Monday, 25 May 2015


Early morning in Timaru while waiting for the hospital to be ready for me to visit Clemency. 
Nikon D7100 set to Sunset Scene mode; 18-200 Nikkor VR zoom @95mm. f5.6 1/125 @ iso 250 

A package arrived for me this week. It was a pair of Salomon Cosmic 4D 2 GTX walking boots. They are the shoes I will wear when Clemency and I walk El Camino Santiago del Norte in about 6 weeks time. A pair of boots like this will last about 1000 km on hard surfaces. My current ones were bought halfway through last year's Hikoi and while they are still in pretty good nick (my guess, about 250 km of wear left in 'em) they won't carry me the almost 900 km from Irun on the French border to Finisterre on the Atlantic coast. Just to make sure they were OK, I wore them for a stroll around the block, about 6.5 km, and put them back in the box.
What with one thing and another, I don't feel nearly ready, this time around. Clemency has been assured her sternum should mend in time, and she's nothing if not determined, but obviously she's not going to get a lot of preparatory kilometres done. This trip is all part of my sabbatical, which will be about pilgrimage and holy places. I'll also be doing some diocesan business while I have the opportunity. We will be flying to Barcelona on July 4 and taking a train northwards the day after we arrive. We intend to walk the Northern route, along the coast of  El Golfo de Vizcaya through Gernika, Bilbao and  Santander before turning inland, probably at Ribadeo and walking through the Galician mountains to Santiago. This time, I'm pretty keen to carry on to the coast. The Coastal route is slightly longer than the Camino Frances and is reputedly a little harder. The photos of the scenery look stunning. We are hoping that the rumours are true, and that the crowds will be lighter, at least until we join the hordes on the Camino Frances at Arzua. We won't be going fast and our timetable will be a little open ended, so we can stop and admire the views for a day or two if the going gets too tough. The path of miracles calls us. It has its own wisdom and will take care of us.

After the Camino we will go to the UK where I have a few specific things to do, in Wye, Oxford and Edinburgh, but I want to fulfil the call of many years and go to Poland and visit Auschwitz. Why exactly, I think I'll only truly know when I get there. I have a brother in Sweden, a daughter in London and we have good friends in Switzerland, so our route will sort of take care of itself. So, Nick, Louise, Guhyavajra, Cat, if you are reading this, expect an email sometime soon.

Friday, 22 May 2015


It's been an eventful couple of weeks. Ada was rushed to hospital and kept there for a few days but she is now perfectly, wonderfully fine.

In the course of all the coming and going to and from Christchurch  Clemency's car needed replacing so I researched and bought a new one. Well, not so much a car, as a travel appliance. I looked around amongst the plethora of available Corollas and Swifts and Polos; all of them mass produced boxes which do everything well but nothing very well; the sorts of objects you could no more get excited about than you could about a blender or a vacuum cleaner or a fridge, and chose a Nissan Tiida. It was spacious and comfortable and quiet and frugal. It was red and shiny.

And on Friday night while driving alone to Christchurch, to attend Noah's second birthday party, Clemency crashed it. We found out, although we would rather not have, that actually it was also pretty good at keeping its occupants alive.

At the time I was driving back from Invercargill. My daughter Catherine phoned from London and told me just before I reached Balclutha. I diverted home, sorted out the cats, had coffee and drove to Timaru, where Clemency was in hospital, arriving about 2.45 am. Catherine had booked a motel and texted me a Google map of how to get to it. After briefly visiting Clemency in her ward and conducting a relieved conversation in whispers I got to bed around 3.30 am.

We had a long weekend in Timaru, she coming to terms with a fractured sternum, and the overwhelming knowledge of how much worse it might have been; me talking to panel beaters and police and hospital and insurers; both of us thinking about the pace of life which had led us to this moment.

