Tag Archives: Walking

Pilgrimage reflection – Boxes, mindfulness and what Jesus can give to the world.

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:

Boxes

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:

From St Martha's Hill

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

 

Pilgrimage Story – Canterbury

Canterbury Cathedral

After 5 days of walking I expected to feel exhausted, desperate for the end of the walk. I also expected to feel a sense of completion. Neither was true. We often talk about ‘life changing experiences’ and, I guess, every experience changes us a little bit. But I honestly think that I will look back at those five days and realise they were a turning point. I am still not sure what my future holds but I have learned some important things:

Firstly that God wants us to live now. Not constantly worrying about the future or ruminating about the past. When I look back my most vivid visual memory will be walking through the beech woods before Rochester. The silver trunks of the trees moving in some mysterious pattern against the blue and green of bluebells and new leaves. I had hoped that the rhythm of the walking would slow my thoughts and so it did. And I finally realised that, by the grace of God, I am OK. Not unbattered by life’s storms, not unscarred, but really OK.

Secondly I have discovered that I really like long distance walking. I was lucky in that I had time to prepare but I love the gentle sense of discovery, a sort of slow motion uncovering. Having spent most of the last 25 years in front of a computer screen it was a great joy to use my body in this way.

Thirdly that there can be a great joy in supporting others. There were many times when those around me were struggling in different ways. I’ve never been particularly good at coming up behind people and helping them along but I began to see that I could do this.

Almost the last thing we did was attend evensong at Canterbury Cathedral. I wasn’t that keen. We had already had a private service. But it was exactly right. The beauty of the ancient ritual and the choir singing was like a gentle full stop to the whole experience. I will carry these five days with me for the rest of my life.

Pilgrimage Diary – Alpacas, Yellow fields and White hedges

This will be my last blog sitting at my desk at home for a week. I have the wordpress app on my phone so expect short pictorial blogs for a week or so. Tomorrow we set off on a 5 day walk to Canterbury. Yesterday I went on a 12 mile walk starting from Reigate Heath. I quite like walking alone; you become very aware of sounds: bird song, planes overhead, and the scents of plants and other farm stuff.

A few miles in I came across a traffic jam on a small country road. This was caused by three Alpacas which had escaped from a local farm. They seemed very happy wandering about and ignored their owners who were trying to round them up.

AlpacasAlpacasThey wandered around the green holding up the traffic with no worries at all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In early spring everything is odd colours. There are yellow fields full of rapeseed and white hawthorn hedges.

rapeseedI think I am ready for the pilgrimage. After 12 miles nothing hurt which was good although I was still tired. I’m still suffering some strange mood swings but these are getting less. Could I be missing work? When I get back I’m going to get down to some proper oil painting which will keep me busier. Hawthorn

Pilgrimage Diary – 29th March

Thinking about our walk I did two pictures. The first is this which is more the feel of walking over a windy hillside.walk 1
The second is a map with pictures of the very last part of our walk.

Canterbury walk (2)
This last part will be through the very beautiful countryside around Canterbury. I’ve imagined a blue sky with little fluffy clouds. It will be interesting to see what it is really like.

I haven’t been blogging this weeks but I’ve been quite busy. I had a trip to London with a friend to the Tate Britain. Great gallery. We had a little tour with a lovely guide. And I have been starting to set up a new Christian Book Club.  But I have also been quite tired. I think this is a reaction to suddenly being able to relax after so long under pressure. The other night I slept for 8 hours straight which is really unusual. Maybe this is God’s way of healing.

Tomorrow is Mother’s day. It is a significant one for me as, for the first time in 19 years, I will have neither of my children with me. Will is living in London now. Lucy is on her French exchange. I’m OK with this, it feels right. As a mother there is a sadness and a joy in seeing your children grow up. There is an article in the Times today by Janice Taylor about modern parenting which is interesting from a Christian point of view:

The Tory MP Rory Stewart said this week that “ours is a culture not of ancestor worship but of descendant worship. Children must sense that nothing an adult does is more important than their own desires”

In the absence of religious faith, we believe only in our own DNA and push around our household gods in Bugaboos. Parenthood is no longer a phase of everyday life, but a revered state. The world is not an adult domain into which children must learn to fit, but increasingly organised around childish needs. As Mr Stewart told Radio Times, babies are the new Opium of the masses.

So, for many people, Dawkins is right. There really is nothing but ‘The Selfish Gene’.  Even as a Christian it is hard not to see your own children as amazing (especially when they really are amazing!) but it is balanced by the knowledge that they  are God’s Children as well as ours. So ‘Happy Mother’s Day’ to me. I’ll enjoy it.

Pilgrimage Diary – Walking

Walking North Downs Stepping Stones

Two lovely weekend days and I was too busy to blog! On Saturday we did a practice walk for the pilgrimage. We walked from Reigate to Dorking along the ridge of the North Downs. The picture on the left is some of us resting high up above the valley. Then down to the valley and across the stepping stones across the Mole, which is the other picture. The guy in the stripy tee shirt is Cyril, my husband, who was quite nervous. Even after a couple of weeks of reasonably dry weather the river is still very high and coming just over the stones. Its not very deep but you would still get wet if you fell in! In the river valley the woods were full of wild garlic which had a wonderful aroma.

Then back along the Greensand Way to Reigate. After 20 miles my right knee was aching a lot but some people were suffering more. I’m not exactly sure what effect this is having from a spiritual point of view. It feels like a ‘clearing out’; being out in the familiar, beautiful Surrey countryside, letting my mind wander where it will. I was very tired but peaceful when we came back and in bed by 9:30.