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I June, Pilgrimage to Canterbury XII: Getting Creative!

vw hut pilgrimage 2018

It’s been a few years since I made any art work for church, unless I count some of the photographs in this blog, at least as they have been adjusted to run alongside the texts. A few of my banners I felt happy with, but this pilgrimage has opened my eyes to real artists working together as a team. So it has been a pleasure to work with our three designers to produce works that we hope will make the pilgrimage more enjoyable and prayerful.

Antonela and Zsombor, who come from Romania and Hungary respectively, understand design techniques and work well with computers, but they are also true artists. And they make a good team. Run-of-the-mill photos when transformed by an artist’s hand have become lovely paintings. It’s a shame that they will be reproduced so small, as we are using the images as stickers to go in the pilgrim’s passport that will be issued each one. Another designer, Ines, comes from Portugal, and has produced very different illustrations. We are blessed to have such talented people – and the opportunity to use their talents in this way. We’ll share some of their pictures later. In the meantime here is a touch of creativity from last year: a beach hut disguised as a camper van. I hope the owners enjoy it even more than we pilgrims did, and don’t take it for granted.

Nothing asked of them was impossible, let’s hope the walk is not impossible either!

Best foot forward! May we not take our home town for granted, but see it anew when we arrive back in Canterbury.

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31 May, Pilgrimage to Canterbury, XI: Verses for Pilgrims – II

 

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Verses for Pilgrims – II

Here again is the verse that will be recited during our prayer services on our third day of pilgrimage. It still seems strange to me that this verse by Father Andrew SDC came together so opportunely with the window in Patrixbourne.

It is not strange that one blest night
Should shine a star exceedingly bright
To lead three Kings upon their way
To Bethlehem, where Jesu lay,
All lowly, cradled in the hay –
Their journey’s happy ending!

And while the sentiments of Christmas are heart-warming, Friday’s verse reminds us that we may be suffering a little with blisters and sore and swollen feet. We’ve read this verse from Joyce Kilmer before. He was another Great War Poet, but unlike Robert Graves, he did not survive. The full poem appeared on the centenary of his death.

My shoulders ache beneath my pack

(Lie easier, Cross, upon His back).

I march with feet that burn and smart

(Tread, Holy Feet, upon my heart).

Lord, Thou didst suffer more for me

Than all the hosts of land and sea.

So let me render back again

This millionth of Thy gift. Amen.

May we be grateful for shoulders, knees and toes that ache and burn and smart. We are alive, we are together, we live in a relatively peaceful land.

And when we arrive at Saint Mildred’s, our closing prayer and closing feast!

 

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30 May, Pilgrimage to Canterbury X: Verses for Pilgrims—I

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As well as our Scripture readings I have chosen a verse for each day to help our prayer.

Day 1 began at Dover Beach, with this prayer for a blessing on our feet. It comes from our old friend Fr Andrew.

O dearest Lord, thy sacred feet
with nails were pierced for me;
O pour thy blessing on my feet
that they may follow thee.

Father Andrew SDC

Day 2 led us not through desert but through England’s green and pleasant Land, though we had our dark Satanic mills in the shape of the coal mines at Betteshanger, Tilmanstone and Snowdown, all close by, not to mention the unsuccessful ones we went by yesterday. This verse is from the war poet, Robert Graves.

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May we speak words of grace today, as our late friend and miner George did. Today’s walk ends in his home village of Aylesham.

Christ of His gentleness
Thirsting and hungering,
Walked in the wilderness;
Soft words of grace He spoke
Unto lost desert-folk
That listened wondering.

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28 May: Pilgrimage to Canterbury VIII: All Coming together

dover5.crest waveThose 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!

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26 May: Pilgrimage to Canterbury VI: a memory unlocked.

pilgrims way2

I was talking to Rupert, one of our contributors during Lent, at the L’Arche garden this morning. He reassured me that the walk uphill from Dover on the revised route is ‘doable’ if taken steadily, and he knows most of the potential walkers. It will be somewhat steeper than this section of the Pilgrims’ Way on the other side of Canterbury: use your imagination to see the Cathedral, tucked between the distant hills near the centre of the photo!

I have not walked that steep path since Easter some 40 years ago, when a few of the community were living in north Dover. On Maundy Thursday I was helping Sue, a Jewish assistant from Toronto, prepare for a community Passover meal, when we looked out and saw a thrush hopping around a snow covered lawn. (What’s that bird, Maurice? It looks like our Canadian robin but has no red feathers.)

By Easter Monday all was serene and sunny, so Sue and I decided to walk the footpaths to Barfrestone. We were not expecting to negotiate the construction site for the A2 road, but we got over that and arrived in time for our next shift.

