I have just finished reading The Crossway by Guy Stagg. It is a deeply personal account of a 5550-kilometre pilgrimage from Canterbury to Jerusalem via Rome, which took Stagg 10 months to complete. Each evening Stagg stays in a different monastery, chapel or, if all else fails, a family home. He experiences (almost always) the best of Christian hospitality. The resulting travelogue has hefty helpings of psychology, history and theology. It is a gripping and, at times, very moving read.
Enjoying a somewhat ambiguous relationship with faith, Stagg’s motivation for the walk was, at least to the reader, uncertain at first: he justifies his departure initially on the basis that he sought to learn about the state of Christianity in the 21st century. It is a statement which, for me at least, did not quite ring true. Why undertake such an arduous journey on foot and throw yourself on the mercy of so many others just for the purposes of study? However it becomes clear that this pilgrimage means more to the author than just academic interest: he reveals that he had a nervous breakdown at 23 and started walking (from London to Canterbury at first) as a way of ‘wandering out of my life’.
Stagg never quite experiences the epiphany he seems to expect (he is no surer of his own faith in Jerusalem than he was in Canterbury). Despite this, the rituals he observes with his hosts allow him to look beyond his own difficulties and to engage with a higher purpose. He is driven on to complete his journey with newfound stamina, the source of which he is ultimately unable to articulate.
Stagg’s pilgrimage reminded me of this season of Lent. The journey we take every year to renew our faith is reassuring as a familiar ritual but can also be unsettling as we question our motivation and discipline. I pray that we receive the strength we need as we travel through Lent this year so that we are able, in the words Stagg uses to describe his arrival in Jerusalem, to ‘step into the risen light’ at Easter.