A Lenten Pilgrimage

A week or two ago I listened to a talk given by Judy Ringland-Stewart about her daily prayer walks. Every day she takes an hour or so to follow a path from the house she shares with John and their children, though the forest, along the beaches and up to the summits of  the Otago Peninsula. These daily walks are a kind of pilgrimage; an engagement with her surroundings as places of wonder and beauty in their own right but also as an encounter with God. There was a sense of passion and integrity and connection about what she was saying that made me immediately think of two things.

Firstly I thought of my own almost daily walks on the same peninsula, albeit on the other side of the harbour. Clemency and I walk whenever we can for all the usual reasons: for the companionship of a shared activity for an hour or so;  for fitness and postponing the inevitable consequences of aging; for the sheer enjoyment of  this ancient, weathered, once was volcano; (the photo at the top of  this post  - and indeed, the one at the top of this blog - was taken on just such a walk). And there is the incidental purpose of preparing ourselves for a return to Spain and the Camino Santiago later in the year.

More significantly, I thought of one of my favourite books: Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
Annie Dillard is one of the finest living writers of prose in the English , and one of the joys of this book - and her many others- is in the encounter with the  language superbly handled. But it was her subject matter than Judy brought to my mind.  Written in the very early 70s a still young Dillard describes her daily walks from her home at Tinker Creek, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. She shows and she eloquently voices an awareness which is uncommon and which is the basis of all artistry and, I think, all spirituality. She captures the natural world around her and reflects on its meaning as she encounters its common, ever present, beauty and savagery. And somehow it is the savagery which is the most demanding and the most demanding of interpretation. It is easy enough to feel a sense of the divine when traversing beautiful landscapes, or when standing on top of glorious mountains or when watching the creation of new life. But walk long enough in the wild world and watch carefully enough and mother nature can seem more like the wicked witch than like snow white.

In a famous passage early in the book, for example, she describes a frog being killed by a giant water bug, and moves from there to a reflection on the presence of a loving creator in a seemingly harsh and dangerous world. She quotes from the Koran a passage in the prophet asks whether we think the Creator made the world in jest? Life is in earnest and asks of us disturbing questions. I admire the fact that Dillard offers no glib answers, but lives with the ambiguity of the world around her as it shapes and changes her.

Which is the stance of the Lenten journey, I suppose. Our daily Lenten pilgrimage is an engagement with the world that lies around us at every hand; and in particular it is an engagement with the unavoidable fact of  life's harshness. Yet man is born to trouble as surely as the sparks fly upward (Job 5:7)  As all pilgrimages reinforce to us, the journey is difficult. Our engagement now is painful and at times uncertain, even as we live in the hope and promise of the coming resurrection. 


Eric Kyte said…
Thank you Kelvin for a very thought provoking blog.

the first thing that caught my eye was your comment about "postponing the inevitable consequences of aging". I wondered if that was a helpful way of looking at it? (As I write there is a Seminar on aging and Spirituality going on in the adjoining lounge) We live in a culture which in its disengagement from the elderly - (who are usually shipped off into a corner away from the rest of the world when past their Economically viable sell buy date) - sees only threat here. We are in some regards living in unique times culturally, in that we seem to have lost all sense of the Dignity of old age and can only think upon its indignity.

Thus perhaps we might say that we walk daily to more fully engage with and embrace our aging, to Know it and Learn from it, rather than just lie down and wait for it to come for us??

Thus we might in our "Painful and at times uncertain" engagement, we might more fully "live in the hope and promise of the coming resurrection"??
VenDr said…
I think I was being more autobiographical. every birthday with a 0 in it (and another one not far away) brings change, one of which is that I have to work harder and more consciously to preserve a level of physical health sufficient to enable me to do the things still on my long bucket list. I hope the motivation was realism not fear.

