It seems that a lot of people that I know are heading South for winter – travelling to Australia/New Zealand – mostly to visit family and loved ones. I hope they all have safe journeys and happy reunions. Don’t envy them the flight though!
Travelling seems bound up tightly with Christmas. The journey of Joseph and Mary. The journey of the Three Kings/Wise Men. Santa’s one night round the world trip. Chris Rea driving home for Christmas (I know – it just came into my head. Sorry.) Many people, my family included, will be travelling somewhere on Christmas Day in order to share time with other people. Like Joseph and Mary, there is often a sense of journeying home – to parents, family, hometown. For others, like the Wise Men, it is a journey into the unknown – the first Christmas at inlaws; the first Christmas without a certain family member. This sort of journey takes courage. And faith that things will somehow turn out well. When I did my charity trek to Jordan it was a journey into the unknown. I had never done a trek for charity. I didn’t know anybody else on the trek. I had never been to a desert. Never walked in the desert. Never walked for so many consecutive days. On the trek, we followed the route of an old camel caravan – a trading route since Biblical times. Before, in fact. The days were long and hot. Very hot! Suddenly, we knew the value of water in a way we never had before. It wasn’t for luxuries like washing. It was for survival. But what I remember most vividly were the nights. The sky was vast. And the stars. The stars took my breath away. In such a dry, parched, hostile yet harshly beautiful land the sky dominated the senses in a way I had not experienced before. With no light pollution to distract from them, the stars shone with a multitude and brilliance that inspired awe. During those nights in Biblical Lands, the journey of the Wise Men took on a new meaning. It was brutally clear that theirs was a hard journey – no small undertaking. Why on earth did they put themselves through it? No reason on earth. But the idea of following a star made perfect sense. I understood why Christianity makes sense in that environment. In such a place you would naturally worship a sky God, place him in the Heavens, surrounded by flying angels. And Heaven would of course be up above, in that awesome sky.
But, though I loved my time in the desert and it made a deep impression on me, I didn’t feel at home there. I felt very much a visitor in a environment that was basically dangerous and out to get me. I appreciated the stark beauty of the landscape but I didn’t feel the sense of connection I get walking in an English wood, climbing a Welsh mountain, overlooking a Scottish Loch. In my home lands the skies are most often grey and close. They do not dominate in the way they did in Jordan. In these lands a sky God makes no sense to me. It makes perfect sense that the old gods of Northern Europe were gods of environment or place. Gods of thunder, gods of the forest, the river, sacred spring and grove. Multiple gods for a land where the weather is always changing. Four seasons in a day. Stone circles that orientate to the solstice sun. Standing stones that draw the attention to the hills around them. Earth gods, land gods, gods particular to place. I guess this stuff comes from my father. He saw himself as a Christian. Kept a bible by the bed. Prayed on his knees every night. Yet he rarely went to church. He used to take me into the woods or up a mountain and say, “This is my church. This is where God speaks to me most clearly. I don’t need a building to hear him.” I think I know what you mean, dad.
So, for me, Yule is very much about being home. In a place where I feel safe, connected. Where I feel I belong. This morning I walked the dog along the disused railway line, over the stile and across the field to my favourite view. I never tire of it. It never fails to lift my spirits. I look over the fields and rolling hills to that clump of trees on the highest peak. I hear the bickering of the fieldfare flocking in the trees – noisy visitors themselves. And I feel a soothing sense of being part of something bigger and older than myself. I feel a part of this landscape – part of its story stretching into past and future. Time stops. I am home.
Andy, thanks so much for these very thoughtful and loving messages every day.