This year’s summer excursion to the Lakeland fells brought its fair share of excitement. We decided to make an ascent of Blencathra (also known as Saddleback). Beneath the summit is a small glacial lake known as Scales Tarn. It had been our intention to cross the Bannerdale Craggs and reach the tarn before ascending the notorious Sharp Edge to the summit. Well, at one point we lost the path in bracken! We crossed the Craggs and continued our ascent looking out for the tarn to get us back on our path. We reached the summit quite easily, but we had missed Sharp Edge; and we never managed to catch even a glimpse of the tarn. We knew we were close to it but could not see it! After a satisfying lunch on the summit, we began our descent, and before too long we saw the tarn and the path that we should have taken. As Sharp Edge was meant to have been the highlight of the day, we did an extra circuit in order to make that notorious ascent. After seven hours on the hill, we arrived back at the car, tired, but elated.
In the days that followed I thought more about that ascent and the tarn we couldn’t see. We knew we were close to it. We knew (roughly) where it was, but it was hidden from our view. This was to be our waypoint to identify Sharp Edge but we hadn’t appreciated how critical our approach to the tarn needed to be. We were so close yet so far off because our sight was obscured.
In the Old Testament reading for the feast of St Michael & All Angels Jacob declares, ‘surely the Lord was in this place, and I did not know it’. How often do we look for a sign from God and yet fail to see or trust our instincts. God is with us, but like the elusive Scales Tarn, it can sometimes seem hard to trust that God is there. The purpose of Christian pilgrimage is to find something more about ourselves and about God. It is a hard struggle, not a walk in the park. Very often the knowledge of God’s presence with us requires trust and faith. It was so easy to doubt that we weren’t (roughly) where I thought we were. Rather than doubt I needed faith and harder searching… a good metaphor for the Christian pilgrimage.