This months 'pictures of love' blog comes from Rev Jona Sewell, who is a minister in the North Shields and Whitley Bay Circuit. Please feel free to leave a comment or a reflection at the bottom of the blog.
I love hiking. It's something I do to relax. I walk with friends. We walk in silence, we walk in conversation. We walk in all weathers and conditions. We walk on the flat. We walk in the hills. I find walking helps to give me the space to switch off, or think, or reflect, or pray, or reconnect with God, or all of the above. The more I walk, the more I see the connections between hiking and faith...
The point of the walk is not the destination, as more often than not you start and end at the same place; you return to your beginning. Rather, the point is the experience of the journey itself. However, within the journey there can be several aims; peaks to climb, destinations to visit, achievements to accomplish, or problems to be overcome. There can be immense satisfaction when a target is reached and equal amounts of frustration when things don't go to plan.
On the same hike you can experience all sorts of conditions. Sometimes the weather is good, sometimes too hot, or too cold. Sometimes it's windy, or foggy and sometimes it's just torrential rain.
Sometimes underfoot is solid giving confidence with every step, sometimes it's loose and easy to fall on, sometimes it's too hard and jarring, sometimes it's soft and forgiving while sometimes it's boggy and entirely hard work.
Sometimes the path is obvious and clearly marked, other times it isn't and you have to work hard to keep in the right direction. Sometimes there are several paths to the same peak or marker and you have to choose your path wisely depending on time, travelling companions, terrain, weather or simply how you feel at that moment. Sometimes you just have to forge your own path to where you want to go and be unafraid of crossing new ground.
Sometimes you travel light, on other times you carry more weight. Sometimes you share the weight of the pack with others, and sometimes you take the burden from others and carry it for them. Sometimes you feel full of energy, sometimes more exhausted, and sometimes you just want to give up or wish it was all over.
As you hike you carry essentials for the journey: food and drink for energy, it's important to make regular rest stops and keep refreshed. Protection for bad weather; waterproofs, dry socks, hat. Tools to keep you on the right path; compass, map and a guidebook from someone who's walked that way before.
Despite all your best efforts sometimes you still get lost, miss the turn or loose direction. In times like these you often rely on fellow travellers to help; friends and strangers with more experience and wisdom or who've been there already, those who can set you back in the right direction.
The danger with hiking is that you get so focused on the next peak, or the next destination or target, or on completing the journey itself, that you miss what is all around you, before you and in you. There's a danger you miss the moment, the here and now... The beauty of where you find yourself, the breathe as you gulp in mouthfuls of air on a climb, the feeling of life within as the heart beats fast and hard, the view that can suddenly appear, the conversation with or simple appreciation of those who travel with you, the thrill of reaching a peak, or simply pausing to look back at how far you've already come - all these can be easily missed if you're too focussed on the next thing, or simply don't open your eyes, ears and mind to all that's around and is happening at any moment. And any experienced hiker will tell you; you never walk alone.
The more I walk, the more I see the connections between hiking and faith...