At least this time we will be prepared for the busy A2, which carries traffic aiming for the ferries to the continent. The footpath is safely in a tunnel underneath. And it’s ‘doable’!

For Rupert’s posts, enter ‘Before the Cross’ in the Agnellusmirror search box and you’ll find his reflections and a few other people’s.

 

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24 May. Pilgrimage to Canterbury MMXIX, IV. Walking around Wales: a book review. (Relics XVI)

Before any planning for our walk, I read a book about pilgrimage. Anne Hayward’s A Pilgrimage Around Wales is subtitled in search of a significant conversation.1 Mrs Hayward set herself to have a significant conversation each day of her walk. In his foreword the Archbishop of Wales points out that the significant conversation can be a silent exchange with the people who made the place holy. He recalls a visit to Saint Peter’s in Rome, and being taken down to the niche holding the relics – beyond reasonable doubt those of the fisherman himself. ‘The presence of the Apostle, the witness of the Apostle, the courage of the Apostle, the love of the Apostle for the Lord, and much, much more were all around in an unspoken conversation.’(p7)

Measuring the significance of a conversation is surely impossible. Significant to me, or to the Other? At the end of her three months’ tramp, Mrs Hayward counted up more than 150 names of people she had such conversations with. That is not counting the conversations Archbishop Davies points us to, in the stones and windows of the churches she visited. (I wish she had identified some of the places, to let others find them.) She travelled alone, camping most nights; we will be in a group, with maybe 60 or 70 people walking anything from 100 metres to the full distance. A few people may camp out once or twice.

Tyndale the terrier will walk rather more than the rest of us. He may hold significant conversations with other dogs who leave messages for him, or who pick up his trail marks. We will hold conversations with each other, in words, in linked arms, or held hands, or a shared mint.

Mrs Hayward had conversations with bereaved people, worried mothers, campsite wardens, young hikers and churchwardens, among many others. We can expect significant conversations with the Lord that Peter loved, in song, in silence, in weariness, in landscape and seascape, in sky, tree, river and road. Even a ‘thank you’ to a bus driver may feel very significant at the end of a long walk!

She had but herself to consider when planning her walks, her rests, her meals, we must bear in mind the needs of all our walkers and riders in wheelchairs, buses, cars or trains. Different pilgrimages. Whether you want to walk around Wales or make for Rome or Canterbury, God speed! And any day’s journey can be a pilgrimage, if you remember to pray, ‘Stay with us, Lord.’ Anne Hayward’s book could help a would-be pilgrim to be clearer about the journey. A very human book, and a book for the armchair pilgrim as well as the footsore one. More about ours soon.

1Anne Hayward, A Pilgrimage Around Wales: in search of a significant conversation, Y Lolfa, Talybont, 2018.

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22 May: Pilgrimage to Canterbury MMXIX. 2 Out of earshot.

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I left you at the top of Dover, only too glad to get out of the sight and sound of the main roads.

Singledge Lane is part of the North Downs Way. Asphalt all the way these days but in the years before the Great War, it was often impassible in winter. This was disappointing for the owners of Guildford Colliery. They had to suspend operations every winter, and never succeeded in digging down to the coal that awaited them.

Our friend George,1 a L’Arche community member and ex-miner, told me that a truck load of coal was brought to the surface when some potential investors inspected, but that truck had been sent down the shaft full of coal from another nearby mine. The investors lost out, the mine was closed, and what remains is now a private house and farm buildings beside the Lane. The story reminds me of the man wanting to build a tower, and making sound plans. A mine is a much more complicated venture, and a pilgrimage much less so, but we need to anticipate, if you’ll forgive me, the pitfalls, before we gather the walkers on Dover Beach. Hence my ride past the mine that never was.

Which of you having a mind to build a tower, doth not first sit down, and reckon the charges that are necessary, whether he have wherewithal to finish it: lest, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that see it begin to mock him, saying: This man began to build, and was not able to finish.                                                                                                                 Luke 14:28-30

We’ve barely started reckoning our wherewithals.

My Brompton and I bowled along to Coldred church, where I sat in the porch with sandwiches and coffee before turning right towards Eythorne. Here the L’Arche house called Cana made me welcome and plied me with a welcome cup of tea.

Cana was the planned end point for Day 1. Some of the community members seemed to be looking forward to the pilgrimage, but could they manage The Hill? They would be able to walk the first section of Day 2 – to Barfrestone, where L’Arche Kent began.

Coldred Church of St Pancras

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May 21. Pilgrims walking to Canterbury MMXIX, 1.

dover17.NDW.closed.and.muddy.

