My dear Friends, This past year has perhaps aged us all, but I recently realised that it is approaching half a century since I first made my pilgrimage to St David’s Cathedral in West Wales. It was about this time of year, hence it coming to mind, that and the fact that since the first lockdown I have thought much about my homeland and imagined myself there in the "thin" places, to find the inspiration and the grace to sustain my inner life. I was a young teenager at the time. There were some young, enthusiastic Curates in the town where I was growing up, Llanelli, who hatched the idea of inviting and encouraging those in my age group to walk to our cathedral city. I seem to remember it taking four full days to get to our sacred destination, staying in church halls and school halls en route, in Haverfordwest, Roch and Solva. The fact that we only walked from Llanelli to Kidwelly before getting on a coach to our first port of call diminished not at all the kudos and sense of having walked the whole way on our young legs. It was a wonderful idea: we all took sleeping bags and bare essentials which, I believe, were transported for us in a van to the next stop. I recall in Solva, since there were 70 or so of us competing for the washroom facilities in the church hall, walking to the cemetery just up the road and using the open air tap there to brush my teeth and wash my hands and face. The sun had been shining all afternoon on the old tap, so the water ran warm in my hands at first, then shudderingly cold as I splashed my face. For some of us it was a joy and a relief to be able to talk about our budding faith unapologetically and to ask questions we found ourselves wondering about, of the Curates. Some strummed guitars and sang worship songs, a new phenomenon to me. My ear was more attuned to the traditional and to the classics, so I went out to watch the golden sun setting over the golden gorse. It was the first time I had slept on the floor and I have never got used to it. The snugness of the sleeping bag however, I enjoyed immensely, cocooned as I was with a sense of relative privacy, despite being in a room with seventy others. The food was plentiful: chips, even for breakfast on one occasion when we stayed in a school hall and the "dinner ladies" came in to make a fuss of us. It was extraordinary to see the Curates, freed from the oversight of their Vicars, without their black shirts on, and in trainers and open necked shirts, almost as if they were real people. It slowly dawned on me that they weren’t another species after all, but almost human... The culmination of course was the descent into the ancient cathedral city which the Welsh think of as their spiritual home and the heart of the essence of Holy Wales. It is a well-spring of a place which nourishes and refreshes the soil of the soul. It is in such a remote part of the most western of our coastline habitats, away from commerce, the smallest city in these our islands. Despite the bustle of tourists at times, a deep peace holds the place, as though suspended in time and space. After our previous three days of walking we only had about five miles to walk on the last morning. Even the most boisterous of us I recall being stilled as we neared the Gate House, standing proud at the top of the Cathedral Hill. And there we were welcomed by The Dean, replete in cope and vestments, as though having walked straight out of the Middle Ages. This seemingly wizened old man, who was probably around the same age as I am now, with a stern voice and glistening spectacles, his robes flapping in the breeze, directed his words precisely at our feelings of achievement and exhilaration at having been extraordinary enough to have completed this special journey. I recall the cold water he poured upon the day, colder by far than the water from the cemetery tap. "You may think that you have done something rare and special, girls and boys, but you haven’t really. What you are doing today is joining the tens of thousands of other pilgrims who have also walked here to West Wales down the centuries, making pilgrimage to the burial place of Dewi Sant. You should walk in their footsteps with humility. Now follow me." And with that he turned, his stiff, brocaded cloak leading the way through the silencing arch of the Gateway and then down into the bowl of the valley where the cathedral nestles, like a warm, pink baby in a cot. We all felt pretty flat after his welcoming words, which of course I have paraphrased through the mesh of memory. It was as though we all felt our egos to have been quashed, diminished, as we had all comprehensively been in our sense of youthful achievement. But now, I am humbled and reassured that on that day I did indeed join the throng of fellow country men and women who had sought David’s company, tangible and real, that would give me a deeper and more immediate and intense sense of the God I wanted to feel more keenly and know more vividly. I wanted to feel the warmth of Divine Love which others had spoken, movingly, about. I wanted to find that elusive sense of "Home" in Him. His strength and guidance reaching out into my floundering, still forming, young life, which was seeking a sense of direction into adulthood, purpose and identity. I yearned to find such a God warming me as He had warmed David with the immediacy of His presence and His noticing love. I wanted to know whether the God in whom I believed also believed in me. But even the Dean’s words, offering a historical perspective, could not rob the moment of its wonder. To walk toward the Cathedral was to walk into the arms of God, there to feel safe as well as saved; protected by the presence of His peace; excited, exhilarated by the realisation that He wanted us to live and share with Him the wonder of being alive. It was to be ignited with the belief that I had an identity and a purpose which would be revealed.
