“I would walk 500 miles and I would walk 500 more.” You’ll probably have this going round your head all day now (you’re welcome), much like me last week during my placement with the Chaplaincy team at St James’s Leeds’ University Hospital. Whilst I didn’t rack up 500 miles I did manage 23.41 miles, which equates to 60,413 steps and climbing 139 floors. You might not think that that sounds a lot but I’m quite impressed with it! Alongside my newly discovered appreciation for skinny flat whites, the placement has been quite beneficial for the waistline, well it would have been if it hadn’t been for my equal appreciation of chocolate and crisps.
Of course I have walked further than those physical miles during the past week. I have been privileged to walk alongside patients for a very short part of their journey, whether it is joining them towards the end of their journey, or at the troubled beginning of the journey of life or even walking with them through the pain of a journey that was not to be. I have walked alongside the Chaplaincy team, the bereavement team, nurses, staff and volunteers, albeit very briefly in some instances, as they have accompanied patients on a variety of different paths.
The central pane of the window in the beautiful St Luke’s chapel in Leeds General Infirmary depicts some incidents from the Gospel where Jesus is met with a need while he is on a journey. In all of the panes Jesus is standing, he has been caught as he was walking to somewhere and asked to intervene. The portrayals feel action packed, they feel immediate.
I know the metaphor of life as a journey is a bit hackneyed but the thought of walking our faith has rich biblical undertones. Throughout the Old Testament the faithful are encouraged to walk in the law of the Lord, to walk in his light. Over the summer I re-read To Kill A Mockingbird and was once again challenged by Atticus Finch and his insistence that before you judge anyone you walk in their shoes. Of course it’s easy to be morally correct when you’re a fictional character, but Atticus does teach us an important lesson. It reminded me of the insistence in the health service of patient centredness (if that’s a word). When engaging with patients, chaplains take great pains to get permission from them, “Is it ok if I get a chair to sit with?” “Is now a good time for you to talk?” “I’ve brought Holy Communion with me, would you like to receive?” “Would you like the curtain drawn?” All these questions require the patient’s permission before anything else. The patient becomes central in the immediate encounter, they cannot be dismissed.
And I wonder whether if we engaged with each other in that manner if our conversations, discussions, arguments even might be better conducted? If we were to stop to ask, “Is it ok if I call you and your sexual orientation an abomination because it doesn’t agree with my reading of the Bible?” Would it give pause to consider what we were about to say. Or on the other hand, “Is it ok if I write you off as homophobic and abusive because you’re struggling to reconcile who I am with your received teaching?”
I wonder whether some of the nasty and unedifying public disagreements, particularly within the Church of England, recently could have been avoided if we had just tried to walk in someone else’s shoes first. Because we are all walking a path, and sometimes the way ahead is murky or confused and I am reminded of the passage in Isaiah 30:21, “And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.'”
As I discovered last week, walking can be tiring! We can take short cuts or want to sit down and stop, or we can be diverted by those walking with us or against us. I was reminded by the window in St Luke’s chapel that this is when we can be met by Jesus, that he not only whispers to us, “This is the way, walk in it,” but he himself is The Way and as we journey along he himself walks alongside us.
My prayer is that in all of our walks we may know The Way, that as each of us walks our own path we walk it together with, and being guided by Jesus.
Lee is an ordinand at The College of the Resurrection, Mirfield, in a Civil Partnership with Charlie (who isn’t an ordinand…) and buys too many books. He is a good friend of Soho Gathering, being one of our first Thursday evening attendees over 18 months ago! You can follow his Anglican exploits via @brileetaylor.