Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: paths, photography, photos, pilgrimage, walking
Stand at the crossroads, and look,
and ask for the ancient paths,
where the good way lies; and walk in it,
and find rest for your souls.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: camino, Camino de Santiago, camino retreat, pilgrimage, walking, worcestershire
Three years ago was an epic day. The long stage from A Coruna to Bruma in an appalling storm, soaked to the skin by rain and snow on the first day of the Camino Retreat. You can read about it here. Somewhere is a video of me trying to put my waterproofs on as the snow became heavy.
After a busy (but good!) and testing time, I went for a day off walk with Mike today. Spring has arrived in the quiet Worcestershire hills. We caught the sun.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: cistercian way, penrhys, photography, photos, pilgrimage, the cistercian way, wales, walking
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.
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 …
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: cistercian way, earlswood, photography, photos, pilgrimage, the cistercian way, twmbarlwm, wales, walking, wentwood
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!”
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: abergavenny, Bonnie Thurston, cistercian way, esther de waal, hedd wen, pilgrim poetry, pilgrimage, poetry, small pilgrim places, the cistercian way, wales, walking
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?
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:
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.
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.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: hafiz, pilgrimage, suffering, the cistercian way, wales, walking
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.
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.
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 ….