Monday, 15 May 2017

The Willful Walks of Russell C.J Duffy - Book 2 - The Whispering of Grass (Chapter 5)

Stambridge to Sutton, or rather Sutton with Shopland to give it its full title, is 4 point 6 miles give or take. The roads that lead from one village to another are winding. At one stage you leave the bliss of the countryside behind you as take to the noise of the major roads that form part of the journey.

I haven't walked much of late. My old partner-in-crime, Smudge, has left this earth and is now walking where dead dogs tread. Maybe there is a canine heaven and he'd make one heck of a canine angel. He and I walked a lot. Smudge had got to the stage where, still a puppy at heart, he and I would walk for miles. In truth, he never accompanied me on these walks as he was still too young. A puppy dog, like a child I guess, would damage their legs and joints if allowed to walk over long distances. The only difference between a human child and a canine pup is that the pup wouldn't want the shoulder carry.

My reasons for not maintaining these walks isn't just because dear Smudge has popped his clogs. I just haven't been in the right frame of mind to but my mind now, largely due to meditation, is on the mend which makes my mind sound like an old tin bath with far too many holes in it. An appropriate metaphor perhaps.

Anyway, enough of that. Life, the living of it, should always be held in balance with death. The latter is inescapable and the former too short not to enjoy so I intend to do just that. 

Now, where was I? Oh, yes, Sutton with Shopland. There are only 135 people living in this tiny village. By that I mean Sutton, Shopland is, or rather was an even smaller hamlet that used to nestle neighbourly next to Sutton. In 1933 the two neighbours merged and then in 1957, following bombing damage to Shopland's church inflicted during World War 2, St. Mary Magdalene was demolished. This spirit of St.  Mary Magdalene now resides within the walls of Sutton's, All Saint's Church. Once though, Sutton was a flourishing village which had a regular market and even boasted an annual fayre. Now it is mostly farmland with two industrial parks at each end of a road that stretches from the Rochford to Southend. The church is of Norman build. 

To get to Sutton from Stambridge I have had to walk through Rochford. There may be short cuts, there almost certainly are, but I do not know of them. Rochford is much the same as it was the last time I wrote about it, a little run down, a little in need of a lick of paint. The very old buildings still lean against each other like midnight drunks leaving the pub. They seem to be supporting each other.

It is Tuesday so the market fills the square. It is an unremarkable market selling cheap and cheerful goods from DVD's to shoes to articles of clothing none of which appeals to me.

My route has taken me from Ashingdon church to Canewdon church to Pagleshams then onto Stambridge. Today I pass by Rochford church, another St. Andrews, as the path I am taking leads me first to Sutton.

The old PoliceStation has been closed, put up for sale and subsequently sold. Neoliberalism gone mad. We now have insufficient police officers patrolling our streets but don't despair, property developers will benefit as the building will be turned into prime residential homes. It looks a sorry sight now with its windows boarded up.





Next, I pass The Horse and Groom pub then the fire station.  The pub still attracts punters sitting, as it does opposite the pond where the geese once attacked Squid, Tweezil and me. I rushed to defend my girls only to face an unprecedented and vicious attack by these lovely looking animals. It is surprising how aggressive they were.



I have said before how attractive I find old churches. Once you walk inside there is a quiet, a stillness that somehow is akin to meditation, a sort of beatitude that fills the mind lifting the spirit. I can imagine sitting in here, in this ancient old building seeking mindfulness. 



Personally, though, when I meditate, half hour each morning and another half hour before bed, I like to throw open the window so that I can hear the world outside spinning in infinity. You see, meditation is not a way by which one gains entry into a better world the only way to do that is to begin by changing yourself. What meditation does is grant you awareness, that is the essence of meditation - awareness - to feel connected to all that is so that mind, body and the world outside, the very universe itself, forge as one within you. The seeking of silence, such a hard task to master, is not in itself imperative although is sought. Thoughts do enter the mind but better to let them come then go opposed to forcing them out. The eternal is there within you and without you. You feel such peace,  a sort of bliss but one, the longer you practice meditation, lasts so that the stillness it imparts in you becomes part of your every day, part of your life. Things that used to send me into paroxysms of rage are less likely to now and the longer I keep maintain the daily ritual the more relaxed I become.

