Pilgrimpace's Blog


We arrived in Aberdaron on the morning bus.  Time to dip into the Church to pray a blessing on the pilgrimage and to pay respects to RS Thomas.  Kneeling before an altar of wood in a stone church.  Waiting for the meaning to unfold itself.

And then time to walk along the coast, those first steps, to the landing for the Bardsey boat.  Go to Bardsey if you can. We were lucky with the weather, a flat sailing and no rain.  You need to contact Colin, who is wonderfully knowledgeable, and book the boat in advance.

20170710_134215Plenty of time to drink tea, wander slowly, look, climb the hill.


A special place, island of saints, where people went to die.  Praying quietly in the Nun’s Chapel (does anyone have a photo of the inside of this and the icon?  The photo I took vanished).


Sitting on the water’s edge listening to the chat of the seals.  Watching the puffins on the boat back.

After Bardsey we crossed the Lleyn and made for the northern coast.  We found a beautiful and isolated place to camp above the cliffs.


A night of being too excited to sleep – the pilgrimage underway, the sound and smell of the sea, a worry about whether my knee would hold up, but most of all the promise of the week – except I did sleep, only to wake with a cry of shock when I found a slug crawling across my forehead.

Early breakfast and then beautiful but frustrating walking as we joined a new part of the coastpath (along from Whistling Sands) that keeps you right on the cliff edge with no possibility of cutting inland for a couple of hours of slow going.



advent calendar 7
December 11, 2016, 2:47 pm
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I leafed through RS Thomas’ Collected Poems early this morning looking for Kneeling which fitted well into an Advent Sermon on waiting (along with AJ Levine’s insights on the Parable of the Widow and the Judge, where the widow uses a boxing term in her constant bothering of the Judge).

In the Thomas book, I read Welcome to Wales, which I haven’t seen for a long time.  I can’t find the text online, but you can hear it being read on youtube.

Read or hear it if you can.  It may me chuckle and then think deeply as I remembered the occasional hardness of the weather, of landscapes that wrecked my knee, of beauty, of wonderful and deep human hospitality.


camino retreat – interval

Wednesday 5th February, our second day of walking, was a day of hard showers and interludes.

After breakfast  – when Mike and I sought to disprove Rebekah’s assertion that Spanish doughnuts are no good (they fuelled the walking, but I’d go for porridge to maximise this) –  we began with our morning reflection.

George Herbert’s Love was a good place to start, God’s grace gently summoning us back to him, and the theme of love happening through meals and hospitality – something that fits so well with what we receive on the camino, but also in each of the lives of the four of us (see the previous post on End Hunger Fast for how this fits in my life and ministry at the moment).

Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,
        Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey’d Love, observing me grow slack
        From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
        If I lack’d anything.

“A guest,” I answer’d, “worthy to be here”;
        Love said, “You shall be he.”
“I, the unkind, the ungrateful? ah my dear,
        I cannot look on thee.”
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
        “Who made the eyes but I?”

“Truth, Lord, but I have marr’d them; let my shame
        Go where it doth deserve.”
“And know you not,” says Love, “who bore the blame?”
        “My dear, then I will serve.”
“You must sit down,” says Love, “and taste my meat.”
        So I did sit and eat. 

We thought about Jesus’ call to follow him, about how we can tell we are close to him through our growing compassion for others.  This quote from St Athanasius’ Life of Antony, perhaps counter-intuitively for those on pilgrimage, spoke to us:

Some leave home and cross the seas in order to gain an education, but there is no need for us to go away on account of the Kingdom of God nor need we cross the sea in search of virtue. For the Lord has told us, “The Kingdom of God is within you.” All that is needed for goodness is that which is within, the human heart.

There is after all the job of returning home and living there.  Pilgrimage is an interlude which can make things clearer.

In the early morning, the rain stopped and something beautiful happened


The sun – those of us who live in Europe had not seen it since Christmas.  Even Kathy, coming out of Californian drought was missing it.  The fields around, full of water, were lit up.  A rainbow – heralding the next rains – arced across a quarry.  We stopped and I took out my notebook and read RS Thomas’ The Bright Field (you can read it here).

The weather made the walking much more comfortable.  We were able to pause more, to look around.  We passed some wonderful homemade sculptures.


We rested rather than sheltered in bars as we drank a coffee or a claro, we were able to sit next to a forest path to eat bocadillo.


We walked the long straight path into Sigueiro and celebrated with beer.  As the accommodation there has declined, we had arranged to stay a few kilometres outside at the Hotel Vicente.  Ignatio picked us up.  Again, we found that we were the first pilgrims through this year.  We had a good dinner of what the kitchen had – welcome warm caldo, fish, tarta santiago.  Being with Rebekah meant we had good knowledge of the local wines.  Good conversation, and then to bed to listen to the next storm beating the highway …

uncollected poems
April 20, 2013, 10:03 pm
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While I’ve been poorly an Easter present arrived: Uncollected Poems by RS Thomas.