I had mistaken what pilgrimage was all about. I assumed it was about my travelling toward and reaching out to God, but found that it was about God travelling toward and reaching out to me. All the blisters on my aching feet, the stiffness in my aching limbs, the bruises on my aching body caused by sleeping on hard floors, became as nothing as part of me journeyed on, beyond physical footfall, to a place where I discovered that a part of me had forever been. Since that time St David’s has held a very special place in my soul. I don`t have to travel there either by foot or even by road in order to feel that I am there. I can be there within a prayer, breathing the air, sensing the stillness, being present to the Presence forever smouldering with holiness in that place.
Lockdown has unlocked within me this imaginative capacity to travel in my mind and in my memory. External limitations have meant interior liberation, and I am the richer for the experience. Perhaps it is a glimpse, the tiniest of glimpses, into the wellspring of resources which the Holy Spirit creates within each soul, that we might drink from when the land is parched. For it is a glimpse, the tiniest of glimpses, into the awareness of the limitless life of God, which we can draw strength and inspiration from in but a prayer. Our relationship with Him is our resource for living. Nothing can restrict or curtail His capacity to share the wonder of creative living.
So, like millions of pilgrims in this world before us, you and I are invited to take our place in that procession toward what lays at the shining heart of the gift of life. All we need to do is open our hearts and our minds to the God who is forever travelling toward us, wanting to be close to us, loving us into being ever more fully, the people He has created us to be. Diolch i Dduw.
With blessings and best wishes,
YOUNG PRAYERS: Continuing the theme of young people and their budding faith, I recently asked some of our young people in the church and in the school what questions they would ask of Jesus were He to come to St. Mary’s. I have composed a prayer out of the questions they posed......... Dear Lord, If you are listening... Please can you tell us: How do you forgive so easily? How did you feel about Judas? Has anyone ever said anything bad about any of your stories? What is your favourite story in the Bible? How do I know that you are there? What can we do to help us all not suffer from climate change? Is Heaven a place and if so, what is it like? Why are you so angry in the Old Testament? Can you help us to like each other better? Can you please stop the conflict in the world? How are you today Jesus? What was it like to rise again and go to Heaven? How do you feel about people of other faiths and religions? Is the Bible 100% true? Can you teach us to be more like you? Won’t you please end Covid and help things get back to normal? How do you forgive people? How do you do all those special things? How do you heal people? How did you create the world? What is it like to be you, Jesus? From the children of St. Mary’s Church and School On behalf of so many others too, we ask you these things And hope that you find a way of answering us somehow. AMEN.
ZOOM AND MORE
Please join us this Sunday for our Zoom service at 9.30am by clicking on the following link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/85685339742 or in person in church at 6pm, by booking on: firstname.lastname@example.org We shall also be opening the church for Private Prayer 10am-11am on Wednesdays. The readings for this Sunday are: 2 Corinthians Chapter 4 verses 13- Chapter 5 verse 1 and Mark Chapter 3 verses 20-end. The Collect: Almighty God, The strength of all those who put their trust in you, Mercifully accept our prayers And, because of the weakness of our mortal nature We can do no good thing without you, Grant us the help of our grace, That in the keeping of your commandments We may please you both in will and deed. This we ask through Jesus Christ Our Lord Who lives and reigns with you, In the unity of the Holy Spirit, One God, now and for ever. AMEN.