6th December 2022
Rebecca Swarbrick of Fife shares her reflections on finding and being found while on pilgrimage.
So, pilgrimage is all about journeying, right? But what if there was no particular place to aim for, just a knowing that you had to walk the trail? A trail that you return to again and again.
This has been my life for about a year now. Every week or so I get on the coastal path of the East Neuk, where I live, and step and step and step. Usually not very far. It doesn’t matter. I’ll take what I can get.
Sometimes I wonder. Why this path? Why not something new? And sometimes I go off piste, but I always go back to the same old walk and there I am and there the I Am is with me.
It is a good walk, with the Isle of May a fixed point in the horizon and the variable setting of the sea and sky. Sometimes I find tears falling as I walk, sometimes a straying dog accompanies me for a bit. Sometimes it’s grey and blank and the horizon is smudged to nothingness. Other times the clear brightness cheers me on and drives me forward. The path is the same, but never is.
David writes in Psalm 139:3, “You search out my path”. Which brings me to my other place of pilgrimage. The place I like to return to. Candlelit evenings with Psalm 139. I have to read the words out loud. I need to hear the words, I need to speak them, my body needs to feel them. And when I do, the words resonate into my being and I know that I am known. And I consider not bothering with the walk and then I say, “You search out my path.” And so I go, because I know I will be found there on the path, on the trail. That I will be found and I will find. Most of the time I don’t even know what it is I’m finding.
Will I find in the waves that life is unstoppable, unquenchable? Will I see in the birds that being gathered together is good?
At this time of year, with days that sometimes feel like they haven’t arrived at all, it can be hard to go, to walk, to confront the day exactly as it is – the darkness and the drudge. But how good to then arrive somewhere warm. Preferably somewhere with crackling fire and the smell of cinnamon sticks filling the room. Comfort is so much more comforting somehow.
How many times have I prayed that I won’t get comfortable? How much I have berated myself? I think I know what I meant, that I didn’t want to grow complacent. It wasn’t a terrible desire, but there was so much striving in it and not a lot of surrender. I have found, in my older years and particularly in these wintry days, that to be truly comforted I must first expose myself to the elements and then to utterly surrender to those awaiting arms. And what am I waiting for, but my Jesus, the one who came to comfort, to comfort His people?
And then again I come back to the candle, that intimate place and hear that I am deeply known and (in spite of this) deeply loved and I can hear those words of comfort and joy and perhaps this walk is not so aimless after all.
Rebecca lives along the beautiful Fife coast in Anstruther with her husband Jonathan and their two children and she frequents St Andrews University where she is the Project Officer for Mediation & Wellbeing.