Pilgrimpace's Blog


walking the cistercian way 6 – arriving
January 15, 2017, 8:26 pm
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Maddy and I caught the bus to Pontypridd, accompanied by Pilgrim Nell the springer spaniel.  At least I walked all the way from the edge of Abergavenny round to Penrhys.  I had walked this final leg just over a year before as part of a large group pilgrimage; it was good to do it more quietly.

Climbing up on old roads, woods and fields, hills.  Finding our way past windfarms (I am now always led to reflect on the similarities and differences between these and those of La Mancha).  Good fencing and stiles meaning passing a slippery, muddy dog across. Ynysybwl, Buarth Capel, Nant Ffrwd, Mynachdy.  Arriving in good time for lunch at Llanwynno.  We climbed down to St Gwynno’s Well, very overgrown, but worth finding (much easier if you have a spaniel with you).  Another of those saints no one knows anything about.  I love this – a very definite reason for devotion.  I have an icon in my Study of two adult and one child saints.  I have no idea who they are; this seems of utter importance.

And then to the pub (Llanwynno has not much more than a well, a Church and a pub in a clearing in the forest.  Perfect.

Over the course of an hour, cheese sandwiches and a pint or two, a wonderful thing happened.  Almost everyone who had been involved in supporting me on the pilgrimage arrived.

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Together we climbed up over the tops, down to Tylorstown and then up the steep climb to Penrhys.  A visit to the well and then the Church for prayers, tea and cake.  And for me, hospitality for the night.  More on Penrhys tomorrow …

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pilgrimage talk

Walking the Cistercian Way

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Thoughts on a Pilgrimage

Talk by the Revd Andy Delmege

Saturday 28th January, 2017, 7.30pm

St Bede’s Church

Doversley Road

Birmingham B14 6NN

All Welcome!

Collection for the work of Llanfair Uniting Church



walking the cistercian way – part 5 – final days

There followed several wonderful days on this homeward stretch, making my way round towards Penrhys, stopping at Caerleon, Risca and Pontypridd, again with wonderful hospitality from friends to allow me to finish the pilgrimage.  I lost my hat.  I shredded my trousers making an ill-advised short cut over a fence when I had got very slightly off route.  On a couple of days I found an odd thing with my speed.  Conditions underfoot and my knee meant two mornings where I was averaging around one mile an hour.  I knew I had to put speed on to make it to my ending points in time.  Somehow I made well over three miles an hour.  I am not sure how this happened.

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A day of three woods – Chepstow Park, Earlswood (which is no longer there), and the Wentwood.  Sandwiches by the beautiful Earlswood Methodist Church, built by the labour of local women in the eighteenth century.  Taking the wrong path, but finding it came out in the right place.  On the ridge above the Usk north east of Caerleon, a precious few minutes walking along one of the last bits of the old pilgrim way from London to St Davids that is not under a main road.

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A morning happily looking round Roman remains, twisting my knee slightly climbing down muddy, steep Lodge Hill.  Deciding this meant it was better to head for Risca via minor roads rather than the paths of the Cistercian Way – and then finding out that this would have been the route taken by sick and infirm pilgrims.  Recovering enough to climb Twmbarlwm.

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Climbing up and down the Valleys, finding my way up and around Mynydd Machen.  Very moving to be above the Valleys on the 50th Anniversary of Aberfan, reflecting and praying on this, passing men wearing black suits, the flags at half mast, feeling the anger.

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A farmer offering accommodation and quad biking for youth work.  A small holder asking where I was bound exclaiming “Penryhs! It’s God’s country there!”



Walking the Cistercian Way Part 4 – The Wye and Tintern

Another day of good solitary walking, south along the Wye Valley, next to the river or climbing high to beautiful views through short torrential showers.  Deep envy of a group of fishermen barbequing their dinner at a hut on the banks.

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Again, a very wonderful thing.  I had been invited to stop at Tintern by The Friends of Our Lady of Tintern Abbey (http://www.ourladyoftintern.co.uk/) to give a talk on the pilgrimage.  This meant a rest day at Tintern, once again with wonderful hospitality. Tintern of course is probably the marque Cistercian Abbey in Wales, and one of the key ruins and sites of romanticism.  A very special place to be invited to spend time.

In the morning we walked into Tintern.  It was the Harvest Moon and the tide and rain meant the river was nearly flooding.  We watched from the door of St Michael’s Church as the tide turned and the level dropped dramatically.  There was a good turn out for the talk for a Tuesday in October (Parts One and Two of this article are an expanded version of the talk).  When it had finished, we walked to the Abbey ruins and the new statue of Our Lady of Tintern – the original one was a focus of pilgrimage) and I was blessed and presented with a Pilgrim Badge.  This was moving; one of the highlights of the pilgrimage.

