Lay Anglicana, the unofficial voice of the laity throughout the Anglican Communion.
This is the place to share news and views from the pews.

Get involved ...

Category - "Pilgrimage":

‘Coracle’ Anthology of Poems by Kenneth Steven: a review

Coracle 001

Are you bombarded by words, helter-skelter in a torrent of prose, aimed at you daily? Too much advertising, too many emails?

I recommend that you try and engage the other half of your brain for a while. Take up this anthology and begin to read as if you were reading a shopping list, or the ingredients on a packet of cornflakes. Do not on any account look for meaning. Simply read the words, preferably aloud. Then read the poem again, still passively. Read it a third time, letting it permeate your soul. Then read it once more, this time in the way the words tell you they want to be read. You are there. You have imbibed all that you are ready for from the poem today. Read it again tomorrow, next week or next year, and you will have new insights. For these are poems to last you a lifetime.

They are small, still pools, deceptively inconsequential to the casual passer-by but to the pilgrim traveller a source of deep refreshment and delight. Dive to their uttermost depths, and they will take you to the centre of the earth.

They have their parallels in haiku,  expressing much and suggesting more in the sparest possible language. Also of course, more obviously, in Celtic prayer. But they are not at all self-consciously ‘arty’ – one reviewer said of his poems ‘Even if you think you don’t like poetry, try this’, and I agree.

I can quote some of my favourite phrases, but of course they need to be read in context:

On Iona (p.2): “A place found only sometimes By those who have lost their way”.

The Words (p.4): “All night I wrestled with an angel, sure He carried words that I must make my own.”

After the Storm (p.7) “The fields were filled with mirrors, glass stretches Reflecting a breaking sky.”

Edith (p.39) “It’s not how you live your life, it’s how you go to the gallows“.


The anthology begins and ends, appropriately, with an echo:

“a place made of stone
Out off the west of the world,
Roughed nine months by gale,
Rattled in Atlantic swell.’

And we end (p.48):

“Enough to wait here by the wood’s edge
And let the things still hurrying to be done
Fall silent, as the first stars
Vague the orange of the far-off West.”

kenneth-steven“It was by coracle that the early Celts made journeys on the sea roads of their time. A coracle is a tiny vessel, yet it is sufficient to carry one soul for a whole voyage. This collection of poems is about voyages, both real and figurative: journeys of many kinds. It is about facing danger and doubt with faith – against all odds.

This is to be published by SPCK on April 17th.

  • Paperback: 64 pages
  • Publisher: SPCK Publishing
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0281072094
  • ISBN-13: 978-0281072095
  • Kenneth has his own website: he is a prolific author and many of his books are available on Kindle. You can hear him read one of his poems, in the softest of Scots accents, here.

You can read some of his other poems here.

Monday in Holy Week: Abasement and Adoption – Evelyn Underhill

His Spirit comes to us, as Caussade said, in ‘the sacrament of the present moment‘. Joy and pain, drudgery and delight, humiliation and consolation, tension and peace—each of these contrasting experiences reaches us fully charged with God; and does, or should, incite us to an ever more complete self-giving to God.

But each experience, as such, is neutral when seen only in natural regard. It is then merely part of that endless chain of cause and effect of which our temporal lives are made. It can only touch our deepest selves, help or hinder the growth of the spirit, in so far as we do or do not direct our wills through it in love and reverence to Him. There is only one life—the ‘spiritual’ life consists in laying hold on it in a particular way; so that action becomes charged with contemplation, and the Infinite is served in and through all finite things. The twofold experience of Spirit, as a deeply felt inward Presence and as the Ocean of reality and life, must be actualized in a twofold response of the soul: a response which is at once ‘active’ and ‘contemplative’, outgoing and indrawing, an adoring gaze on the Splendour over against us, and a humble loving movement towards the surrendered union of will and Will…

The total abasement before the transcendent Perfect is one side of the spiritual life. Adoption into the supernatural series—divine sonship, with its obligation of faithful service within the Divine order —is the other side. The Seraphim in Isaiah’s vision, who veiled their faces before the unmeasured Glory, were yet part of the economy through which that Glory was poured out on the world: and the experience of reality which begins with the prophet’s awestruck vision and utter abasement before the Holy, ends on the words ‘Send me’!

