This morning a friend sent me some verses from Psalm 65 and they were so appropriate as I walked I thought I would add them here with pictures from today’s walk (amazingly a dry one!)
Day Two was set to be a hot one so we decided to leave Burgh earlier than the bus would have got us there and to take a taxi instead. I say ‘we’ as today I was delighted to have the company of Julie and Ian Paton from St Denys who came all the way up from Leicester to walk with me. Ian and I first spoke about doing the #walk4andy some years back on a church sponsored walk closer to home and so it was very special to have them join me.
We had lots of fun and the time passed quickly on this relatively short part of the walk. However, I think they were a bit disappointed not to see much of the Wall! I know how they feel. It has been puzzling me that here I am at the end of Day Two and I have yet to see anything resembling what I thought Hadrian’s Wall (Vallum Aelium for Latin fans!) was all about.
In fact, we have seen a fair bit of the Wall but not perhaps in the form we were expecting. St Michael’s Church in Burgh and St Mary’s Beaumont were both built with stone pilfered from the Wall. I was so relieved to find St Michael’s open this morning so I could see inside this beautiful little church and the terrific display they have of its history.
Many of the old houses and farm walls probably also make use of stones taken from the Wall when it fell into disuse. We just wouldn’t necessarily have known they were there. They might just look like any other stone wall.
This set me thinking again. The Bible calls us ‘living stones’. Our purpose in life is to be part of something bigger, to be built into something amazing – a home for God’s Spirit – and every stone has a part to play. Look at Danny Dyer’s discovery that his ancestors included King Edward III, and therefore also his grandfather Edward I who died in Burgh by Sands and was laid in St Michael’s Church before being carried back to London to be buried.
Those ordinary stones I’ve ignored today, while walking past engrossed in conversation, could well have been part of Hadrian’s Wall in their past and played a significant part in our national history. How many ‘dotty old ladies’ or ‘confused old men’ do we as a society dismiss as unimportant without stopping to find out their past? For that matter, how many younger people do we dismiss as drunk when they are in fact suffering from VHL or other similar conditions?
I am looking forward to seeing the Wall ‘intactum’ but it’s perhaps good to begin with a reminder not to overlook the possibility that sometimes the most significant stones might not be in the most obvious of places.
And today’s part of the Celtic prayer:
You are the light that shines in dark
You are the heart’s eternal spark
I have discovered it’s possible to feel lonely even when you are not alone and to be alone and not to feel lonely at all.
This morning – #walk4andy day one – I was up with the larks to get to the Ascension Day service at Carlisle Cathedral. As I went bleary-eyed for communion, I offered up to God the day ahead and all the planning that has gone into this #walk4andy.
Afterwards there was a delicious breakfast and some good company from as far away as Argentina! I also got invited back to evensong when Michael, the brilliant Canon Missioner, kindly prayed for those suffering with VHL, remembering Andy in the Cathedral intercessions, and even gave me tea and a few beers! It’s always good to be reminded that we are not alone, and the Church extends well beyond our parish and across the world (NB. I drafted this before I heard the news from the Philippines but that makes it even more poignant – when one part suffers, the whole body suffers with it…)
I then took the bus out to Bowness on Solway to find the beautiful Pavilion where I could stamp my passport to prove I’d been. En route I made more friends on the bus and a visitor from Norway kindly took my picture.
Thereafter I was pretty much on my own. The route to Burgh by Sands was pretty quiet. I didn’t feel lonely though. I had my thoughts and the messages from so many friends and loved ones wishing me all the best. I even had a text from one of my churchwardens with a picture of the smiling faces of my wonderful congregation back at St Denys this morning!
But it was hot and sunny (Andy wouldn’t have complained!) and there wasn’t a lot of shade as I walked alone by the marshes. The cap and sun cream did their job but I felt very exposed to the elements.
It set me thinking about how exposed and vulnerable I have felt since losing Dad and Andy. I adore the women in my life – Wendy and my two girls, my mum and stepmother – but Dad and Andy can never be replaced and without them this little brother and youngest son does, if I’m honest, feel lonely at times, even though I know I am far from being alone.
I came across a beautiful prayer which I am going to use as I walk and try to learn by heart two lines at a time. It comes from the Celtic tradition and it begins like this:
You are the peace of all things calm
You are the place to hide from harm
As I searched for shelter from the heat of the sun along the still, deserted marshes of the Solway, these words came alive and I found peace with my ‘alone-ness’.
One thing I am finding it hard to get away from is the sense that my #walk4andy is no longer just a walk but a pilgrimage. The idea was sown in my mind by our local Catholic priest who rang me after reading about the walk to offer me sponsorship from the church’s Pilgrimage Fund. That was deeply humbling and left me wondering whether he was right.
I have known for some time that the journey is going to be not just physically challenging but also very emotional. And for that reason, I’m thankful that I won’t be alone for much of the time. Lots of friends and family have been contacting me in the last week or so to offer their companionship on the journey for a day or two. It will be wonderful to see some faces I haven’t seen for many years, and maybe even to meet new ones.
But even on the days when I am walking by myself, I won’t be alone. I will be walking with Andy every step of the way. He will be in my thoughts and prayers, my inspiration, throughout. And as I learn from the peace he found trusting that God was there walking with him through the challenges he faced, I will be praying that I and others will know God’s presence and the companionship of the risen Jesus – #thykingdomcome.
