I have just returned from a brilliant day out to Marwell Zoo with some Year 7 and 8 girls undertaking environmental research as part of their Activities Week. The sun shone and ice creams were enjoyed – our only sadness being the lack of lions or elephants. Come, come Marwell Zoo, this just will not do!
As we were wandering around this excellent attraction conversations were had on the theme of summer holidays past and those soon to be enjoyed. There are some really fortunate girls who will be jetting off to exotic, sun-drenched and far-way locations for several weeks. Equally there are the ‘stacation set’ that will be enjoying time in Cornwall, the Norfolk Broads or the lands north of Hadrian’s Wall. Whatever the destinations it was delightful to hear genuine excitement and anticipation at the thought of leaving home territory to experience places new – even for a short time. The idea of having time away after a long and demanding academic year was gleefully welcomed as a moment for fun, time with the family and, notably, time to recharge their batteries. Many of the girls said how tired and flat they felt and were grateful for the Activities Week for a change of pace in their busy lives.
These young girls had a very realistic and genuine understanding of the pressures they experience daily – and they have not even started GCSEs yet. This is a very sad confession and an indictment of the system under which they are being educated. The long holiday is important and it was refreshing to hear a clear sense of direction and an agenda for their holiday time. Sun, sea, family, fun and a break from the normal. How lovely!
Yesterday in my sermon I explored some ideas around how we must all listen and respond to the call God makes in our lives. Reading, studying is all well and good but in what ways do we set aside time and space to be with God so that we may hear and reflect on His call to us. The Call to Prayer must, surely, be at the core of our daily routine. I know this is demanding when family, work and other demands pressure our time. Yet we do need to hear and listen if we are to respond to God’s gracious invitations. However we arrange things – prayerful moments, conversations or retreats – all time with God is an opportunity for refreshment and taking stock: where are we, where are we going, what do I need to do? We face times of turbulence in our lives. We have things for which we ought to give thanks. We experience events which confuse and trouble us and which distort our sense of direction. Our response ought to be so natural: prayer, moments in which we draw closer to the Father, moments which help us to reset afresh the momentum of our lives.
In preparing for the Pilgrimage I have tried to establish a much tighter routine of prayer and reflection. In part this has involved making use of the many prayers on the theme of travel, journeying and Pilgrimage I have discovered recently. This more disciplined approach has been helpful and rewarding, not just in focusing on the Pilgrimage, but in creating prayer time which has greater colour, variation and challenge. I am so grateful for this opportunity in which I sense the hand of the Holy Spirit. My sense of direction may still lack that defined clarity it ought to have and there are certainly distractions which obscure my vision. Yet I am becoming much more aware of the landscape in front of me; the landmarks are more defined. I give thanks for all of this – and feel mightily encouraged and in safe hands.
In my journeying with you, may I never lose my sense of direction, never lose sight of the landmark towards which I travel. And should cloud or rain obscure my vision, may I draw closer to you, so that my feet may tread in your footsteps, your words be my encouragement, and your love my protection against the storms that assail me.