The double action of the soul, standing away from the Perfect in contemplation and seeking union with it in love, and this double consciousness of the Holy as both our Home and our Father, are the characters of a fully developed Christian spirituality. But these characters are not found in their classic completeness in any one individual. We only discern their balanced splendour in the corporate life of surrendered spirits; the Communion of Saints. Not the individual mystic in his solitude, but the whole of that Mystical Body, in its ceaseless self-offering to God, is the unit of humanity in which we can find reflected the pattern of spiritual life. And as regards to the individual, the very essence of that life is contained in a docile acceptance of his own peculiar limitations and capacities, a loyal response to vocation—a response which, though it may sometimes be passive in appearance, is ever charged with the activity of God.

‘I see no difference’, said Bérulle, as he bade farewell to his brethren before setting forth upon an onerous mission, ‘between those who go and those who stay at home’. In one sense all are sent; for there is a double mission, one interior and the other exterior. And it is on the interior mission of grace, of mercy, and of charity, that I declare all to be sent.’

Evelyn Underhill

The Golden Sequence
The illustration is a seraph by Pietro Vanucci, Perugino, via Wikimedia


‘Pippa’s Progress’ by Simon Parke

I picked up this book in the naïve expectation that it would be a light-hearted take on Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, perhaps combined with Swiftian satire on the way we live now. Only 175 pages long, I anticipated a rapid and enjoyable read.  Had I known more about Simon Parke, I would have known in advance that, while it was indeed that, the book is both more beguiling and more difficult to stand aside from or to escape than you might imagine.

But first, the fun part. I really enjoyed the puns and the allegorical names, as in Bunyan’s version. I don’t want to spoil your fun by listing them all here, so perhaps I can take the twelfth stage, the City of Socialmeja, as an example. Here, Pilgrim’s guide is a young woman called Dee Straction as they go through this ‘gleaming city teaming with life’. Dee explains:

‘it’s where we’re all, like, connected with every one and every thing!’…’So I’m talking to you, sure’ said Dee, ‘total attention and all that, but I’m also texting a friend, tweeting my whereabouts to my 476 followers, checking my Facebook page, watching a film and trying to rent a house with some friends – all at the same time on this little gizmo!

Of course I laughed, as will you. But I also had a slightly uncomfortable feeling – surely I couldn’t be like Dee Straction? Could I? And it is like that throughout Pilgrim’s peregrinations.

In some ways, Pippa’s journey is rather like those strategy games which you can play online – or on your own computer (the 2012 versions of Dungeons and Dragons for example). And in places we think we can see where she has taken the wrong move, with disastrous results. But,  as in a  pantomime, Pippa is deaf to our cries of ‘look out behind you!’ She needs to make her own mistakes, just as in real life.

Rather like Pippa, I found my own journey of discovery would make demands on me and invite me to answer deceptively simple questions before being able to proceed from one stage to the next. Perhaps you are more evolved than I or the other human beings who surround you, but for me these moments came thick and fast as I went through the book.


Simon Parke, whose style makes the book easy to read from a purely stylistic point of view, offers a series of soundbites on the meaning of life. You can attempt to dismiss these aphorisms as comparable to Chinese fortune cookies, but they are more like the Tardis, containing more material for contemplation than you would imagine possible seen only from the outside. Some examples:

There’s always company on the journey, but you travel alone. 

You have to find happiness in yourself. You cannot expect someone to bring it to your door. That never works. 

I allowed myself to become defined by another person, which is never a good idea. 




I have no hesitation in recommending ‘Pippa’s Progress’ as a thoroughly good read.