There are inevitable consequences to ageing. We, like everything in the universe, had a beginning and will have an end. And our progression from one to the other isn't digital - it's analogue. we follow a progression like a bell curve, entering reality, increasing our presence in every way that its possible to be present , peaking, then decreasing our presence over years til it fades out entirely. I think this shape should and must affect our spirituality and indeed everything else about us. The fear of it is indeed a problem, and results in the attitudes to the aged you mention and many others besides.
Eric Kyte said…
Put another way, as disciples of Jesus we are always called more and more fully to embody and embrace the Resurrection life. Each day is a gift as we age in which we may be obedient to that call.

just a thought
Eric Kyte said…
Thanks for the clarification

Not sure i can buy into the Bell curve analogy - in many ways we are far far more alive as young children than as adults in 'the prime of life'

I guess this way of understanding our existence 'sounds' a little as if the system is closed??
VenDr said…
why closed? my existence in this universe describes a bell curve- as does everything else in the universe at least from the atomic level upward - but that says nothing about my ultimate or continuing existence. A caterillar's life follows much the same trajectory, as does that of the butterfly which follows it
VenDr said…
"as disciples of Jesus we are called more and more to embrace the resurrection life"


Surely that means we are simultaneously called to embrace the crucifixion life.
Barbara Harris said…
Gentlemen, on the subject of aging, may I recommend the movie
" The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel ".
Barbara Harris
Eric Kyte said…


That is it :-)
Eric Kyte said…
Although I would perhaps want to slightly qualify that, in that the Western tradition of which we are both heirs has majored on Crucifixion, and thus to hold the two in creative tension is difficult for us??

Put another way our version of Simultaneity may be expected to err on the side of Crucifixion??
VenDr said…
For me one of the most important passages in scripture is Philippians 2, with its vital concept of kenosis. In this cchapter Paul spells out what is central not only to our interpretation of the life of Jesus but also of the Good News Jesus preached from the very beginning of his ministry.

Passages like Matthew 16:5 are crucial, speaking as they do of the way Jesus's messiahship was exercised, but also of the path we are to walk. Yes we are the resurrection people but we cannot possibly know resurrection unless we are prepared, like Jesus, to empty ourselves - to allow ourselves to be put to death. For me the daily practice of meditation is practice in doing precisely that, which is its primar value in Christian terms, although meditation might have other, more general human benefits as well.

I think that the emphasis on crucifixion you mention as a past emphasis of the church may not actually be an emphasis on true crucifixion at all. I think that the baggage we have carried since Constantine of being the moral enforcement wing of the state has informed most of that emphasis on "self denial". The emphasis on toeing the line and on not doing stuff we really want to do and undertaking little penances so that God will like us more has been about being "good" and about being seen to be good - that is, it has in an odd way been about bolstering our false sense of self, and has thus been, in the deepest sense, anti-Gospel.

There is only one way of becoming that which we were intended from the beginning to be, and that is to follow Jesus on the path of losing our life that we may find it.
VenDr said…
and my Mtt 16:5, of course I meant Mtt 16:25
A thought provoking blog and exchange, as always. I, too, have long loved Annie Dillard, and have enjoyed all her books, and though she writes with great heart, restrained by a frugality of word rather than meaning, I find her writing to reflect life in all its beauty, terror and the clarity of existential courage. Like the ancient Athenians, she has that rare capacity to hold a kind of brutal realism together with a willingness to embrace wonder and mystery, and it is this tension that draws me to her work. I think this same tension is true of what you both write. In order to embrace the resurrection life, we must lay down all that we hold close, in effect, walk the narrow path of crucifixion, through suffering, such that our steps begin to pace to the rhythms of Grace, for we do not learn to walk in Grace when we cling to all that keeps us from that abyss. It seems to me that this is the true nature of idols, in that they keep us from facing awful vulnerability of our humanity, which is a futile exercise in the end as it comes to us all in one form or another, however well we can keep it at bay for a time. At the same time, life shows itself in so many ways as utterly beautiful, for this beauty and the wonder it inspires points us to Him. Yet we enter the Lenton darkness and walk the way of the cross not to prove ourselves Holy or practice virtue through denial, but to learn a reliance on Him alone that holds us in the darkness so we may move toward the only true Light. We embrace suffering and the way of the cross as part of the journey toward Life, the transformative journey towards resurrection, to the rhythm of redeeming grace. And it is not virtue or penance that draws us nearer to Him, but the stripping away of all our masks till it is our face, focused on Him, that can finally embrace every good Gift he offers (Grace). It is less a tension than a Wholeness, Shalom, the way of the fully human life. This is the daily bread we learn to take and eat. It is the Gift freely given but rarely accepted, trusting its Source for all that is required, and finally, Free, to LIVE.