By Judith Cebula, Staff Writer, the Indianapolis Star
St. Meinrad, IN &endash; Eleven years ago Linus Mundy was driving to work when another car struck his, nearly totaling the vehicle and injuring his back.
Doctors and Chiropractors ordered physical therapy and an end to Mundy's rigorous daily ride on a stationary bike. Banned from the bicycle, Mundy turned to gentle walks that have changed his life.
For Mundy, 48, walking has become a form of prayer. He has written The Complete Guide to Prayer-Walking &emdash; A Simple Path to Body-and-Soul Fitness (Abbey Press, 1996, $13.95).
Every day he takes to the roads around his Santa Claus, IN home or to the paths at nearby Lincoln State Park. For at least 30 minutes he walks, counting steps and taking in deep, cleansing breaths. In silence he utters simple, familiar prayers: "God Loves." "My Jesus, mercy." "Guide my feet."
They can be any sacred words, Mundy says. As with all prayer, the idea is to be with God.
"These are four simple things -- breathing, stepping, counting and saying a prayer or mantra," he says. "These are the simplest things in the world and when you put them together they become profound."
Mundy often talks about prayer and life as a journey. He traveled a path of his own in discovering prayer-walking.
For five years, he approached fitness walking as a physical discipline. He bought proper walking shoes, stretched before stepping out and checked his pulse during workouts. Mundy had become part of the fitness walking trend, a moderate exercise approach that has attracted millions of baby boomers and seniors.
"It was a physical thing. Oh, occasionally I would have a spiritual thought, but most of the time I was looking forward to the end of the trail," he says.
That changed one day in 1990, when Mundy was on a spiritual retreat at the Abbey of Gethsemani, a Catholic Trappist monastery in central Kentucky. He returned from a walk and wrote in his journal: "I went on a prayer walk today."
Reflecting on the discovery, Mundy explains that the Catholic monastic tradition has a long history of valuing silent prayer and the rhythms of walking. For the past nine years he has worked at Abbey Press and with the Catholic monks of St. Meinrad, who run the southern Indiana publishing house.
But Catholic monks were not the only influence that led him to prayer-walking. From within his Catholic faith, Mundy explored other religions to better understand prayer-walking. Jewish mystics and Muslims have long traditions of pilgrimage. And practitioners of Buddhism and Hinduism know the sacred power of combining mindful breathing with movement and meditation.
The writings of Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk living in France, are among Mundy's favorite influences. Lessons from the eastern traditions can have profound meaning for people in Western cultures, Mundy says. Too often, Westerners are caught up in the anxiety of going fast, saving time and doing more.
"I have learned that with prayer-walking we can satisfy that need to accomplish&emdash;to exercise and pray at the same time, while we slow down and nourish our souls," he says.