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Pilgrimage?

The plan for this two week Sabbatical Block was to walk from Glasgow to Whithorn, a pilgrimage route.  It was always going to be subject to weather and transport, and in the end weather overtook my plans, as storm Ciara blew in form the west bringing rain, sleet and snow, disrupting trains and making walking untenable.

Which has made me think about how sanitised we have made pilgrimage - and perhaps faith - neatly parcelled into prescribed blocks that we can walk in sequence over a prescribed period of time, when the reality would have been very different.

Pilgrims in the past set off without a route map, without hotels booked or trains to carry them from A to B.  They set off in faith - often in pentience - and with no idea of what lay ahead.  There must have been times when the pilgrims had to pause and wait for the weather to change, to recover from injuries, or even to take a rest.

The first day of my walk was familiar, and so it was easy enough.  I enjoyed looking at familiar sights through different eyes, passing churches, shopping centres, dockyards, railway stations and more.  It was mildly asmusing to arrive at Paisley Abbey just in time to see the curator fit the padlock to the gates as it closed for the day!

The second day was a slog from Paisley to Lochwinnoch along a former railway line.  It would be a fantastic route for cyclists (its intended users) but not so much fun for walkers, as fences and trees obscured the view most of the way.  Then, near Lochwinnoch finally it opened up with a lochside view, an RSPB reserve and a sense of achievement as I reached the railway station just nicely in time for a train home!

Checking the map, it was clear that Day 3 was going to be more sloggy walking - partly the same cycle route, but also a long road stretch.  I decided to cheat - to take the train to the start of Day 4 and walk from Kilwining to Troon.  But was it really cheating?  Perhaps pilgrims would have taken advantage of opportunities to take a ride part of the way?  I don't know, but it gave me a lot of food for thought - afterall, in life, we can't simply take a ride to bypass the boring or tough bits, we have to travel them, however hard it is.  For all that, I refuse to guilt-trip myself!  I also refuse to press the metaphor too far!

So my Day 3 was a stroll from Kilwinning to Troon, which combined some beautiful rural countryside with yet more cycle track.  It was a good day, lovely sunshine, and, even though it was sometimes a but mundane, I enjoyed walking coastwards, and the final mile or so along the seafront was delightful.

Then the weather changed, Storm Ciara disrupted plans, and instead of walking from Troon to Ayr, I took a train to Paisley Abbey which was open for worship.  It was restful and gentle.  It reminded me, by its difference, of what I value, and often don't notice, in my own congregation.  It reminded what I value in preaching (and it reminded me that I'm not bad at it!). And it showed me that it was good not just to be 'sensible' but to be open to what opportunities might arise instead of my plans.

And now as rain, sleet and snow tumble from the sky, I spend this day indoors, reflecting, resting and reprogramming.  There has been a little (necessary and known about) work to be attended to, but there is also the unexpected gift of time.  Time to listen to (and enjoy) the sermon preached the day I was ill.  Time to still my soul and mind as well as my body.  And a reminder, were one needed, that Sabbath (and hence Sabbatical) is made for people (including Ministers), and not vice versa.

The weather forecast is such that walking plans are shelved, and that's ok, because the walk was never what it was really about - if I have gained nothing else, this is worth pondering. 

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