Following the footsteps

Like many people of my generation, my introduction to the story of Robinson Crusoe was through the Franco-German children’s TV series that was shown in the sixties.  It starred the rather glamorous Robert Hoffman and the music for the programme was equally alluring. There was Crusoe alone on his desert island, stranded, separated off from everything.  And then, he saw another set of footprints in the sand and he realised that he was not alone.  Of course he meets up with Man Friday and the story takes a different turn.  Daniel Defoe’s story captures the imagination and the fear of being alone, or being stranded, themes that are constantly picked up in literature and art from ‘Lord of the Flies’ to ‘Desert Island Disks’ and to that meditation, ‘Footprints’, to be found on tea towels and bookmarks around the world.

Robinson Crusoe

Robinson and Friday

Each Lent at Southwark Cathedral we have a Lent art installation.  Last year we welcomed the very challenging ‘Doubt’, a black cloud hanging over the chancel.  It was more than some could bear, for others it was a permission giver, enabling them to talk openly about their own doubts in this place of faith.

This year Alison Clark has been invited back with her work ‘Footfall’. Alison was our artist-in-residence over the first anniversary of the London Bridge attack.  She captured the marks of the violence inflicted on the building that night of 3 June and that work, displayed in the Cathedral for the anniversary, is now to be seen in the Garry Weston Library of the Cathedral.

Footfall 1

Footfall

But Alison wanted to continue her theme and not just find the marks of violence but marks with a gentler consequence.  So, descending from the Great Screen is 15 metres of sheer material, bearing the evidence of the millions of feet that have walked over the stones of the Cathedral for the last millennia, the footfall.  As in many old buildings the stone has been worn smooth by feet, inscriptions in stone are being lost.  In other places the pilgrims and worshipers have had other effects, corners have been knocked off, things have been scratched.  In some places there are the marks of graffiti, a little design scored into the stone, a Christian symbol.

Footfall 2

Worn over time

It’s a fascinating trail, the footfall, the footsteps that we leave.  And as with Robinson Crusoe on the beach, seeing the marks of where another has trodden makes us realise that we never tread anything alone, that we are seldom walking a path that others have not trodden.  We are on a journey with us.

Richard Gillard’s lovely hymn ‘Brother, sister, let me serve you’ has this verse

We are pilgrims on a journey,
and companions on the road;
we are here to help each other
walk the mile and bear the load.

That is the story of our journey, our pilgrimage.  It’s the story of the journey that we find in the Gospels. Jesus ministry was, to a large part, lived out on the road.  His encounters were often as he travelled.  He had nowhere to lay his head but his feet were forever falling on the path.  And as we begin Lent we remember what St Luke tells us

When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. (Luke 9.51)

The journey became more decisive.  He set off and his disciples followed in his footsteps, afraid of where the journey might take them, but knowing that as they travelled they were travelling with Jesus. It was a path that would lead to the cross and his disciples were following in his footsteps, they were being led in the same direction.  In Lent we set our face towards Jerusalem, towards Calvary and towards the garden with the empty tomb.  The path will take us over hard ground until we step on the dew-covered grass with Mary and leave our mark.

The Apache people of North America have a traditional blessing which includes these words

‘May you walk gently through the world‘

The invitation that this year’s gentle art installation is to walk with us, to walk with Jesus, to tread gently but realising that even a gentle step leaves an indelible mark.

Lord Jesus,
may I follow in your footsteps,
walk the path you trod,
tread with care, but with courage,
step lightly, but firmly,
with my heart set on heaven
and my vision fixed on you.
Take me to Jerusalem.
Amen.

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