Rector's Ramblings July 19, 2017
“Hey, Father Tom! Welcome Back! How was your trip?” “It was wonderful, thanks for asking.” “I can’t wait to read about it.” Am I that predictable? Of course I am! How can one take a walking pilgrimage through the countryside and hills of Scotland and not reflect on it, especially when one’s vocation gives multiple, regular opportunities for doing so? So yes, of course I am going to write about it, and you’ll probably hear bits and pieces in sermons now and then, too. But you won’t hear everything. I have thoughts about a book based on the trip, but we’ll see how that pans out. In the meantime, I do think there are some things that lend themselves to Ramblings and sermons, so bear with me. It should be slightly more enjoyable than a captive after-dinner slide show of vacation photos. But I’m aware of the comparison!
For those of you who don’t know, our family went on a spiritual pilgrimage along a Scottish walk called The Way of St. Cuthbert. When I first starting thinking about taking this trip, I thought Donna might be able to join me, and as it went along, it turned into a full family spiritual adventure – and I’m glad it did. St. Cuthbert’s Way covers 65ish miles from Melrose, Scotland to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, off the coast of northern England. A tour company arranged the bed and breakfasts along the way and shuttled the bulk of the luggage from place to place each day while we walked. There were nine of us total on this walk; four Episcopal priests, with spouses and families (we were the only ones with kids at home and kids on the trip).
Each of our seven days of walking was different; different terrain, different towns, different weather, different scenery, and different themes. Each morning we started the day with Morning Prayer, at which a member of our group would reflect on one of the distinctives of Celtic Christianity (Cuthbert was a Celtic 7th century saint; the Episcopal church remembers Cuthbert on August 31). Beyond that, our family would debrief each night and usually come up with a lesson learned that day. Those lessons, as it turns out, would make really nice chapter titles.
For example, the lesson of day two was: Put your head down and go; walking the Roman Road…in the rain. What? Rain in Scotland? Well, it wasn’t looking like we were going to have much when we first got there, and yet a storm system showed up nonetheless, making our second and third days of walking very wet. Our second day involved walking from St. Boswell’s to Harestanes. It was between eight and nine miles of walking, and a fairly long stretch of it follows what is known as the Dere Road, a portion of the remaining track of a road the Romans put in place and used during their conquest of the British Isles. Parts of the 2000-year-old road are still close to modern highways, while other sections, like the one we were to walk, is largely reserved for hikers.
Well, in addition to the historical fun of the route, we also had rain as a companion. There was no predicted break in the weather for the day. Rain from dawn and into the next day, which is exactly what we got. It was pretty, despite the rain and gloom, but it was also the least enjoyable day of the entire trip. We were prepared for rain; we had rain jackets, rain pants, extra layers, and waterproof covers for our backpacks. We knew a day like day two was likely in Scotland, and our preparations proved useful. But it was not pleasant. It was windy and cold, and damp. It was so miserable that we really didn’t stop for breaks. There was no stopping for a snack. No sunny hillside on which to have a picnic lunch as we had done the day before. We literally just put our heads down and walked through tall (and by tall I mean waist high and higher) grass, pastures, and along the Roman Road.
As we reflected on it that night, AFTER we had dried off and showered, enjoyed warm tea and a hearty dinner, we admitted that sometimes you just have to put your head down and go. We did not miss the opportunity to point out to the girls that life can be like that. There are times when one knows the way forward is not going to be pleasant, so we just put our head down and get through it. For us, we had no choice. We knew when we woke up that day that our warm beds and our warm clothes were more than eight miles away. We were ready for the weather, even if we didn’t like it, so there was no benefit to fussing or complaining or throwing in the towel. We simply had to get that stretch done and behind us so that we could look forward to the next day.
Even if we haven’t hiked Scotland in cold, wet weather, we know what that’s like. We’ve all had those moments and seasons in life. Some of us may be in one now. But we walk them because that’s all we can do, knowing there will eventually be warmth and food for the soul and sunshine again. There’s more to be said about traveling those roads with people along for the journey, about being prepared, about weathering the storms through various methods, but all of that can’t be said here and now. For now, it’s enough to know that we all have those days, and that they don’t last forever. Sometimes we just have to put our heads down and go.
Everliving God, who didst call thy servants Aidan and Cuthbert to proclaim the Gospel in northern England and endued them with loving hearts and gentle spirits: Grant us grace to live as they did, in simplicity, humility and love for the poor; through Jesus Christ, who came among us as one who serves, and who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.