There’s an old, disused Railway line that runs between Swindon in the North, and Luggershall in the South. At Marlborough the line has to cross the Kennet valley. Having already carved great cuttings through the Downs to keep the railway line level, a great embankment was created out of the chalk taken from the cuttings. The railway crosses the Kennet by way of a rather high, single-span viaduct. The line was closed during the late 1960s and very soon the embankment became overgrown with bushes and trees. Needless to say, to those children living nearby, and I was one of them, the old railway line was a wonderful playground.
On one such exploration, with a friend, we discovered at the foot of the embankment a small spring that bubbled up from the chalk, and by way of a very small stream, the water found its way into the River Kennet. Even then, I had an unformed sense of its sacredness and perhaps even healing qualities. It was a special place.
Sacred springs and Holy wells have been a feature of our spiritual life in Europe, including the British Isles, probably since human beings have inhabited this part of the world. Think of Lourdes, The temple of Sulis Minerva at Bath, and various Saints’ wells dotted around, including Llandrindod Wells in our own area. People would travel to take the waters and give offerings to whatever deity or guardian saint was associated with a well.
One such Holy well emerges below a Yew tree in a wooded valley above Eardisley. Its waters run into a stream which passes below the Almeley road at the parish boundary between Eardisley and before that stream makes its way into the Letton Lake and on into the river Wye. It struck me, as I was looking at the waters beneath the bridge, that the area we live in doesn’t just have one stream, but probably dozens, some combining into bigger streams, others taking water all the way down from the hills into the Wye. We live in a magical, or should I say sacred, place. The Wye makes its way from the mountains onto the plain, and from there down to the sea.
It has been said that we find rivers restful, because rivers know where they are going and do not want to go anywhere else. Those who journeyed to these ancient sacred places were pilgrims; they knew where they were going, but for them the journey was as important as the destination.
The late Irish poet and priest John O'Donohue once said that “The pilgrim travels differently. Always in a pilgrimage there is a change of mind and a change of heart. The outer landscape becomes a metaphor for the unknown inner landscape.”
The journey into prayer can be similar. For, to begin with, it seems to be focussed outwards and rather static, not a journey at all but staying in one place. But, we pray through time and the events of our outer life will have an effect on the prayer of our inner life. The journey into prayer is like walking back up a river or stream, until we come to its source. Prayer is a pilgrimage, a journey towards God, the veiy source of our being, accompanied along the way by the same God.
During February we begin Lent, itself a journey into the wilderness, and onwards towards Calvary and then Easter. Towards the end of February we have the opportunity in this group of parishes to spend a week of accompanied prayer. Participants are invited to spend an hour a day, half of which is in private prayer, the other half-hour with a Pilgrim companion who will help to guide us on our way. See the box Below below.
Although the destination may be a deeper relationship with God, the way may surprise us. To quote John O’Donohue again: “I would love to live like a river flows, carried by the surprise of its own unfolding.”
If you are interested please call me or Mike and Sue Hawthorne 01544 327058.
Vicar’s thoughts for February 2018
To Be a Pilgrim
A week to walk more closely with God, led by the Accompanied Prayer Team.
25 February - 3 March.
The shape of the week
Opening Session Sunday 25 February 6.30- 8.30pm St. Mary Magdalene, Eardisley
Meeting together for an introduction to the week including examples of different ways of praying.
Monday 26 - Friday 2 March At Arboyne House, Eardisley
Each day you give time for personal prayer and meeting with your prayer companion from the team. Meetings happen at a mutually arranged time.
Closing Session Saturday 3 March. 9.30-11.30am at Eardisley Methodist Chapel
A gathering of everyone involved concluding the week. There will be an opportunity to reflect and share some experiences of the week.