Pilgrims to Canterbury MMXIX

I

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.

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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.

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May 16. What is Theology Saying? LIII: Salvation outside the Church II.

 

archway.amsterdam. (2)

austinWhen the first Christians claimed a new covenant, they were aware of how the word new had been interpreted in the prophetic writings. Later generations spoke of old and new covenants – with the presumption the old was past its sell-by date. This is mistaken, the facts of history contradict it. The Jews have been faithful to Covenant in large numbers, even to the point of martyrdom; and Scripture tells us that God does not desert those who are faithful.

Some believe the issue is simple. If the Jews had really been faithful they would have recognised Jesus as Messiah, and have been part of the new covenant. But since they do not recognise Jesus as Messiah, we can assume they are unfaithful to the covenant. For this reason history left them behind as forever lost.

Such a view leaves all kinds of questions unaddressed. Even if it was perfectly clear that Jesus is the Messiah, we must remember that the Jews of the dispersion had never had the gospel preached to them. For example, exactly when did the covenant go out of date? Was it at Pentecost or at the death of the last Apostle? Also, does the Jewish participation in the covenant not remain in date until the end of time?

The only contact many Jews through the centuries had with Christians and the Gospel was that of persecution and victimisation in various forms of anti-Semitism. And many were told to renounce Judaism in favour of Christianity – if you are persecuted on account of your Christian faith and told to recant, would you see this as an act of God? We must accept the possibility that Jews cannot accept Jesus as the expected Messiah because he is not yet Messiah. We who are the presence of Jesus have not yet produced the promised signs of the Messianic presence. We know what these signs are – the Prophets are full of them, and the Gospels have Jesus quoting them.

The signs of Messianic times are: peace among nations and all people; perfect fraternity; justice for the poor and the powerless; no more violence and enmity; and all coming together to praise the one God in their own ways in peace, without hindrance. When Paul writes of these signs he says there is no discrimination in Christ between Jew and Gentile, between cultured Greeks and primitive Barbarians, between men who had all kinds of rights and women who had none. Today we might add: no discrimination between white or black, gay or straight, rich nations and poor – no annexation of the poor by the powerful.

AMcC

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12 May. What is Theology Saying? XLIX: Church and World are not mutually exclusive.

 

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With our Lenten season we have set aside our long-running series from Traherne, the Little Flowers of Francis, and from Brother Austin. Let’s remedy that last one! There’s a challenge at the end: ‘I know that I can cope with the past because I am still here! So why risk the unknown?’

austinWe cannot contrast Church and World. They are not mutually exclusive. The Church is supposed to be the community that makes God’s promises already present. When we celebrate the sacraments this is a pledge to what we have committed ourselves as community. There is no work blueprint, we are called to be creative through the possibilities everyday life presents. The Church cannot hand-out a programme to us telling us exactly what to do, how to do it and where. The Bible has no such blueprint. We learn more about the future when we respond to what we already know and are presenting solutions accordingly.

The early Church, seen through Paul’s writing, took slavery for granted as a feature of society – while insisting that the slave-owner respect their human dignity. Centuries later we began to realise that we must abolish slavery itself, because slavery as such is opposed to human dignity. We are also coming to realise that what we often call works of charity can be more crushing than poverty itself, that we can eliminate poverty simply by providing jobs and incomes for all. In the same way war was seen as inevitable, and not only killing but torture was therefore justified. With the formation of the UN we are starting to glimpse that war is not inevitable – Paul VI said to the UN with powerful conviction no more war, war never again.

The truth is that the “signs of the times” are those offering the church ever new opportunities to go out and meet others. Individuals may well set out believing they are going to teach, but they will end up learning, as did Paul. The church is given endless opportunities to rediscover itself in ever new light, but they do not happen every day. At certain moments of privilege, the Spirit summons the church to risk: “During the night a vision came to Paul: a Macedonian stood there appealing to him: Cross over to Macedonia and help us”. Acts.16.9.

The “signs of the times” are the external evidence of this call to Discipleship of Christ. Reasoned observation and rational planning have a place. Reason is able to perceive certain things that suggest there are changes requiring further and new steps to be taken. Different moments of time have their own signs. Not everyone sees them. Jesus criticised the Pharisees because their wisdom in this regard was deficient: “It is a wicked and Godless generation that asks for a sign; and the only sign it will be given is the sign of Jonah” – Mt.12.39. There are insensitive people in every age, unable [unwilling] to see the call for something new. To them mission is no more than simply repeating what has already been achieved. This is the fear principle, prompted by the fact that I know that I can cope with the past because I am still here! So why risk the unknown?

Reading  the Word and the World, Zakopane, Poland.

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