The walk round the golf course at Leek Wootton has been a favourite of mine for a number of years. It takes in only a bit of the landscaped golf course before tracking a loop around the edge of it just the other side of the boundary - a separation probably as welcome to the golfers as it is to the walkers. There are paths through corn fields, bits through ancient woodland and paths which can sometimes, like today, be boggy and prey to thick mud.
It takes me about and hour and a quarter to do a full circuit, more if the blackberries are out, but I always know I’m closing in on the last stretch when the stone tower of All Saints comes into view. Via a series of gates, the route goes through the graveyard and right past the church door.
I have completed this walk well over a hundred times - usually on my own - and yet I cannot recall ever having set foot inside the church. I’ve gone round the circuit in blazing heat, in snow, often (like today) in steady drizzle; I’ve started out before dawn to catch the early birdsong and sometimes finish late enough that I have to hurry to get back to the car before the woods become too spooky. It’s a route I know extremely well.
Because the walk is so familiar I often hardly notice its passing. I can switch off my awareness of what’s around me and just let my thoughts wander. I’ve solved countless work problems like this; I’ve written poems, decided on Christmas plans, made peace with those whose actions have upset me and reconciled myself to my own failings. The walk has become an important part of my equilibrium. It gives me space and time to think.
Returning to the car park to change my mud-encrusted walking boots, I watch a few dozen runners passing by on the early stages of the Warwick half-marathon. Perhaps the act of running for over an hour affords a similar chance to let the mind wander, although with shoulders hunched against the now heavy rain, it doesn’t look like the resulting thoughts are all that positive. Each to his own, no doubt.
Today’s service chooses as its focus the many different forms of prayer. It’s something we should think about and which repays that thought.
Rev Jim Perryman steers us through a couple of very thought-provoking exercises. We’re given small photographs and invited to look at them deeply, reflecting on what they make us think beyond the obvious element of merely recognising them. My picture is a fast flowing stream bursting over rocks. It’s attractive, inviting, calming even. If it has a meaning beyond that then I believe that lies in water being so potent a symbol of life, of renewal. A fitting subject for early spring meanderings. As a stimulus for meditation, a picture could be every bit as useful a portal as my walk.
On small coloured pieces of paper we also write our thoughts - however brief - on prayer, the people we would pray for and the God we would be praying to. Those individual thoughts are linked into a chain which carries all our hopes and thoughts. It’s a very moving sight in its own uncomplicated way.
There is a sizeable step between simply repeating an oft-repeated prayer or hymn and actually pausing to decide and record the prayer you would personally like to make. That difference lies both in having the space to think and the necessary impetus to start the process.
Time to think in any significant depth is at such a premium in our busy lives. It’s something of a cliche but the sheer weight of information we shoulder every day, and the relentless tidal surge with which it engulfs us, leaves us with no time to stop, take stock and just think.
Rev Jim points at the need firstly to empty our minds of clutter before we can then begin to coax our minds to see things afresh and perhaps even make a start on understanding what we feel, what’s important.
I wonder if in church, as in my customary walk, the same is true. Maybe it’s not solely the actual words of the familiar prayers and liturgy that matter, but the spaces between which allow us the opportunity to think what those words mean, or even arrive at words of our own.
It’s something well worth thinking about, but I may have to wait for the rain to clear before I make a start.