Leytonstone United Free Church Pilgrimage: Sunday 04 July 2021

Pre Service: Compostelle 2020

Call To Worship:


Opening Song: He Who Would Valiant Be AKA To be a pilgrim (Bob, Joy & Joyce)

Song: Way Maker (Elaine & Beverly)

Bible: Mark 6:6-13

Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. 7 Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.

8 These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. 9 Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. 10 Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. 11 And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”

12 They went out and preached that people should repent. 13 They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.

Why Do we Go on Camino (Amy Willshire & Cyril Bartholin)

Talk One: Call to Adventure

I’m not sure how I ended up on my first pilgrimage.

I do remember being about 10 years old, and reading a book about a man who gets up to all sorts of adventures on the road to Santiago De Compostela. I was too young to know that Santiago de Compostela was a real place, nor that the author, Paulo Coelho, was a famous figure in my home country of Brazil. He was part of the counter culture movement that stood up to the military dictatorship that ruled in the 70s.

Next thing I know, it’s twenty years later, and I’ve decided not to come home from a festival in North East Spain, but instead to cycle to Santiago de Compostela. I’d never cycled so far, and it was my first expedition of any kind. I have no idea how or why I ended up on that long long road…

Santiago de compostela is a city tucked away in the northwest corner of Spain - that’s the top left hand side if you aren’t used to maps and compasses. In the 9th century, the remains of St James - or, Santiago in Spanish - were reportedly found nearby, and over the coming centuries people started travelling from all over Europe to visit the remains in the cathedral.

For centuries the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela was one of - if not the most - important Christian pilgrimages in Europe, along with Rome and Canterbury and Lourdes and Fatima. Half a million people were arriving in Santiago every year by the 13th century - and remember that this was a time when any long journey was not only incredibly difficult, but also very dangerous - and there were ano easyjet flights back, so getting there was only half the journey! The camino faded in popularity over recent centuries, but over the past few decades there has been a resurgence, and over 300,000 pilgrims make the journey every year now.

Many people think there is one Camino de Santiago, but in reality there are 12 main routes, and dozens upon dozens of sub routes and deviations and splits. Some people start as far away as Germany or even Russia, and walk for months.

Last year, I set off on my longest Camino ever - I walked for the best part of three months, covering 1000 miles. Right at the very start, I met a young lady on the bus from the airport in France, and the next morning we met again as we were setting off to walk into and over the Pyrenees into Spain. A few weeks ago, almost a year after we met, Amy invited me to share some of what I think about when I’m walking.

Many years ago I came across an idea: that there are three paths to God. There is the path of pain, the path of pleasure and the path of prayer. For me this has been one of those ideas that I keep coming back, trying to pick apart, trying to prove wrong, and always find some new kernel of truth inside of. Today I’d like to share with you some of the pains, some of the pleasure and some of the prayers that I’ve come across whilst walking pilgrimages.

Song: I'm Climbing my Mountain One Step at a Time (Ken Buddell)

Bible: Psalm 121

1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from?

2 My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.

3 He will not let your foot slip— he who watches over you will not slumber;

4 indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

5 The Lord watches over you— the Lord is your shade at your right hand;

6 the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.

7 The Lord will keep you from all harm— he will watch over your life;

8 the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.

Talk 3: The Pain of Pilgrimage

There are a great many pains involved in a pilgrimage.

Many of them are entirely predictable. You’re walking between 15 and 60 kilometers a day - that’s almost as far as from here to Maidstone. You’re carrying a pack that weighs ten kilos - or if you’re an idiot like me, you start collecting things along the way which you can’t bear to part with and end up carrying as much as 20 kilos! You do this every day for days and weeks and sometimes months. You do this when it rains and you do this in the boiling heat.

Every part of you will hurt. You will become intimately familiar with a great many pains all over your body. There will be blisters, and some of them will become infected, and you might even end up in hospital. And then you’ll keep on walking.

But those, well those are just pains of the flesh. They aren’t the real pains.

There are the pains of regret - of regretting having ever decided to do this stupid stupid walk that never ends, and there is the pain of regretting how long you put this off for, and regretting not having done this years ago!

There is the pain of leaving home, and leaving your comfort and your safety. The pain of being away from loved ones for weeks and months. The pains of loneliness when you are walking alone, and the pains of being in a crowd of strangers when you walk into a city, none of whom understand your pains.

And for me, there is a pain that helps me makes sense of why I do this. Every time when I set off, there is a moment when I feel a pain - a fear - of being alone in the world. Of being on my own in a strange land, far from home and from my safeties and my comforts. What’s going to happen? What will go wrong, and how will I cope? What if.. What if.. What if EVERYTHING goes wrong, and I’m all along and and and…

It might sound silly, but I feel that same fear and panic and pain, in my gut and in my heart and in my head, every time I set off, even after all these years. And what I find, every single time, is the same thing: we’re never alone.

Perhaps you’re walking a route with dozens of other pilgrims, all feeling the same pains, all eager to help and support, even if only with a smile. Perhaps you’re walking into villages, and you’re confronted with the fact that most people out there in the world want to help each other, and you’re filled with the humility that comes from relying on the kindness of strangers.

But there’s another way in which I see that I am never alone, and it happens when I haven’t seen anyone in hours or days and I’m tired and the sun won’t stop beating down on me and I’m thirsty and I’m hungry and the mosquitos are biting and maybe I want to cry a little and none of it stops because there’s just so much of it all around - and then suddenly I take a deep breath and i realise I'm never alone because look: look at all this, all around me, beneath my feet and on my skin and in my lungs…

And words seem so small and crude to express this, but the best I can say is that the unmitigated glory of creation is the greatest gift bestowed upon us, and every single moment that we’re alive to take a breath and to witness it is a blessing.

