Take A Spiritual Walk
Contributing Author: William P. Ring, County Attorney, Coconino County Attorney’s Office (AZ)
In 1704, the Colony of Connecticut established the first prosecutorial office with express standards for the character of the prosecutor:
“Henceforth, there shall be in every county, a sober, discreet, and religious person appointed by the county courts to be the attorney for the Queen, to prosecute and implead in the law all criminals and to do all other things necessary or convenient as an attorney to suppress vice and immorality.”
— John J. Douglass, Ethical Issues in Prosecution, National College of District Attorneys, 1988, at p.7; citing to: J. Jacoby, The American Prosecutor: A search for identity. (1980).
It is curious that the prosecutor should be sober and religious. It may be from this early disposition towards good moral and religious character, dating back to English common law, that we derive the notion of the prosecutor as a Minister of Justice.
Every county and district attorney and every deputy assistant has the opportunity, indeed the vocational call, to be that Minister of Justice to others by engaging with their own religious and spiritual inspirations; those virtues that Connecticut long ago recognized as fundamental tenets of service to community.
In my jurisdiction, the second largest county by area in the lower 48 states, we regularly experience our southwestern landscape as a spiritual setting, as a sublime place of disguised but awesome working powers, as a creation unto its own that is much bigger than us and larger than our purposes here. It contains its dangers, but it is not in itself dangerous. It is the land that Edward Abbey wrote is in perfect harmony between wet and dry. And that Shonto Begay paints as a landscape with shamanistic power. It is the land that Theodore Roosevelt said cannot be improved. The landscape here is more a spiritual setting than it is an object of mere geography.
Years ago, I decided to get out from behind my desk and meet my peoples. I headed to the Navajo Nation in the northeast corner of my county. I was aided by an elder in the Cameron Chapter of the Nation to be still and — not just look at — but see the landscape for what it is, full of spiritual power and wonder. See the landscape without fences and partitions. Observe how the land runs and folds, and cracks and flows. He said that my traditions lead me to live on the landscape while his teach him to live in the landscape. That mine tell me there is Nature and then there is human nature but his see nature and human as a continuum. There are not billions of humans so much as there is one condition of being human. Finally, he recommended that I take a spiritual walk.
The walk is quiet. It comes at dawn before sunrise. If you can, walk toward the sun until it crests the horizon. Walk with palms open and facing forward and, while moving forward, just listen and be open to what comes to you. Still the mind and allow the power that surrounds you to absorb and inform you. Through the palms of your hands receive what you are given without judgment. Don’t separate your personal nature from the rest of Nature. Just walk small and be a fraction of something bigger than you. It doesn’t have to be a long walk. Do what you can. Don’t go looking for answers. Just breathe and receive. Receive.
I do this now in the mornings. And I am not perfect at it by any means. I don’t have good access from my house to walk east. I must walk west, up a mesa. It always involves walking the dog. The dog and I have a good understanding. She does her thing and I do mine. We go together but she leaves me alone unless there is a stick. But her expression of joy with a stick informs me about joy. I don’t always keep palms open facing forward. But a forward-facing palm is vulnerability which quiets the mind to let things in.
The Minister of Justice in all of us is softened and informed by an awareness of our collective situation. We have immense opportunity to address the good by addressing the evil and setting it right. The Maker did not create our circumstance in such a way as to eliminate bad things from happening. The Maker established the human to have agency in the creation and engage in a spiritual entanglement with both the good and the evil. Or as C.S. Lewis might put it, the good and the less good.
In our line of work, in our calling, we are constantly entangled with both good and evil. It turns out that the Colony of Connecticut was correct in searching for a religious person to do all the things that are necessary and convenient to address vice and immorality and set it right. The strong expectation of all of us as Ministers of Justice, therefore, is that we willingly engage with our spiritual selves and that we do it as a prerequisite, as preparation for, the day’s work to be done later. To meet that expectation and to stay strong and live well, take a spiritual walk.
William P. Ring is the elected County Attorney for Coconino County, Arizona. He is a Board Member of the National District Attorneys Association, Vice Chair of the Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys Association, President of the Arizona County Attorneys Association, and a frequent contributor of ethics curriculum for continuing legal education.