We just held the first planning meeting for this year’s L’Arche Kent pilgrimage. It takes some planning, we can’t just hope for the best. There’s a lot to think about: ‘Not enough cake!’ And possibly guests from other communities to feed.
We know where we’re going – Canterbury – and we know where we are starting: Sandwich Quay, where Archbishop Thomas Becket made landfall on his return to England in 1170, to be murdered a few weeks later in his own Cathedral. As well as 850 years since then, it is 900 years since his birth in London, and 800 years since his second shrine was blessed and his bones relocated, or translated, into it.
The route needs planning in detail to be sure it’s accessible and safe from fast traffic; we need to plan our stops and seek hospitality for eating, toileting and washing, and a few minutes of prayer, three times a day. But what prayers, what Scripture will we read? Who will produce the art work* for the passports? Will all be done in time?
Come the end of May, it will be best foot forward again! The walk will feel like the easy bit. Mrs T and I are to test the first couple of miles tomorrow. I’ve cycled over it often enough, but that’s another story.
*This view of the Cathedral is by Ines.
It is on this day that the people of Greenland have their first glimpse of the sun for the new year.
Place yourself therefore in the midst of the world, as if you were alone, and meditate upon all the services which it doth unto you.
Suppose the Sun were absent; and conceive the world to be a dungeon of darkness and death about you: you will then find his beams more delightful than the approach of Angels: and loath the abomination of that sinful blindness, whereby you see not the glory of so great and bright a creature, because the air is filled with its beams. Then you will think that all its light shineth for you, and confess that God hath manifested Himself indeed, in the preparation of so divine a creature.
You will abhor the madness of those who esteem a purse of gold more than it. Alas, what could a man do with a purse of gold in an everlasting dungeon? And shall we prize the sun less than it, which is the light and fountain of all our pleasures? You will then abhor the preposterous method of those, who in an evil sense are blinded with its beams, and to whom the presence of the light is the greatest darkness. For they who would repine at God without the sun, are unthankful, having it: and therefore only despise it, because it is created.
‘Repine’ here we read as ‘moan’. Better to be grateful for what is given us, and so be happy.
I trust I’ll be forgiven for using two photos from Amsterdam to accompany GKC’s thoughts on cold showers for the English. These young people were enjoying a public and communal shower-bath in April and sharing their enjoyment with family and friends! And I guess an craftily programmed computer controlled the flow. Social media if not a socialistic institution.
If the Englishman is really fond of cold baths, he ought not to grumble at the English climate for being a cold bath. In these days we are constantly told that we should leave our little special possessions and join in the enjoyment of common social institutions and a common social machinery. I offer the rain as a thoroughly Socialistic institution. It disregards that degraded delicacy which has hitherto led each gentleman to take his shower-bath in private. It is a better shower-bath, because it is public and communal; and, best of all, because somebody else pulls the string.
Baptism is also public and communal, since all Christians are called to be baptised, either as infants or as believing adults and anyone may attend a baptism in a public church. The churches recognise each other’s baptism and do not re-baptise people who were Christened before joining a particular church.
Mary Webb’s girlhood, as we read yesterday, was a magical time, spent largely out of doors. In adulthood her hyperthyroidism caused her much suffering and brought abut her early death at 47. Here she faces that eventuality.
I will say good-bye to morning, with her eyes
Of gold, her shell-pale robe and crocus-crown.
Once her green veils enmeshed me, following down
The dewy hills of heaven: with young surprise
The daisies eyed me, and the pointed leaves
Came swiftly in green fire to meet the sun:
The elves from every hollow, one by one,
Laughed shrilly. But the wind of evening grieves
In the changing wood. Like people sad and old,
The white-lashed daisies sleep, and on my sight
Looms my new sombre comrade, ancient night.
His eyes dream dark on death; all stark and cold
His fingers, and on his wild forehead gleams
My morning wreath of withered and frozen dreams.
Let’s return to Elizabeth Barrett Barrett (Ba) and Robert Browning’s letters. You’ll recall how they carried on courting under the eye of her tyrannical father until they eloped to Italy. Here is EBB, writing on 30 March 1946. No thought now that his feeling for her was a mere generous impulse; not really, or is she teasing him? Surely she is.
How one writes and writes over and over the same thing!
But day by day the same sun rises, . . over, and over, and nobody is tired. May God bless you, dearest of all, and justify what has been by what shall be, . . and let me be free of spoiling any sun of yours! Shall you ever tell me in your thoughts, I wonder, to get out of your sun?
No–no–Love keeps love too safe! and I have faith, you see, as a grain of mustard-seed!
Say how you are . . mind!
Nobody is tired of the sun rising each day, in fact the Psalms are full of joy and praise for the daily wonder, such as here in Ps 19. Love keeps love safe, indeed: God even provides a metaphorical tent, or tabernacle, for the sun!
The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handiwork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun, Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race. His going forth is from the end of the heaven, and his circuit unto the ends of it: and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof.
Read more Browning letters here.
Those who are preparing the pilgrimage keep telling ourselves: it’s all coming together!
There was, when I wrote this,still a month before the pilgrims put foot to footpath which was just as well. Catering, comfort breaks, car rides for the weary, climbing up the Downs, covering the route step by step; all this preparation allows the real purpose of the pilgrimage to be fulfilled. And in real life, today is the day we make that first step!
