Pray With Our Feet
By: Emily Meeks
“Grab your walking shoes,” the announcement said, and “join us at the 2022 MLK Jr. Rally and March.” I feel a deep pull to participate with the group from Saint Mark’s to honor Dr. King’s legacy.
We arrive at Garfield High School by bus, foot and car. It’s chilly but bits of sun slip through the sky mixed with gray and blue. The rally is a time for gathering, building energy and adding buttons and signs for the march. We hear songs, poems, and prayers. We wander through the parking lot to visit community partner booths.
There are times for silence and times for chants – repeated rhythmic phrases for justice to come – now. Community forms over conversation as we transition into the streets. Together, with our shared reasons and stories, we bring attention and pulse to Dr. King’s dream.
In Capitol Hill, a neighborhood just east of downtown Seattle, we make a full stop on Pike Street. I look up and see windows of names of men and women who, like Dr. King, died too soon – their lives were not fully lived because of hate and fear.
Say their names.
Emmett Till is first. On August 28, 1955, Till was brutally murdered in Mississippi for allegedly flirting with a white woman. He was taken from his great uncle’s home in the middle of the night and beaten in a seed barn – one of his eyes gouged and he was shot in the head. His body, weighted by a cotton-gin fan tied with barbed wire, was plunged into the Tallahatchie River.
I reflect on how I, at 35, would not have recognized Till’s name a year ago. It was through an art exhibit and an article in The Atlantic that I first came to know his story last year. I grew up in the South, but I do not recall learning about Emmett Till in history classes.
The walk concludes at City Hall. Our Saint Mark’s leader gathers us up in a circle. He says, “We prayed with our feet today.” His words deeply connect with me – short and simple and so powerful. I text a friend who wasn’t able to join, “He says we can pray with our feet.” She responds, “That is so Jesus.”
The next day, I fly to Atlanta to visit my in-laws. We are now coworkers in a digital space of work from home. I take a break from my computer pod to walk, exploring their new neighborhood while listening to a sermon.
I discover a trail that leads down to a tributary. I am reminded of my mother-in-law sharing how these woods formed the River Line, a network of Confederate defense fortifications built along the Chattahoochee River in anticipation of Union General William T. Sherman’s troops in the Atlanta Campaign in 1864. These fortifications, called Shoupades, were built by forced labor of 1,000 slaves. Previously, Cherokee Indians lived here.
Leaves and acorn caps crunch underneath my feet as the words from the sermon come through my airpods: “I can’t not remember the 20th century display of Emmett Till’s brutalized body when George Floyd’s 21st century body is strangled on international television.“
I can feel it deep in my bones: this hate, pain and fear is still happening. I take a step forward and start praying – what will make this continued narrative end?
In Luke 24:13-35, we learn that two disciples are walking the seven miles to Emmaus. They walk and talk about all that has happened — the crucifixion, burial and empty tomb. They are crushed by the death of Jesus and don’t know how to make sense of it. As they walk, a man they do not recognize appears. They think that he is just a visitor to Jerusalem who has not yet heard about the events from the past few days.
They share with him their hopes – for redemption, for a different way of living and being, for freedom from the control of tyranny. The visitor [Jesus] reminds them of the promises of scripture. They still do not know him.
As they near Emmaus, it appears that the visitor may go onward, splitting from this newly formed group sharing miles together. They ask him to stay. At dinner, as a guest, the visitor [Jesus] takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it apart and shares it with all. Their eyes are opened – “Were not our hearts with us on the road and opened the scriptures to us?” the disciples ask.
Then it connects for me: their hearts were opened on the walk. Their conversation along the way helps prepare them for what they have not yet seen. Reading Luke’s words, I am comforted by this image of Jesus accompanying these men in their grief and fear, adjusting to their pace, and helping hold the breath and space for processing all they cannot comprehend.
During the pandemic, I have come to deeply appreciate walking instead of dismissing it as not “intense” enough. Walking has helped me get out of my head (and my apartment) to discover my neighborhood and make new connections and observations. It has unintentionally become intentional time with God – what I now can name as praying with my feet.
When the disciples do learn of Jesus’ truth, they get up and return at once to Jerusalem. I wonder what those last miles must have been like as they brought good news to others on their feet – death does not have the last word, friends – the Lord has risen and we have seen him.
We have many more miles to go, but I want to keep a close eye on envisioning those last miles – where justice is restored for all people and not a selective few — where generational trauma is ended and not carried forth. There are many paths we can take but where we stand, how we participate, and how we show up matters. Let us remember to practice praying with our feet.
Emily Meeks loves finding adventure and connection outside, especially while running, biking, hiking and kayaking. She attends and serves at Saint Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle.