Upward and Onward

Christina Rossetti’s poem ‘Up Hill’, sometimes recited as a farewell, envisages a conversation between two companions on a journey, the one cognisant of heavenly ways, the other anxious to know more.

Does the road wind uphill all the way?
Yes, to the very end.
Will the day’s journey take the whole long day?
From morn to night my friend.

But is there for the night a resting place?
A roof for when the slow dark hours begin.
May not the darkness hide it from my face?
You cannot miss that inn.

Shall I find other wayfarers at night?
Those who have gone before.
Then must I knock, or call when just in sight?
They will not keep you standing at that door.

Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak?
Of labour you shall find the sum.
Will there be beds for me and all who seek?
Yea, beds for all who come.

This year, post Brexit, we will find ourselves  as a nation, on an up-hill way, to find our modern identity and place in the world. Whatever our personal viewpoint may be on our future prospects, we travel together. Some have a spring in their step, eager for new horizons and fresh opportunities, whilst others come with dragging feet, bearing a burden of separation, loss and uncertainty. We pray that the up-hill way may prove to be less arduous and less divisive than some had fearfully predicted. One thing is certain, we are heading for a different vista and are in need of the heavenly companion who speaks peace and reassurance, answering our call for guidance throughout the necessary negotiations and legalities. As past and future merge, we find ourselves still linked to the Commonwealth of Nations, hopefully now with the benevolence of a mother who enduringly loves her family whilst blessing their progress as they find their independent place and purpose in global terms.

Traditionally, the upward way may lead to vistas of insight, inspiration and higher perspective, a view of landscapes far beyond the present stance. Hills and mountains have been symbols of eternal continuance and stability. Their influence on rainfall made them symbols of fertility, giving refreshing springs for grazing places, food crops and hunting grounds. They were places of refuge and advantage, but accessed by difficult paths and rugged ways in life that challenge our progress but reward our effort.

The mountains named in Scripture have witnessed momentous events. On Horeb, the mountain of God, Elijah received divine instruction. On Sinai, Moses obtained the ten commandments. Rising 9000 feet above sea level, Mt Hermon set the scene for the Transfiguration of Jesus, illuminated and presented as the anointed Son of God. Here his glory was revealed, not only through his deeds, but in a purely personal way. The Mt of Olives became a place of teaching in the Beatitudes and the Mount of Calvary revealed God’s plan of redemption through repentance, forgiveness and faith, when Jesus offered his life as a ransom for souls.

We may each have our treasured memories of mountaintop experiences, recalled with deep thankfulness.

Near the little town of Drymen, an easy incline over field and hill track leads to the round shaped, affectionately nicknamed, Pudding Bowl. From its gentle grass-covered brow, the visitor is rewarded with a spectacular view of the islands that nestle in the sparkling waters of Loch Lomond. Further round, at Balmaha Bay, where small boats nudge the shingle, an upwardly winding path takes us to a natural prayer sanctuary perched above gently lapping water. Sunlight scintillates through pine trees and the bird song of God’s own choir celebrates the beauty and majesty of the Creator’s power. W J Matham’s hymn finds its perfect setting.

Christ of the upward way
My guide divine
Where Thou hast set Thy feet
May I place mine
And move and march wherever Thou hast trod
Keeping face forward up the hill of God.

Give me the heart to hear
Thy voice and will
That without fault or fear I may fulfil
Thy purpose with a glad and holy zest
Like one who would not bring
less than his best.

Iris Niven.


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