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The Feat of Pilgrimage.

We had passed the path winding up to the 17th Century chapel the previous evening walking home from the beach. Now in the early morning, my son still asleep, I set out alone.

The path was steep and standing at the start - right in my way - was a very large and ornery-looking male goat. I considered turning back, but later the sun would make the climb too hot. So, after considering my options for a moment, I summoned my inner Karen Blixen, picked up a stone and walked purposefully toward the buck. "Shoo," I ventured quietly. Then in a bolder voice, "Come on, SHOO!"

To my delight, he turned and began with disgruntled gait to precede me slowly up the path.

"How exciting," I thought beginning to climb, just before I discovered that the first part of the path was extremely smelly. Piles of goat poop strew my way carrying a pungently acidic side note of the cheese I used to love (no longer). The goat trundled ahead while I held my nose and focused on the views I could now see.

I walked under the shade of olive trees and, just as I was pondering what a parable this path was for the Christian life, I fell over a root - long established and very old. "How apt," I yelped. How accurate.

Catching my breath and nursing my bloodied knee, I pressed on. At a particularly treacherous bend with a sheer drop to the sea, iron railings had been bolted into the hillside to save careless walkers.

I walked on in the quiet of the early morning considering all the countless pilgrims who had made this journey before me. Then, just before I reached the chapel, Bert (the goat's name, I decided) suddenly ambled off to the right leaving my way clear. I turned the corner and there it was.

Ancient and weather worn, the chapel stood in the beauty of its survival. There was a huge rusting white cross in front set in stones looking out across the little cove beneath us toward the open sea. It was the perfect spot. Behind it was the resort and beach and people; before it the sea stretched far away.

I stood for a long time looking forward. How much my life seemed typified by the pilgrimage I had just made.

Like me on the path, the Christian life starts with great intention. Almost immediately someone who has gone before you or something that happened to you before you got there stands in your way. However, you cannot be stopped if you persevere.

Starting to climb, you discover the gritty nature of faith is not a romantic quest. There is plenty of poop all around you left by your predecessors and you yourself will inevitably leave your own unpretty mark.

And then there are the roots long established from your past and your heritage ready to trip you up and hurt you. However, these too cannot prevent you moving forward if you persevere.

The iron railings over the sheer drop are manmade - the testimony of the saints to keep you on the narrow way learning from their stories, heeding their experience.

And then the beauty of the ancient chapel like Faith itself. Battered but unbowed for century after century. After who knows how many storms, it still stands stalwart and firm. Enduring nonetheless in spite of everything.

And the Cross: the 'Already' behind us and the 'Not Yet' still to come. The Cross standing exactly in the imbetween, the gateway between the two halves of eternity.

I thought how silly the human graffiti looked scratched into the chapel's outside wall. How ridiculous and how ephemeral our human existence! And yet the graffiti too is story.

I stood at the end of the dilapidated courtyard and looked out across the Corfiote bay where we were staying, giving thanks for such a glorious place to holiday. Then, turning for home and almost as an afterthought, I decided to peek inside the chapel itself. The door was rusted metal and I expected the inside to be a neglected shell.

Not a bit of it.

I walked in to find this:

Beauty and simplicity and gold and azure and red, and the faces of Jesus and the saints all left intact. There was a hole in the roof where the rain must get in, but even that had a cross in it.

I knelt on the cement floor, my bleeding knee leaving a mark, to give thanks for all that God has given me. The people, the experiences, my life, Jesus. It was a Thin Place, a holy moment. I felt changed by it. Anointed in some way and newly blessed.

The following morning, my son wanted to come. Again we set out early and, as I expected, he grumbled at the heat, the height, the smell, but he came anyway. I could tell he was just as moved as me by the chapel and the cross, even though he didn't say it.

On the way back down, right at the bottom of the path, I glanced up and there was Bert (or Milton, as my son decided to call him). The goat chewing his grass looked down disdainfully at us. "Did you make it then?" he seemed to say.

"Yes," I smiled to myself, grateful for what I had seen. "I'm getting there."

jsg/august 2018

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