On the Chemin – Back to the Future?

The last two miles of Day 1 had seemed particularly harsh, walking along a metalled road. No serious blisters yet, but my feet felt very tired. I’d suffered a spasm, fortunately short-lived, in my left foot. Bursts of pain shot down my right side where I suffer from sciatica. It was only one mile to Montbonnet, our first stop (featured in the picture above). But it didn’t look good for Day 2, never mind Day 14…

Just before we entered the village, a tiny chapel came into view. Like many in this area, it was dedicated to St Roch, who – early in the 14th century – was due to succeed his father as governer of Montpellier on the Riviera. Instead, he sold his worldly goods and travelled on foot to Italy as a ‘pilgrim medicant’, tending victims of the plague. The story is embellished by legend, but I think it reasonable to believe that many people were healed through his prayers. He himself eventually caught the plague and had to isolate in a forest hut before receiving healing. He then travelled back to Montpellier where, sadly, the townspeople never recognised his previous status or the sacrificial goodness that had blessed so many lives elsewhere.

The villagers maintain this (originally) 11th century chapel as a welcoming place for footsore pilgrims like me. We hadn’t meant to stop, but as I stepped inside I felt strangely drawn to stay awhile. Gentle music was playing, and as I listened, I was reminded of a time deep in my past. It chimed in to a study written by Archbishop Justin Welby that I’d read on the train…was God saying something to me?


Happily, a comfortable bed, a shower and a sumptuous dinner revived my body and my spirits. I was in better shape by the end of Day 2.

Jane and I continued to enjoy a feast of experiences as we allowed our souls to unwind from the strictures of routine and responsibility. Being practical, walkers need loos, and this charming little bothy – probably a former shepherd’s hut – had been converted into one of those delightful squat versions that rural France provides. What the photo doesn’t show is the water trough to its right-hand side, fed from a tiny stream and flowing out just below the bothy, making a delightful trickling sound. Whilst Jane took photographs, I stood and listened, letting this soul-music work inside me. It reminded me of Jesus’ words,

“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive… (Luke Chapter 7 vs 37-39). 


Jane and I had been to the Auvergne on holiday once before in the summer of 1973, after which we decided to marry. At about that time I was struggling with a big question. I’d tried so hard to please God and to share my faith, but it had seemed all effort and no power.

It took another year for me to admit that I needed to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Finally, I gave in, and invited trusted friends to lay hands on me, and it was just like that stream of water – being filled to overflowing, in a joyful, bubbling trickle that flowed outwards to people I met. No longer did the Christian life seem a big effort.

Archbishop Justin says, “The instruction to wait for the Holy Spirit is so important because without the Spirit’s empowering presence, it is impossible to be a faithful witness to Christ. We need this gift of the Father to be the people Christ is calling us to be. The Spirit then isn’t for some private experience, but for the sake of our life for Christ in the world’. And as a result of my ‘pilgrimage’, I’m asking God to take me back to those days when I first was filled with the Holy Spirit. At that time, I was just embarking on my adult life. This Pentecost, I’m asking him to fill me once again, in a way that suits retirement!

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