As planning for this pilgrimage goes on, I’ve been using a spreadsheet on which the daily routes are entered. There are various stopping places, but whenever the entry is a cathedral -I’ve marked it Durham+ or Ely+ or wherever.
On roadmaps, cathedrals and minsters are marked with a small, bold ‘+’ the ones on my map are in red, with ornate corners, and it suddenly reminded me last night of my childhood days as an explorer and pirate.
I was born ‘up North’, but we moved in my early school days, to live in the Fens, and my primary school teacher (who may have been a geography student at university, or perhaps just a Girl Guide) spent a lot of time teaching us about maps -how to read them and how to use them. We drew maps of our local areas -which for a child in the fens was rather disappointing: there were no castles, no forests, no mountains… and the rivers were mostly long straight drainage ditches.
But as a child, I loved maps -I had forgotten until last night, they featured heavily in the sort of secret-seven type adventure stories I loved to read, and I wasn’t going to let the local topography limit my imagination. And so I used to draw maps of my house and garden, renaming and depicting everyday things as exciting features -trees became forests, vegetable patches lush jungle, and the bird bath and empty flowerbeds, lakes and sea. In the midst of this imagined peril, I would mark an X, and sometimes I would urge my little sister to try and follow the exciting (and now wildly inaccurate) garden-territory map to its destination.
There is something universally exciting about a map with an X marked on it… as hundreds of books and films testify: From Treasure Island, to Raiders of the Lost Ark… a perilous search through unfamiliar places, to find something more precious than we can imagine, is a tempting and daunting idea. The idea of treasure hidden in a field, features even in the Bible:
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.”
These are words of Jesus from the new testament Gospel of Matthew (Chapter 13:44).
For some of those who turn away from the world, selling or giving away their possessions and devoting themselves to a life of contemplative prayer, either in monastic community or alone; there is certainly a parallel. To other people -it may seem like lunacy, to give up everything and choose something that, to the world’s eyes, holds no special appeal.
But for those who have glimpsed or sensed the Kingdom of Heaven, it makes complete sense -the unspeakable nature of the discovery… ‘I have seen… no felt… no known… something so… um… true… or real… I mean… holy… er that I just have to… well I can’t go on ignoring… I mean… Oh -I can’t explain -but I have to… I have to live it‘… The realisation that such a ‘discovery’ or better, such a ‘revelation’ cannot be shared by human explanation, or described in words, means that the most sensible thing to do very often, is simply to put things back as you found them (hide the treasure), then go and change your whole life in order to seek the Kingdom of God above all.
That’s not to say the experience itself can’t be shared… this is one of the things that Western people often mistakenly think about Christianity, and a reason that they go after alternative ‘spiritualities’… it is that because Christians do not generally talk about their revelatory experiences, people think they don’t occur in the Christian religion. But not for nothing was God’s name in the Tanakh rendered ‘unspeakable’, the treasure that is to be found, the Kingdom of Heaven, can’t be humanly conjured up like a sensation -its revelation is up to God, and like the name of God, not to be taken in vain…
In fact -like God -it transcends words… But God is Trinity… relational -and when we share in the Holy Spirit, then we enter into that relationship with God -and importantly for everyone’s daily life, we also share in that heavenly relationship with other people too, and we can share experiences of God’s Kingdom… not exactly when we choose, but when we are very very truthful and truly loving toward one another-then we are sometimes near enough to experience the Kingdom of Heaven. And Love and Truth, are the way to seek the hidden treasure every day.
As for me -I hope I shall be seeking the Kingdom of Heaven every day of my pilgrimage, and I shall also be travelling to earthly destinations marked out with a +.Cathedrals, where, on the one hand, we’re no nearer the Kingdom of Heaven than when we’re in a coffee shop or in the bathroom; but on the other hand, where people’s lives over centuries have been so changed by encounters with the Kingdom of God, that they have gone to amazing cost and lengths to mark it, raising a Cross in a field that they hope will draw others to find the treasure too. Bringing people together to search for love and truth, to pray and seek first the Kingdom of God, and its righteousness.