During the next few months and during a sabbatical period next year I’m hoping to visit and experience different ‘thin places,’ that is places where people experience or have experienced a sense of spiritual dimensions – or, to express it differently, where heaven and earth seem particularly to intersect. My hope is this will be a time of spiritual exploration and refreshment.
I started these visits on our parish pilgrimage at Walsingham, voted by Radio 4 listeners as the nations favourite spiritual place. Much of Walsingham is lovely, and I especially like the quiet places, away from the business and crowds. I have never been to a national pilgrimage and feel I never want to.
I find quiet moments in the shrine church refresh and renew me, and give a sense of the closeness of God. As I looked at the Comper window in the South Cloister of the shrine church I felt encouraged in my calling. The window is in memory of Fr Derek Allen, a great priest who took a care and interest in me as a young man as I explored my vocation, and he supported me through a time of spiritual crisis. I remember Fr Derek’s joy in faith, his pastoral care, his deep prayer and his openness to God’s spirit. A traditional priest, and one who was open to change.
Fr Derek was a Guardian of the Shrine from 1970 to his death in 1991. Two things I remember Fr Derek saying in discussion about Walsingham – firstly, whatever the truth of the story of Richeldis and the founding of Walsingham it is the prayers of pilgrims which sanctifies the shrine today. He also commented that as Walsingham is a very holy place so one should also expect darkness and evil trying to be at work there.
As I paused and reflected before the window I suddenly felt the prayer and encouragement of Fr Derek was still surrounding me.