Pilgrimage on St. Hilda’s Way – CJ Noviceship Experiment
I am, at heart, a ‘city slicker’ from downtown Toronto. I did not grow up going hiking nor camping and I never dreamt that I would ever embark on a walking pilgrimage on St. Hilda’s Way in the north of England. But this past June, I found myself doing just that.
For these reasons, I knew this experiment would be a true test of my physical and spiritual endurance. Several obstacles had to be confronted and overcome in order to undertake this most unlikely (for me at least) of adventures.
First, to follow a map in unfamiliar rural territory in the face of England’s bone chilling wind and rain (even in June). Second, to do it with my friend Lucia, a lovely CJ novice from Slovakia who is learning English and with whom I had only lived for a few weeks.
Upon setting out, we had both planned, prepared, and packed as prudently as possible. My only prayer was that we would simply survive the elements without getting utterly lost, getting killed or killing each other!
In all seriousness however, I knew that we would be fine not on our own strength but because God was with us… to lead us, to test us, and to teach us—and that most certainly is what occurred. Indeed, I was thankfully showered with many graces during our pilgrimage. In this reflection, I would like to focus simply on one of these many gifts: companionship.
I am so grateful to have lived this unique experience with such a beautiful, good-natured, humble and holy soul that is Lucia. It is a mystery that we come from different continents (and culturally different worlds) and yet share in a deeply rooted ‘sameness’ within us that is CJ.
Together, we enjoyed the thrill of exploring the Yorkshire country side (rarely meeting other pilgrims yet crossing many sheep and cattle), and savouring the comforts of each Bed and Breakfast and British cuisine. In being alone together, God was gently stretching us.
For example, the first full day of walking started off brilliantly but by midday we encountered ‘angry cows,’ we had to find a whole new route, and confront our growing anxieties as we found ourselves in the woods, then in the rain, searching for the bridge to cross the river, and with our boots already thoroughly soaked. But we found the bridge and crossed the water, making it out together.
Each morning, there was a feeling of restlessness of having to ‘get up and go’ with all of our gear, the physical perils of hiking on a not so well marked trail, the awkwardness of us both communicating in English, and the odd pang of primal fear that arose from dreaded signs such as “bull in the field.” The grace that I found in the ordinary being together all of the time was a simplicity of being there for each other always.
As Lucia and I both have a sacred appreciation for the gift of the present moment, together, we naturally entered mindfully into the rhythm of our walking and breath in communion with the spectacular vistas that enfolded before us on the Esk Valley Way.
Each morning, I found that praying with the psalms was particularly helpful in soaking in the splendour of God’s creation throughout the day. In paying attention to even the smallest details, it was as if as we passed it, every petal on every flower, every blade of grass in every field, welcomed us, all the while proclaiming in its very posture and being, the glory of God.
Indeed, there were times of misunderstanding and times of silence but we always bounced back because there was also so much joy… Lucia really has a gift of making me laugh, even to the point of tears. I never lost sight of trusting that God’s wisdom has placed us together, and that the body of the CJ had sent us together.
Thus, I believed our hearts were strong enough to talk about our differences in a spirit of mutual growth and respect. In doing so, our friendship was purified, strengthened and was ever blossoming. We felt lifted and carried each day by God’s grace and by the love of our dear ones, all over the world, rooting us on in prayer.
Once we made it to our final destination in Whitby, we enjoyed a few days at our seaside CJ holiday house. Looking back, we could see how God’s grace had gently been working within us to accept ourselves and the other for who they are with gratitude. We both had a genuine sense of peace and accomplishment.
Yes, we learned to overcome our angst, we found our way and crossed life’s bridges because we had each other and we took care of each other. We were sent together and we made it together because God was with us.
As the graces continue to settle, I am grateful for this incredible experience and I know that I could not have asked for a better companion and friend in the Lord on the pilgrimage experiment… thank you Lucia.
All photos courtesy of the author.