Rich and Poor along the Thames

For much of the time I’ve been on this pilgrimage road so far I’ve had inklings of what it feels like to be homeless. I’ve had to be concerned with my basic needs, like where to sleep, what I’ll eat, and of course where I’ll be able to go to the toilet. Maslow’s hierarchy governs my life! The days when I have a destination, with an offer of a bed, have been so much easier.

Yet at the same time I’m walking through some of the most comfortably off, even wealthy parts of England. A Thames frontage with moorings, and a boat to go on them, does not come cheap. And Eton and Henley both ooze a certain class consciousness, particularly Henley as I walked through on the Sunday of the regatta.

Although I don’t really think of myself as a rabid lefty I didn’t feel very at home in Henley. I don’t want to be judgmental or unkind, as some of the best and most informed and committed people I know also happen to be comfortably off, even relatively wealthy. I even know some of your actual “landed gentry”, although they would hate that phrase, and you could not wish to meet a more generous and hospitable family.

But something about these particular bastions of the establishment do make me uncomfortable. At a more visceral level the many signs saying “private” all along the river also drive the message home very clearly. Privilege and wealth are I suppose their own burdens. One guy I spoke to on the way in to Henley complained that the farmer charges £800 a week for mooring on his land during the regatta. This would fall into the category of the problems of the 1% I guess! And no doubt many of those shelling out on the exorbitantly priced champagne and the like also support charities and good causes, so all’s OK then. Well not really.. I think it was Chomsky who said “There is a class war of the rich v the poor, and it is the rich who are winning it” Our society, our world has never been more unequal, and we are all the poorer for it.

I feel these divisions acutely as I walk and this adds fuel to my prayer life, which is very dynamic. While it is a physical challenge each day I am also filled with a sense of gratitude walking in this lovely sunshine, through these beautiful places. I pray for all the places I walk through and all the people I meet, as well as for my family, home church, friends and for the work of Housing Justice and our network.

My friends Elizabeth and Reuben Lowson who put me up in Reading also put me in touch with some friends of her aunt’s. They have the Bridge House campsite and B & B in Shillingford, where I stayed last night. It has been really lovely to meet Phil and Rosemary, who have been so welcoming and hospitable. I’m typing this on Phil’s computer! They belong to the Northumbria Community, and I shared daily prayers with them this morning. One of the meditations included these lines:

Land of my fathers, how I long to return,

to touch the earth, and find again the sacred paths,

well-walked with the Gospel of Peace,

veiled now in the shadow of mediocrity.

From Celtic Daily Prayer: Inspirational prayers and readings from the Northumbria Community (Collins)