Bishop Cormac Murphy O'Connor of Arundel and Brighton examines the biblical, poetic and personal sides to the companionship provided by walking.
IT IS A strange thing but, more by accident than by design, have never walked as much in my life as since I came to the diocese of Arundel and Brighton. Walking on the Downs, tramping throughthe fields and forests, meandering on pilgrimages, it all seems to have happened in the last six years or so. From all this walking I have gained exercise and refreshment but also something more. I have discovered the joy of walking.
It is good to walk with people. Each year I walk on a "Youthgather" with some 1200 young people. I enjoy talking with young people but it is even better to talk and walk with them.
A shared experience and conversation on the road together is much more fruitful and enjoyable than a static discussion. In one of my favourite passages in St John's gospel, Jesus invited the young Andrew and his brother, John, to spend the day with him. Vaen they asked him where he lived, Jesus said, "Come and see". I bet Jesus went out for a stroll with them during the course of the day!
There are also numerous pilgrimages to take part in, such as that from The Tower of London to Arundel in Sussex, the home of St Philip Howard; the 10-day walk through
Left: the once busy port of Arundel.
Southern Counties, or, of course, the pilgrimage to Lourdes.
In some ways, the latter has the most painful walks of all. There is nothing like the slow walk of the Blessed Sacrament procession at Lourdes for making the backs of your legs ache! Or the climb up the hill, as one makes the Stations of the Cross, and sympathises with those helpers, who painfully carry up the sick on their stretchers or push them up in their wheelchairs. They cheerfully carry a double burden, as they seek to share with their companions their cross of suffering and pain.
Or I have walked in far off Northern Peru. Because of disastrous floods on one occasion, there were no roads, so we walked 20 miles up the mountain to the parish where our priests are working. The journey was a pilgrimage. Never was I so grateful to receive a cup of water on the way; never so willing to accept the simple food to eat and the bare floor for the night. The traveller knows what it means when we say that we are all brothers and sisters, sharing as fellow pilgrims on our journey. Perhaps it has something to do with kindness and courtesy that accompanies those on a journey together.
Of courtesy, it is much less Than Courage of Heart or Holiness,
Yet in my walks it seems to me That the Grace of God is in Courtesy.
(Belloc) Kindness and courtesy are landmarks on yet another road that is something of a pilgrimage — the road to ecumenism. I spent a week-end recently with Church leaders at Canterbury and the common desire to venture a little further along that path (which will no doubt be beset with many thorns) was evidenced by the determination of all present to listen to each other but above all to pray together for Christian unity.
It is important to get together and to examine our hopes and fears and desires for the future. Every now and again I meet and go for a walk with my brother priests in Sussex and Surrey. It is especially good to walk with them, for priests perhaps have more to share than many other people, since they carry a particular burden in their care for the local churches..
"How good and pleasant it is for brothers to live in unity". And so, while I'm sure many of my brethren enjoy walking in the Lake District, or the Moors, the Mendips, or the Cotswolds, we are content to be, for a few
hours, with Belloc in The South Country.
The Great hills of the South Country They stand along the sea And it's there walking in the high woods
That I could wish to be And the men that were boys when I was a boy Walking along with me.
When you come to think of it, how often do we find in the gospel that Jesus is on the move, often with his friends: Jesus "went out to the hills to pray"; "made his way to a lonely place"; "walked through the cornfields", and finally, "took the road to Jerusalem".
Everywhere in the gospel story we find reference to Jesus talking to his friends as he walked with them on the road. Most memorable surely was on the road to Emmaus. "Two disciples were on their way to a village called Emmaus . . . Jesus himself came up and walked by their side but something prevented them from recognising him". And at the end of the journey, he turned their sorrow into joy.
Francis Thompson, when he had been "discovered" by the Maynells and was being brought back to physical health, lived
with the Premonstratentian monks in Storrington. In his poem, 'Daisy', he talks about the young child whom he met when walking on the hills above where I live now. She was to him that day "the sweetest flower on the Sussex hills" and they talked together. Then she went "her unremembering way" and left him marvelling at the sadness in the sweet and the sweetness in the sad.
In one of the last poems he wrote, Thompson reflects: But (when so sad thou canst sadder) Cry; and upon thy so sore loss Shall shine the traffic of Jacob's ladder Pitched betwixt Heaven and Charing Cross, Yea, in the night, my Soul, my daughter, Cry, — clinging Heaven by the name; And lo, Christ walking on the water, Not of Genasareth, but Thames!
We do not need to be on the road to Emmaus to have Jesus for our companion on the way. He is there, so long as we cry out to him — 'clinging Heaven by the name' in bad times, and invite him to be with us when joy is our happy lot.
And so, to finish with the words of the old marching song, for my part, I'll hope to "keep right on to the end of the road" — endeavouring at the same time to have the grace to see Christ in each and every "stranger" who walks with me along the way.