“I am only one, but still I am one.
I cannot do everything, but still I can do something.
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something I can do.”

Edward Everett Hale

Friday, 28 October 2011

Gems for the Journey

'Gems for the Journey' was the title of a Unitarian Summer School workshop which I attended in 2009, led by Rev. Linda Hart and the late (and much missed) Patricia Walker-Hesson. Over the six morning sessions, participants learned about different spiritual practices which might help them on their journeys. I discovered that using prayer beads really resonated with me, and have used them ever since.

My prayer beads
I have been reminded of this workshop over the last few days, because I have visited a number of places in which different spiritual disciplines were practiced, using a wide variety of "gems". My husband and I have just returned from a 'mini-break' in Somerset, visiting Wells on the first day, staying overnight, then visiting Glastonbury on the second day. Wells Cathedral was a wonderful building, with its facade of golden stone, and famous scissor arches holding up the crossing tower. They obviously have some very talented embroiderers, because there were a series of beautiful altar frontals, one for each season in the Christian year, one draped in front of the altar, and others in display cases on the aisle walls. They had clearly been stitched with love and devotion.

As this was an Anglican cathedral, I was quite surprised to find a series of wonderful modern icons by a Bulgarian artist depicting the Stations of the Cross, which had been presented to the Cathedral a few years ago. The colours were like jewels, bright and vivid. There was also a larger icon of Saint Andrew, to whom the Cathedral is dedicated. It seems that images are becoming more accepted as an aid to devotion in the Anglican church.

On the second day, we visited Glastonbury. It was a lovely crisp Autumn morning, so we decided to climb the Tor first, which has been a destination for pilgrims for millennia. The view from the top was spectacular, but the peaceful atmosphere was somewhat disturbed by the fact that some horticultural work was being done, using a noisy machine to turn the earth over. We then visited the Chalice Well Peace Gardens, which were very beautiful, and then went down into the town to see the Abbey. Now a ruin, it must have been splendid in its day - as long as any of the great cathedrals in France, if not as high. I bought a beautiful olive wood chalice in the Abbey shop, just big enough to hold a tealight - another gem for the journey.

The rest of the day was spent exploring the alternative culture that dominates Glastonbury's shopping streets. There were dozens of shops dedicated to new age spirituality of all kinds, offering the spiritual seeker as many gems as there are journeys - statues of the Buddha, and the Hindu god Ganesh, actual gems and crystals of all shapes and sizes, Wiccan and Pagan artefacts, Celtic crosses, and much material about King Arthur, for Glastonbury has a strong association with him. Even in the Abbey ruins, there is a place which marks the putative grave of Arthur and his queen, Guinevere. There were also several amazing bookshops whose contents covered all aspects of new age spirituality, and many places offering healing and therapies of various kinds. It was fascinating.

These days have shown me again that there are as many ways of walking the spiritual path as there are people to walk it, and that each is valid to those who follow it. The important thing is to realise that we are all fellow pilgrims on this journey through life together, and that we need to show love and understanding to each other, not fear and intolerance. I know that this is terribly cliched, but I think it cannot be said too often. There is room for us all, regardless of which gems we use to guide us. So long as the outcome of the journey is to make us kinder and more tolerant, rather than the opposite.

1 comment:

  1. I love the way that the Chalice Well embraces both Pagan and esoteric Christian spirituality.

    Regarding icons in Anglican churches - there's a very good book by Rowan Williams about praying with icons.