On Tuesday, 17 Spectrum readers completed a 100-kilometer walk (62+ miles) through the Borderlands of Scotland and England. We followed St. Cuthbert’s Way to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, birthplace of the beautifully illuminated Gospels on display at the British Museum. Our path is named after the seventh-century Celtic Christian who resided on the island until his remains were transported south to Durham Cathedral to protect them from the Viking raiders about 1,200 years ago.
We initiated this week-long adventure by gathering first in Edinburgh, where we dined together and each person shared what led them to this pilgrimage. We combined laughs and poignant moments as we realized that we were fellow travelers, not just literally, but intellectually and spiritually. In his book The Art of Pilgrimage (2021), Phil Cousineau writes, “If Mark Twain was right when he said that travel is the death of prejudice, then pilgrimage is the birth of open-mindedness and the rebirth of what the ancient Greeks called xenophilia, the love of strangers, an appreciation of foreign cultures, a passion for understanding what is other.” With nothing to do but swing one foot in front of the other for up to 18 miles a day, I found that the conversations and quiet moments kindled kindred love among this international pack of pilgrims.
Crossing the border from Scotland into England.
To remix a truth from Ernest Hemingway’s A Movable Feast (1964), despite the journey’s aches and pains, St. Cuthbert’s Way was always worth it, and you received return for whatever you brought to it. This week we can certainly say that we accomplished Spectrum’s mission: creating community through conversation. Like a holiday gathering that connects friends and family via shared time and space, our pilgrim movement across borders political and spiritual facilitated a bountiful feast of fellowship.
In the middle of our trip, the New York Times wellness newsletter arrived in my email inbox. But because this rigorous pilgrim life left me almost zero screen time, I only saw it after I finished. Titled “The Beauty of a Walk and Talk,” it quotes a 2021 article in the Journal of Environmental Psychology that explores the ways that walking together creates good conversations. “The exchanges seemed to flow more easily, as if our steps were setting the tempo for our speech,” the newsletter says. The Times quotes a researcher who goes on to state, “Walking invites easy conversation because we’re often more relaxed and open to tangents. And it’s really hard to check your phone incessantly when you’re on a walk with someone else. You’ll trip.” That, along with the dangers of blisters, charging bulls, and dehydration, kept us focused. We also practiced mutual aid. We helped each other through narrow kissing gates and over a galaxy of dry (no mortar) stane (stone) dykes (fences). Band-Aids, sunscreen, aged cheddar, electrolytes, water, and book recommendations were shared over and over, reinforcing the communal bonds. The Times’s walking expert expresses the experience well: “When we’re walking with another person, the social norms around silence and talking tend to shift. It’s OK to take a beat, which is its own kind of intimacy. Some of the best and most random conversations often happen after long periods of silence.”
Our journey was the brainchild of this organization’s board chair, Carmen Lau. Over the past few years, Spectrum friends have talked about experimenting with new ways to gather and learn. Carmen and her husband, Yung, completed this walk to test the idea. Late last year, we advertised this opportunity and hit our maximum number quickly. To inform our discussions and add to the bonhomie, Carmen invited Heidi and Michael Campbell. Drawing from her doctoral work at Baylor University, each evening after dinner, Heidi regaled us with stories and insights from medieval history. Michael, who directs the North American Division’s Department of Archives, Statistics & Research, moved seamlessly from identifying birds (90 total) to clarifying questions about Adventist history and fundamentalism.
I don’t remember how it happened, but I found myself rereading T. S. Eliot on the final day. It may have been all the British literary history we passed on our journey. One day, a few of us added an extra mile by visiting the remains of Dryburgh Abbey, where Sir Walter Scott is buried. The abbey’s buildings for worshipping and creating community had been destroyed several times, most famously by Edward II during the Wars of Scottish Independence.
Dryburgh Abbey (1150 - the 16th century).
Whatever the impetus, as I reflected on this St. Cuthbert’s Way experience, I turned to Eliot’s exploration of the historical, the communal, and the spiritual in “Little Gidding” (1942). The physical Little Gidding church has itself been a significant religious community on and off over the centuries, most significantly when Nicholas Ferrar settled there in the 17th century. It continues to be an annual pilgrimage site today. The poem is the last installment of Eliot’s Four Quartets. Even though he won the Nobel Prize a few years later and lived another two decades, “Little Gidding” was his final published work. The almost 2,000-word poem explores place, time passing, and eternal moments, and uses “fire” to explore both destruction and the formation of Christian community at Pentecost. I find this excerpt helpful in exploring a mystery beyond the language of the living, the timeless feast of moving along the borders of St. Cuthbert’s Way—and the spiritual beyond.
If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.
And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.
Here, the intersection of the timeless moment
Is England and nowhere. Never and always.
Crossing at low tide to Holy Island.
Talk has already turned to imagining a pilgrimage and learning adventure for Spectrum readers next year. If you’d like to share an idea or get on the early invite list, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alexander Carpenter is the executive editor of Spectrum.
Title Image (from left): John Nay, Karah Thompson, András and Agota Szilvási, Bonnie Dwyer, Larisa Brass, Judy Nay, Anita Roberts, Heidi and Michael Campbell, Rebecca Dunn, Elton Kerr, Nancy Lecourt, Carmen Lau, Nathan Dunn, Alexander Carpenter, Yung Lau.
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