Before retirement David spent all of his 39 years in ministry in Rochester Diocese, mainly in the London Boroughs of Bromley and Bexley but also in North-West Kent. He is proud to be a Kentish Man but now enjoys retirement with the Men and Maids of Kent down this end of the County. David writes:
Twenty years ago this year I went on a pilgrimage. Purists, perhaps, might say that mine was not a true pilgrimage as it didn’t end at a traditional pilgrimage centre. Yet during that 190 mile walk across England, from St. Bee’s Head to Robin Hood’s Bay, I learned many of the features of pilgrimage that men and women have experienced over many centuries.
Pilgrimage is not easy. My heavily blistered feet became testimony to this. It can involve danger. Walking in torrential rain was one thing but walking in gale force winds when alongside the path there is a sheer drop of several hundred feet is another. However if these suggest a temptation to give up, the thought of the goal ahead and the resulting sense of achievement, forcefully act as a spur to continue.
Alongside the difficulties though there are many positives. Hospitality from those who provided accommodation and refreshment. A totally new view of the landscape we passed through, so different from when you rush through in a car. Best of all was meeting the many people I walked with, usually for just a couple of hours. These were people from all over the world, there to walk the Coast to Coast Walk. Each had a story, each had something to share, each offered friendship or encouragement or a couple of sweets, if only for an hour or so until we separated and then journeyed onwards meeting and walking with others.
Pilgrimage has a long history within many faiths and Christians almost certainly gained the practice from the Jewish faith. For the Jews, Jerusalem, the Holy City, was the goal. Those who lived around Galilee only had a three or four day journey to make even though some of it was uphill. But it was important and a key time for this journey was to celebrate the Passover, the greatest event in their Jewish calendar and history. Their journey involved sharing in various forms, not least in sharing their faith and especially the God given help in rescuing the nation from slavery in Egypt and the guidance to the Promised Land.
Much of St. Luke’s gospel reflects on this annual Passover journey as Jesus and his disciples travel from Caesarea Philippi to Jerusalem. On the journey they not only share with each other but also with those they meet on the way, people such as Zacchaeus, the ten lepers and others. It also becomes clear that this is no ordinary Passover pilgrimage for Jesus tries to prepare his friends for Calvary. The events of our Holy Week and Easter begin to loom closer. Once in Jerusalem Jesus is greeted at first with celebration by the huge crowds, many of whom have travelled to be there for the Passover, their faith expectation fulfilled. None were aware of the dramatic events to follow.
For us Holy Week and Easter can be times of personal and collective discovery and celebration. This year, because of the Coronavirus, this time will be very different with the usual having to be put to one side. Some may cry, ‘It won’t be the same’ and that is true. But this could be a positive for we still have the ability to make a spiritual journey, a spiritual pilgrimage if you like. The slow and careful reading through of the Holy Week narratives towards the end of any of our four gospels can create a way of meeting and sharing with others, gaining from those experiences that others have had. It is often the difficulties of a journey that make the greatest and most lasting impression.
Finally a prayer from St. Columba:
Alone with none but thee, my God,
I journey on my way. What need I fear, when thou art near
O king of night and day?
More safe am I within thy hand
Than if a host did around me stand.