I love walking, I always have. The beauty of walking is that you see things that you would otherwise miss when you run, cycle or drive in the car. There is the steady rhythm as you step out with each stride, there is the gentle feeling of your muscles working, and there are the sounds of the stones crunching beneath your feet, the branches swaying in the breeze, the wind blowing through your hair. You can stop at any time to look more intently at something, take a picture, pause… Think. It is not surprising that the practice of going on a pilgrimage, of walking from sacred place to sacred place became so important. Jesus walked from town to town preaching, teaching, healing, comforting. He had the time to meet with people and see who they really were and what they most needed. He could stop and stay or walk on. He could minister to the people or walk up into the hills to pray on his own.
I am fortunate to currently live in one of the most beautiful places on earth. The other week I was able to walk out of my front door, leap over a particularly Cornish granite stile and step out into the country. I did not have a route planned, just a map and clear blue skies above. As I walked across the first field I saw a boulder strewn slope half a mile away and above this in the distance an old mine working – the stone chimney still rising to the sky two hundred years after it was first built and four thousand years after the mine was first opened. I visited an ancient well, climbed up a deep indented path slightly overgrow with hazel and parsley but one which only a few decades ago would have been well worn by mine workers tramping along before dawn in their hob nailed boots. I turned round to see Mounts Bay stretching before me with the early morning brooding aspect of St Michael’s Mount visually shouting for attention in the view.
A few more miles and I saw the Neolithic standing stones that once made up a tomb, a Latin inscribed stone perhaps marking the grave of a man who lived just after the Romans left, a stone circle smaller than Stonehenge but just as ancient, another of the stone quoits and a ruined hilltop castle with granite walls built at the time Moses lead the people out of Egypt, and then on to the North coast and another sea with views stretching across the Atlantic towards the land I have just returned from and the people I have just served.
I walked along the coast path for a while with fields of dark black cattle to my right and a two hundred feet drop straight into the raging sea on my left, the waves crashing against the cliffs too far below to be of danger.
After passing a medieval church and another mine I returned once more inland, up the moorland and across gorse carpeted slopes and climbed up a rocky outcrop, which marked the tallest point of the West Penwith peninsula and sat there looking out to the sea on every side. A time to stop and rest and think. To wonder what God has planned for me next, a time apart, a Sabbath before returning once more to the busyness of life, to the challenges and trials of everyday. This land itself which had once been full of human activity and industry was silent once again apart from the cows I could see in the distance.
A few miles more and I came to a road leading back to civilisation, I walked down the cobbled indented path, no longer walking this way anew but returning home on a familiar path. Refreshed and thoughtful, I tramped the lanes and paused to photograph the standing cross on the road; generations before me have wandered this way and remembered God and Christ’s love. I noticed the cross was carved differently on both sides.
As we go through life, as we go out and come back again we are changed. All of our experiences shape the person we are and the Cross points to the way we are going. Nothing is wasted and no one remains the same.
He Leads us on paths of righteousness for his names’sake,
Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death thou art with me…
We need times to walk with purpose and times to walk along unexpected paths. When we let him lead us, we go where we do not always choose to go, but we will be refreshed, challenged, rewarded, surprised and transformed, and ready for the life ahead.