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Living with uncertainty


There may be times during our pilgrimage when the journey becomes more difficult. We travel in faith rather than certainty and there are periods when we may even lose our sense of direction. Yet these painful passages have much to teach us about the reality of the human condition and our dependence on God and other people. Many who walked this way before us as fellow seekers or followers of Jesus, experienced times of abandonment when they listened in vain for ‘the still, small voice’.

To be a pilgrim is to experience a certain amount of alienation, for you are taking a different route to many of your fellow citizens. This sense of dislocation is found in the original meaning of ‘pilgrimage’ which comes from the Latin word ‘peregrinus’. This carries the idea of ‘passing through’ somewhere which may not be one’s ultimate destination.

So even if the culture in which we live seems increasingly inhospitable, we must cling to the hope in our hearts and not be discouraged. There remain rumours of transcendence in the unexpected encounters along the way and our promised true home is heaven itself.

Optional starter questions:

  1. When things become less clear for us and we struggle to find answers, how easy do we find it to live with unanswered questions?
  2. What are the painful passages for me as I make my pilgrim journey and where do I find hope and support during these trying times?
  3. How can I lift the hearts of others who seem to be lost in an alien landscape?

From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. ‘You do not want to leave too, do you?’ Jesus asked the Twelve.

John 6: 66-67


You are my God and protector.
Please answer my prayer.
I was in terrible distress, but you set me free. Now have pity and listen as I pray.

There are some who ask,
“Who will be good to us?”
Let your kindness, Lord, shine brightly on us.
You brought me more happiness
than a rich harvest of grain and grapes.
I can lie down and sleep soundly because you, Lord, will keep me safe.

Psalm 4:1,6-8

Primary Wonder

Days pass when I forget the mystery.
Problems insoluble and problems offering
their own ignorant solutions
jostle for my attention, they crowd its antechamber
along with a host of diversions, my courtiers, wearing
their coloured clothes; caps and bells.
And then
once more the quiet mystery
is present to me, the throng’s clamorous
recedes : the mystery
that there is anything, anything at all,
let alone cosmos, joy, memory, everything
rather than void : and that, O Lord
Creator, Hallowed One, You still,
hour by hour sustain it.

Denise Levertov
‘New Selected Poems’

The Way It Is

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
Or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

William Stafford
‘Ask Me: 100 Essential Poems’

As I begin to write, I feel like a climber who, after a long and arduous ascent, has reached the high ridge of the range and now pauses to draw breath and get his courage up for the last stage of the journey…

Before me the land falls steeply into a dark valley, beyond which I see – or think I see – the lights of the city, which is the goal of my pilgrimage. By any measure of time, space or probability, I am not far away from it, but I wonder, as I have often wondered before, whether the city is not an illusion, whether its lights are not folly fires, jack-o-lanterns. However, I have always known that one day I would have to go down, alone into the dark valley, and make my own discovery of what lies on the other side.

Strange as it may seem, I am not afraid. I have accepted long since that a confession of faith is a confession of not knowing. I have accepted to trust that the city exists, that the lights are real and that what awaits the pilgrim is a homecoming.

Prove it, I cannot. Deserve it, I do not. If my trust is proved a folly, then so be it. Life has served me as it serves everyone, sometimes well and sometimes ill, but I have learned to be grateful for the gifts of it, for the love which began it and the other loves with which I have been so richly endowed.

Morris West
‘A View From The Ridge’

Arise Within Me

Arise within me, Holy mystery, Holy friend

keep danger near enough for the summoning of protection
keep doubt strong enough for the deepening of trust
keep despair near enough for the stirring of hope
keep darkness strong enough for the glimmering of light
keep hostility near enough for the sustaining of peace
keep fear strong enough for the arousing of love
keep greed near enough for the lavishing of generosity
keep uncertainty strong enough for the bolstering of courage
keep surprise near enough for the gifting of grace
keep chaos strong enough for the flowering of creativity
keep divinity near enough for the perfecting of humanity

Arise within me, Holy mystery, take me to hallowed ground.

Carolyn Smyth
‘Bare Feet and Buttercups’


Every effort has been made to trace copyright. However, we would be glad to hear from any holders of copyright not traced so that due acknowledgement can be made.
All images istock except where indicated.
John 6 – Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by
Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Psalm 4 – Scripture taken from the Contemporary English Version © 1991, 1992, 1995 by American Bible Society, used by permission.
‘Primary Wonder’ – Denise Levertov (New Selected Poems, Bloodaxe Books, 2003)
‘The Way It Is’ – William Stafford (from Ask Me: 100 Essential Poems. Copyright © 1998 by the Estate of William Stafford. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc. on behalf of Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota,
‘As I begin to write’ – Morris West (A View From The Ridge, Bolinda Press, 2000, permission sought)
‘Arise Within Me’ – Carolyn Smyth (Bare Feet and Buttercups, ed Ruth Burgess, Wild Goose Publications, 2008)


Hilbre Island © Marianthi Lainas

Welcome to the 2016 CTBI Lent course

The CTBI Lent Course 2016 represents a departure in style and format from that offered in previous years. Each week, we are invited to gather in groups for reflection and spiritual conversation around a series of themes drawn from the overarching title of Pilgrimage’. The idea is that we embark on a spiritual journey through Lent, both alone and in company, sharing with others our personal reflections, stories and insights.

The notion of ‘Pilgrimage’ is presented in the form of collections of sayings, images, wisdom and prayers from a variety of sources, which are gathered into a pack of seven conversation booklets suitable for personal and group use. Each member of a group will need their own copy of the pack, which will be used as a personal journal.

Steps... up or down?


The Open Road

Where the invitation is to undertake a particular kind of journey, a sacred journey which involves both inner and outer dimensions. As we set out, what is our desire, or longing?


Dutch windmills


Taking and Leaving

Focus on choice. How do we choose what to keep, what we require for inner vitality and balance, and what to leave behind, things which may once have helped us but we now find burdensome and obstructive?






Becoming Present

Where the invitation is to become more attentive to our surroundings Where are the signs of God’s presence around us? How do we stay open to new insights?




Bread on sackcloth


Alone and Together

Focuses on our relationships with others. In our search for ‘unity in diversity’, how do we learn from ‘the other’?  What does it mean to be separate yet ‘one’?





Shepherd and flock walking down a tree lined path, Springtime


Living with Uncertainty

Where we think of times of alienation and separation that are common to us all. How do we live with unanswered questions?  From where do we find hope?




Approaching the top of a Medieval spiral stone staircase, light pouring in


Sacred Encounter

Where we are invited to contemplate the mystery of God at the heart of the Christian experience. Each step on the journey illuminates more questions, for example: what is the nature of suffering?




Reflecting over a cuppa, looking out of the window


Pilgrim Living

When we contemplate the significance of our pilgrim journey for the future. What people, networks, ideas, insights have we discovered that will continue to inspire us?




Whilst you may wish to print out the contents of these pages, we suggest you will find it more useful and less costly to purchase copies of the ‘Pilgrimage’ pack, which is recommended for conversation group settings and individual use.

Copies are £5.00 + p&p and are available from Church House Bookshop: either download an order form or


Pack Shot

BBC Radio 4 Sunday Worship coverage