A walk without prayer is just a walk, surround the walk with prayer and it becomes a Pilgrimage. That was a thought given to me by my Spiritual Director, Fr Andy Hawes, at a study day he held on Pilgrimage. I knew, from that point on that I would have to seriously think about the prayer that would surround each day and also the purpose of my Pilgrimage. What did I wish to get out of it, what did I expect to get out of it and were those things achievable?
I was blessed with two things concerning the St Cuthbert’s Way and prayer, firstly, that my Dad was as keen as I was to surround the walk in prayer, that really helped! Secondly, that The Community of Aidan and Hilda have produced a booklet of prayers and songs for St Cuthbert’s Way. I decided that I shouldn’t re-invent the wheel and although I felt some of the prayers weren’t for Dad and I, and we certainly didn’t wish to sing on our way, I knew I could base our prayers on these. It is important to surround the walk in prayer, it gives it a different feel from just walking (as my Dad commented after we’d finished) and different styles suit different folk. My advise is to think about how you will do this before you go on Pilgrimage and make sure it works for you and any companions that you will have with you. It certainly helped me to feel I was walking with St Cuthbert, and that he was with us on the way, that we weren’t just walking in his footsteps. The beauty of the scenery also helped, Dad and I lost count of times we stopped and said “isn’t this stunning”, it made you want to give thanks all the more. The other thing that helped focus prayer were some of the sites and places on the way, the natural awe and beauty of St Cuthbert’s Cave being an obvious example and these places just made you to want to pray. A real chance to pause and give thanks or to contemplate where you were. So the first thing I got out of my Pilgrimage was a re-engagement with prayer in a more natural way. I am used to prayer the Daily Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer, which work for me because they are formulaic and they give a rhythm for my life. Praying more “of the cuff” and more instantaneously isn’t so natural for me, but the walk, with its challenges, its ups and downs and its beauty helped me with that, in both a spoken and a quite way.
I also got a real sense of purpose and achievement from doing this. I can’t think of the last time, apart from when going on Retreat, that I have set aside time to do something that would enable me to seek God’s presence in a new way. Did it impact on me they way I had hoped? Yes, and more so. It gave me a chance to leave duty behind, to leave the Parish with its natural drives that are based on doing and being and the role I inhabit as a Priest, and to concentrate on God and trying to just be. Through the physical struggles on the way, I leant that I am a determined person, that I don’t “give in” that I am also a person who doesn’t rest on what I have achieved, I want more than that, I want to gain more. Above all else I wish to be closer to God so that I can, I hope, help others get closer to God too.
Finally, I spent some real quality time with my Dad, which had always been the hope. We, through this joint experience, had a fantastic time, were able to share purpose, prayer and the ups and downs of Pilgrimage together. That aspect made what we did together all the more special and made a truly unforgettable experience all the more so.
Tomorrow I will give some advise about going on Pilgrimage from my experience, and include in that some thoughts about why you might wish to go on Pilgrimage.