The first time I arrived at the end of leading a group on pilgrimage along St Cuthbert’s Way from Melrose to Holy Island I found I could not stop walking. Somehow the process of walking, thinking, praying and discovering had become so much a part of me that it was difficult to not be on the move.
In his book called “Urban Iona”, Kurt Neilson describes what happens when he returns from his pilgrimage to Iona, Ireland and Scotland.
“Still walking…My backpack has come through water and fire and faith and doubt and desolation and war and devil’s twisted wish and God’s clear promise. It has come home. But I have not.”
As I reflected on the pilgrimage for a magazine article, I wrote:
“Since finishing the pilgrimage I too have had this same sense of a journey begun, but one which is not yet complete, even though I have come home (and am glad to be there!).
Like Tolkien’s Hobbits I also sing, “The road goes ever on…”. Perhaps it is a good thing to reawaken the knowledge that our time here is transitory, that we are people who are intended to be constantly moving and changing as we push on through life to the great shared mystery of ‘what’s next’.
Journeying is about new horizons, adventures and opportunities, chance encounters with people and places which change us for good or ill, discoveries about ourselves in all our glorious reflection of the image of God and in all our disappointing, fallen brokenness. I travel on with a new sense of expectancy.
For me, at least, the lasting memory among many memories will be an intense experience of what community is and means as we daily shared our lives on the road. This was sharing characterised by relational highs and unbelievable depths, encouraging, supporting, confronting and a sense of achieving something together.
One thing is certain…when we set foot on the shore of Holy Island we were all different from when we set off from Melrose.”
Originally published in CAIM, the magazine of the Northumbria Community (Issue 45 Summer 2008)
This stage of remembering, trying to pin down the significant events and encounters, the changes that have happened to us and the insights into God, ourselves and others that we have gained must be given as much time as it takes for us to truly understand our experience and to appreciate how much it has been absorbed and become a part of who we are becoming. With the benefit of hindsight I can see that the Cuthbert’s Way pilgrimage was the starting point of the change of direction in my spiritual journey that has brought me to were I am today.
Remembering also brings us closer to a n understanding that in fact every journey is a micro-pilgrimage; the journey to work, the shops, to a holiday destination all provide us with opportunities to find God as we travel the ordinary journeys of life.
“Pilgrimage can therefore be seen not simply as an esoteric practice to be undertaken by a few enthusiasts, but as something to be encouraged, to help people deepen their sense of God in the ordinary business of life.”
‘Pilgrimage’ by David Osborne, p24