We both work hard at what we are called to do. We have a mortgage late in life because in previous decades various parishes got all of our time. We both have jobs at which, no matter where we set the limits we are never ever giving enough, and there is always something else crying out to be done. Neither of us regrets any of this, but when the odd family crisis gets thrown into the mix it is very easy just to increase the hours vertical, decrease the hours horizontal and get on with it. But how easily all of it could end. How close we are to the edge of all things. And when we look at all the things which take up our time, how much, really, does any of it matter?

So for the last week I have been home, continuing all the negotiations begun in Timaru last weekend, looking after Clemency and doing a little diocesan work whenever it fits into the schedule.

Noah's birthday party was, despite the absence of his adored Amma, a rip roaring success, by the way.

And I am back, once again, shopping for transport. I've seen this on Trademe. It might be just the thing. It certainly looks safe.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015


Lake Waihola. Nikon D7100 Nikkor VR18-200.  18mm 1/200 f7.1

In the last 10 days I have driven approximately 3,000 km, but it seems the inner journey has been longer. There have been the usual round of diocesan activities and I was greatly privileged to be able to lead a retreat in Akaroa for St. Luke's parish, Christchurch. But in the course of the last week or so three things have reminded me of the fragility and beauty and seriousness of this great adventure that are all embarked on.

1. Last week our infant granddaughter became ill. Ada, now three weeks old, developed a very high temperature and a very rapid heartbeat and was admitted to Christchurch hospital for a few days. In the end she returned home sore from the tests and treatment she had been given but otherwise none the worse for wear, but it was a fairly testing time for us all. Clemency and I took it in turns to be present with Scott and Bridget as they tended their little girl. My duties consisted of taking Noah to the botanical gardens or the beach, pushing the swings, buying him fluffies, playing hide and seek, reading him books and using his digger to fill his truck with stones; all of which by mutual agreement was pretty darned awesome.
This is what I bought into not so much on the day about a month ago when Ada was born but on that other day 33 years ago when her mum was born. When Bridget was about 5 minutes old and before she knew what a mouth was let alone what were the noises coming out of it, I held her and promised her that for as long as I lived and had strength I would be there for her. She may not have heard or understood, but I did. A commitment is a self imposed limit on behaviour and this is one I gladly keep. Last week I couldn't be anywhere else.

2. In the last few days I have learned that my friend Captain Phil Clark, the head of the Church Army in New Zealand,  is seriously ill. I've never asked him but I guess he's in his 40s, husband of Monika and father of Emily and Michael. I first met Phil a few years ago when he came South to be guest speaker at our synod.  He was a witty and challenging public speaker and the sort of dinner companion who had everyone else at the table clutching their sides in helpless laughter and worrying in case their dessert was running out of their noses. Then, last year, he walked Te Harinui, the Hikoi of Joyful News with me. Again, he was great company on the long walks and a very useful communicator in public meetings. He's one of the nicest blokes you could ever wish to meet. And now the doctors have told him he may not see Christmas.  I heard this news, shocked as were all who know Phil and knew again the preciousness and the fragility of life.

3. I heard a confession. Jesus' famous story of the prodigal son  is about someone who set off in search of freedom, self expression, fulfilment and the expansion of horizons but found instead enslavement and diminishment. So this modern prodigal, despairing at the end of a similar journey, sought me out in a public place and desperately named the chains and manacles and shackles which held so firmly. There was no purple stole and no prayer book. At the time I think we both would have named it a conversation rather than a sacrament but, nevertheless, I was able to be the one standing at the gate, and running eagerly forward to embrace and pronounce the undiminished love of the Father. I carry this particular confession with me many days afterwards because I had such a sense of God working in this person's life; because the circumstances relayed were so raw and so real;  and because they remind me so painfully of the chains which I have, from time to time, so willingly and eagerly clapped onto my own limbs.

So, from time to time we face the limits of our existence. But paradoxically a knowledge of our limits simultaneously faces us with some inkling of the infinity with which we deal.