I went on a day’s pilgrimage on Sunday and I had been looking forward to it, not least because I was hoping to take part in their longer ones, where you can sleep in churches.
At the start of the day we were asked to make our own private intentions for the walk. I set the intention of creating a deep connection with God.
During the walk we were told we were going to wassail at people’s doors, asking for ale or water or cake or something similar. When I booked I understood we would be walking from church to church and wassailing trees. Not people’s houses in the middle of the countryside. I felt deeply uncomfortable at this, told the group assistant and walked a little further up the track during the first house visit.
I wanted to go home and away from this as I felt it was deeply wrong, we were not peasants and they were not our landlords. I grew up in an area like where we were walking and would have felt unsafe at a group of twenty people knocking on my door with a begging bowl, because that’s what it was. I felt like the group was being incredibly entitled and their privilege was showing – look, here we are, middle class white English people re-enacting ancient traditions and asking you, random person at home, to give us something for a song! What would have happened if we were a group of twenty black youths, or even Eastern European people?
I don’t think they had thought through their actions beyond the superficial and it did not sit right with me.
There was one other person who took issue with this, everyone else was fine. By the third house I decided I was going home. I didn’t want to as it had cost me £25 for my dog walker to look after my dog, half a tank of petrol (about £30), breakfast on the road, food for my packed lunch (to share) which I had made the night before, plus the £50 fee for the day. In addition I really wanted to be part of this group for longer events.
None the less, I went up to the group assistant, explained what I was feeling and how disappointed I was, I even started crying as I was so upset – I hate crying in front of people, and of course she was in the middle of the group so half the group stared as me as they walked past, all blithely enjoying the ancient tradition.
I explained how wrong I thought it all was, and how it was sitting badly with me, plus how £50 was an awful lot of money for me. She was horrified and said this was the first time they had done the wassailing and she would feed back to the leaders and they would be in touch with me to discuss it further.
The man said they couldn’t contact him and he felt that we were begging and it was wrong.
As soon as I walked away from her, to find my way back to my car, I instantly felt better and happier and like I had made the right decision.
I gave the man a lift to the nearest train station (he had arrived with friends who had continued walking) and made my way home. I spent the rest of the weekend somewhat out of sorts, mainly I think from disappointment. But, in my evening prayer that night I spoke to God and apologised and said I was looking forward to deeper connection through the pilgrimage and I felt a laugh well up in me.
I had been listening to the small still voice within me, who said that what we were doing was wrong. I had stood against a group of 18 and made my viewpoints clear on a moral issue. Even though I don’t like to stand out and I don’t want people looking at me. And then, I listened to how I was feeling, and even though it was ‘wasting money’ – something I detest doing, I honoured those feeling and went home.
I suspect when I had made my intentions to ‘deeply connect’ with the divine I was hoping for some bolt of lightning, a flash of inspiration, a deep resonant feeling – even if I hadn’t articulated that. I certainly hadn’t intended it to be a small nagging voice, or honouring my feelings and leaving a situation which was making me uncomfortable.
There is a part of me which suspects this is what being deeply connected to the divine is, listening to the still small voice within us, honouring how I am made – which includes how I think and feel. I’d love to say I am going to stay connected in this way, but I am certain I won’t. I can try to listen to that voice, to allow space for it in prayer, walks etc. To remember that is what being connected means, rather than the thunderbolts and lighting that the rather dramatic side of myself wants.