September 2019

Vanquishing hobgoblins and foul fiends

A week before I wrote this, I was part of a pilgrimage celebrating the Feast of the Transfiguration on the evening of August 6th, when a group of people walked from Craswall Church up on to the green lane leading on to the mountain and then down to Llanveynoe Church. We began with a meditation in Craswall and ended with Compline - the night-time service - in Llanveynoe. The weather was not quite as glorious as the Vicar had unwisely foretold, but we were rewarded with a glorious rainbow over the hills to the east.

On one level, any walk with a group of people is a learning experience. During the walk there is always a changing chemistry as people find themselves walking with different partners and get to know and listen to them. This is always good when, as on this occasion, there were people from a fairly wide area few of whom knew everybody else. It is - without making it sound too clinical, I hope - a learning experience.

That is one aspect. But a pilgrimage is also much more about understanding as well as about learning: it is about trying to develop a deeper understanding about the nature of God and our relationship with him. It helps - but is by no means essential - if it coincides with a celebration within the Christian year. On this occasion it was, of course, the Feast of the Transfiguration, when three of the disciples on the mountain in a gleaming light gained the briefest vision of the nature of Christ’s glory. For us the light was certainly brief and hardly gleaming, but we were nevertheless able to use the occasion for some important reflection. First, like the disciples, we climbed a mountain. In doing so, we did not necessarily put our earthly concerns behind us, but we were able to put them into some sort of perspective. Secondly, as we walked along the wooded pathway, we were able to ask ourselves what things really matter to us, and then, thirdly, as we emerged out on to the mountainside, we certainly gained a broader and clearer view of the nature of God’s creation and love, and then, as we came down to Llanveynoe Church, we did so with the words that God spoke to the disciples on that original occasion ringing in our ears, ‘This is my Son, my beloved: listen to him’, and at Compline at Llanveynoe we were able to do exactly that.

That may be an idealised account of what actually took place, and, as is inevitably the case on such exercises, it will have meant more to some than to others. But a pilgrimage does differentiate itself from a simple walk by the fact that it does have at its heart a meaning and a purpose - different ones for different people. And a pilgrimage does inevitably have a metaphorical connotation. Our whole life is a pilgrimage, shared with different people at different times, with, at its heart, a wish and desire for a greater understanding of God, his love, his forgiveness and his compassion. Going on an actual pilgrimage is, at the very least, a reminder of this.

I hope that, as a deanery, we develop a programme of pilgrimages across different terrains and with different purposes. I have always wanted to organise one from Llanthony Abbey to Craswall Priory: if that sounds good to you, do please let me know. We have the two-yearly pilgrimage from Dore Abbey to Craswall Priory (the next one is on July 18th 2020). Any ideas you have for other routes will be much welcomed. I also hope that we can produce a brochure of such routes so that people can follow them whenever they like, not just when one is organised.

And you got the bit about hobgoblins and foul fiends, didn't you?