First a bit of background for those who don’t know. Last week a group of us from our church spent 5 days walking from Reigate to Winchester (about 75 miles). Before you ask (everyone has) this was pilgrimage for softies. We stayed in hotels and had our luggage taken for us. But, as I hadn’t done nearly as much training as last year it was physically a lot tougher.
One of the great things about a pilgrimage is it re-connects the spiritual and physical in a very real way. It also gives some space to consider and reflect. On the fourth evening we stayed in a retreat centre owned by the diocese of Winchester. This meant we had lots of room and also access to a quiet chapel. On this evening we were asked to take some paper and draw boxes on it. In each box we had to draw or write something which represented a part of our life. We then put these papers on the altar and offered them to God. The drawings I did are below:
But drawing these pictures, with the definite lines between them, made me start thinking about the way I live my life. If I were to draw this as an accurate representation it would be a mess. The lines would be blurred; each box would seep into the other. Some boxes would be superimposed apon another one like an old ‘double exposed’ film. So, for instance, while I’m watching TV I’m thinking I ought to be cooking. While I’m praying I think how I’d like to be reading a novel. While I’m writing a blog post I’m thinking how I ought to be doing the housework. And I don’t think God wants me to live like this, not anymore.
This afternoon I was chatting with my daughter and she said that she was struggling with one of her skating moves. ‘I can’t do it full-heartedly,’ she said. Of course it was the wrong word. But I like it. I want to live full-heartedly. Each day on the pilgrimage came with joys and difficulties. On two days I was navigating which meant I also had to make sure everyone was keeping up and going in the right direction. Also, because I wasn’t very fit it was tiring at times. But there was great joy both in the beautiful landscape, being with my fellow pilgrims and walking with God. Living in the moment I felt I was really walking with God.
Towards the beginning of the walk we stopped at St Martha’s church. This is a small, ancient church set high on the downs. After spending some time inside the church we had some time to explore the churchyard before we set off again. So I got my paints out and painted this quick sketch over the valley:
And I didn’t ask permission. I didn’t worry about what other people were doing and while I was doing this I was completely lost in the moment. Enjoying the beauty of the view and being able to put it into paint.
Two themes kept on coming up during the conversations on the pilgrimage – mindfulness and evangelism. Mindfulness is much in fashion at the moment. For non-Christians it means filling your mind wholly with your immediate experience and letting worry and anxiety slip away. This could be your own breathing, a beautiful tree or some great wise saying. This is not a bad thing and, in this sense, both walking and painting are great mindful experiences. The rhythm of walking, especially day after day, soothes the mind. Moving gradually through a changing landscape fills the mind with interesting things at a pace it can cope with. Painting a scene in front of you is wholly absorbing, there is simply no room for anything else while you are doing it.
But, for a Christian, mindfulness has a much deeper purpose. By calming the mind and filling it with good things we are allowing God to speak to us. We may sometimes hear God’s voice directly but often it is the good things themselves, the beauty of the landscape, the conversation of friends, which will speak just as clearly. I am reminded of Jesus’ story about the seed:
“A farmer went out to sow his seed. Some of it fell on the road; it was tramped down and the birds ate it. Other seed fell in the gravel; it sprouted, but withered because it didn’t have good roots. Other seed fell in the weeds; the weeds grew with it and strangled it. Other seed fell in rich earth and produced a bumper crop”
Our minds are rich earth indeed. But if they are full of the weeds of worry then nothing will grow in them. But if we are growing and walking with God then we can do what we like. Day by day, minute by minute we can choose what we do and it will be the right thing.
So there are many gifts Jesus can offer to the world and to us. Kindness, justice and compassion are just some of them. But, and it seems to me that the world needs this more than anything, the greatest gift is peace. Peace in the world must start with peace in our hearts. In the slow tramp of feet, the landscape opening up and closing in, the ever changing conversations and the moments of stillness I began to find that peace. It still seems like a fragile thing but, even so, I pass on the timeless greeting:
Peace be with you