Just a closer walk with Thee,
Grant it, Jesus, is my plea,
Daily walking close to Thee,
Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.
We are a community: part of the closer walk with Jesus is walking with each other. We know that Jesus and his disciples did a lot of walking around Palestine, and sometimes the disciples’ conversation was far from edifying. Jesus had to rebuke Mrs Zebedee when she wanted him to give James and John top posts in his new government, and to remind the disciples – who had been arguing on the road about who was the greatest – that the greatest of all must be the servant of all.
No wonder he was glad to play with the children at the end of the day!
There will be many opportunities for each of us to serve our fellow walkers during our four days on the road. This time of preparation has been itself a time of service.
We hope to say more about the pilgrimage itself in the days to come.
The Crest of a Wave monument marks the start of the Pilgrims’ Way to Canterbury and the Channel Swim to France. Let’s hope for blue skies as we walk!
I wonder what Tyndale the Terrier will make of it all. He’s named after a great Christian communicator, the translator of the Bible into English, but our Tyndale has rather less intellectual enthusiasms. He’s the one who greets Anne by wagging his tail, but also sniffing around for the dog biscuit she sometimes has about her person. Dogs never miss a chance of a snack: it’s as if they don’t believe they will ever be fed again.
There are, of course, many chances of a morsel falling a dog’s way when a group of people pause to eat together (Matthew 15:26). Tyndale will be busy clearing up crumbs until his master calls a halt.
Each of us has our own gluttony, but I hope and trust that we will find food for all the senses on this walk; food that will build up our souls and our friendships. Even aches and pains, weariness and blisters tell us that we are alive!
Our prayers on the march will include a ‘dog lead’ – reflections on Tobit and Matthew 15. A good dog is not one spelt backwards, but can lead or shepherd us to where we ought to be.
Follow the link to the story of the disciples’ dog on Easter Sunday.
St Thomas of Canterbury, plaque at St Thomas’ church.
I seem to remember parish pilgrimages from my youth, where some people sat on the bus and said the Rosary very loud and very fast. Of course prayer is part of our journey too. Indeed, just putting one foot in front of the other is prayer, just as walking hand in hand, silently, is love and prayer.
Hand in hand: we have agreed a theme of ‘Stay with us, Lord’, Luke 24:29, from the story of the two disciples going to Emmaus on the first Easter Day. Charlotte and Colin have found a Taizé chant we might be able to sing, so I can begin to plan out the prayers.
Starting on the beach: I think ‘Stay with us Lord’ will be a good response to our prayers, one we can all remember. On a clear day you can see the White Cliffs from our nearest L’Arche neighbours, Les Trois Fontaines at Ambleteuse on the French Coast. May the Lord be with them too. Abbot Peter of Canterbury was shipwrecked and washed up dead on the shore there, his body glowing with light when it was found. Another link between our two communities.
I digress, wandering some 30km across the seaway from our Kentish path. Each day we will begin with prayer, pause for prayer, end with prayer. We can thank the Lord for food, for friends and family, for feet carrying us on. Let’s see what comes to heart and mind! We can try to make the prayers relevant to the sites we visit. A few possible churches and halls have been noted down. We’ll see what the final route takes us.
Pilgrims to Canterbury MMXIX
Every year the L’Arche Kent community walks a pilgrimage back towards Canterbury from somewhere not too nearby. Last year the walk was largely along the North Kent coast from Margate due west; the year before that was across country, using ancient footpaths through fields and woods. This year, I discovered that Michael proposed to walk from Dover to Canterbury.
No doubt you’ve heard of the White Cliffs of Dover? They are real, tall, and almost solid. Lumps of chalk large and small tend to drop off into the sea. On the beach is a monument to the Channel Swimmers which is counted as the start or finish of the North Downs Way, a long distance path that goes west towards Guildford. Across the water, it becomes one of those roads that lead to Rome.
A little way inland the Way is a footpath that climbs up the side of the valley, very steeply, even in the town. As part of planning this year’s hike, I followed this through the town, across the railway towards Thanet and then met a notice that said the path was closed. There was some hefty civil engineering going on, with mud and ruts and men in yellow suits. No way for us.
The map showed a sensible detour (sensible if the hill-climb itself was sensible!) which brought me to a supermarket with a café and respite from the cold wet weather. From there, I crossed the main roads safely, with traffic lights and a subway, and out of suburbia into the countryside on my bike. No need for pushing and pathfinding for a bit.
+ + + + +
But this pathway will not do! There was a meeting a few days later which suggested a different way. Let’s see how this looks. We would leave Dover more gently, along the banks of the little River Dour. But we’ll still have to get up the valley side; paradoxically, we must climb up the Downs. And not all of us are very fit.
The flowers left thick at nightfall in the wood
This Eastertide call into mind the men,
Now far from home, who, with their sweethearts, should
Have gathered them and will do never again.
Edward Thomas wrote this poem, IN MEMORIAM (Easter, 1915), before he joined up and went to the front. If Eastertide means what we Christians claim it means, we should read and remember these lines, let them filter down into our hearts, and teach us how we can proclaim the message of the Prince of Peace. Meanwhile, we remember with gratitude those who gave their lives in battle.