By John Reader
from Signs of the Times No 53 - Apr 2014
In 1992 whilst still a rural parish priest in the Diocese of Lichfield, David Osborne took time out of his formal ministry to walk from his home parish to Iona.
This book is the result of his reflections upon that journey, which was spread over a six week period, and took him through Cheshire, Manchester and parts of Lancashire, up via Scargill House and the Borders and on to his final destination. 1992 was also the year of the Rio conference on the environment, and although the text has been written mainly after the event, the theme of our responsibility for creation features significantly throughout the book.
Like all good pilgrims, Osborne engages with the context through which he passes and brilliantly brings to life not only the world which he discovers as a result, but also his own feelings en route. The fear with such a project would be that one loses interest towards the end and the narrative becomes repetitive, following a stimulating and rewarding start. Osborne however avoids this both through the quality of his writing and the depth of his insights.
Each chapter takes us along part of the route, but then offers a series of resources for further discussion: often the story of a historical figure who illustrates the theme such as Benedict, Cuthbert or John Newton, followed by questions for discussion, some recommended biblical references, possible actions one might take, and then finally some further books to follow up. As such this is a book to be used rather than just read, and could easily form the basis for a parish study group. The themes which emerge include community; compassion; repentance; hope, wisdom and love.
To take just one chapter as an example (Chapter 10, Songs and Stories), David paints a powerful picture of his trek through the Southern Highlands, the dangers and difficulties encountered, and then closes with a helpful discussion of hope:
'Hope is a conviction that the pain, the grief, the struggle and the suffering of the world is taken into a greater reality where the wounds are not removed but healed. Out of loss comes new possibility' (p221).
This comes out of personal experience of losing a child, but is also highly relevant to the challenges currently being faced by those of us concerned about environmental matters. The insights and theological reflections are introduced in such a way that it is easy to identify with them, and to see what Osborne is getting at, even though one might not always agree with him. He is not suggesting that we should all go on such pilgrimages or follow his particular journey - so one feels encouraged and accompanied on one’s own particular path rather than being forced down someone else’s.