I've always been good at settling in to a new place. I've moved a lot as an adult and I figured out that what works for me is letting myself get lost. I go out and walk and walk and each time I intentionally take the roads I've not been down before and see where they take me.
Over the years I've discovered playgrounds and bakeries and hidden railway crossings that took me out into the countryside. I walked with my babies in the buggy or strapped to my chest or later zooming ahead of me on scooters. I learnt to mark the seasons by the particular trees we would visit, and practiced the names of new plants and birds on my tongue like trying a delicious new dish.
I guess it made sense then that I finally discovered the spiritual practice of pilgrimage about six years ago. I had already been walking myself into my own belonging to the land.
I knew instinctively that the wonder, the gift, of pilgrimage was not in the arrival at some "holy" destination, but in the way that walking with intention awakens me to the holy right underneath my feet.
Place was not particularly important in the theologies I grew up with. We sang songs of God seen in nature, but still there was a noted separation (so we didn't accidentally end up worshipping trees - heaven forbid!). Although the tradition I was a part of did emphasise serving the local community in a really beautiful way, it also focused on the afterlife as the destination - this earth became a passing-through space.
And yet, my foundational earth story is one of connection. I knew, as a child, what it was to belong to a place, just as the blackbird belonged, just as the conker tree in my garden belonged.
The first time I truly noticed how deep that belonging went was - somewhat amusingly - in a cinema in California during my study-abroad year, watching the opening scene of the Kiera Knightley Pride and Prejudice! In that opening scene she wanders through a typically English meadow at dawn, the mist still hanging in the hedgerow and the birdsong noisy around her, and I felt suddenly and physically very homesick, and sobbed into my popcorn.
My body and soul responded to seeing and hearing a place that looked so like the meadows at the top of the road where I grew up. That land was part of me in a way that I would say was deeply spiritual.
Now, many years and homes later, I know deep in my body and soul, how my spirituality is inseparable from a groundedness to place. Place matters. Place is where I meet God and where I know myself most deeply. Place transforms me, and daily.
This coming Monday, to mark the Spring Equinox, I'm hosting an online retreat to explore just some of the richness of the topic!
It is happening on Monday 20th March, from 19:30 GMT. For ninety minutes we'll use guided meditation, stillness, and writing and creative prompts to explore what our own spirituality of place looks like. Then there is an optional thirty minutes to stay and share for those who appreciate being able to connect and externally process together.
I so love hosting these space and I hope you are able to join me to mark this quarter day in the natural calendar. I will be recording it for those who would like to join but can't make the time (the conversation won't be recorded).