Walking in the valley
I love walking and the works of Sir Terry Pratchett, so while reading his biography I was delighted to find a walking metaphor for his writing technique.
He compared his writing process to traversing a misty landscape of valleys, denying any “accusations of literature”, simply starting with an idea or question and a vague sense of what mountaintop he wished to end up at, and maybe some smaller peaks in between poking out of the mist.
In this metaphor, the author’s job is to descend into the mist and find out what might be lurking there to join up the novel. This will make sense to any of his readers; his satire was not polemic like Swift’s but journeys that pick you up with a thought and place you down at the end of the book with a new perspective on life. It’s very much the work of the adventurer mapping those misty valleys that makes them such compelling pieces of writing, never lecturing but always teaching.
The experience of Quaker worship reminds me strongly of this. Even when truly gathered, it is rare that a new and fantastic revelation comes to me. No voice comes from the sky saying that my life must now change its course and follow a shining new path. It is much more the act of entering with a question or desire on the horizon and descending into the misty valley to see what I can find, and hiking back up to the clear heights of the mountain to share and hear what others have found, or not. We once did this very literally on a cold and blustery Pendle Hill, perhaps a time when metaphor would be more comfortable than reality!
Much like when walking the twisting valleys and bleak uplands of the Yorkshire Dales, I find it hard to say which I prefer, the expanse of the moors from which you can see the last clusters of trees and houses or being well and truly lost in a stand of trees I’ve traversed before but still find new things in, or nothing that has changed springs out, but the feeling of navigating back to the ridge line is the thing that holds value, finding new knowledge in old practice.
It is hard to convince people to love to walk by showing them a windswept and slightly rushed photograph of a summit, in the same way, bafflement is often the response to a plain outline of Quaker belief and practice.
“But why?” my friends ask, and I cannot explain with simple words or images. Experiencing the journey together, finding the path through the misty valley and back always seems to explain things in a way that just showing the pictures never could.