A day later than promised, I’ve put together some further thoughts on the Pilgrims Way experience.
Firstly, I was struck by historically how many millions must have done this trip in the distant past though now in places it is “the road less travelled” and quite difficult to find unless you pay careful attention to the guidebook (a bit like we need the Bible to be a lamp to our feet and a light to our path-Psalm 119:105). Why did the original Pilgrims travel? Various reasons but for many it would be because they hoped to receive something at the end, such as healing. In Pilgrims Progress, the main character sets out to find the Celestial City. The journey had a destination. What keeps many persecuted Christians going in very hard circumstances or seemingly hopeless situations is their future hope. As my first Planning Tutor used to say in a different context “look up”. What is the purpose of your journey in life?
The first part of the Pilgrimage last September was on my own; the second part last week was with Chris. While I am quite used to my own company it was great to do it with someone else; to encourage one another when the going was tough as well as enjoy the the good bits. Many Christians are isolated and long for relationship with other believers but it’s not safe to connect. We need each other.
I was also struck by the phrase “You will not pass this way again”. On the first part of the pilgrimage I was surprised (and happy) to revisit somewhere on the outskirts of Dorking where I had a meet-up prior to doing the Lebanon marathon over 4 years ago. However the vast majority of footpaths walked and places visited I will never go to again. That is true of quite a few things (and people) in life; are we enjoying them; savouring them; being grateful to God for them; even making a positive impact as we walk along lives journey ?
Some things remain constant though, like Jane Austen! Featuring from the first day (she’s buried in Winchester Cathedral) through to the penultimate day at Godsmerstham and Chilham Castle. It felt strange visiting places and churches with a kind of invisible graffiti saying “Jane Austen woz ‘ere!” I felt a strange sense of relationship to her life and all the Pilgrims who walked the way; of those who, though so different, have journeyed along the path before me. But also the familiarity was strangely comforting. We have people in our lives who will go much of our journeys with us and we need to treasure them. I find being part of a worldwide family also comforting, though I may not meet them on this earth, they are my fellow travellers.
There were also many reminders of God’s goodness to me in little ways. Friends who retrieved my left behind walking poles on the first trip; people from Wye Church who ensured we got a stamp for the Pilgrim’s Passport. A couple of guest houses who made small donations; of being undercover when the worst deluge came; rainbows; finding churches open and with “stamps”; spitfires and bursts of sunshine. Of being able to carry on despite painful feet (definitely better this time); toothache and Chris’s dodgy knee. Thanks Lord.
Finally, a song that was on an album I had back in Lesotho in the mid 90’s. There is a joy in the journey despite all the challenges it brings. For persecuted Christians life is often hard but despite that many find a deep joy within it. May my joy, your joy, not be so deep because of daily toils that it never gets out! Thanks for continuing to walk this journey of 60@60 with me and with them.