A Pilgrim’s 21st Century Progress

You remember your Bunyan, don’t you? In ‘A Pilgrim’s Progress’, written in 1678, Christian is on a journey from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City.  His path takes him through the Slough of Despond,  the Hill of Difficulty, the House Beautiful, the Valley of Humiliation, the Valley of the Shadow of Death, Vanity Fair, the Doubting Castle, and the Delectable Mountains. He also meets characters like Evangelist, Faithful, Hopeful, Discretion, Prudence and the Shining Ones, as well as Flatterer, Hypocrisy, Ignorance, Formalist, Timorous, Mistrust, Talkative, Giant Despair and of course Atheist, who help or hinder him on his way. Here is a map of his journey.

I have been thinking about pilgrimage in general recently, and my own journey in cyberspace, which I set out on in November 2010 with the launching of the Lay Anglicana website, followed in April by the blog. I am certainly aiming in what I hope is the general direction of the Celestial City, in that I am convinced the Church would be a better place if the powers that be worked in partnership with the laity – would ‘equal but different’ be pushing my luck? But of course I may be wrong. I cannot prove to you, or even to myself, that what I am trying to do is the will of God. Straight away, then, I am in the Doubting Castle, and trying to ignore the cautious but undoubtedly well-meant warnings of Timorous.

Hopeful takes me on one side and  points out that several people (who do look like genuine people of God) have encouraged me along the way. If I am wrong in thinking this is the way to the Celestial City, then they are wrong as well. Just as I am beginning to perk up, however, Mistrust ‘kindly’ points out that they may be Flatterers. But then why would flatterers bother to flatter me – there is absolutely nothing I can do for them. Well, apart from flattering them in return, I suppose. The Slough of Despond and Giant Despair lie in wait for the unwary, like Scylla and Charybdis, and the path that lies between is called Difficult. You’re telling me! First of all, you have to  understand the machinery (and machinations?) of the Church of England. Then you have to push your personality to its most extravert extreme in order to get your message out there.

And then you have to understand the dark arts of Social Media. Although I have met many Shining Ones along the way who have tried to help me, they usually speak like oracles, so that, for those beset by Ignorance, some interpretation is needed : they too are to be found on the Hill of Difficulty.  But I have been lucky, like Christian, to have found many helpful companions and Talkative twitterers along the way: they rally me when my spirits are low, share my jubilation when another obstacle is overcome, laugh with me over some of life’s absurdities, occasionally remind me of the need for Prudence, and teach me much that I need to learn. Even my Atheist is a Christian gentleman, though he might argue with the description.

There is one more problem, though, and it was anticipated by Bunyan. It is tempting to try and measure one’s progress along the way, like every child on a car journey who has whined ‘Are we there yet?’ I can see that we are indeed not there yet, but I would dearly love to know whether I am making any progress. ‘Easily done’, say some of the experts, ‘you need to check your tally on the social media metric sites.’ A month or two ago, I conducted a little experiment, checking the names of some illustrious fellow-pilgrims against these tables of success. The measurements varied considerably from site to site. And now, my Mentor has pointed out that these sites give unwonted encouragement to those un-Christian gentlemen, Pride, Arrogancy, Self-conceit and Worldly-glory, in whose company one will never succeed in walking through the Valley of Humility, as must all Christian pilgrims:

  Christian: He told me indeed that he saw you go by, but I wish you had called at the house, for they would have shewed you so many Rarities, that you would scarce have forgot them to the day of your death. But pray tell me, Did you meet nobody in the Valley of Humility?

Faith: Yes, I met with one Discontent, who would willingly have persuaded me to go back again with him; his reason was, for that the Valley was altogether without honour. He told me moreover, that there to go was the way to disobey all my friends, as Pride, Arrogancy, Self-conceit, Worldly – glory, with others, who he knew, as he said, would be very much offended, if I made such a Fool of myself as to wade through this Valley.

