Chilton Taize service
Pilgrims have been walking to Santiago de Compostela down various routes for hundreds and hundreds of years. I’m showing some photos etc that Hugh and I took en route but I’m not going to talk about them as such.
I want to talk first about Rhythm. This is something that affects our lives in many ways… the rhythm of work and home; the rhythm of music and sound that we take for granted. If we lie very quietly and hold our breath we can even hear the rhythm of our own heartbeat.
It’s often in the rhythms that we are able to focus on something completely different from that which surrounds us. As a boy, I remember singing in the parish church choir – evensong was my favourite because I learnt it so well, that I could wander off in my own thoughts and still take part.
You’ve experienced the Taizé chants that we sometimes use in church services, and you’ll know that when you’ve ‘got’ the tune and words, you can keep singing for a long time – over and over – and start to focus on something else… and we use that kind of experience often to draw closer to God; it can help close the gap between Him and us – in a very personal and private way.
People choose to go on Pilgrimages for all sorts of reasons, which fall into probably only a few categories – and when you reach the end of the Camino, the pilgrim office asks you…have you done this for health reasons, for religious reasons or for spiritual reasons. We have to judge for ourselves and cannot do that until we have walked the journey – because what we tell ourselves when we begin may NOT be the reality.
Every day we get up and embrace a routine of walking, talking, eating, sleeping… it’s a little like life itself… and, in particular, walking the way of our life in Christ. Religious orders have embraced ‘rules of life’ for a couple of thousand years; though these may differ slightly between different orders, the basics are the same: prayer, study, action.
We might look at ourselves tonight and ask why we come to a house group… it’s discipline…a rhythm that enables us to learn, grow and to FOCUS on the one alongside us as we travel. For us as Christians, that is Jesus.
On pilgrimage – on this Camino of our lives – we are alongside many different folk – and, as we progress in a disciplined way of life, we begin to see Jesus IN them, and how He is alongside us because of them…teaching us His way, His journey for us – as individuals.
OCD on the Camino
Now it’s not that I’m particularly obsessive or anything… but I like to have clean hands. I started nurse training in 1974 and you kinda get used to washing your hands a lot during the working day.
Do you have things that you do, that you’d like to know are normal? But you’re too afraid to ask someone else, in case they might think you’re weird? No? So it really is just me then!
Well, when I took my pension last October, I’d been nursing in one guise or another for almost forty years; and in all that time I have hated a few things about being a nurse… there are teeth, and in particular false ones; there is vomit…’cos it always makes you heave, doesn’t it?; there are eyes and caring for them; and there are feet – I know we’ve mostly all got ‘em, and we wash them frequently and do our nails and the hard skin… but ‘other peoples feet’ are not like your own. For me – as a foot hater – I have always hated the smell and texture and the grotty nails etc, and I have to swallow hard before attempting to do that bit of nursing care.
I never told my colleagues about my dislike of things, because I thought they’d just think I was pathetic; I just got on and dealt with the things in the assumption that you don’t get to like everything you do.
But I have to tell you that I have – to my own shame – on occasions, scrubbed my hands till they have bled to rid myself of the smell of other peoples’ feet. Imagine my joy, then, at retreating from the bedside into management and, last October, from any further possibility of bleeding hands on that score.
I came back from walking 800km on the Camino Frances on the June 3rd. I went out there to find out a bit more about myself and about what God wants me to do – or be – on his behalf. I was hoping for a revelation…or a mountain-top experience – a climb of 5000ft to the summit where I would meet my saviour’s gaze, or hear his voice. And as we climbed beyond Orisson and past a statue of la Vierge, en route to the col, the gap where we would pass downwards towards Roncevalles (all on day 1 this, by the way) – my revelation was there waiting for me.
Hugh Burgess, my walking companion, knew I was a retired nurse and had stocked up on first aid equipment in the expectation that I would be able to ‘save a few lives’ as we followed this way of St James. That wasn’t the revelation, though…just annoyingly presumptuous of Hugh.
At the side of the road, in a particularly exposed part of the pathway – miles from anywhere – sat a young German woman in tears – smoking a cigarette (which was getting damp and salty).
“Here’s someone who needs your help, Paul.” Said Hugh.
“OK”, I replied.
“What’s the problem? Can I help? “, I asked the woman.
“My feet…. I can’t even look at them…they hurt so much”
Oh goody, I thought, my favourite.
As customary and practiced professionalism kicked in – I expected to feel the urge to gulp a lungful of air but, as I took her poor feet in my hands, a change happened – nothing sensational, nothing momentous – but a realisation of what I guess we all know already. God never asks us to do anything that he has not equipped us for; not in our careers, not at home, nowhere – not even on top of a windy, damp and cold mountain in the Pyrenees. No nausea came, no revulsion, no inescapable stench.
And as we continued to walk – another 65 people lent me their feet, ankles, knees, hearts, minds, laughter and tears – and reminded me by their submission to a stranger’s hands of the need to submit to the Lord and put aside my own psyche to be fully in his service. My hands changed… and I could feel the pain of others – both visible and hidden – an overwhelming sense of compassion came upon me. Despite tiredness, exhaustion and thirst – which I felt keenly many times – when called to minister, those bodily failings melted away and I was amazed both at what I knew and what I was able to do for those who came.
Action, for me, was doing what I was trained to do, but with the bonus of a change in my own heart and body – I felt compassionate, yes, but overwhelmingly, I felt grateful.
A Spanish woman – a mystic – a nun – gave us these truths.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours; no hands but yours; no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ must look out on the world. Yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which He is to bless His people. That was St Theresa of Avila
There is a song by Vicky Beeching. It’s called “Above All Else” (Jesus, my passion)
The hook line is a plea to Jesus,
“Above all else, give me yourself.”
And we should remember that when he blesses us to do his work, that is precisely what He IS doing – giving Himself to us.
Along the way of St James, Santiago, Saint Jacques… every time we said ‘Hola!’ to people the response came back, “Buen Camino” – good journey – or folk would shout ‘Ultreia!” – which means “onwards” or “keep going”.
In the heat, rain, wind – always people alongside to encourage and be encouraged… Just like our own lives. Concentrate on the Christ in others and it’s far easier to see where He wants us to be and what he wants us to do on His behalf. On the way of St James…wherever yours lies … it matters not – Christians walking together – are never alone.