RS Thomas Uncollected Poems ed Tony Brown & Jason Walford Davies_bach

I’ve been enjoying dipping in as I feel able.  There is an excellent review by Alister Wedderburn in Standpoint that you can read here.  He makes an excellent point that it is important to remember that, at heart, Thomas is writing from positive insights and impulses rather than suspicion and rejection:

to focus on Thomas’s rejection of consumerism, secularism and technological progressivism is to ignore the positive impulses that provoked these suspicions: a love of mankind in the raw, a deep sense of respect for the wild, living world in which he made his way and an understanding of God as an agent giving clarity to both — albeit a clarity that could only stutteringly be perceived. Thomas’s struggle with these three compass-points and his understanding of the impossibility of equilibrium between them is the essence of his verse, a profound poetry that transcends his supposedly ogreish demeanour.

I love a late poem In Memory of Ted Hughes, illuminating deep similarities between the two poets and speaking of the essential tasks of poetry.  It ends:

He bends now

over a darker river, making

his cast times out of mind,

for the big poem, bigger than the last.

lenten journey 7

I’ve been living a bit with the themes of living with questions, of waiting, of not knowing, or unknowing.  I find liminal times hard and tough but they are so important.

I have remembered a few days in a Cistercian Monastery in Spain where I had paused:


The sheer granite cold gripping its corridors

hid the warmth of welcome at the monastery.

Throughout the day and night

I made my way to a high perch

from which I followed

slow Spanish chant

in the dark Church,

each Psalm succeeded utterly

by pause.


Part of me was bored,

eager to rush on;

now I find myself

returning often in my mind.


I linger

creep up slowly

approaching carefully

as if on all fours

and finally peer over

the silent edge.


I’ve been thinking about poetic wisdom on all this, Wendell Berry’s ‘The Real Work‘:

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.

or RS Thomas ‘Kneeling

Prompt me God, but not yet, the meaning is in the waiting

I am also prompted to remember that I may be one to dwell a bit much in the places of dark questioning and that it is important to know the time to step out of these into the light, although I am sometimes afraid to do this.

Lenten Journey 5
February 18, 2013, 1:04 pm
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Grey waters, vast

                        as an area of prayer

that one enters. Daily

                      over a period of years

I have let my eye rest on them.

Was I waiting for something?


but that continuous waving

                             that is without meaning


              Ah, but a rare bird is

rare. It is when one is not looking

at times one is not there

                                  that it comes.

You must wear your eyes out

as others their knees.

               I became the hermit

of the rocks, habited with the wind

and the mist. There were days,

so beautiful the emptiness

it might have filled,

                          its absence

was as its presence; not to be told

any more, so single my mind

after its long fast,

                          my watching from praying.

– R.S. Thomas

in Laboratories of the Spirit, 1975

the country clergy
December 11, 2012, 9:04 pm
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I see them working in old rectories
By the sun’s light, by candlelight,
Venerable men, their black cloth
A little dusty, a little green
With holy mildew.  And yet their skulls,
Ripening over so many prayers,
Toppled into the same grave
With oafs and yokels.  They left no books,
Memorial to their lonely thought
In grey parishes; rather they wrote
On men’s hearts and in the minds
Of young children sublime words
Too soon forgotten.  God in his time
Or out of time will correct this.

– RS Thomas

the coming

I spent the weekend away leading a Retreat with a wonderful group of folk from St Bede’s, Brandwood.  This was a special time, with space to focus and reflect on the Journey of Faith.

Two touchstones:

The Coming
And God held in his hand
A small globe. Look, he said.
The son looked. Far off,
As through water, he saw
A scorched land of fierce
Colour. The light burned
There; crusted buildings
Cast their shadows; a bright
Serpent, a river
Uncoiled itself, radiant
With slime.
On a bare
Hill a bare tree saddened
The sky. Many people
Held out their thin arms
To it, as though waiting
For a vanished April
To return to its crossed
Boughs. The son watched
Them. Let me go there, he said.

RS Thomas

The Baptism of Christ by Piero della Francesca

depth of winter
February 15, 2012, 3:39 pm
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There is an August

within us, aeons

of preparation for a few

kingfisher days.  We fly

the diameter of a circle.

– RS Thomas from The Seasons: Summer

In the depth of winter, 

I finally learned that within me

there lay an invincible summer.

– Albert Camus ‘Return to Tipasa


One of the real pleasures of my work is spending some time convening Strengthening Estates Ministry, the group for clergy and church workers in the Diocese of Birmingham who minister in outer housing estates (you can find more details and explanation of this here).  I’m just back from a wonderful 24 hour conference of SEM where 24 of us gathered for a structured conversation based around stories of ministry in these wonderful and tough areas of multiple deprivation.  This was excellent theological reflection and comradeship, really grounded, inspiring, humbling, challenging and tiring.  It will be fascinating to try to catch the difference this makes to me and the other participants and to see what effects this has on our ministry and parishes.

My mind is full of a huge wodge of stuff that I need to spend time examining and to let sink in and to sift, but two things shine out for me, things I had not really noticed before or which have been brought much more to the fore.  One of these is that in amongst the darkness and difficulty we see glimpses of God which we must pay attention to and which can give us the strength to keep going.  The other is that  sense of call that many of us felt to our particular churches and communities, something else that makes it possible to stay and flourish when things are against us.

This brought to my mind RS Thomas’s poem The Bright Field:

I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

Plenty here for me to reflect on about how it applies to the difficult and complex life of the city and to the deep, quiet joy of ministry here.