Half way Ups and Downs

On this journey each day has been a story, richly packed with thoughts, reflections and prayer, all in addition to but parallel with the ordinary daily tasks of life. It is not that in “normal” life this doesn’t happen, but much remains of necessity an inner thought process, whereas here I have space to allow more of this inner life to come to consciousness.

What brought me into this field of homelessness work? My own early life and formative experiences are at least a part of the reason. My parents’ divorce when I was a child: my mother’s mental health problems and suicide; and my own experiences of depression and breakdown in my 20’s, including a possibly drug related near death experience at 21  – and yes, since you ask, I was a dope smoking, hippy vagabond in those days! These were always going to put me on a different life trajectory to many of my contemporaries. I don’t talk about these things all that much, but on this pilgrimage it doesn’t make sense not to open up with the people I meet along the way, and with you, dear reader. And in talking about stuff like this I find that most people have been touched by tragedy, and that depression and mental / emotional distress is incredibly common, and that everyone has had their own share of suffering.

One guy who gave me a lift lost his 2 sons in a car accident, when they were just 19 and 21. This tragedy almost sent him over the edge, but he made it through and I found his company very good and agreeable. I hope we will keep in touch, actually, as we had a great conversation about his idea for bringing derelict farm buildings and abandoned hamlets back into use. What doesn’t kill you doesn’t just make you stronger, it also makes you more interesting, and often more open to the needs of others.

And so to today. After walking the Pembroke coast path to St David’s – see photos here – I decided to take up the kind invitation to visit my pilgrim friends Betty and Dugald in Wetherby, especially as the hitching winds were so fair. The guy I mention in the previous paragraph gave me a lift from Conwy in Norh Wales to Chester, a bed for the night, and then a lift to Leeds yesterday morning. What an answer to prayer! I write this from their place. Here we are with a good cup of tea yesterday afternoon.

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I discovered in our conversation that Dugald has been having some struggles with severe depression too, which I didn’t even know. It was good to compare notes and just be in solidarity with each other. And I hope that some of the things I shared encouraged him. I have really enjoyed their hospitality, and the much needed rest that 24 hours of home comforts bring.

Now on to the third leg of my journey, hitching from here to Melrose in the Scottish Borders to walk St Cuthbert’s Way to Holy Island. I hope to arrive by next Tuesday 30th July, and probably won’t be able to update the blog before then.

Betty and Dugald have done the Camino to Santiago de Compostella several times, and have a marvellous library of books on pilgrimage. I found an anthology of writings called Sacred Places, Pilgrim Paths: an Anthology of Pilgrimage by Martin Robinson which is very good. This includes extracts from The Heart of Prayer by Brother Ramon (see previous post), and this is a short quote:

“We all go on pilgrimage. It is part of our human yearning to associate places with people we love, with experiences which are precious, with events which are holy, and such places may be imbued with sanctity renewing our dedication, stimulating our devotion and imparting a sense of healing, holiness and peace.”

Following the terrible news about the train crash in Northern Spain, on the eve of the national Holy Day, the Feast of Saint James / Saint Iago, our prayers are with all those who have been killed or injured, and all the families affected by the tragedy.

Less than two weeks to go..

July 1st is now less than a fortnight away, so I’m starting to feel excited about this thing l’ll be doing. This what is it? This pilgrimage. This retreat. This walkabout. This time on the road and on the street.

Most people I’ve spoken to about the plan have understood what it’s about. In fact a few have said they would like to join me! My Franciscan friend Brother Vaughan has offered to walk the first day with me, out of London. I think I am going to take him up on that. He is also the one who is lending me one of his backpacks. He has 3! He does a lot of walking, including the Camino to Santiago de Compostella.

I’m experimenting with writing this on the blackberry, to find out if it will work while I am out on the road, but it doesn’t work so well. I may have to find the use of  computer at a internet cafe or day centre as I go.

I will post again a bit later as its a bit of a palaver on the blackberry..