The meaning of the journey

Published on 27 Oct 2017
The white cliffs of dover.

A reflection on a sponsored walk from London to Calais and the spirituality of journeys

Having completed our walk to Calais a  few weeks ago the feet are now rested and the blisters are receding. Bubbling up into my consciousness now are memories and thoughts about the walk on significant moments that spoke to me most.

I am a person who loves nature, who finds God out in nature, in the elements, in the life there, the land, its changing shape and colour, in the silence, in the experience and in the journey itself and so for me walking is something I have a deep desire for, a passion and something that I try to engage in often.

Our walk was one with a theme of journeying together, of solidarity, of many people coming together over separate parts of the way to connect on the journey.  A microcosm of any lifetime I would have thought.

I met many people, some brand new, some relatively new and some well known to me and everyday we started with a new ensemble to complete the next leg of the trip (myself plus one other staff member completed the whole journey joined each day by others).

It was good to journey together with so many different people, and in so many different ways.  Each day was different.  The levels of communication were good and varied.  It was good to converse and to share the magnificent countryside of Kent, truly beautiful and it was also good to share the journey in all its ways.  Most of it was fair going, but there was one day which was unexpectedly difficult.  It was towards the end of the week and the last few miles of the walk had not been previously looked at.  We changed this one to give railway access to people joining the following day.  It was only a few miles more, but they were quite challenging, up and down, one ascent after another and Folkestone seeming so near, yet so far for a long time.  We trudged on together, heads down we felt the journey, the challenge of it, together, and in this shared struggle a deeper communication took place.   At the end, relieved at Folkestone West, the body language and hugs communicated to me our shared experience, our communion through this. This shared challenge and subsequent bonding is important to note.  In many ways for me it was one of the most profound moments of the whole trip, a connectedness on a deeper level without words, God is there, this is the language of the soul, this is the language God speaks in our hearts.  We lose so many of these precious moments and opportunities in our hyper fast modern world of technology and non stop blurb "communication".

For me silence is very important, as I said before when walking in nature I like to disconnect to reconnect, because I have found that for all its benefits and advantages technology can be a big distraction.  When I am overwhelmed with messages and my complete attention is on the screen of my phone I am not in the present moment and when I am not in the present moment I am not there, I am not present, I miss real life.  As John Lennon rightly said, "life is what happens while you are busy making other plans"....

In a world that seems to be constantly inventing new ways of keeping people on the surface and at superficial levels of being all these shared experiences are very refreshing for me.

With the veneration of celebrity and the influence on people to create their own mini celebrity world on social media platforms which creates a virtual unreality.  This is why I valued so much the real experience of walking and especially where it challenged us and brought us all to the task at hand to feel and embrace the challenge together, this is real interconnectedness and is possibly becoming a lost art as society changes shape with community, family and tight knit groups shifting and ever changing therefore preventing that depth and bonding through good, bad and indifferent to develop.  With the fast paced fast food style on-line social "networks" offering a very poor substitute.

In our modern world where individualism, competition and self interest masquerade as good qualities people completely spoilt by choice are lost and lonely in their diminishing worlds of one.  As the internet alienates more and more people and creates more and more "social" networks the feeling of loneliness increases and the social networks fail to meet the need of the user, and that is because that need is the need for real connection, real encounter, with others and with life itself. 

The depth and meaning of the journey came from the points where we really experienced and felt the time together - the struggles, the beautiful views across Kent and the coast, the tiredness at the end of the day, the blisters, the satisfying food at the end of a long day, the shared meal, the quiet moments, the silent moments.  The real.

The last couple of days of the walk we stayed with the Dover Community.  In much the same way, in the spirit of Abbe Pierre, people, mostly formerly homeless, create home, community together based on a spirit of sharing.  I was humbled by the companions there who showed me warmth, welcome and a humility which I aspire to.  I am very grateful for their hospitality and for all that they and the staff there did for us there.

We finally got to Calais, now a symbol for the dispossessed, for those seeking asylum.  The infamous "Jungle" has gone, but people still come to Calais.  We saw people there on the streets and we visited one of the house of hospitality and discovered the scale of the problem that still exists there.

This walk gave me plenty to ponder and I am deeply grateful for the experience.  Technology is a great tool and I too welcome its usefulness.  But it somehow dstracts us and disconnects us from what is real and what is really important.  Walking, long walking, and turning off my mobile reconnected me to to something deep, something sacred, something real and so going forwards I am looking to do that as often as possible and to be present.  Only then am I able to have perspective and to ponder, to find what I feel, and what I think, to contemplate things in the real time.

Dan Nisbett

(London Jesuit Volunteers) 

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