Musings on the St Beuno’s walks, prayer and pilgrimage

Published on 09 Jun 2016

By Philippa Reid Dalglish

During 15 days of the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises at St Beuno’s, I found myself rediscovering the power  of meditative/prayerful walks, using the lovely new laminated cards provided for retreatants. I recommend them.

The directions provided a map and overall timescale, a bit like a pilgrimage. Most of the walks began with the rather intense uphill climb behind Beuno’s, reminiscent of Croagh Patrick, but fortunately without the need to tackle it on one’s knees.... and once that was behind me, the rest was generally very pleasant indeed, with staggering views across Creation, to Liverpool and Snowdonia and the Irish Sea. Breezes reminded me of the breath of God. Rain became the subject of a familiar Blessing – ‘May the rain fall softly on your fields, and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His Hand’. Sun’s path marked out the time and its spring rays warmed me. Walking alone proved a lovely opportunity to experiment with ‘companionable silence’, whether with myself ‘Love (thy neighbour as)  thyself’ or with Jesus ‘Love God’ or Mary, ‘Love thy neighbour’.

The directions proved excellent, much like the Ignatian Exercises, but as with the Exercises, I didn’t trust them at first, and so managed to generate occasional confusion...! They were a lesson in trusting (not my usual forte) and attending to the next step ONLY (another area for my development!) Both aspects resonated well with my spiritual path, as my patient Spiritual Director would gently remind me that we could slow down, settle into the Exercises, take one step at a time and not necessarily always at a run....that I might be interested in efficiency, but God probably less so....

Like a pilgrimage, the walks always had a surprise or two – the angry ram who felt his ewes had priority on the public footpath I wanted to use, the surprise white peacock displaying like a visitation of the Holy Spirit, or the lost lamb bleating on the wrong side of a fence looking for its mother or a Good Shepherd....all good lessons in prayerful awareness! Trees being pruned highlighted an unexpected advantage to the tree – all that weight removed from it. I had never seen pruning as anything other than invasive and uncomfortable – a sort of terrible necessity to achieve particular results. This time, I could feel the relief of letting go a heavy dead branch, to recycle perhaps into firewood or fencing....all part of the cycle of life for the Vine and the Branches...

I decided to make at least one hour of each walk a formal prayer, often simply of  delighted praise in the spring countryside, and sometimes an Ignatian Colloquy on a specific subject arising for example from the day’s readings. (I rapidly discovered that a full Examen was just incompatible with the demands of country walking, at least for me! I would miss the directions entirely and stop being aware of the here and now, except inside my head).

Ignatius at one stage had suggested Colloquy with each of the persons of the Trinity which I found rather daunting initially, but immensely rewarding. He also recommended colloquy (to my prejudiced surprise) with Our Lady, Mary. So despite some of his less fortunate views on us women, Ignatius appreciated Mary, Mother of God. And for me, connecting with any of these amazing beings is made profoundly easier by the context of the Welsh hills and valleys, with stiles nestling under trees and paths tumbling down into villages. Well done St Beuno’s team for the walks. Many thanks. I will be back for the next 15 days...