24.2.19 – Letting Go by Martin
As might seem reasonable, journeys are a bit on my mind at present. Martin and I, of course, have quite a few coming up. Around five years ago we started to plan a time of study leave at Cambridge University. Because there are two of us, we had to wait until there were two gaps together in the Cheshunt Foundation scheme that we are studying under. It’s a very generous Foundation, they make an apartment available for us, and they feed us – during the week. At the weekends they starve us, to try and force us out into the countryside. It is hoped that, in our search for food, we will have a bit of a look around – which is just fine by us – that’s exactly what we want to do in the weekends anyway.
As our planning got underway we started to think about how we might best prepare ourselves for this time of study and ideas about a long slow slightly challenging walk across Northern Spain began to take root. We figured by the time we finally reached Cambridge some 40 or so days from starting out, we should be well ready to settle down and begin our work. This, we thought, might enable us to let go of being a Villager and fully immerse ourselves in another context, for a time. That way we might get the very best from our study leave.
Then of course that all lead to thinking about the sense in going all that way and not seeing this or doing that and suddenly half a year was being planned.
I wonder what this journey will teach Mart and I about letting go. I think it will be like shedding skin. Layer by layer will have to be set aside until we are left with just who we are, aside of what we do, and that’s the person we most want to encounter on this journey. That’s the person who can get a little lost under the pile of things that have to be done, or organised or just worried about. Becoming a pilgrim is, I think, a journey toward finding that person.
What will it be that we need to let go of? Well, from what I have read, the first thing might be comfort. The comfort that comes from a warm shower perhaps, or the comfort of peace and quiet at night. I am not accustomed to serious snoring nearby – which I may not express my gratitude for, often enough, – so thanks for that Mart. Increasingly I am becoming concerned about letting go of the luxury of an en-suite at night…I realise how much I take the comfort of well rested feet for granted, and the comfort found in what is familiar. I realise too that I may have to let go of expectations in order to fully embrace new places and new people.
From what I have read and hear I will need to let go of my need for my own space as I am forced to share it with who knows who. Maybe there will be attitudes and prejudices, I don’t even know I have, that will find their way to the surface and have to be let go of. We will be entering deeply into another culture, one we are unfamiliar with, one we will need to be open to and respectful of. Already I have had to let go of my ‘pride’ in having a healthy body which I have generally managed to leave to itself to get on with its own business. Over the months of preparation, I have had to learn to listen to it and to take measures to help it along a bit…
And then there is, what seems to be the hardest bit right now, we will need to let go of our Village life here, our family life here. We will have to let go of familiar patterns of caring for those close to us and trust they will also learn from being let go.
And let them go we must. From the other side of the world there is not much we can do anyway. At this point, a few days from leaving, we are deep in the ‘oh that’ – who’s going to take care of that. This despite months of planning and thinking ahead about the details. Dan, who we are busy loading up with things he will need to know in order to hold The Village together, said recently, “I wonder how far into the Camino you will be before you stop processing Village and Presbytery stuff”. Well, I wonder too, at what point we will begin to let these things go, and how that might feel. I can imagine an element of relief alongside the grief. We have the utmost confidence in Dan and the rest of the leadership here at the Village, as I do in the Presbytery staff and Andrew Nicol’s leadership of Presbytery – but still it’s not so easy to walk away.
Some of this, and a few other worries about leaving, come and visit in the night – and have been regular visitors for the past few months. Soon I will need to let that business go too, in order to fully live into what will begin to occupy our thoughts – finding somewhere to sleep, something to eat, and attending to the state of our feet.
These three things, I am told will soon be quite enough to fill my worry bank.
Even these, of course, will need to be let go of and find their place, as I change focus and instead, consider the lilies, and keep an eye on the birds of the air and in letting go, learn to trust the process. Holding on to things, even those that mean a lot to us, can stifle growth, kill imagination and ultimately limit our ability to life this kingdom life we have been given.
For the past few months, Martin and I have been practising walking in a relaxed manner. It’s how an elderly Spanish chap advised a couple of pilgrims to walk, in order to avoid blisters. That and drinking lots of water. It’s takes some practice and some intention, I have noticed. Each morning when we set off, I tend to stride off, before I remember to shorten my stride and deliberately wander.
Last weekend when we were at The Presbytery Gathering in Greymouth, a kind soul gave me a printout of some pages from a book about pilgrimages, which borrows a quote from a book called Through the years with Francis of Assisi. Here’s something from that: “The way of the pilgrimage is the way of death leading to life. You leave behind loved ones and home, entrusting their safety and care of God, who is drawing you away from them. It is not so much where you are going as the going away, the leaving itself, that matters. It is consigning to God what you thought was so dependent upon your presence: your loved ones, your affairs. It is not that one place is more in God’s hearing that another, so that he hears me better ‘there’ than ‘here’. But it is what happens to my own hearing in the traveling ‘there’ to listen, when the things and people ‘here’ begin to speak too loudly for me to hear my own inner voices and the voice of the Spirit.”
Then the author of the book, Murray Bodo, goes on to say, “A pilgrimage is a quest for grace. A pilgrim is a displaced person whose normal routines and relationships have been suspended. To be a pilgrim is to be marginaliszed, stripped of the familiar, forced to listen to the call of the Divine. To be a pilgrim is to be freed from the details of everyday preoccupations and responsibilities, free to contemplate and respond to God. A pilgrimage is not about tourism or postcards; is it about change.” My hope is that when we finish walking the Camino we will be different; that we will see the world around us with new eyes. I hope too that we will have learned how to walk the journey of life in a relaxed manner, accepting that today’s troubles are indeed enough for today. I wonder whether our journey’s might enable journeys for you too, as we continue to do life together …