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It was a privilege to be able to spend time with some of the people here.  Learning about the excavations at Trellech, and what they might be revealing about medieval pilgrim routes to Santiago.  Deep conversations about the interwoven natures of prayer and walking.  After a good dinner, Maddy and I walked a few miles, up to the Chapel at Penterry and then back down Chapel Hill, stopping to take in the ruins of St Mary’s Church.

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It is very good to walk with someone else as well as alone.  Walking with Maddy helped me to see and understand the landscape I was walking through more deeply, to understand the history and the development.  I love walking with people who know more about things than I do, it is so enriching.



walking the cistercian way – part 3

Part 3 – Picking up the Pieces

My knee began to recover.  I spent two weeks at home building up walking – one mile, two miles, five miles, ten miles – trying not to count too much on being able to go back to Wales, but the knee behaved.  I caught the train to Abergavenny carrying a much lighter pack.  To avoid strain, I left the camping and the cooking gear.  To give myself a good chance of finishing the last section I had arranged to stay mainly with kind friends and acquaintances.

I was nervous about starting again, but managed to ease myself back in.  I had been invited to The Small Pilgrim Places Network annual gathering and had accepted on the principle that I would have been near Abergavenny at that point if the pilgrimage had gone to plan.  The Small Pilgrim Places (http://www.smallpilgrimplaces.org/) is one of those things that does what it says on the tin.  It is a network of places that pilgrims visit

Small Pilgrim Places are:

  • Spaces for pondering, breathing, meditating, praying and ‘being’
  • Small places, not those already on the map, well-known, or that draw crowds;
  • Simple, quiet and unpretentious, with the presence of the Divine;
  • Places of worship, gardens, ruins, open spaces, holy wells, etc.;
  • Welcoming and inclusive.

It is well worth looking at the website and seeing if any of the places are near you.  It was good for me, as a pilgrim, to spend time with people who are concerned with maintaining pilgrimage places and with welcome.  There is a real richness in putting it all together.  If you are reading this and live in Britain, do you have a Small Pilgrim Place near you?  Do you have a somewhere that could become a Pilgrim Place?

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the Peace Garden at Hedd Wen

Esther de Waal led us in a reflection focusing, wonderfully, on cloister gardens, asking us to find our own place of silence, the threshold, the place for entering our own deepest interior self.  I think this has helped tie together a lot for me, the themes of who I really am, how I can really be that person, encountering in silence and solitude being among the deep gifts of this pilgrimage.  We were given this poem by Bonnie Thurston from Practicing Silence to ponder and pray:

Monk’s Prayer

At the monastic centre

is always a cloister,

an orchestrated emptiness,

a place of light,

a fountain to feed

the heart’s garden.

 

Give me this life:

a centre empty

of all but light,

the stillness of Eden

before fruit was plucked,

my heart a spring

of living water.

 

The next morning I woke to before dawn to heavy rain.  It passed and I began walking.  A couple of hours along a quiet road before I picked up the Offa’s Dyke Path.  Listening hard to my knee, but it coping.  The walking did me good.  Views of some of my favourite hills – The Skirrid, Sugarloaf and The Blorange (I would go out of my way to climb The Blorange), passing the site of Grace Dieu Abbey of which there is no sign, it is utterly gone.

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Good to be back, thinking and praying, reflecting as I walk.  A picnic on a hillside.  Cheese scones, welshcakes, apples, black tea.  looking down at a tiny remote Church that was locked when I reached it.  Into Monmouth after 16 miles, a bed and breakfast, a bath, a meal and sleep.



Pilgrimage, Spirituality, Prayer
December 16, 2016, 8:22 pm
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This little article was written for the Confraternity of St James Facebook Page.  Please join in the discussion here!

John asked me if I would post a few thoughts on the Camino, spirituality and prayer.  Here goes – this is a bit of a ‘starter for ten’.  As life is full of Christmas busyness, this is written quickly.  It is what has come straight to mind.  It would be good to have your thoughts on this too, to get some combined wisdom, to have a conversation.

I can speak for myself in this.  When I go on a walking pilgrimage – and especially a long one – I am going as a Christian pilgrim (from Anglican tradition) and the pilgrimage is about praying, about walking through a landscape (is it always a sacred landscape? Do the feet of pilgrims make it so?) to a sacred place.

For me, walking and praying fit together well.  I like walking alone or with quiet friends.  Getting away from routine gives me space to be with God.  The rhythm of walking and breathing leads me into prayer, quietens my mind.  In those hard times and hard sections I offer intercession.  There is a sense of outer journey and inner journey somehow combining.  Of course, I cannot demand or expect that any inner journey or encounter with God will take place, but pilgrimage seems to me a good way of putting ourselves in a good place for this.  And then, of course, there is the challenge of saying yes.

