“Happy are the people whose strength is in you!
whose hearts are set on the pilgrim’s way…
For the Lord God is both sun and shield;
he will give grace and glory…”
(verses from Psalm 84)
With not a little help from my friends (including Malcolm and Julie who lent me a walking stick and Christine who lent me a rucksack) I managed to walk most of the St Cuthbert’s Way again from Melrose to Lindisfarne during the first week of October! The weather was just right for trekking up and down the hills (or “undulations” as our esteemed leader Canon Taffy Davies kept calling them!) – not too hot, some bits of blustery wind but hardly any rain. We stayed at a place called Akeld Manor, near Wooler, and progressed along the pilgrim’s route by travelling out in our mini-bus each day to a different starting point which was where the group had left off the previous day. With fifteen or so good companions (both ordained and lay), we enjoyed much laughter together, times of reflection, great home-cooked food, lovely scenery, varied conversations, a reasonable amount of alcohol, optional prayers morning and night, and helping hands over the stiles and across rocky paths. Some of us took time out for the odd day, enabling our blisters to heal and aching limbs to ease! By the end of the week, we all felt a sense of achievement and clearly had all enjoyed the time to think and reflect back individually and with others about our different life journeys and also to explore in anticipation the paths that might lie ahead for each of us.
As the season of Advent comes round once again at the end of November, we recognise the signposts along the way, leading us towards the light and joy of Christmas there in the distance, travelling in our imagination with Joseph, Mary and the donkey across the hills to Bethlehem. As the nights draw in at this time of year too, we naturally bring to mind those good and faithful companions we once knew and who travelled alongside us for a while, but who now have already reached our longed-for home in heaven, way ahead of us. We look to Christ, the light of the world, to illuminate our path as we continue our journeying, grateful that Jesus is willing to shoulder our burdens for us when we stumble or grow weary along the way. We pray for grace and humility to accept help from others in times of need, and for the energy and perceptiveness to offer an outstretched arm or a shoulder to cry on, to those who may need that from us, from time to time.
Just as our motley little group of St Cuthbert’s Way pilgrims last month encouraged one another to persevere, so may the congregation here in Bollington journey towards Christmas together with fresh energy, undeterred by the uncomfortable blisters that inevitably appear when “the feet that bring good news” rub up against hard-heartedness, cynicism or consumerism. May we honour the memories of saints and loved ones who have gone before us, and may we continue to be a people of generous hospitality, of positive compassion and of loving concern for anyone (whether among us or beyond our circle) who may need an encouraging word or a helping hand, walking together in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life.