It’s a strange feeling this evening. One thing I am certain about, and the origin comes from a conversation with Richard Parry, is that Declaration is a very powerful thing indeed. If we set out to do something, the moment we tell others brings it into being. Thus the acts of public declaration in a Christian context, such as christenings and weddings, become strengthened by the very act of declaring them publicly. The more public and the more high profile, then potentially the stronger our commitment to the thing at hand.
Thus whilst we invited communities we visited during our voyage to join the #Walk2York, the actual process of declaration, bringing it into being, came with our telling others we would do it.
This started just over a month ago and to be honest there was a certain amount of bravado involved. I’m an ex soldier and whilst I am overweight and 56 years of age, I can walk to York, indeed I can walk anywhere I desire, even if I end up pulling myself on my finger nails. Thus as I started talking about undertaking walking the whole way, a mere 200 odd miles, my thought process was to encourage others to think about walking three miles to start the relay during Lent. If each church moves their cross three miles to the next church on route, then it is feasible for a cross to be relayed to York. The two extreme examples are Lands End (414 miles) and John O’Groats (486 miles) would require the cross to move around 11 miles a day. Most churches will be looking at moving theirs between 3 to 6 miles a day and it should be fun. Our local vicar had the vision of sons walking with dads and mothers walking with daughters and that is certainly what we hope God will move to happen. Of course if God isn’t in this then it will be just ‘two gathering in my name’, one old overweight former soldier and his very understanding wife!
I started out walking to Malmesbury Abbey with no cross as I wanted to make sure I could do so fairly easily. It is about 4.5 miles and I managed the distance in just over an hour. I was quite pleased with this as I had a bad car accident in 2015 and normally first thing in the morning I am hobbling and find walking quite difficult. The really positive thing was that my symptoms seem to improve, something that I have been trying to achieve very unsuccessfully for the last three years.
My wife, significantly younger than I and a keen runner, decided she would join me and we should aim to achieve getting to York over weekends so she could come with me. Glad as I was for her company and support, this initially raised the bar slightly as it means us completing almost a marathon each day each weekend during Lent. At the same time our local vicar was marvellously supportive of the idea and so our declaration was now gathering momentum. As with the voyage, and I believe also the early disciples, we had started something and now we have to see it through. With this in mind I started researching how to make the cross, its size etc and suddenly lots of people started, without prompting, mentioning Arthur Blessitt, whom I hadn’t heard of. What an amazing man and of course if it comes to walking with a cross this guy has done it all, covering not a paltry 200 miles but over 42,000!
I changed his design slightly in that I’ve kept the main beam as 12ft (12 disciples etc) but made the cross beam 7ft, not six, again simply due to God creating in 7 days from the Genesis myth.
I opted to buy the wood from the Wiltshire Wood Recycling centre who grinned supportingly as I explained I wanted to make and carry a 12ft cross. For an outlay of only £9.60 I left with slightly thinner wood than intended but it appears to be up to the job of constructing the symbol I seek to carry and it is of course slightly lighter. For me this is not about suffering pain as a penance, I’m sure God will arrange that given my sinful life, it is about me carrying the Christian symbol!
If I can carry a cross publicly to York, then anyone can be sure it is ok to say ‘I’m a Christian’ and today I believe many people find that difficult, especially in the work place. As with the early monks, we seek to declare our faith and invite others to consider joining us to declare theirs.
If you don’t join us or join in then that doesn’t have any bearing on your faith and relationship with God, but it would certainly bless us.
Thus today I found myself finally cutting a simple joint into one dark and one light piece of wood. I chose those to represent the fact that faith is blind to colour. The colour of our skin has no bearing on how God sees us, we are all equally loved, wondrously and fearfully made. (Psalm 139). What surprised me is how emotional I found this experience. I started recalling walking along the Via Dolorosa, the way of grief, which mimics the route Jesus took to his crucifixion. Gordon Wenham told me that this isn’t the actual route and I am sure that is correct, but it mimics it. One thing that is certain about Jerusalem is it is build on a mountain. This is no easy path, no easy stroll, it is bloody hard work. As a young soldier we ran around with telegraph poles and I suddenly realised that in peak physical fitness I would have struggled to make the distance Christ did. Thus I walked the route crying. He wasn’t just walking it with the weight of a cross, he’d been degraded, tortured, they’d played the popular ‘King’s Game’ with him and of course he was flogged badly and dehydrated. The man Christ was as tough as old boots and his mindset would have put any special forces soldier to shame. Finding myself becoming emotional I changed my thinking to Jesus the tetron, a general builder. He is often depicted as a carpenter but he and Joseph were much more skilled than that. Carpentry was only one of the aspects of Jesus’ trade. Today he would be a stone mason, plumber, electrician, carpenter, brick layer etc etc. I grinned at the thought of him as a ‘white van man’ but then as the saw cut into the wood again I started seeing nails cutting into his flesh and again become emotional. Shutting off this avenue of thinking I started replaying conversations with my wife. What about cross winds? How would I carry it, did I need a red flag? No matter how I tried I kept seeing those nails being driven into his wrists (not hands). By the time this cross was completed I felt emotional drained and quite pleased to see it done. At which point my eldest daughter turned up, the first time I’d sen her in several months. Charlotte came out into the garden, saw her Dad walking about with a completed 12ft cross and didn’t seem to find that unusual or odd at all. I’m now wondering what that says about her view of her father and his sanity?