Author: Janneke Blokland

Coming home

This fifth reflection concludes the short series of thoughts on my Camino journey. Those who have read the other pieces will recognise some of the themes. What I realised is that I was looking in the wrong place, and that my journey away needs to become a journey home. I am pleased to say that it was Augustine who set me on the right path!

Coming home

The day I arrived in Santiago was a beautiful day. A clear start with the moon giving enough light to discern my shadow, but still giving the opportunity to see hundreds of stars against their black backdrop. It made for a beautiful sunrise too, and by the time I reached the cathedral square, the sun had gained enough strength to enjoy a few moments to sit down and enjoy the busyness of pilgrims arriving to their destination.

IMG_0368However, as soon as I arrived, I also knew that this was not, and would never have been, my final destination. A small part of me had hoped to receive a revelation that would put everything in place, that would possibly change me forever, but I knew deep down that this was not what I was looking for. Before I set off, jokingly I said to a colleague: “I may come back a different person”. His reply was: “I hope not”.  It was precisely this truth that I needed to discover, but it was only the journey that had made me realise that I wanted to know what I already knew, and was looking for that which I already have.

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Where is the Church?

In this fourth reflection after my Camino pilgrimage, I will share some of my thoughts on the Church and its challenges. One of the hopes I had as I set off what to find some clarity on my relationship to the Church and a renewed sense of belonging. I don’t think that I found any answers, but the questions have become clearer, and bigger …

Where is the Church?

IMG_0305I had every intention for my journey to be a true pilgrimage, preparing myself not only practically, but also spiritually. I went to Confession beforehand, prayed for a blessing upon these two weeks and decided not to take any books apart from my Bible. Working as a school chaplain means in many ways finding yourself at the fringe of the Church community, so I felt that this pilgrimage was an opportunity to focus on my inner spiritual and religious life.

People walk the Camino for all sorts of different reasons, but for most it includes elements of searching, reflection and transition. The vast majority of people have embarked on this journey intentionally: it is not really a last-minute holiday destination. This meant that, as I already said in an earlier reflection, that encounters with others were meaningful and profound, whether people had  religious intentions for their journey or not.

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On whose terms?

The third reflection after my Camino journey is maybe particularly ironic as I am working at a school. As Santiago came closer, more people joined and the roads got busier and the group of walkers more diverse. It made me think about those times when we believe that our way is the only way.

On whose terms?

Quiet, please? was one of the headlines in the Daily Telegraph on Monday. Steve McQueen’s new installation in Tate Britain, Year 3, features over 3000 class photographs with the faces of about 76,000 children. All these children have been invited to visit the gallery to come and have a look. It will probably be a bit noisier than on an average day in the art gallery.

IMG_0364This was more or less what I experienced too, when on the penultimate day of my journey to Santiago, I was sharing the roads with a group of about 40 Spanish teenagers, and remarkable what seemed only one teacher. By this time I had got used to the hours with little noise and the relative isolation whilst walking. So this many people at once was a shock to my system in the first place.

Having been on enough school trips now, I was not surprised that the young people did not walk quietly two by two, but congested the paths whilst chatting, singing, smoking and vaping. Of course they had also at least one loudspeaker between three, each playing a different type of noise, which I am sure they will have called music – my initial annoyance, I am sure, is evident. How could these people disturb the last couple of days of my spiritual and religious journey? They weren’t even carrying their rucksacks, and probably hadn’t walked the hours I already had.

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Behind the scenes

This is the second of five reflections following my pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella. As I was walking, I quickly realised that I was not only part of a community of walkers, but also of a community that extended far beyond.

Behind the scenes

Even before I set off on my pilgrimage, I already felt part of a community of walkers (and cyclists): friends who had already been and were ready to give me good advice, both practical and spiritual. Walking the Camino gives you something in common very quickly.

IMG_0316This sense of belonging to a community was also my experience as soon as I arrived in Madrid. At the train station I met an Italian walker, who was also heading to Leon to start her journey there. We talked a little, and then made our way to our allocated carriages. I saw her again a few times in the following week. Although I did not set out to make great friends, the conversations and encounters on the way were moving and profound, whether we shared a common language or not.

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Sometimes it rains

This is the first of five reflections on my pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella. During ten days over half-term, I walked from Leon to Santiago. Although it was by no means the full length of the French Way, it was long enough to make it a worthwhile experience.

Sometimes it rains

When I was thinking what to do with my two-week break during half term, I landed upon the thought of walking a stretch of the famous Camino. Having done my research, October seemed a good month to walk as the weather is generally settled and the number of pilgrims is lower than during the summer months. Without much time to train, I decided that about 20km per day would be a reasonable distance, with enough time to rest, think and pray, presumably in the late autumn sunshine.

Having waited booking my flights, trains and first night’s stay until after the start of term, this became a rushed job between lessons and other activities, so it was not until a couple of weeks before I started that I realised that my starting point should have been Ponferrada, not Leon. Well, 315km is not that much further than 200km!

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Children of God

Homily St George’s Preshute, Remembrance Sunday 10th November 2019
Luke 20.27-38

cenotaphToday we are joining people throughout our nation to mark Remembrance Sunday. In our Act of Remembrance that follows this Communion service, we bring to mind those who have lost their lives fighting for peace and freedom. As we hear the names of those of this parish who died during the two Great Wars, we are once more reminded of the scale of loss that this country, and other nations, suffered.

Remembering is at the heart of our Christian faith. It is what Jesus told his disciples to do, every time they eat the bread and drink the wine: do this to remember me. The act of remembering is not just a mental exercise of calling to mind those things in the past, but it is a collective act of bringing to the fore those events and people who have shaped us into who we are.

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Be a blessing to others

Sermon 3rd November 2019, All Saints’ Church Stanton St Bernard
All Saints’ Sunday:  Ephesians 1.11-end, Luke 6.20-31

Today the Church celebrates All Saints’ Sunday, so it is lovely to be here with you in All Saints’ Church. When I took a school assembly for All Saints Day last week, I asked the children how they thought that they might recognise a saint. The first answer was that saints may be dressed in robes, which is a fair point if we look at a lot of traditional paintings and artwork. The second answer was that a saint is someone who does ‘good’ for other people. Maybe my favourite one was someone who answered that you could ask the person themselves. Although I’m not sure what a person would need to say to convince me.

all saints

Of course the question, in a way, was the wrong one to begin with, as the most accurate Christian definition of a saint is someone who the Church trusts to be in heaven after having lived a holy and virtuous life. So that means we can only know who were saints in their life-time, not those who are. Continue reading “Be a blessing to others”