When L’Arche celebrated forty years in Kent and Britain, we joined the gathering of hundreds walking down the hill from the University to the Cathedral, but until this year we had never joined the annual pilgrimage.
Canterbury being Canterbury, any way into it can be a Pilgrim’s Way, including the official one! L’Arche choose a different way each year, keeping away from traffic as far as possible. Over four days people pray, play and perambulate around Kent, through forest, field and fountain. We don’t do moor and mountain hereabouts in the Garden of England, and after a very dry winter, the mud from the springs and fountains was not in evidence. I’d used some of the paths before and come home knee-deep in clay. Well done the Pathfinders for a dryshod walk in lovely countryside!
As we got further off the beaten track one of the core members in our small group got further and further out of her comfort zone. At prayer time Kate had spoken of how, when she was mending a broken vase, success came when a friend held it steady as the last shard was eased into place. With a little help from my friends …
Now the rest of us had to help our friend with the promise of ‘pub, pub’ getting closer.
It did help that we were one of the groups that did not get lost! And she enjoyed that cooold cola when she got it!
When we travel, we hope that when the heat gets too much or we feel hungry and thirsty, God’s Providence may bring us a friendly face and a chance of hospitality. But tourism takes us through areas of ruined classical cities, where once was a lively population and hospitality was likely. However, that population died long ago, and all they have left is the skeleton of a dwelling. This picture reminds me of a similar doorway, to a house which no longer existed, when I visited Athens in my late teens, when a military junta ruled Greece.
I had taken a bus from the airport into Athens in the early hours. By five in the morning it was light, and beginning to be warmer. I had planned to visit the Parthenon before the crowds arrived, so I sat down on the step in front of a doorway like this to gather my wits for the climb up the hill. But there was an old wooden door in the doorway, and this suddenly opened behind me. A fellow traveller, an American I think, emerged, wished me good morning and went on his way. He had slept the night behind a door and a door frame.
It was a comical, theatrical moment, as if an ancient Greek house servant had come back to life to greet me. Like Silas and St. Paul, I was wondering what signs or messengers might show up in my dreams, to send me off on a more purposeful path.
“All the way” by NAIB
Nicodemus had it all. He was a man in a man’s world. He was rich in a land of teeming poor and the blood of God’s chosen people ran in his veins. As a Pharisee he enjoyed social prestige and spiritual authority. Presumably, his life was upright and free from scandal. Above all, his heart was tender and open. What more could one ask for? Jesus entered the assured world of Nicodemus and nothing was ever the same again. What drove Nicodemus to leave his comfortable home and seek Jesus out on the road at night? He came with questions, perhaps driven by the unsettling conviction that his journey was not, after all, complete and he was offered what every traveller, spiritual or temporal, longs for. The car slowed to a stop before him. The door swung open and the smiling driver said, “Get in. I will take you all the way there.” Instead of getting in Nicodemus stood in the road and questioned the driver. Why? Perhaps it was because of all that he had. He was a man. He was rich. He was an upright son of God’s chosen people. He had a car of his own parked in the garage back home and second thoughts about riding with strangers.
The Samaritan woman had nothing. It would be difficult to imagine a person more marginalized. She was a woman in a man’s world. She was a poor villager in an occupied country. Her race was apostate and outcast and even among her rejected people she was a pariah because of her immorality. She met Jesus on the road by accident. Perhaps she was too weary even to extend her thumb. Without being asked Jesus offered the Samaritan woman what he had previously offered to Nicodemus. She had no car and lived in a world of strangers and so eagerly accepted his invitation to ride all the way to Heaven. Was the Samaritan woman better or, in some hidden way, more worthy than Nicodemus? The logic of the world would shout a resounding “No!” while the logic of fairytales would reveal her as a princess in disguise or a virtuous victim. Neither is correct and the truth is far more astounding. This is no unflappable Cinderella labouring in the serene moral certainty that she deserves better.
The Samaritan woman lived in desolation and her only possession was emptiness. Driven by a thirst that staggers the imagination she could not afford to deny that awful self-knowledge. To do so would be simply to die. She had learned the hitch hiker’s hardest lesson and accepted the friendly invitation without a second thought.