‘Guide me, O thou great redeemer
Pilgrim through this barren land’
These were words I heard on Sunday as I inadvertently walked through my parents-in-law’s televised church service, words I didn’t want to hear. I wanted to be safe at home, but home was miles and miles away – 11,347 miles, to be precise; I was in Hamilton, New Zealand.
This year had started out so well. This was going to be Our Year. Married for four months, we were excited at moving back to New Zealand, dreamed of scoring great jobs, and had high hopes of buying our first home together and starting a family. At least, that was the plan.
We spent February watching events unfold on the global stage, and trying to settle into an unpredictable climate with dwindling employment prospects. Those jobs remained elusive, as did any notion of finding a house without one. March saw the global wave of concern and crisis ebb ever closer, lapping at the subconscious sense of security one feels in times of peace and calm, treading on the fringes of our dreams.
Things escalated in front of our eyes. We watched as New Zealand barricaded itself. We scanned the news avidly, a thick blur of rapidly climbing confirmed cases and death tolls around the world. On Monday 25 March, our Prime Minister, Jacinda Arden, announced that the whole country would go into lockdown in just 48 hours. Things were getting serious, life was going to change and we had to act fast.
Legally homeless and unemployed for over three months, my husband’s parents kindly offered us their spare room. Yes, we’d had some dinners together, plus a couple of weekends away, but this wasn’t part of our plan - or theirs! Without realising, this crisis burrowed its way into my mind, creating a sense of solemn despair. I was feeling lonely, lost, isolated and so far away from my family and friends. What was I doing here? Why did we ever move back! I struggled to starve off pangs of homesickness.
When I got the shock news that an old friend from my Lourdes youth pilgrimage days, had passed away, it was too much and I felt even further away from Liverpool. The realisation that her life wouldn’t be celebrated in the way she deserved was heartbreaking. On Sunday, those hymns that drifted up to our room were the last things I wanted to hear. My grief was bubbling angrily and I wasn’t ready for comfort or answers.
And yet as I walked through the broadcast service, I was rooted to the spot; I couldn’t leave. I had forgotten that sense of belonging in sharing a service, the togetherness of praise and worship, the restorative power of prayer, the strength that my faith gives me.
I realised with some irony that I was the pilgrim in a barren land, far away from home and navigating through uncharted territory in the darkness, along with hundreds and thousands of others on a similar journey. I was reliant on the goodwill of others to help me along the way, much like our Lourdes pilgrims and, through this, I realised I had more than most: a roof over our heads; our health; our two supportive families; my husband, love and faith.
And most of all, I had hope, the anchor of the soul. Hope in a better time. Hope in the people of the world. Hope in the kindness of strangers. Hope that through the dark times ahead, a flicker of light will always be found.