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A Pilgrimage of Paradoxes: A backpacker’s encounters with God and nature by Mark Clavier  

01 April 2022

Sally Welch finds a companion on the road

THERE is something very immersive about reading a book on pilgrimage while making one. As I walked through the Yorkshire Dales, bat­­tered and soaked by Storms Dudley, Eunice, and Franklin in turn, I found both enlightenment and compan­ionship in my evening readings of Mark Clavier’s highly personal, yet engagingly universal, reflection on his experience of walking in different locations at different times, but with a particular focus on one journey to the summit of Cadair Idris.

Although it is easy for me to feel affinity with a fellow priest who once ministered in Oxfordshire and who shares a passion for the Brecon Beacons, Clavier’s book is open and inviting, encouraging all those who “love nature, appreciate history, reflect on God and faith and who may feel a deep dissatisfaction with the world as we have made it”.
This book is in the first person, but not irritatingly so — Clavier is honest and humble and writes like a poet of his intensely personal reac­tion to the landscape. He invites his readers not only to join with him, seeing their mind’s eye the beauty of the mountains he describes, but to take his experience as a resource for their own journey, wherever that might lead.

This is not an unde­mand­ing read, however. In fact, it is disin­­gen­­­uously challenging. Clavier in­­vites us to engage with serious theo­logical con­cepts to a depth which we might hesitate to embrace were we not first led skilfully and lovingly along the gentle path of lyrical de­­scrip­tions of landscapes, dotted with outcrops of personal anecdote, history, and legends. Imperceptibly the path be­­comes narrower and steeper as we are brought to wrestle with the para­­doxes of faith, God and life itself, feeling a sense of achieve­ment as we reach a summit of under­standing before being led into yet more rugged theological territory.

Clavier’s arguments are well crafted and complex. He takes us through the “paradoxes” of eternity and time, silence and words, wonder and the commonplace; includes reflections on the sacraments of bap­­tism and the eucharist; and speaks passionately for a prayerful holding of those paradoxes in a creative and inclusive acceptance.

“How much more magical are we than a harp conjured by fairies for a lonely farmer on Cadair Idris. Our imagination just requires ears sharp enough to hear it,” he writes.

This book sharpens our ears and tunes our imaginations to hear and see the “magic” of landscape, people, and God, and to rejoice in it all.

The Revd Dr Sally Welch is the Vicar of Charlbury with Shorthampton, and Area Dean of Chipping Norton. She is the author of
Making a Pilgrimage (Lion, 2009) and Pilgrim Journeys (BRF, 2017).


A Pilgrimage of Paradoxes: A backpacker’s encounters with God and nature
Mark Clavier
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