Today was a very hot one, with temperatures up to 30 degrees, but thankfully there was a cooling breeze at times. Much of the morning’s walk was on an old rail bed, which has been turned into a trail for 4 wheelers, bikes and walkers. The route runs from Blackville to Newcastle. Apparently the tracks were taken up sometime during the 1980s. It was certainly a pleasant walk, though Trevor claimed it was too flat.
As I walked along I thought about my comments yesterday concerning the Internet. It is interesting to note that during the 19th and early 20th centuries the great method of communication was the railways. I was told today that at Renous there used to be a huge station, but now there is no sign of its being there. In New Brunswick the iron roads are almost less than a shadow of their former selves.
I was reminded of the time when I lived in the Parish of Thorrington in Essex, England. At one end of the village there is a railway crossing for people to cross over the Clacton to Colchester line. It was built in the 1860s and everyone assumed that the line marked the Parish boundary. The truth is the real divide from the Parish of Great Bentley is actually about three quarters of a mile beyond that point. The railway line is a recent addition, the boundary was set in Saxon times.
It is very easy to assume that things have always been as they are or as they appear to be, but time is very slippery. We set great store by things in our day, but as with the railway in this area its function may have been lost in the matter of a few decades. God’s perspective is much more like that of the Saxon boundary in Essex. He sees things over the long haul and he does not change. The new comes along, but God remains firmly rooted, not agitated by passing fancies.
My reflections about the former railway line have led me to ask myself, what am I setting too much store by. Are the things that I value just passing, whereas the things of God are much more solid, permanent and valuable?
Today has been a day of firsts. My first fishing trip and first fish. We completed the walk from Blackville to Grey Rapids in just under 2 hours. It was great to be accompanied by about 8 people. The plan was that during the afternoon we would go boating on the river and perhaps do a little fishing. As it turned out it was initially a little cold and windy to sail, so we decided to fish from various wharves, up and down the river. We had a fine time and I only managed to catch a tree with my hook once.
At the first site, Carson and Dave, who took us caught several fish, but Trevor and I drew a blank. At our second stop, Wilson’s Point, I hooked a striped bass and managed to land it. The method here is catch and release, so my captive is now happily back in the river swimming away. I have to say that if I managed to snag him he cannot be very bright.
Another first today was the first time for a long time that I have been without reliable Internet service. I can ‘phone and text, but no email or Google. Some messages have managed to work their way through cyberspace to me, but by the time I have realized it the opportunity to respond has passed. In addition, I have absolutely no idea about what is going on in the outside world. Also you will be reading this sometime after I have written it, because I have no way of making a blog post.
In our very joined up world it is quite remarkable to think that I am so near and yet so far from everyone. It is even stranger to think that if I were doing this pilgrimage before the turn of the century such relative lack of communication would be the norm. Things have really changed in a very short time.
I know what it was like before the Internet, so such a lack of communication is not too hard for me to appreciate, but what of our forebears who came up the river two hundred years ago. For them this would be a very isolated place where they had to scrape out a living.
They undoubtedly fished and began to farm along this valley and the rivers were their information superhighway. For many of them though, it would have been their reliance upon God which led them to build the many churches of all denominations which line the riverbanks in this region. Their buildings tell us something of their priorities, my missing telecommunications towers perhaps reveals something of mine and ours.
I am late in writing the blog, because of the main event of yesterday. I must have eaten something which violently disagreed with my system on Saturday night. After many interruptions to my sleep I awoke yesterday morning feeling exhausted. We had a wonderful Confirmation service at St. Mary and St. Bartholomew’s but I returned home and slept for two hours. This meant we did not leave on time.
Thankfully we made it in time for the beautiful supper which had been prepared for us. We ate at Hambrook Point, where two rivers, the Miramichi and the Renous join. The view was stunning. Then it was back to Blackville for an ecumenical hymn sing in aid of the local food bank. Albertine LeBlanc, the President of the organization outlined its work, which has developed over the past 5 years. Her talk confirmed what many of us know, rural poverty is a significant and often hidden issue in our province. Over 40 families are helped here on a monthly basis and there are more than 80 on the list. The churches in the area are front and centre in this ministry.
In addition to all this I met three people last night who have been displaced from Fort McMurray. Each of them had stories of other people from the Blackville area who are in the same position as they. For some there is the prospect of a return soon. Others do not know when or if they can go back.
As I reflect upon the events of yesterday I think about uncertainty. In the small things, like my brief discomfort and the large issues of life such as providing for our families. We cannot be sure whether our well laid plans will be accomplished or thwarted. Things can move so quickly, in my case a matter of minutes; in Fort McMurray a few hours saw the switch from certainty to devastation for so many.
In the midst of this we gathered to sing the praises of God and were reminded of his constancy. God does not remove the challenges of life, but he remains with us within them, like a note underlying a cacophonous piece of music. As the hymn says “There is no shadow of turning with (him)”, because his faithfulness is great.
Now as I hear the early morning vehicles passing the church basement it is time to get ready to face the first day of walking. I hope to be able to send a blog post this evening, but both tonight and tomorrow there is a degree of uncertainty about ‘phone connections etc.
It hardly seems possible that nearly a year has gone by since Trevor, Irene and I drove out of McAdam, heading for Saint John having completed the 2015 pilgrimage. Now we are on the verge of heading to the Miramichi and North Shore. Unlike last year we have a better idea of the physical demands that walking will involve and I have been in training since before Christmas, unlike last year when I just turned up.
For me the pilgrimage has two main elements: having time to spend with God; and the opportunity to meet people along the way. What I discovered last time was that the structure of walking and resting meant that I was much more disciplined in my prayer and study times than I am usually. It is interesting that since then I have felt the need to be much more accountable to myself and God about tending to my soul.
You may wonder what I mean by that. Day to day much of our effort goes into tending to our physical and material well-being. In addition many of us spend a great deal of time thinking about how we respond to the many situations which come our way. At times it can feel as if we are in a video game with hoards of alien spacecraft coming towards us.
On last year’s walk I found that everything slowed down and I was able to look more deeply inwards than usual. In my imagination I visualized it as moving through a very tangled wood and suddenly coming upon a sunlit pool. It is an encounter with the God who is there.
So often in our worship we focus outwards. We sing out to the Lord, we speak out prayers, we take up postures of kneeling, sitting or standing. There is nothing wrong with any of this, but if we do not take time to ponder, rest and listen then we miss the deeper moments with God. It is at these times that we are able to share our soul wounds with God. To thank him for his love and grace and just to be in his presence.
It is in essence loitering without purpose. So much of what we do in our worship is driven by the tyranny of words, time and agenda. Our lives have become machine like, what am I getting out because of what I put in? Spiritual health is about relationship with God and is centred upon peace. Perhaps we all have to have to courage to step off our particular treadmills and seek out the quiet place, the desert place, for the health of the soul.
You do not have to be a member of a parish in the Archdeaconry of Chatham to join Bishop David on his walking pilgrimage. For the second year in a row, people from the Parish of Richmond will be walking with him. Why not fill a car, come to the north shore and walk for a day or more?