Walking the way of our Lord – the God of Surprises: Accompanied walks in Spiritual Direction by Mary Penley

Posted on January 12th, 2021

Seeking God’s way

We are in a New Year - welcome! We are in Lockdown three. Like many others, I am shielding once again. In my case, under strict GP orders since December 29. I must stay at home, not visit my place of work, which includes not visiting my studio, probably until March. I can leave the house to exercise once a day.

With all this, I am ‘so’ richly blessed. Have you noticed that although much is taken away through this time of Pandemic, so much is given? The beauty and bounty of the spring and summer of 2020.

A year ago, I hadn’t even heard the word ’Zoom’. It has now become a verb in our language. We are living through a period of huge re-calibration. How do we respond?

Not all directees enjoy or want to use Zoom as a way of continuing to meet. The phone has certainly come into its own, and our Lord is definitely across all platforms (even if we are not) and frequently in unexpected ways! ‘Why’ should this surprise us?

I give you one example from a recent meeting before Christmas with a directee. We are both comfortable using zoom, and I generally start our time together lighting a candle, stilling down and holding a few moments of silence, before a time of prayer. We began with our eyes closed, and to our amazement both started to see images with our eyes still closed. We only opened our eyes at the ‘end’ of the hour, almost to the minute, and we hadn’t looked at our watches! We had been ‘seeing’ through and discerning with our Lord’s eyes, while our own remained tightly closed, even though we had a live and working zoom picture and sound in front of us!

Another way to accompany a directee is to physically go walking with them. Living in Sussex at the foot of the South Downs I am blessed to be able to go walking straight from my front door. It was during lockdown two that I had this lightbulb moment. ‘Of course,’! I now offer this option, and it has proved to be a very precious and insightful time for both directee and director alike. We meet outside my front door, suitably masked and socially distanced, at least until we are into the countryside. I try to keep the walks to an hour. Some taken by the river fit into that, but circular walks taken up on the ridge take longer, nearer two hours, but the directee knows in advance to leave plenty of time. I have walked the walks on my own in preparation, before taking a directee with me. Once booked, we walk in all weathers, if the directee is happy to do so.

Our Lord is calling us to be on the move, to be a pilgrim people. Paul was a tent maker. He rolled up his tent and moved on. The church has in many ways become too static. Our Lord is calling us to embrace change, and He is equipping us accordingly. We are called to even deeper levels of faith. The Pandemic has stripped away much of the security we knew and took for granted. Once again, the tables in the Temple have been overturned.

Walking in nature with a directee, what is our Lord wanting us to see and to understand? To what is He pointing? One walk taken in December was in rain and fog, but so memorable. I knew there would be no visibility on the top of the hills which were lost in cloud, so decided to walk a circular route along part of the river bank. If you have walked in fog, you will know it is often eerily quiet, just the sound of dripping water off trees. To get to the river we crossed fields. As we walked, cows came into focus, sheltering against a line of trees quietly chewing the cud, to disappear back into the fog as we left them behind. They were totally focused on the present moment. We came to the river which was in full flood. As we crossed the foot bridge over the river, we stopped half way across to look and listen. The mist and fog were low lying. We could not see where the river had come from, and we could not see to where it was going. But it had a purpose, a direction, and a fast-moving current. All seemed to be in monochrome. But there was a sense of being held. There was a bridge - with a hand rail ‘to get to the other side’.

Those times when we cannot see the way, when all seems bleak, when colour is drained out of our lives, our Lord calls us to quietly go on putting one foot in front of the other. To remain in the present moment, and lift our worry up to our Lord. To remain alert and vigilant for signs. To watch where we put our feet. To practice our spiritual ‘bush craft’. He offers us His hand to hold.

The water of the Holy Spirit flowing fast beneath our feet. Do we allow ourselves to be carried? Do we resist? When we quieten our hearts to listen, what do we hear?
The Holy family were called to travel into Egypt by ‘night’. Our Lord knows what it is like to travel into the unknown. He is calling us anew.

By contrast I have been on a memorable walk with a directee this year in brilliant winter sunshine, with sparkling frost in full colour and clarity. Upon reaching the ridge of the South Downs, to be greeted with stunning panoramic sea views stretching from Worthing to Brighton and beyond. To be greeted by a signpost. Which way is our Lord pointing? Which way is our Lord’s way? Are we listening? Are we watching?

Those times when our Lord is calling us to stand back and see ‘the bigger picture’. To see ‘outside the box’ of our immediate lives. To see with clarity. For many, encountering ourselves, our inner landscapes can be daunting. But our Lord calls us to see the colour of creation, the colour of our faith with new eyes. To behold our own interior crystal mansions, shimmering in a myriad of colours. Welcoming in the Light of the Son.

Coming down from the ridge, we walk part of the South Downs Way, seeing cows grazing in fields of winter crops. Cows chosen for their hardiness and thick winter coats to survive being outside all year. They observe our passing as they munch.

As we walk down the farm track, we see pregnant ewes grazing in a field, given extra winter feed in their troughs, as they each eat for two or three. They observe our passing as they munch. We walk through the farm yard; a horse grazing looks up as we pass. He is protected from the cold by a thick tartan horse blanket. The smell of hay coming from the huge hay barn we pass, where the winter feed is stored. The tractor standing ready to be laden and make the next delivery run out to the fields of grazing livestock.

In the ‘winter’ of this Pandemic, what spiritual winter feed do we have stored in our barns to see us through? Have we made provision? Do we have enough to sustain us? From Lockdown one, when the shelves were stripped bare, when the tables were once again overturned in the Temple, have we learnt survival skills? Are we dressed appropriately for life on the move? Do we now fully appreciate the delivery drivers returning to their depots, vehicles standing ready to be laden to make their next delivery runs to the fields of grazing humanity in lockdown? Are our tractors of evangelisation ready to go out into the fields? Will they sit unused in our church barns? How are we being called to be fit for our Lords purpose in 2021?

Our Lord calls us to come into tune with the rhythm of the seasons. I think many of us experienced that during the first lockdown. To look after ourselves, so we may be ready for His purpose. He always made sure the disciples had eaten, had prayed, had rested. There is a time to hunker down, so in God’s time new roots and shoots may emerge.

It has been and continues to be a real privilege to accompany people on their journeys, not least in this literal way at this time. The more walking I do alongside directees, the more I am seeing how the weather conditions we encounter are so suited to the individual directee’s journey. It feels very much that we are not walking alone.

Mary Penley is a Ceramic Artist and Spiritual Director. She can be contacted via www.marypenley.com and .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

The bigger picture - winter sunset. Taken from my home, 8 January - looking towards the Downs.

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