I cannot help but think of my mother, Mary, when I come to Walsingham. She loved the companionship, the fun, the quiz evenings and the variety of our pilgrimages here. She loved the worship and beauty of this place.
As I remember her I remember her home in Sedgefield, County Durham – the village of my birth. She loved our family visits to her home. As soon as we arrived tea would be made, family news would be exchanged, old family stories recounted and we’d hear about more recent goings on in Sedgefield. We’d have a ‘Nana Mary tea’ – sandwiches, teacake, cakes she had specially baked for the visit, and, of course, her famous cheese scones – still a fond memory we share in my family. Her house, her home, was a place of welcome, acceptance, comfort and being. Of course there were sometimes difficult moments – she was a strong woman, the daughter and granddaughter of determined women. Whatever, there always was acceptance, understanding and love.
Yesterday evening I sat in the Holy House, the centre of Walsingham while an evening liturgy took place in the main shrine church. As I listened to the worship, I wondered. I wondered about the style which so often pervades this place. Lavish liturgies encrusted with traditional and arcane words – Mother unstained, Virgin most clement, Seat of wisdom, Tower of Ivory… Elderly white male priests predominate, apologetic complex sermons are frequently heard, women priests are excluded from participating …
Yet, as I sat in the Holy House I recalled how Walsingham began very simply. The Lady Richeldis, encouraged by Mary, in a vision, built a replica of the home of the Holy Family. A simple place of welcome in a remote place.
A Holy House, a holy home of welcome, is at the heart of Walsingham. May our pilgrimage be, above all a pilgrimage, in prayer and imagination, to this place of a mother’s love, Mary’s home. Here may we find comfort, acceptance and love. Here may we share stories and food. Here may we share memories of our Christian story in the home of our mother, Mary.
While not wanting to devalue what is beautiful and holy in the traditional devotions and liturgies here at Walsingham I do want to question some aspects of it. I wish to encourage a spirit of generous welcome and inclusion here. I wish to encourage strongly our personal, quiet and gentle prayers in this holy place. I wish to encourage our fun in pilgrimage together.
Two final thoughts to share. First of all a favourite poem by the Czech poet, Vladimir Holan, who reflects on Resurrection and home:
Is it true that after this life of ours
we shall one day be awakened by a
terrifying clamour of trumpets?
Forgive me, God,
but I console myself that the beginning
and resurrection of all of us dead
will simply be announced
by the crowing of a cock
After that we will remain
lying down a while
The first to get up
will be mother
We’ll hear her, quietly
laying the fire, quietly putting
the kettle on the stove and
cosily taking the teapot out of the cupboard.
We’ll be home once more.
and secondly, a quotation encouraging us to have a simple personal approach and look to Mary for comfort and help. Mother (St) Theresa of Calcutta said “If you ever feel distressed during your day, call upon Our Lady, just say this simple prayer Mary, Mother of Jesus, please be a mother to me now. I must admit this prayer has never failed me.”
Here, at Walsingham, I pray and hope all will find in their hearts, and rest in, the simple, comforting, love and peace of Mother Mary’s home.