The call of the outdoors seems to be getting stronger in my heart. Reading “Backpacking with the saints” by Belden Lane sowed some seeds… the First Friday I spent at the Ignatian Spirituality Centre here in Glasgow watered them… the pilgrimages I have been engaged with are nurturing more growth… gardening too… if only the weather could just warm up a bit!
Last Monday, straight after a week visiting family and friends south of the border, I again made my way to Durham, rucksack on my back, to meet another pilgrim band. Again it was a privilege and great pleasure to get to know these women a little as we chatted over coffee in Durham Cathedral, caught the train to Alnmouth, walked up the wild Northumbrian coast for two full days and then gathered at the foreshore in Beal for the pilgrim path to Holy Island.
The crossing was bright and beautiful – otherworldly as it always is; a liminal place, a threshold. David Adam, a former vicar of Lindisfarne, may have had this very crossing in mind as he writes, in his book, “The Awesome Pilgrimage” that “A liminal place is a place of transition to another world, where the eyes of the heart are opened and we know ‘the Lord is here'”.
I hope and pray that was the experience of the women who accompanied me this time – it was certainly mine. They were another fascinating, courageous and fun-loving group – and we shared in tears and laughter, silence and conversation over the days together. Although we reminded ourselves that life on a tiny island brings its own challenges and is not the idyll we sometimes imagine, yet Lindisfarne is a special place, a “thin” place and time spent there, for me, always brings healing and renewal.
As always we dispersed on Saturday morning, not from the tranquil peace of Lindisfarne, but from the bustle of Berwick-upon-Tweed railway station, for the history of Lindisfarne is not just about withdrawing but also about sending out… Appropriately I was off to the Methodist Church’s “One Mission Forum” in Leeds (thankful for the good friend who brought me some clean clothing to change into there!) The 24-hour consultation included an excellent session led by Rev. Hannah Bucke who spoke about her pioneer ministry in Southend-on-Sea, working without church buildings, often walking the streets to meet and engage with people on their terms. This was scary but inspiring. Most of the stories of the Gospels happened outside – is it just the climate which keeps us in our churches so much of the time, or are we in danger of losing something of that open-air approach much loved by our Primitive Methodist forebears? Blow, winds, blow…