There is something very important too in the encounters we have along the way.  The Churches and communities we worship and pray with, encounters with individuals “Hug the Saint for me”.  I know I do not want to carry more weight in my rucksack, but there is always more room for people to pray for.  The Bible passages I hear along the way are deeply meditated upon.

Pilgrim routes are not about cherry picking the best landscape.  They go through it all.  On my recent pilgrimage through Wales, I spent time walking past the Port Talbot Steelworks, praying for its uncertain future.  In Spain, there is all the legacy of the Civil War, or all the fascist and anti-fascist graffiti around immigration.

I encounter other pilgrims.  This can be a blessing, opening my horizons.  A full albergue can also be a real School of Charity when we are all exhausted.  There is the great joy of an international meal, wine or beer flowing, deep things being spoken and unspoken in several languages.

I come up against myself, the bits I like, the bits that are unloveable.  I come up against my limitations as well as the times I surpass them.  A friend asked me yesterday what I had learned from the Cistercian Way, how had God spoken to me?  My immediate response is that the most profound part, and the part which will most affect my life and ministry as I travel on, was four weeks in the middle where I sat with my leg up nursing a knee ligament injury.  Much here about weakness, vulnerability, brokenness to carry forward.

I am taught simplicity – I am carrying as little as I can, I live a simple routine.

But most of all, it is a journey into trust and love.

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I would like to ask too what books or articles you have found most helpful on this?

If you don’t mind a little self-promotion, I have an article on my blog reflecting on the Camino de Levante

https://pilgrimpace.wordpress.com/2011/02/28/the-walking-becomes-the-praying-2/

If you read recent blog posts, there are series on my recent pilgrimage along The Cistercian Way: On Becoming a (More) Broken Pilgrim.



walking the cistercian way – on becoming a (more) broken pilgrim, part 2
December 1, 2016, 8:40 pm
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A (More) Broken Pilgrim

 This part of the article is, much more than the other parts, work in progress.  I will either revise this or write it in another form after a period of time.

And so began a pilgrimage I hadn’t expected – an armchair pilgrimage as I sat in my chair with my foot up, a spiritual journey as I explored what this all meant, a journey towards healing.  It is obviously possible to be on a journey, on a pilgrimage, even if you are forced to be still.  This quote from the Sufi Mystic Hafiz brought me some comfort.

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There is also a saying from the Desert Fathers, “You need a spiritual pilgrimage. Begin by closing your mouth.

It was obviously a tough time.  In practical terms, I got home and went straight to the doctor.  An X-Ray was clear, so I was told to rest and elevate my leg.  If the pain eased after a couple of weeks, I could very gently start short walks and build them up.  If there was no adverse reaction, I might be able to start the walking pilgrimage again in a month.  As it happened, everything worked out and I did start walking after a month.  But until a few days before that, I really did not know if I would be able to do any more walking this year.

As well as the pain, there was a coming to terms with not being able to do something I had been really looking forward to.  There were some dark times, but within all this there was a feeling of being on a journey, of some movement going on, although not knowing at the moment exactly what this is.

There is something important, and not necessarily easy, in saying ‘Yes’ to God in whatever experiences come to us, of bringing the basic pilgrim attitudes of thankfulness and gratefulness to bear when we have a pile of something nasty set before us.  Again, there is that thing of such importance, that it is much easier to talk about than to do – learning to trust, not to worry.  Fr Gildas on Caldey gave me a little card that said, “If we are on a Pilgrimage, God too is on a Pilgrimage to us.”  A wise Carmelite Nun, sent me a message including the words, “The Lord is hard at work on you.”  The support and love of others was of vital importance to me at this time.  As if I didn’t know it already, it is impossible to do something like this on your own.

This pilgrimage time has allowed space for me to be present to God in a special way.  I am sure I will learn what the benefits of this will be as time unfolds (seven years ago, as I was approaching Santiago, someone from St Bede’s, my Church, sent me a wonderful message – “You will learn the benefits of this over the next decades” – patience!).

I have been made to explore deeply some places I would choose not to go, but honest exploration of stuff around weakness, vulnerability, humility, brokenness, smallness and fragility can never be wasted.  It is of vital importance for ministry and life and it is right at the heart of the Gospel.  This is at the heart of the human pilgrimage.

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While I was on Caldey, a lot of the Office Readings were from Corinthians with Paul’s reflecting on dying and rising in and with Christ.  This has spoken to me a lot while I have plodded and then sat.  Lots of connections between this, discipleship, life and my ministry to tease out. I want to spend some time reading St Elizabeth of the Trinity and her teaching, from the heart of the crucible, about suffering and self-forgetfulness.

to be continued ….