And, for me, that realisation is paid for with the pain of walking so far that I end up staring it in the face.

Song: Even Though the Day Be Laiden (Simon Owen & Amy Willshire)

Bible: Matthew 14:13-21

13 When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

15 As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”

16 Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”

17 “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.

18 “Bring them here to me,” he said. 19 And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. 20 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 21 The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Talk 3: The Pleasure of Pilgrimage

There are a great many pleasures in a pilgrimage.

The pleasure of stopping for the day! The pleasure of a cold beer in the evening. On some days, the pleasure of a cold beer at lunch - and even, on some days, the pleasure of a cold beer in the morning!

The pleasure of setting off before dawn, and being up in the mountains as the sun rises, and watching the darkness bleeding out of the landscape and being replaced with thousands upon thousands of colours which change from palest pastels to brightest hues over the course of an hour.

The pleasure of meeting friends - some of whom you’ll only walk with for a few hours, some of whom you’ll stay friends with for years later, and some of whom might even invite you to speak at their church!

For me, there is the pleasure of looking forward to my next pilgrimage, and knowing that in a few months or years, I’ll be back up in the mountains or walking across the plains, alone or with friends, going through many of the things I’m speaking about today.

And there is one pleasure in particular that I’d like to mention. The pleasure of communicating and connecting with fellow humans. I have an advantage in that I speak fluent Spanish, but sometimes even I feel triumphant when I’ve finally understand the directions an elder fella in a little village is giving me. The pleasure of sharing a coffee and an apple with a lad who’s on his break from harvesting olives and finding you have plenty in common, and you spend fifteen minutes laughing together.

A few years ago I walked a route in Portugal. The heat was awful - dangerously awful. There was a German lady walking, and she spoke about as much English as I speak German, which is a grand total of three words. Sometimes I would pass her on the road and we would smile, and later she would pass me as I was sat under a tree and we would smile - this went on for days, with us getting very good at smiling at each other three or four times a day. But over the course of two weeks, those smiles came to mean so much. We managed to bring each other water - and even ice cream! - using those smiles.

We checked if we needed food, we let each other know that it wasn’t far now - and once she even told me off for not bandaging my blisters properly and fussed over me and made sure I did it right - using just those smiles!

I don’t know what I was to her, but she became my mother hen, looking after me and keeping me safe, with nothing but a few smiles as we passed each other every day.

There’s a lot of noise in our lives. We can use a lot of words to complain and to tell each other what we want and why we don't like this and why we don't like that. But there is a pleasure - there is a very deep pleasure - a pleasure which helps me make sense of the world, in saying all that needs saying with a smile, and more importantly, in hearing all that needs to be heard in someone else’s.

Song: Alive & Breathing (Keith Ponto)

Talk 4: The prayer of pilgrimage

There are a great many prayers in a pilgrimage.

The routes follow their historical courses, which go from village church to village church to cathedral to village church. Every day starts and ends with a church, and most of those churches have mass in the evenings, often with a pilgrim’s prayer at the end.

There are the thousands of little prayers, the ones you mutter under your breath, praying for the next village to be around the corner or for your backpack to become magically lighter.

There are the bigger prayers for those you’ve left back home, whom you miss. There are the candles you light for those who have passed, in whose memory you walk, or who pass away while you’re away.

There are the deeper prayers. Sometimes, perhaps outside the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, you find a pilgrim crying. Perhaps they are remembering the grandfather in whose memory they walk, or perhaps they are in a village square, lost and tired and broken. And sometimes you hold this stranger, this person you’ve never met, you hold them while they cry and you hold them until they’re strong enough to stand up again and continue on their way. For me, that’s a prayer.

Looking back, there was something I witnessed on my first pilgrimage which might be the reason why I keep going back. As I crossed Spain for the first time, without a single clue about what I was doing or why, having all sorts of issues borne out of my own ignorance and stupidity, I was astounded by how quick everyone along the way was to help. I would stop in a village and start fiddling with my bike and suddenly three people would have come along asking me if I needed help. Once, I was falling asleep under a tree, having my siesta, and an elder lady hobbled across the village green on two walking sticks to where I was just to check if I was ok, did I want some lunch, and come, come inside and sleep on the sofa - there’s no need to sleep on the floor!

These villages have had broken, lost, smelly idiots like me going through them for a thousand years - and yet everyone was so quick to help. Slowly I realised that helping pilgrims is seen as a devotional act in and of itself. It’s a little prayer of its own.

That realisation has stayed with me and it has led me to try to find the divine, the spark of God, in any moment, and to honour it through service. That doesn’t have to be a big act or a grandiose gesture, but I try to remember that if these villages can still find the energy - even after a thousand years - to smile and be kind and to help strangers whom they'll never see again, then maybe I can also find the will and the energy to treat the actions of my daily life as though they were devotional acts in and of themselves.

And that perhaps is why I keep going back again and again and why I walk so far that everything hurts - because it reminds me that everything in my life is a reflection of God, and that I can honour God with everything I do.

Crafty Prayers

Draw an arrow on paper. Inside the arrow, write or draw please prayers for guidance. Ask God to show you where to go and how to get there.

Around the outside of the arrow, write or draw sorry prayers for any barriers you have put up or allowed to stop you following the way God calls you.

The Lords Prayer

The Lord's Prayer

Song: My Lighthouse (Janosch & Sophie)

Benediction: May The Road Rise To Meet You