Forest: ‘For Rest’ – a place where one can find refuge, repose and peace. A place of quiet stillness. A place of inner peace. Colombey.
Today is a very special day. It marks four weeks of ‘pilgriming’ on our walk to Jerusalem. It has been an incredible month and I have been grateful for every moment along the journey.
It is our day of rest and we are fortunate to be staying in the beautiful French village of Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises. This village was the home and resting place both in life and death of Charles de Gaulle. This was a place of retreat for this famous statesman where he withdrew repeatedly when his political fortunes waned.
Garden of Peace
As I sit here in the garden I am surrounded by a beautiful array of flowers and French lavender. There are so many bumble bees, butterflies and strange looking hummingbird hawk moths frolicking in the bonanza of nectar.
Hummingbird hawk moths are such strange looking creatures. They look like hummingbirds that have mated with butterflies. They have the body shape of a hummingbird and the quick hovering action but the antennae and proboscis of a butterfly.
Occasionally I hear the unsettling sonic boom as a jet fighter races across the heavenly blue.
On our journey to date as we passed through small villages, fields, country lanes, forests and sometimes freeways my mind has been taking its own journey as well. A seed of an idea took root near the start of the first week as we visited St Peter and St Paul Church in Broughton-Under-Blean.
In this beautiful church we were offered rest and refreshments by the parishioners sitting in the still coolness of the stone interior. It is located on the edge of The Blean, an ancient woodland, over eleven square miles in area.
As we continued along our pilgrimage both forests and churches provided cooling refuge from the blazing sun, a welcome reprieve from the day’s energy-sapping heat. Inspiring places to rest and recover before carrying on.
Place of Rest
As we journeyed on the seed began to germinate.
Visiting The Beheading of St John Church in Doddington nourished the germinating idea.
Sitting underneath the welcoming shade of a tree, surrounded by gravestones and wild meadow, revelling in the sounds of birds (interrupted by the odd shotgun blasts) both forest and church blended as one. Both were places of rest and recovery.
Place of Peace
After leaving Doddington we continued through The Blean woodlands in silence. I felt the pull of history speaking through trees that have seen many a pilgrim passing through. I felt the protection that these woodlands provided from the elements and marauding invaders.
Visions of Robin Hood and his band of merry men entertained my thoughts. I felt the soothing energy of these benign giant green umbrellas offering us entry and protection, cooling our thoughts, giving us peace.
In Arras, in France I felt this overwhelming sense of peace entering St John the Baptist Church. I experienced a restful bliss sitting on a pew, my eyes following upwards the direction of the columns branching out forming pointed vaults holding up the canopy and coloured light filtering through the clerestory.
Laon and Reims Cathedrals took soaring heights ‘to new levels’ so to speak.
These were places of sanctuary, of stillness, quiet and reflection.
I had a similar feeling on entering a forest in Gippsland in Victoria in Australia many years ago. Here there are living breathing giants – great flowering trees that are some of the tallest in the world. There are mountain ash that are over eighty six metres in height and rivalling Europe’s great cathedrals in age.
Timber Framed Churches
In the past two days our journeying has taken us to unique timber-framed late 15th and 18th century churches. There are ten of these beautiful churches and a chapel between Der and Forest d’Orient.
The Church of Saint James and Saint Phillip in Lentilles took my breath away. The seedling had grown into a tree and I could see the idea I was nurturing had reached maturity.
Entering this timber-framed structure I could see great tree trunk pillars reaching heavenwards then branching out to support the canopy. The light filtering through the stained glass windows completed this vision reminding me of light filtering through the forest canopy.
Churches and cathedrals are a way to maintain our spiritual connection. They can connect us to the Oneness as we enter these forest like cathedrals. They are places for rest. To reflect and find inner peace.
To indigenous and Pagan peoples forest were a special place. They provided a place of connection too. Many of Christianity’s beliefs and rituals are based on old Pagan rituals. Christmas and Easter have their roots here.
The Virgin Mary is Christianity’s Mother Earth. In Eglise Sainte-Croix-en-son-Exaltation there is a particularly serene and beautiful painting of the Virgin Mary.
As I contemplated this symbol of Earth Mother, sitting quietly in the Serenity of the church, I felt the same feeling of peace as when I would sit in an ancient forest.
Churches are human made structures that take us back to our roots. They provide edifices where we can ‘earth ourselves’. Places we can slow down and feel inner peace. Sanctums to connect to that universal oneness.
I discussed the concept of churches being our human made simulation of forests with Rod, our man extraordinaire who picks us up and drops us off to walk each day, organises accommodation and food, and is just amazing.
He discussed Forest Churches and below is a description from a website I found:
Many people may describe transcendental moments in nature where they feel deeply connected to something bigger than themselves and Forest Church is a way to explore that connection with community. 
It draws on much older traditions when sacred places and practices were outside. It is a way to reconnect us with creation.
Charles de Gaulle
As I sit here in the open air, surrounded by the buzzing bees and the beauty of flowers in bloom I think about Charles de Gaulle and this little village.
He is known for leading a government in exile during World War II, exhorting the French population to resist German occupation.
At the time of the Cold War he initiated his “Politics of Grandeur”, asserting that France as a major power should not rely on other countries, such as the US for national security and prosperity. To this end he pursued a policy of “national independence” launching an independent nuclear development program. 
House of Peace
Peace is such a tenuous tight rope to balance. When we feel fearful and unsettled we lose our sense of peace.
It is quite fitting that de Gaulle to find peace retreated to Colombey. ‘Colombe‘ in French means ‘dove‘, a symbol of peace. ‘Colombey‘ means dovecot, literally you could say ‘house of doves‘ or using artistic licence ‘house of peace‘.
I can only try to understand the contradictions and dilemmas that someone who was in such great position of power had to balance when it came to finding peace in our world and having to use nuclear arms as a deterrent.
It is quite ironic that as I hear the peaceful buzz of bees occasionally the sonic boom of jet fighters hurtling past remind me again of the tenuousness of this peace in the wider world.
Village of Two Churches
It also makes me think of this little village of ‘deux eglises’ or ‘two churches’ that I am in and how it takes opposing thoughts that don’t come together to destroy one’s inner peace.
As I pen these last few words there are two facts about Charles de Gaulle and Colombey that take me on a side road before bringing it back to the highway.
Tour de France 1960
Yesterday we were fortunate enough to feel the thrill and excitement as the Tour de France as those modern day heroes of endurance cycled past. I am reminded of what Tim, a fellow pilgrim explained, that in 1960 as the riders passed through this village that they stopped the race so that the cyclists could shake the hands of de Gaulle, their national hero.
Colombey for Inner Peace
“Colombey” became widely used as a political metaphor for a statesman’s temporary withdrawal from political life until his country came calling for him again. 
For de Gaulle, Colombey was a place of rest. It also became his final resting place. He is buried in the churchyard in a humble grave with tributes Located close by in the cemetery.
Abode of Peace
As we walk in peace to Jerusalem, the ‘City or Abode of Peace’, it is difficult not to think of Palestine and Israel, ‘two churches in the one village’ and the need to find an equal and just peace.
Tim, also mentioned that at one time Charles de Gaulle lived in the same house in London that Foreign Secretary Arthur Earl Balfour lived in.
May the Balfour Declaration be upheld and both people share the earth and unite in peace.
Tour de Paix
Sitting here in my little sanctuary of peace, on our day of rest and recovery from a long week of walking, I hope to carry the cool comforting peace and tranquility of ca-tree-drals inside of me.
May you too find on your life’s journey your peace and inner place for rest.