On Monday I went on a quiet day. I am possibly the world's most extroverted extrovert, but I do love a quiet day! I have got into a pattern lately of visiting the wonderful St. Beuno's, in North Wales, about an hour away. I first went there during my sabbatical, for a 4 day silent retreat (stop laughing!), and it was so wonderful that I resolved to visit regularly. Usually on a quiet day I begin with a meeting with my spiritual director, Tim, who is all kinds of wise and holy. We chat for a while and then off I wander, to spend the rest of the day in quiet with God. There are lots of beautiful chapels and corners of the house to explore, and when the weather is good there are also lots of beautiful parts to the gardens, and further afield.
On Monday, we had been talking about life, and work, and busyness, and the need sometimes to simply stop and breathe. I had been relaying that struggle, so well known to all clergy and church workers, that it seemed as though I was spending all of my time praying and reading the Bible 'for work', and precious little time praying and reading the Bible 'for me'. I said that I was so looking forward to spending the day 'alone' with God - just the two of us. Tim asked me to imagine what I thought that might look like, and the image that came to mind was of me and God, arm in arm, wandering through the fields, chatting. It was positively idyllic, a scene of joyful peace and harmony.
Shall I tell you what actually happened?
I set off on my walk, full of the joys. Ah! Here at last was peace and harmony and tranquility. I followed my carefully printed instructions. I turned off the road into a field, and began my walk. It was at this moment that I realised it was very significantly more muddy than I had appreciated. I was wearing walking boots, thank goodness, but nonetheless the mud was fierce and soon my boots and my jeans were quite a sight. But no matter. I was walking with the Lord and all was well.
Then I soon realised that it was actually quite warm. I had dressed that morning for a baltic Liverpool vicarage barely free from the snowbound winter. I found myself in a glorious Welsh springtime. I was wearing *far* too many clothes. I couldn't complain though, because I have spent literally the past 6 months moaning about being cold, and I pride myself on never, ever uttering the words "it's too hot." I stripped off a layer or two and continued on my merry way.
Then I realised I was carrying far too much baggage. I had set off with a packed lunch, but also my Bible, 2 books to read, a notebook, my purse, my phone... Why was I carrying all this stuff? I was out for a walk with God, all I actually needed to do was walk, talk and listen (although ideally not in that order), but here I was, weighed down.
But never mind. I was here, I was walking, it was sunny. All good. And it was at this point that I realised I had not idea where I was going! The stile confidently predicted in my instructions did not materialise as expected. A few laps of the field, a few moments of concern, a partially hidden stile located - and I was off once more.
I approached the promised footbridge to discover a raging torrent of water, that if I had stepped in would have submerged my feet almost entirely. I gamely clambered onto the wooden gate at the side, which, it turned out, was only secured at one side, and half swung, half climbed, half leaped across (I know that's three halves). Phew. I'd made it, I hadn't got wet feet (or wet anything else), and I hadn't dropped anything in the water. Go me.
By this point I had a few choice comments to make about the 'easy walk' instruction sheet, but I was still doing ok. Here was I, here was God. Together, walking, talking.
At this point the instructions cheerfully assured me that there was "a gap in the fence just wide enough to squeeze through." I know I have hit the Easter eggs hard lately but I can absolutely assure you that there was no gap for squeezing. Instead I had to climb over a gate,
You might be wondering at this point whether I hadn't in fact gone completely the wrong way. Believe me, I wondered the same thing. But no, there were enough markers and landmarks for me to know that my Girl Guide skills had not failed me completely.
The edge of the next field was confusing. There was a gate, but no waymarker. By this point I was carefully following little yellow arrows. But there wasn't one. As I tried to convince myself that this must be the right gate in spite of the absence of said arrow, as there simply wasn't another way, and it was almost certainly not going to take me into a field containing a rampaging bull, I saw abandoned in a ditch further along, the wooden post, complete with yellow arrow. I strode on.
I then got to a crossing point that was so utterly mud soaked it might as well have been quicksand. There was no way over or around. As the old song goes, I just had to go through. Squelch, squelch, squelch. At this point I confess I became a tad irritated. My shoes would surely be ruined, if indeed I didn't lose them altogether. This was ridiculous. I had anticipated a lovely walk, this was more like an endurance test.
And it was at that point, I swear to you, I realised God was laughing. He wasn't just smiling politely or grinning to himself. He was slapping his thighs and gasping for air. I was thinking "it would be so rubbish if I slipped in this mud." God was thinking "it would be totally hilarious if you slipped in this mud." I began to laugh. It's really a good job no one was around. I just felt like God was saying "so you wanted to spend the day with me, with no distractions, and for us to enjoy each other's company, and for it to be fun and easy - tick!" It would have been a hilarious day to have spent with a friend - God reminded me that's exactly what it had been. I'm sure you can draw the dots on all the other spiritual lessons God managed to teach me during the day.
In the last part of the walk I went through a field of sheep. Sheep are daft, friendly, fluffy, cuddly little things, right? Right? I swear one of them was giving me the full on evils, staring me down, baaing in a decidedly unfriendly manner. It was at this point that I told God very firmly that, ok, it had in fact been a very nice day, and a fun walk after all - but I DID NOT need a sermon illustration ending of a sheep chasing me down a field. Fortunately all was well. I got back to St. Beuno's, collapsed on a bench, chuckled a lot, and wrote up some of the above nonsense in my journal.
It was a very good day. God and I enjoyed it together.
(And I absolutely swear that none of the above is made up! Slightly exaggerated for comedic effect, perhaps, but not made up...)
Here are some photos to prove it...