to the beauty in this world and light the path of fellow travelers.
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful. (1 Corinthians 13:4-5)
I had a rush of jealousy for my woods the other day. All winter long I have been hiking in my favorite parks around the city. The parks have been relatively quiet and empty, except for the squirrels rustling in dry leaves and the songs from nearby birds. Usually I see only a few people as I meditate in the silent woods, and it is possible to stop and write all alone.
That experience may have lulled me into the false notion that somehow these woods are partial to me; that, while I don't own them, we love each other and belong together. These are the woods where I passed the winter contemplating the prophets and dreaming about my faith. These are the woods that I came to appreciate as a fragile treasure to protect and as a strong friend to hold my grief and secrets.
But last week spring came, the hillsides burst into purple majesty, and the people came in droves. There was nowhere to park, and rangers put out traffic cones. I felt protective and jealous of my woods, and then I felt embarrassed that the thought had even crossed my mind.
I know these are not my woods, even if I love them. I know that all the woods and all the land, no matter how well we tend them, build on them, and know them, are never really ours. I love these woods; and so I will walk among their admirers today with no jealousy, just an open heart.
Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs (Mark 10:14)
Valerie and I arrived at the beach in South Carolina. The sunset was already a memory when she asked if I wanted to go walking with her.
The beach was dark because the nesting turtles require that no one on that stretch of the coast turns on houselights that would illuminate the sand. The waxing moon, with Saturn hanging close, provided all our light. We walked across a wooden bridge, over the sweet grass and sea oats out onto the beach. When we reached the end of the path, Valerie sat down at the end of the walkway and put her feet in the sand.
"Will you hold my hand?" she asked.
"OK," I said, "but you don't have to worry. It's a gentle tide."
"I've never been to the beach and never seen the ocean," she said. "I'm a little scared."
Valerie is forty-eight years old. She is a graduate of Magdalene, a program for women who have survived lives of addiction, violence, and prostitution. She has seen the inside of prisons, the underside of bridges, and the backside of hands; but she was like a child in front of the ocean's eternal tide. She was afraid of the unknown and wanted a hand.
In today's Scripture, Jesus tells the disciples that we must be like a child to enter the kingdom of God. We must embrace fear and excitement as we walk through this world in new wonder. We must be so amazed by love that we reach out and hold on to a fellow pilgrim when she is afraid.CHAPTER 2
Week 2. Moses' Vision
Exodus 33:12, 18-23
When we walk in God's creation, we are close to the heart of the Creator. God pronounced the creation very good, and as part of it we are too.
As the story of God's people unfolds in the Bible, the path of love is woven throughout. The path, always part of the natural world, is present in the history of Israel, the journey of Jesus, and the mission of the early church. Over and over again we are reminded that it is our path as well. We are called to walk in faith close to God and to trust that he always has our best interests at heart. At every twist and turn in the story of faith, God is found in the wilderness, in the mountain, in the night, helping us as we stumble along the path of love.
Moses' life and ministry embodied the path of love. Moses' mother began his journey by releasing him into the wild river. She put him in a basket and set him in the hands of the river, trusting that God's loving mercy would keep him safe. Eventually Moses found his way back into the wild to hear God in the burning bush, calling him to liberate his people. After Moses led the people through wild waters, he spent his life wandering in the wild desert, learning the basic law of love that is still imprinted on our hearts from the Book of Deuteronomy: "Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might" (Deuteronomy 6:4-5).
In this week's Scripture we see Moses heading into the wild again as he makes his way up Mount Sinai for a meeting with God. Mount Sinai was not the Promised Land, but it played a critical role in forming the group of refugees into a nation. Sinai was where the covenant relationship with Israel was formed, the holy mountain where the laws were given.
Moses practiced walking a faithful path of love in his life, journeying deep into the mountains many times. He willingly followed that path through the desert and onto the cliffs. When Moses' desire to see God overcame him, God called him to come up onto the holy mountain.
Mountains play a central role in all spiritual journeys, as real or symbolic places where our hearts are led to be with God. The path of love likewise is a place where the heart leads, though sometimes it is only later that our heads follow. In the mountains, the air is thinner and sometimes makes our heads spin.
Last year, I ascended the steepest hill I had ever climbed. I can't say that God called me to the hill; it felt like the hill itself called me. It made my heart race just to look at the trail. It was made up of acute angles of rocky terrain stretching toward the sky.
There were jagged black boulders beneath the cliffs that would provide little break for a fall.
When I started up the hill, I found that I could barely climb without using my hands; and I kept wondering how in the world I would get down. It gripped my heart as sweat seeped from every pore, stinging my eyes. But I promise it was worth it.
Once I was on top, there was nothing but wild weeds that blossomed, forgotten by the world below. There were young thistles and passion flowers spread out like a picnic blanket on a spring day. From my high perch I gazed down at raptors that floated upward, drifting toward heaven, on currents only they could feel.
On top of the steepest hill I had ever climbed, I imagined how Moses hid in a rock crevice and saw the back of God's head. I imagined that love was glowing from a bush and calling me to take off my shoes.
Excerpted from Walking Bible Study by Becca Stevens. Copyright © 2010 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsThe Path of Love,
Using This Book,
Walking Bible Study,
Pear Blossoms for Sadie,
Week 1. The Creator's Vision,
Week 2. Moses' Vision,
Week 3. Mark's Vision,
Week 4. Paul's Vision,
I Lay Me Down in Flowers,