On the Feast of St. Stephen we traveled to St. Paul’s on the Metropolitan line, feeling just a wee bit awkward and self-conscious with our new backpacks and our homemade walking sticks. After a few photos on the steps of the Cathedral we joined the other tourists for the midday Eucharist.
A tall, unhappy-looking young man sat on my left, arms folded. In other circumstances I would be wary of him; he seemed edgy and tired, and made no effort to join in the liturgy. However, at The Peace, with a sudden flash of recognition he stood and turned to greet me.
“Pace,” he said in Italian, a friendly grin accompanying a firm handshake.
“Peace be with you,” I returned.
This is the quality I like most about the Church: that people of such disparate backgrounds – cultures, languages, nationalities, social status, political convictions – are able to find a shared platform and a unifying identity immeasurably more profound than their differences.
The prosaic aspects of our pilgrimage are told easily enough: a four day walk, starting midday on Tuesday and ending midday Saturday, from St. Paul’s Cathedral in London to Canterbury Cathedral, making stops and detours along the way as we wished. We followed no recognized pilgrim route and the ’55 miles’ distance we saw oft-referenced along the way (88 km) turned into 102 km for us.
What did I learn? I learned that I need better walking boots and rain gear before we set out on the next leg of our journey (Canterbury to Paris at Easter). Also, I learned that we made an excellent choice of backpacks when we gifted each other Osprey Kyte (hers) and Kestrel (his) gear for Christmas; top marks. The two smartphone apps we relied on – Google Maps and Booking.com – more than adequately addressed the needs of finding our way and finding last minute places to stay at night. (The Maps app let us down once, presuming pedestrian access to a vehicles-only stretch of road, but in the end it added only 30 minutes and less than two of kilometres to our journey.)
“Why are we doing this?” I asked her on the second day, echoing the same question of a year-and-a-half ago, on our last walk of note.
The answers this time were not as forthcoming or straightforward. It was the next day before we finally settled on a set of possible answers: We are doing this because it is part of our greater scheme of walking all the way to Santiago de Compostela, and a good trial over multiple days. We are doing it because we are Anglicans and Canterbury is our spiritual home address (even if we are rarely home, so to speak). We are doing it because pilgrimage is good for the soul; it builds positive reflexive muscle for dealing with the inevitable disappointments, boredom, challenges and pains of life.
On Saturday at midday, the day after Canterbury Cathedral marked the anniversary of the martyrdom of Thomas Becket, we sat in the nave near the place of his murder and wrote in our journals.
Is this my spiritual home, I wondered, this focal point of world-wide Anglicanism? Yes, I suppose it has become and must remain so. I can think of no other Christian tradition where I might so readily fit. The heritage and commitment to the three-fold guidance of Scripture (the wisdom of our forebears), Tradition (the wisdom of collective experience) and Reason (the wisdom of logic and science), gives this doubter enough cause to worship.
Annually, spiritual pilgrimages of the world’s faiths are the activities that draw more collective human participation than any other. If you, gentle reader, have not yet put on your walking shoes and joined in, I urge you to do so, if only for a day.