Christian: Well, and how did you answer him?

Faith: I told him, That although all these that he had named might claim kindred of me, and that rightly, (for indeed they were my Relations according to the flesh) yet since I became a Pilgrim they have disowned me, as I also have rejected them; and therefore they were to me now no more than if they had never been of my lineage. I told him moreover, that as to this Valley, he had quite misrepresented the thing; for before Honour is Humility, and a haughty spirit before a fall. Therefore said I, I had rather go through this Valley to the honour that was so accounted by the wisest, than chose the way which he esteemed most worthy our affections.

The story, as we know, ended happily for Christian. Let us hope that it ends equally happily for those who would emulate him in the twenty-first century.









The engravings of the map and Christian’s entry at the Wicket Gate are taken from a 1778 edition of the book, reproduced in Wikipedia.

The conversation between Christian and Faith takes place in the fifth chapter of the first part of ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’

‘The Accidental Pilgrim’ by Maggi Dawn

This is a beguiling book. I’m not quite sure what I had expected, but as Maggi Dawn teaches theology and is chaplain at Robinson College, Cambridge (though she is about to move to Yale as Associate Professor), I did anticipate a possible struggle. She quotes from The Revd Dr Dee Dyas‘s Pilgrimage in English Medieval Literature (p45), which is indeed a scholarly work, but I needed a tail wind, several espressos and a towel wrapped round my head to absorb that. Fear not. You are in different territory here. With the lightest of gossamer touches, in her first two sentences, she draws you into the narrative of what is in effect a journal:

‘Standing on the cool, bare tiles in the shade of the wooden shutters at the window, I squinted into the bright light. Directly below was a military checkpoint, and to either side the road was lined with tumbledown buildings. Beyond them the sandy landscape was cobwebbed with olive trees and far away in the distance some new buildings on the upper slopes of the hills shone dazzling white in the late afternoon sun’.

Impossible not to read on.  It moves at a cracking pace and, at only 147 pages of double-spaced type, I would have finished it in one sitting were it not for an annoying person from Porlock who interrupted me. Although I have never met the author, I feel I know her well from our conversations on twitter. But even if I had never had any previous contact, in this book I would have felt her lead me by the hand on her physical journeys, whether to the Holy Land, Spain or nearer to home, answer questions about the meaning of what we were seeing without my needing to voice them, and suggest other questions of her own for me to think about. In short, I would feel I had made a friend.

It is very Anglican – and English – in tone. She is out of tune – as I would have been – with the unseemly histrionics (my phrase) of some of the other pilgrims in the Holy Land, and the religious souvenir shops at Walsingham.

Maggi has some serendipitous narrative surprises, which I do not want to spoil for you, but let me just say that there are one or two nudges along the way which a more evangelical writer might feel obliged to use to  hammer the point home. But there is no hammer in her armoury; reading this book is a two-way process between author and reader in which the meaning is what you make it. I found several important messages for me, even at a first quick reading, but I am still not sure whether the clues were deliberately placed for the reader to draw specific conclusions, or whether even the clues are in the eyes of the beholder. It is very cleverly written, but with an art that conceals art. Perhaps it is like the labyrinth on the book jacket? We travel without being certain that we will ever reach the centre, but different travellers on the same road, and the same travellers at different times, will all find something different.

I will not end by telling you how the book ends, tempting though this is because it is such a good conclusion. But I will tell you that, now I have read it from cover to cover, I am about to start again at the first page. And then I will leave it for a while, perhaps, before reading it all over again. It is a book to keep by your bedside forever.

These two photographs of the launch were taken by Tim Skellett (‘Gurdur’) on Friday 15th July at All Hallows On The Wall, London and are reproduced with his kind permission.



The two photographs in the text were kindly provided by Maggi Dawn herself. I should make it clear that this review was unsought and was not seen by the author before publication

We rely on donations to keep this website running.