Jamie’s Sabbatical – part I
I really thought that my walk across Scotland, from Fort William to Inverness up the Great Glen, would be a solitary affair – me, my rucksack and my little guidebook. The walk was to take six days, with five over-night stops. Measured at 75 miles, with diversions to overnight stops it was more like 100 miles by the time I finished.
If you know the Great Glen, you will know that, whilst there are a few towns along the way (Drumnadrochit, Invermoriston, Fort Augustus), the options for accommodation along much of the route are a bit limited.
One of the things that surprised me most about the walk (apart from the fact that, of the six days, four were sunny – not bad for a Scottish summer!) was that it was not solitary at all. The route – well-marked and well made – was by no means crowded. About half of it follows the route of the Caledonian Canal, and the other half climbs up into the hills above Loch Ness, well away from the busy main routes through the glen. But one became aware very quickly of other walkers following a similar itinerary, and we quickly got to know one another. Several of the days were spent in long conversations with fellow walkers.
The walk followed a week spent on Iona, a place famously described by George McCleod, the founder of the Iona Community, as a ‘thin place’. By this I think he meant that a sense of God’s presence is always close at hand. Although the walk took me away from Iona, it struck me that the walk also was a ‘thin place’, in that the conversations we had quickly took us to deep and serious matters, including questions of meaning and purpose.
Pilgrimage is an ancient practice in the Christian tradition. There are all kinds of reasons for this. The recognition that when we travel together we often get to a deeper place than when we stay put in one place is surely part of the reason. Indeed, in the life of the church, we often use the idea of being on a journey to describe what the life of the church ought to be like. I would love to think that our churches are ‘thin places’ in the sense that I discovered on my walk. If people can feel that we are alongside them on their journey of life and that the things that really matter can be shared honestly and openly then we will be being true to our calling as a pilgrim people.