The Jonah Walk

The book of Jonah tells us that “Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, … an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across.” When I read this I wondered how long it would take to walk across Melbourne. Would three days be enough? Having been a pilgrimage walker in various places in the ancient Celtic Lands of Scotland, Ireland and Wales, I thought walking in the spirit of Jonah across a large city would be a good discipline and an exciting experience.

Finding the time to do it was another thing. As a pastor one never seems to have three days without responsibilities or appointments. Then the Baptist Union of Victoria scheduled the annual Assembly for 2019 to be held at New Hope Baptist Church – just 1.8 km from where I live in Blackburn. Why not walk to the meeting – but not from Blackburn. Walk from Olinda on the top of the Dandenong Mountains to the east of Melbourne! It’s only 23 km and almost exactly along the route I had originally planned for the Jonah Walk. It will be just the first day of the Walk, but a useful beginning – around 6 hours walking time with opportunity to stop for meeting and talking, praying and listening, and of course, for coffee.

Early in the morning Jane (my wife and fellow Pilgrim) drove me to Olinda where we prayed together looking over the city before I set off, trusty pilgrim staff in hand. For the story of the staff, which I found years ago on a night pilgrimage walk across the inner suburbs of Melbourne, please see the Pilgrimage Staff post below.

I left Olinda around 9am. It was a steep and slippery track down the mountain. The sounds of birds and insects were beautiful and I saw a mother duck with five ducklings who shared the path with me.

At a pilgrimage conference in July Prof George Greenia spoke on the importance of pilgrimage ‘soundscape’. Moving from the music of the forest to the Mountain highway traffic, to the noise in the cafe at the 1/4 way mark of the walk has been very stimulating.

I’ve been thinking of, and praying for, a range of people on the journey.

The beginning of the track
The oldest oak tree in The Basin, planted as an acorn in 1873

I’ve now made it to Ringwood – 16km walking. It’s not until you walk through a city that you realise how isolating the motor car is. Thousands have driven past me but we cannot talk or share our stories. So few are walking apart from the crowds around shopping centres or transport hubs. The strong, cold headwind is moving me to pray for those facing difficult passages of life – students in the final stages of the school year, refugees, some of the the elderly I have walked with, unable to drive and making their way slowly through the streets.

22km walked now. 1.4 to go! I’m resting near the corner of Springfield Rd and Surrey Rd. It’s been an exacting journey for the last 10 k but well worth it. Keeping focus has not been easy, but the struggle makes me much more aware of the suffering of others. I should arrive after 5pm.

Arrived at New Hope Baptist Church. It’s been a tiring but very worthwhile experience. Walkng across your own city gives a different sense of the scale of it. You also sense the types of people living in different parts of the suburbs – their ethnic background, their ages, whether an area has many families and young children. When passing schools I always prayed for the children who studied there.

The housing stock differs as you move from outer suburbs to the more middle ring suburbs. It was a strange experience to come across the first traditional Victorian weatherboard house with a picket fence (Mitcham). I’m sure there are others further out but this was my first on this trip.

Walking is a great way to think and pray and many of the world’s great thinkers have done their work while perambulating through nature and history. The Celtic Saints walked, prayed and preached. It was a privilege to try a small venture in this tradition. It will take some time to fully reflect on what it has taught.

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