This was a week of three thirds. The first third was back in Durham and was a couple of days of more or less normal work. Right now that means winding things up, handing things over – generally preparing to leave. The second third was in Cambridge – a matter of generally preparing to arrive. And that meant a string of briefings with people who, just a month ago, had been interviewing me for my new job. Now it was my turn to find our a bit more about what the issues are. And then the third third – in Wiltshire meeting first with Philip Welsh, the ‘Fire Poet’, who is making a long barefoot pilgrimage to draw attention the billion children who live in shoeless poverty around the world today, and then a day helping a hundred and some clergy and lay ministers grow in Time Wisdom.
As this is a sabbatical diary I won’t say any more about the preparing to leave and the preparing to arrive work. But I thought I’d mention a talk I gave last Monday evening in Newcastle at ‘Cafe Philosophique’. It was a very pleasant occasion and as my talk is now a podcast you can listen to it if you like. It is ‘Episode 29’ below.
The highlight of the week was the three and a half hours I spent on Friday in a pub in Avebury talking with Philip Wells. Philip is not quite half way through his 1,000 mile walk. I had expected to share part of his walk with him, but this was a rest day, and he was manifestly in need of a rest.
So we talked and talked. We talked about the physical challenge of it all, which is as much to do with how the muscles, tendons and ligaments adapt as to how bare soles cope with their exposure to tarmac, grit, rocks, gravel, grass, thistles and goodness knows what else. I was particularly intrigued to learn that on one occasion he scrambled up a sheer cliff to find a route forward – finding that his bare feet gave him a good and secure grip on the perilous ascent.
Philip talked a lot about St Francis – about whom he has written a play, ‘Francesco’, and in particular the question of Francis’ solidity, toughness, and connectedness, but also the stigmata and his dependence on the spirituality of Clare.
He also spoke about the way in which children and schools are responding to his walk. Many children instantly and naturally take their shoes and socks off in his barefoot company and feel an easy and direct solidarity with their barefoot siblings around the world. 500 schools from 65 countries have become involved in the ‘Barefoot Billion’ through the ‘children’s walk’. There is much more about this all here: http://barefootbillion.com/
We spoke too about writing and poetry and prayer. I only know Philip because he phoned me up having read my two books ‘Barefoot Disciple’ and ‘Barefoot Prayers’ and on that basis asked me to meet him on the way. I am so glad he did. It was an inspiring and humbling pleasure. This was the first time we ever met, and he has already earnt a place in the acknowledgements for my next book.
After a while, our conversation turned to time. His experience on the walk was that the future seemed to slip away as a source of worry and concern. The fulness of the moment was abundant and rich – while yet simple and basic. His is a long walk but also a slow one. He is averaging about 1 mph.
And that perhaps is a radical aspect of his challenge – to slow down to something like 1 mph. Certainly a great thought for a sabbatical, but I also shared it with the clergy and lay ministers I was with yesterday.
It was great to be with them and I am becoming more and more conviced that reflecting on time – especially the wierd psychology of time – can lead us into deep spiritual waters and refresh our aproach to the more important things of life – ultimately the things that are worth doing in and of themselves. And these are the things, the activities, the events for which we were made, and about which the sabbath, and its cousin the sabbatical, are intended to remind us.
Tomorrow I head off to Hong Kong – knowing that no one knows what secrets that venture will reveal. But suspecting that it will reveal them slowly.