Last week was the grand finale of our summer experience, the adapted pilgrimage of Hope that we have been doing. We had a day in London on Monday exploring the reformers and then on Wednesday we made the journey up to the north of the country to join St Aiden’s footsteps onto Holy Island. The three day Holy Island trip wasn’t the smoothest one for me, I am a little thin on the ground – very much looking forward to the start of a three week break tomorrow. I don’t know about you but when I am tired it can take a lot more energy to cope with certain things! I have appreciated having a day to recover and reflect on the experience and see what God has to show me through it.
Pilgrimage is a complex interweaving of a solitary journey and a journey of fellowship. In his book Reaching Out, Nouwen speaks about welcoming the stranger. The solitary journey is a chance to create space for the stranger within oneself. I had the chance to walk the causeway from the mainland to the island on my own. It is a significant experience if you ever get the chance – I have to admit though, at the time I found it neither profound or particularly pleasant, although I did appreciate being alone! The others had gone ahead and I was supposed to catch them up, but it hadn’t been straightforward for me to get started. This meant I was pulled to press on and catch up, rather than arrive in the present and receive each moment as it came. Now as I look at the pictures I took and reflect on the emotions I felt and the thoughts going through my head, that part of my solitary journey is bearing fruit.
The journey of fellowship on pilgrimage is a complex one for us all I think. When our hearts are settled and present its possible to recognise that though friends long acquainted, we can often turn into strangers to one another. I frequently felt like a stranger amongst friends, and I was repeatedly bewildered by the strangers I came across in the face of friends. It is not a problem to be a stranger or to encounter one. The challenge is to create a hospitable space where the stranger is welcomed. In fact recognising that you have become a stranger to me in this moment, means that I know what my response must be. I need to welcome you, and in that free space that I create, you may rediscover shalom again as you yourself welcome the stranger within who might in turn bring you back to yourself.
Aiden’s assessment of the first failed missionary effort to England was that the team hadn’t loved the people enough. He then was sent with his band of companions to make another attempt, this time to love and welcome the stranger and in so doing discover the fingerprints of God all over their lives. Aiden set up their community on Holy Island from where they went out to meet and welcome the stranger within and around them. Welcome, hospitality, love and mission, it all starts right now, with yourself and the people that God has placed in your life.