Staring at the glass window, a replacement I feel for some long broken historical pane even if the stonework is original, the more a sense of calm fills me. The window is the frame through which the sky can be seen, the fields and beyond. Perhaps I could sit here in quiet contemplation with that window to gaze through.

Again, when we think of meditation it should be remembered that the word, meditation, also means contemplation. I have long contemplated my failings, my faults and flaws and what I have discovered, if discovery is what I have done, is that so much of my character needs changing. Yet still, within me, is the desire to love and be loved. I am a work in progress but progress in the shape of change, of incarnation rather than reincarnation, is taking place. Slow maybe but better that than not at all.



The ghost of St. Mary Magdalene, or rather following the demolition of the church in 1957, a bunch of volunteers have worked tirelessly to restore the churchyard if not the church building. "Until September 2013, Shopland Churchyard was in an impenetrable state of disrepair. An enthusiastic group of local volunteers have worked tirelessly to restore the site as a Garden of Reflection and a Centre of Learning to ensure that local history is preserved. Our intention is to maintain the site for the many generations to come."

I have no idea why, especially in view of my non-Christianity, but this enterprise seems sound. There is most definitely something vital in preserving local history and the faith it represents becomes almost immaterial in that preservation. It doesn't matter the faith or religion. What matters is we should retain a connection to our roots. 

Mary Magdalene, or Mary Magdala as more likely, has long been overlooked by the Christian orthodoxy. There is no mention of her gospels within the King James Bible and, as far as I know, no representation of it anywhere within the Catholic faith. However, Mary Magdalene was a disciple, that is one of the hundred or so individuals who followed the man we now call Jesus. Her gospel is brief but still significant. It is also worth noting that rather than cast Mary as a repentant prostitute she is one of those disciples early Christian's would have held in high esteem.

The tiny fragments found of Mary's Gospel's were found in Egypt in 1896 near Achmim. The first version is in Coptic. Note, not in Greek nor Hebrew but in Egyptian Arabic.  The various translations of the Bible suffered massively from being altered, amended and censured. When scholars speak of things Theological it is worth asking them if they have read the original scriptures for to do so would mean understanding Hebrew, Egyptian Arabic and or Greek. 

It is also worth noting that Jesus loved Mary more than any other disciple. Not with a physical love but spiritual and even considered her worthy to receive special teaching.

I leave the church with its Norman architecture and history as I explore the graveyard but also the area surrounding this property. The first point of interest is the gravestone seen below. 


From outside the resemblance to St. Andrews in Ashingdon is notable. The two churches have their differences but the historical similarities are striking even though St. Andrews is the older therefore not of Norman design. I guess it is much like modern day cars, they all look much the same be they American European or of the Far East.

Image courtesy of http://www.essexviews.uk

These walks, part local interest, part spiritual sojourn, are wonderfully healing. My sense of spirituality owes nothing to the supernatural but everything to the poetry that exists between mother earth, humankind and the universe beyond. It is the understanding of our place within that vastness, that grounding of self, the removal of the ego so that I can reach total awareness. As I proceed I am learning a deal more about where I live and have for the past forty years.

The ego. The self. What is that exactly, the self? Is it not just a series of projections? Countless projections received from innumerable sources? Familial, societal, the media, the length of time we have existed. Our collective memories stored. Projections passed down then gratefully received. The memory, a thing thousands of years old, has accumulated so much stuff, so much of it unwanted, unneeded yet still, we cling to our belief in the self.

Now my walk takes me to the furthest out reach of what I think of as my manor. That term is one as used by Cockneys when talking about the area they live in. I do not own Rochford District surprisingly enough. Next, Barling Magna and Great Wakering.





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Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

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