As part of the ‘Season of Creation’ St James’s Walking Boots Group give their reflections on connecting with each other and with nature.
St James’s Church Walking Boots regularly venture out into green spaces, to connect with each other and with nature. It is easy to lose our interconnectedness with the natural world in such a busy city like London. Several members of Walking Boots reflect on how their excursions help them to break through their hectic city life and routine. Time is carved out for reflection, sharing and rediscovering the beauty of Creation which faces constant threat from human destruction.
Rob Hull looks back at his childhood and reflects, “Most of my adult life has been spent living and working in central London, but it didn’t start that way. My earliest memories include watching chicks hatch in our incubator, feeding them, and learning about their life-cycle. Walking in the countryside with the SJP group reconnects me to such childhood memories. It rarely offers close proximity to poultry, but my grandfather prepared me well for occasional encounters with herds of cattle.
For me, walking can be a form of meditation. As well as connecting me to my distant past, I can reflect on a world less dominated by humans – though still sadly damaged by us. Those vast skies where buildings don’t get in the way – and beyond them millions of galaxies – throw me into a bigger context than one dominated by screens and battles with internet connections.
And of course, the people. Walking alongside others, dipping in and out of conversation, is a gentle way of building new bonds.”
Jen Veall shares the wonders of leaving the busyness of London behind to feel the earth beneath her feet. “Like, perhaps, many people reading this, I live in a very urban environment packed with shops, cafes and bars. It is wonderfully diverse, and offers a huge amount of choice. It can, however, feel crowded, overwhelming, and noisy; a clamour of traffic, emergency sirens, people shopping and late-night revellers.
For me, putting on my boots, and joining a Walking Boots walk is a joyous antidote to this. There is something immeasurably uplifting about being out in the ‘proper’ countryside, walking through woodland and fields, climbing over a stile or two, and taking in the view from a hillside. Feeling the earth beneath my boots, and (mostly) being far from the constant rumble of traffic, plugs me back into nature, giving a physical and spiritual feeling of really being part of God’s Creation. It is a chance to stop, look, breathe and listen.
Walking also offers a particular kind of fellowship. Following a trail through countryside that is often new to us can be a bonding experience. I have had moments of quiet reflection, thoughts wandering and finding their own rhythms, but I’ve also had many, many conversations that simply wouldn’t have happened anywhere else.”
Margaret Lally is moved by excursions with Walking Boots as well as walks in her own garden. She says, “Walking amongst greenery, even if its only around my own garden, always revitalises me and helps me to put issues into perspective. It became even more important to me during the Covid pandemic when it was sometimes hard to see anything positive. I was delighted to find there was a group I could walk with. Walking up hills, through wooded glades and across fields always fills me with awe at the power of creation – even when there is mud to be contended with.
I see trees which have existed for hundreds of years which, despite all the challenges the world faces, continue to bloom and adapt to their changing environment. They will still be there when I am gone, and new shrubs and plants will grow. This year we did one very special walk where our lunch host was able to show us some foals which had been born a few days beforehand – the mystery of birth made real. The city walk I did reminded me both of the beauty of London but also that much its fortunes have been built on injustice and racism. Walking in a group offers both space to think and the opportunity to share and learn from reflections of others.”
Ros Fane finds inspiration in the poetry of R S Thomas. “When I thought about the Season of Creation’s symbol in the context of walking in the countryside, something I love to do, R S Thomas’s poem ‘Bright Field’ immediately sprang to mind. It conveys his experience of the natural world signalling something of great import if only we pay attention to what we are seeing and describes the realisation the poet has as being akin to God’s revelation to Moses in Ex 3: 1-12 when he went over to and looked more closely at the burning bush.
For Thomas, the sunlight is a wake-up call from God. It is described by Nathan Koblintz: ‘The turning aside is a turning towards the lit bush, towards beauty, and to your name and task spoken by God.’ This idea of Moses ‘turning aside to’ (i.e,. turning towards) the burning bush made me think of ‘repentance’, in the way that it is often described at St James’s, meaning ‘to turn around’ – to turn around and orientate oneself towards God.
The poem is describing a moment in ‘kairos’ time where something of life and death significance that is ever present but may not be immediately obvious is being indicated, rather than a one-off event lost in the chronological past. I am not saying I always (or even ever!) have this kind of experience on a Walking Boots walk – I am often too busy ‘hurrying on’ to the tea shop or the station (quite often a sprint finish is required in order to catch the train) – but walking does provide a chance to free the mind, be consciously in the present and to pay attention to what is all around: the beauty (or desolation) of creation and, perhaps through this, some pointers to our life’s task in the eternal now.”
Bright Field by R S Thomas
I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
the treasure in it. I realise now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.
Walking Boots welcomes everyone to join them in exploring and connecting with nature and each other. Nikki says: “I walk to spend time together, and reconnect with self, others and the natural world.” From Nat: “I walk for the joy of striding out, physical exertion in an open space, and the rhythm of walking and talking.” Jackie: “It’s a great way to create deeper connections and enjoy nature – plus I did 30,000 steps on a recent walk!” And Christine adds: “physical fitness is good, the space is good, I enjoy times with my SJP family.”
Beautiful walks in and around London revitalise body, mind and spirit, reminding us that we are all interconnected in God’s creation.