Telling the Story of God’s Grace
THE INTERIM PRIEST ADMINISTRATOR’S LETTER
Love it or loathe it one of things you can’t escape on pilgrimage to Walsingham is singing the Pilgrim Hymn. “What’s it like having to sing ‘that hymn’ every Saturday?” people sometimes ask me. The truth is I sometimes get to sing it twice on a Saturday and on a Wednesday evening too, and, whilst it does rather begin to flag in appeal after the twentieth rendition that month, it is impossible to imagine the candle light procession around the grounds without it.
Whilst the hymn might have changed a bit through the years (the versions of the hymn in the earliest Pilgrim Manual would strike us as being very odd today) at it’s core lies the rendition of the story of this place. It tells us of God’s grace and goodness in the choosing this place where he can be encountered in a particular way; of the faithful response of Richeldis (echoing Mary’s own faithfulness); of the devotion of pilgrims through the ages; of destruction and restoration. The narrative of the Pilgrim Hymn expresses in song that values that are at the heart of this place: revelation, mercy, healing, intercession, forgiveness and grace.
There’s good precedent for this kind of narrative song in the Scriptures. Think of the psalms, so many of which tell the story of God’s people. They relate key events in the past history of God’s people in such a way as to draw meaning from them, and to proclaim God’s merciful care through the ages. Acknowledging God in prayer and praise the psalms turn what might seem like a random series of events in the life of a nation into a cohesive script –pointing out God’s loving purposes which endure eternally.
We might think too of what Mary does in the Magnificat (Luke 1.46-55). She meditates on the events of her recent past, and then celebrates how God is at work through them. “The almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” She sees that in her life God has taken the initiative, and so, in the power of the Spirit, sings his praise.
So a good question to ask yourself when you are next processing around the Shrine garden singing the Pilgrim Hymn, or saying a psalm that recounts Israel’s history (psalm 78 would be a good example), or praying the Magnificat is “how could I write myself in to this? If I were to tell the tale of my life and of God’s presence with me how would it go? What are the ways that God has worked in my life? How can I best give thanks?”
It’s a good discipline to think back over the story of our lives; a story of joys and sorrows, of blessings received and wrong turns made, of friendships given and received. Thinking in this way about the narrative of our own lives reminds us that any truth about who we are depends upon our relationship to God. The story of our lives is interwoven with the trust that our personal histories are received and helped by God.
That might seem something of a tall order to think about when you are juggling a candle, shade and pilgrim manual before you set off in procession at the Shrine, but it’s a good way of appreciating God’s gifts and his merciful forgiveness –and not taking it for granted. “All glory to God in his mercy and grace, who established his home in my wonderful place!”
With my prayers and best wishes,
Fr Philip Barnes
A Letter from the Master of the
Guardians and the former Administrator regarding the
creation of the Ordinariate.
Click here to
read and/or print.