Mark Boyle is going for a walk. A very long walk. He is walking to India. He thinks it will take him about two and a half years, if everything goes according to plan. And this is the interesting part; because Mark doesn’t really have a plan. On his walk he will take a small satchel with a passport, a pair of hiking boots, a couple of books, a spare t-shirt and a rain jacket. Nothing else. As he says, as he travels “I will be offering my services in whatever way I can, but at the same time, I will depend humbly on the true hospitality of others. This, to me, is symbolic of life; it is the meeting of complete freedom and complete interdependence.”
This walk is of course a pilgrimage. He will set out today, 30th January, on the sixtieth anniversary of Gandhi’s assassination, and his destination is Gandhi’s birthplace. He has adopted a pilgrim name; Saoirse (Sear-Shuh) which is Gaelic for ‘freedom’. He doesn’t expect to transform the world, but he knows that transformations of the world come from the accumulated actions of righteousness individuals: “I think one person standing up for what they believe in” he says, “is the only thing that has ever made a difference. Look at Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King. Look at Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. The strength of their message was from facing huge opposition and not shirking. Not once.”
I love the fact that Saoirse’s story was on the Today programme a few days after I mused that a blessed and happy church will be one that simplifies, that will give things up, that surrenders the clutter of our lives for what is truly important and transforming. God has a habit of using coincidence to prod and prod us into realising that things are (or ought to be changing). I love the resonances between Saoirse’s planned pilgrimage and the sending out of the disciples as recorded in Luke’s Gospel:
‘Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!” And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you.’ (Luke 10.3-6)
The only difference between the sending of the seventy and Saoirse’s pilgrimage is that Jesus sent his disciples out in pairs: Saoirse is walking alone. Which means that it is our responsibility, if and when we see Saoirse on his journey, to offer him the companionship and assistance on the way that the Seventy Disciples also sought. And then the peace of the pilgrim will rest upon our persons and our homes as we wish it for Saoirse in his journey.
- Saoirse’s website, which sets out his philosophy and his understanding of a post-capitalist economics can be found at www.justfortheloveofit.org.
- An interview with Saoirse can be found at social activism website Socyberty here.
- The report on BBC Radio4’s Today programme is here (link may break).
- Saoirse has also been featured in The Guardian’s Environment section, Step this way for an alternative economy.
UPDATE: 15 February 12.30 pm : with one of those pieces of divinely-inspired serendipity, as I was leaving the car park of Halfords in Canterbury today, who should I see walking along the Ashford Road but Saoirse himself! We talked for a while, and I heard how positively his pilgrimage is being received by everyone he meets. He’ll be at Dover tomorrow morning, so if anyone is crossing via the ferry, say hello, and offer to give him a lift! Follow his progress on his website.