Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Whatsoever walks in the paths of the Sea

On an autumn day, where cattle grazed, I crossed marshy fields to the beach. Ragged Robin, the summer’s last flowers danced in the breeze. The first skeins of wintering geese honked in the sky.

Beyond the dunes 30 seals were hauled up on the sands, lolling around like so many enormous slugs. More were out at sea impersonating inquisitive black Labradors. I sat. How therapeutic it is to sit with seals! They have the art of being and not doing!

I’d parked at the National Trust’s Horsey Mere car park. There are toilets and a café open every day to the end of October and at week ends through November.

I’d used the permissive footpath that leads off from the other side of the road - if you are at all in doubt ask at the café they’ll direct you! Once on the beach, turn right and you soon come to the seals . A few are there most of the year but they turn up in numbers in September and October.

My way took me back past the pub – refreshments here are recommended - and crossed the main road to the thatched, round- towered church. Sitting in the stillness I found myself wondering about fundamental things with the Psalmist. “What is man?” He asks in Psalm 8 “You give him mastery over the works of your hands; you put all things under his feet: All sheep and oxen, even the wild beasts of the field, The birds of the air, the fish of the sea, and whatsoever walks in the paths of the sea.” Global warming and rising sea levels acutely threaten this low lying area as they threatens us all. Before leaving I gave thanks for all I was enjoying that day and for the stewardship of the National Trust, the Horsey Estate, the Buxton family who manage it and for small group of people who maintain the church as a “house of prayer” with open doors.

If you do go to see the seals please don’t stress them by going too close and don’t let dogs off their leads. There’s no bus service to Horsey Mere so if you were going by car could you car share or offer someone a lift?

Monday, July 07, 2008

A quieter calmer Walsingham

Remembering how they “ went with the throng,* and led them in procession to the house of God, with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving.” (Psalm 42)

A great and holy place I know! But when I’ve been there on my own, I find it too restless with pilgrims to settle to prayer. Scilla Landale introduced me to a quieter, calmer Walsingham. Here are some highlights:-

1) On a raised section of lawn in the Abbey grounds is a six inch wooden square. It marks the site of the original place of pilgrimage. I stood on the spot, took in the very English country scene and reflected about the vision that had led the Lady Richeldis to build the replica of Jesus’ and Mary’s
Nazareth home.

2)Crossing the grass to where the Priory’s high altar once stood, I tried to imagine the generations of Christians, from 1061 to the present day who had come here to pay homage to the human Jesus and the mother who had nurtured him. I marvelled anew at the mystery of the incarnation - God in Man! Heaven in the ordinary!

3)Passing through the ruined arch I soon found myself in a quiet garden next to a clear running brook - the site of the original holy well. Psalm 42 provided words for my prayer, “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.”

4) Later I knelt in the new Roman Catholic Church in the Friday Market Place. There’s nothing restless about this place! It is close to the still centre of the turning world! In the quiet I thought about Henry VIII who came as a pilgrim to Walsingham but whose reforms destroyed the shrine and led to the Anglican break with
Rome. Remembering the bloody cost of the Reformation I prayed for reconciliation.

5) Great Walsingham’s parish church is short walk away. The notes say, “St. Peter’s Church is a fine example of the decorated style…” what caught my attention was broken glass. All the windows down one side of the church had been vandalised. Inside pictures on a display board revealed lively children’s work. Mary would have liked that! Beside broken glass, I found myself praying with Mary at the foot of the cross. How evil longs to spoil the holy!

Scilla Landale’s booklet Walk around and Discover Walsingham is available from the Shrine Shop in
Common Place. Guided tours leave the Tourist Information Centre (opposite) at 11.00 a.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays from May 1st to 25th September and at 14.00 on Saturdays in June, July and August. Group tours can be arranged throughout the year by phoning Scilla on 01328 820250.