Cirencester to Cheltenham
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
The above quote from the book of Matthew in the Bible, chapter 11, verses 28-30 are the words of Jesus. As we departed from Cirencester Baptist Church, waved off by the effervescent Stephen and our stalwart Charly, they stayed constantly on my mind. Stiff but perky from yesterday’s walk we immediately hit a problem. My rucksack, changed from yesterday due to a problem, didn’t fit. With some 60lbs of stuff in it, it was immediately apparent we would struggle to make it out of Cirencester, let alone the 17 miles to Cheltenham. The wind was strong and invariably either against us or worse, coming from the side, making the cross hard to control. Adele messaged Charly, who with her husband Andy and daughters Thea & Isla, made a round trip to return with an army style replacement. By this time we had covered a few miles and I was already struggling. The new rucksack was better but still not quite right and every step it rubbed my left side. I kept seeing it as baggage. My burden, the cross was light, it was my baggage which was causing the problem.
As we got closer to Cheltenham, I’m guessing we had covered about ten miles, I was significantly struggling. All the time I just kept thinking of this verse and my baggage. My feet had swelled, blisters between some of my toes, I had areas rubbing I can’t describe and the start of a small hole on the left where the skin had broken. Everything was painful and slowly it became bearable but tiring. I needed the sleeping bag and bed roll to sleep in if I couldn’t find accommodation when on my own. I needed the spare clothes and wash kit. I needed the large iPad to blog from and all the accessories for charging it. The list went on, everything was needed. I remembered our voyage last year. So much effort in planning and in the end when things went wrong and our planning period ended, things improved. Left to God’s schedule things were as good or improved but it required a huge step of faith and I only saw that in hind sight. This time we’ve tried to step out in that faith but I started to realise we had still brought our baggage along. What to do? We stopped, I would say at my request but begging is the reality and I curled up to go to sleep. As I did so I prayed, I could cope with the pain I just needed my feet to work and a way to improve things for the next stage. Suddenly a car pulled over and a couple got out talking to Adele. I heard snippets. They had seen us on the way to church. They went to the Filling Station. Every time I went to turn over the lady told me not to, to rest. I heard Adele say thank you and then they had gone. In Adele’s hand was enough money to cover an overnight stay in a B&B. Unasked for that couple, complete strangers, had given me my answer. I need to ditch the baggage, step out fully in faith and accept the remaining burden is light and the yoke is easy.
We stumbled into Cheltenham, more a shuffle with Adele now having to carry the cross. Without her we would have taken several hours more. I was moving but near useless in terms of my ability to do more than carry my pack. People avoided direct eye contact with us, some pointed. I thought about Jesus carrying the cross beam with the mobs yelling for his death. Did they point, did they mock? As we entered Cheltenham High Street, a pedestrianised area full of Sunday shoppers I wanted to walk in front and just yell, ‘Make Way for the Cross’, but I didn’t. You see years ago, in pain and needing to keep going I would rage and yell to force myself forward, I had to make my objective. Today rage for me is something that shouldn’t be used, even in controlled focus, to move forward. Walking in front, yelling, would have been rage and so I walked quietly, as humbly as I could, trying to keep enough ahead not to be hit by it.I had already been hit by a car as we entered Cheltenham, not badly. It mounted the pavement and almost took me with it but only slammed my right arm. I wanted to avoid any more being hit if I could!
Tribes of youths welled about, shouting obscenities amongst crowds of folk out shopping. We passed a bar with folk outside smoking and a humorous exchange occurred.
‘That’s illegal that is, you should be arrested’!
‘Why is it illegal?’, puzzled response.
‘It’s a weapon that is, you should be arrested’!
‘Good point, in the right hands it is a very powerful weapon indeed’!
Silence, followed by good natured laughter, a few raised pints and what sounded like a cheer and we moved on. Then a man with his son stopped us. His lad wanted to know what we were doing and he was was courteous, quizzing us and explaining to his son. He seemed to have realised it was a form of pilgrimage and as a runner had insight into how far we had walked. It was an uplifting moment and then, we moved on. Finally we saw St Paul’s, found out where to leave the cross and politely left a message apologising for not making the 18:30 service. Neither of us were in any fit state to do more than stare into space, probably dribbling in a corner. We got home and slept but on waking this morning I woke with that yoke being light. As with day to day life, we all need to ditch our baggage, sometimes we don’t realise it is because it seems so necessary, and from now on it is myself, the cross and the bare minimum. I trust in God to supply the rest.
Huge thank you to Georgie Hogg and the folk at St Paul’s Cheltenham, who have been so helpful in receiving the cross despite their busy schedule, a true blessing!