The Romans on the Wall would have understood the implications of the word ‘companion’ – cum pane – literally ‘with bread’. Companions were those you shared your bread with. It will be very special for me to begin the whole #walk4andy by breaking bread with other Christians at Carlisle Cathedral on Ascension Day. It’s one of those times when I feel very aware of those who have done the same before me and those who are doing the same thing hundreds of miles away. There is a strong sense of being united in the bread we share.
Back at St Denys in Evington my companions in faith will also be sharing bread and maybe even some sparkling wine on Thursday morning to celebrate Jesus’ ascension, before they set off on their own prayer walks round the parish, one in the Spirit, wherever we are.
It wasn’t planned that my #walk4andy would coincide with an important time of prayer in the life of the Church I am part of, but it’s one of those ‘God-incidences’ which have been a feature of my life.
I really couldn’t believe it at first when I discovered that Day One of my walk was Ascension Day, the day the Church remembers Jesus returning to heaven, complete with pretty pink toes dangling down through the clouds if some of the paintings and windows are to be taken seriously! In fact, this was a key moment in the life of the disciples. Just imagine the roller coaster they had been on, from their great optimism for Jesus’ victory over their Roman oppressors, through watching him die a criminal’s death on the cross while they all ran away and hid, to seeing him again in his risen body and knowing the assurance that death had been defeated. Now to lose him again must have been hard to bear.
They waited, all gathered together, many of them I’m sure clueless about what they were in fact waiting for. But as they waited, they prayed. And so for generations Christians have observed a special time of prayer between Ascension and Pentecost, the day the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples and gave them a fresh hope and confidence.
Thy Kingdom Come is the title of the prayer campaign that the Archbishops of the Church of England have launched. They are encouraging all Christians to #pledge2pray over these nine days for everyone to know the transforming love of God in Jesus. You can hear the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, talking about his own experience here …
So, at my own church in Evington, there I’ll be some kind of prayer activity every day, lots of them involving walking (details are on our Facebook page here). We’ll be praying for our local schools, the people who live on the streets of our parish, and our local hospital and shops too.
Meanwhile, up on Hadrian’s Wall, I will be praying day by day as I walk, that those I know and love will also experience the amazing and transforming love of Jesus, as Andy himself did. What an amazing legacy that would be!
With just over a week to go now, I had the chance today to get in a final practice walk of a decent length from Evington to Mountsorrel (about 12 miles I reckon including getting lost round the back streets of Rushey Mead, a detour into Birstall to find a loo and following the meandering of the Canal!)
The weather was fine and I left in good heart from St Denys with Geraldine, our Lay Reader. There was a lot of pavement pounding to begin with but we found a route which exposed to me parts of the city I certainly hadn’t seen before!
Unfortunately, I had a hypo just before arriving at Watermead Country Park on the edge of the city. Having done all the right things (halved my bolus with breakfast and put on a temporary basal), I’m not quite sure why that happened but I do know that the continuous sensor I will have on my arm for the real thing will help me to take preventative action sooner.
There were lots of beautiful moments but a couple of things from today’s walk really stand out for me:
- First, the amazing provision of hospitality at the Catholic Church in Birstall. We arrived desperate to find a loo and somewhere for Geraldine to treat her blisters. Brenda at St Theresa’s welcomed us with open arms and gave us a cup of tea and some biscuits too (party rings – my favourites!) She even had the right stuff to put on Geraldine’s blisters – literally a Godsend.
- The second was the fantastic welcome from the gang at Christ Church in Mountsorrel where I had planned to finish my walk during their Coffee/LunchDay4Andy. I was deeply moved to see his church family rallying once again even after such a long time to show their support and love for him. I was also very thankful for the delicious bacon sandwich and a proper mug of tea! Thank you, lovely people!
So that’s it for the serious walking until I’m up on the Wall on the 25th. But today has taught me once again about the wonders of God’s provision and I couldn’t help smiling as I found an extra spring in my step after passing this pub by the side of the canal … (and no, it wasn’t because I had popped in for a quick pint, this was 11am!)
‘We have this hope as an anchor for the soul firm and secure.’ (Hebrews 6.19)
Andy loved his food. Here he is back in his twenties enjoying a barbecue in the back garden:
Andy liked all sorts of food and wasn’t afraid to try new things. He loved hot spicy curries and chilli as well as steaks and bacon sarnies. I don’t think he could ever have been a vegetarian!
I’m looking forward to walking from Evington to Mountsorrel next Saturday to enjoy a bacon sandwich and a piece of chocolate cake in his memory with his friends at Christ Church.
What I noticed about Andy’s love of food was that it wasn’t just about the eating. He really enjoyed the preparing and he was good at it, certainly better than me! I think if things had worked out differently he could have made a living out of it or even made it through to Masterchef.
Andy knew the satisfaction that came from a job well done and I think enjoyed his food all the more for having cooked it up himself. He found he could exercise his God-given creativity in cooking in a way I never have. (As a teenager I once fed my family French onion soup but forgot to adjust down the quantities of wine given in the recipe – I think they enjoyed it anyway!)
Now I have a love/hate relationship with food. Much as I love eating it, I hate having to try to count everything to calculate how much insulin to take. It means that packaged food is easier than cooking yourself or eating out. You can just read what it says on the label!
But I think Andy understood that food was about much more than calories or carbohydrates. It can involve great creativity and skill, as well as fun and fellowship. Maybe I need to put on my apron and get into the kitchen a bit more!