Mel's Healing Pilgrimage 2016

Links to the Camino de Santiago pilgrimages are on the navigation links to the right of the web page.


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

April Fools for Christ

The "Ecce homo" in a Spanish monastery was ruined by a parishioner who said she was a restorer. The wrecked fresco has turned into a windfall for the monastery, as thousands have come to visit and see the unfortunate art work. Photo was from June 2016 after the conclusion of my Spring 2016 Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage of Healing.
As April Fools Day arrives again, I'm imagining my husband the 2nd-grade school teacher and the endless kid jokes he must endure. Signs taped to his shirt or chair. Truly painful knock-knock jokes. Statements about his shoelaces being untied. He's a great teacher and he takes it all in stride as part of the cultural fest of pranks and corniness that we come to expect on the first of April.

The fool or victim is a common image that appears throughout Western history. We expect people to act respectably, appropriately, expectedly. It's in their stability that we find opportunities to prank them. These are the unexpected fools that we think about in April. Additionally, those who don't act respectably, appropriately, or expectedly often are considered outsiders, or fools. It's this type of predictable "foolishness" that my mind's been playing with since a recent chat with Rev. Zelda Kennedy of All Saints Church Pasadena.

It was after a noontime service, and I was bringing up trust as a component of that day's Gospel reading. So, trust in the Gospel. Trust in the Word. Trust that's inherent in faith. And she told me of a former parishioner who referred to herself as a "fool for Christ". She called herself that because she trusted in Christ to the point that may sound foolish to the outside world.

It's a phrase I actually wasn't familiar with other than the line in 1 Corinthians 4.

We are fools for Christ. But you are so wise in Christ! We are weak. But you are so strong! You are honored. But we are looked down on!

1 Corinthians 4:10

As it were, the concept of "foolishness for Christ" has a long history which I didn't appreciate. Now, what I describe here came from Wikipedia, so it's gotta be true. I'm not a theologian or church historian, so it's the best I can muster at the moment.

Apparently, those who gave up their worldly possessions and joined monastic orders were often described as fools for Christ. St Francis of Assisi was an example of a well-known fool. Modern English language variants include "crazy for God". It's not so much about Bible-thumping, but about taking the Gospel's call to give up worldly possessions literally. At its ideal, at least when you read the full passage about discipleship in 1 Corinthians 4, it's not about our judgment on others, but on our right ways with God.

The tradition varies among various traditions of Christianity. The Eastern Orthodox Church records Saint Isidora Barankis of Egypt among the first Holy Fools. Saint Symeon of Emesa is considered to be a patron saint of holy fools, though his feast day is July 1. In Greek, the term for Holy Fool is salos. In Russian, the yurodivy has behaviour "which is caused neither by mistake nor by feeble-mindedness, but is deliberate, irritating, even provocative" but is rooted in or even intended to mask piety.

Much of this seems to conflict with the concept of the foolishness of April 1. But Stephen Colbert, the comedian who is well-known to be a devout Roman Catholic, has described foolishness for Christ as the willingness “to be wrong in society, or wrong according to our time, but right according to our conscience, as guided by the Holy Spirit.”

I'm glad I stumbled upon his thoughts, for they are consistent with what Zelda and I were discussing. Sometimes, when you live and speak prophetically, or justly, or in unity with God, you aren't consistent with your own reasoning. And often times, it's not consistent with popular culture. What if you don't need to buy the latest consumerist item, lust over the current body du jour, or yearn for the fanciest car? I've caught myself expressing surprise when someone tells me that they don't have televisions.

And in truth, I shouldn't be surprised. I mean, we ourselves don't have cable. We stream some things from the Internet to our tv as needed, but for the most part, we try to not be beholden to television. I rarely know the top 20 songs of the past year anymore. It sometimes seems I'm out of sync with others, and I've realized that I am okay with it.

In fact, I find that I like to live more simply. To live a leaner life. To not care if I seem out of step with others. I mean, what normal person (or so I am asked at times) likes to walk through heat, rain, cold, and hail for hundreds of miles at a time in a foreign land? That's about as out of step as you get - a lot of steps.

Maybe I'm a fool for Christ, which is why I felt drawn to look into this. Or, maybe I'm not foolish enough.

Or maybe, just maybe, as Holy Week approaches in 10 days, I can focus and pray on all this foolishness:

  • coming into the city on a donkey instead of a steed
  • believing in one who was crucified with criminals
  • calling out a dead man to walk out of a grave
  • rubbing spit and dirt in a blind man's eyes
  • rising from a grave
And for my own life, praying on what foolishness I can handle
  • wondering what it means to give up all your possessions (real or otherwise)
  • trying to get a camel through the eye of a needle
  • loving those who strike me
Maybe I'm a fool for Christ. And, maybe I'm not foolish enough. And maybe, just maybe, at least for now, at least for this April, we can be fools together.












Tuesday, March 14, 2017

1-2-3- Go! - Lenten Meditations 2017

Little Rascals episode "1-2-3-Go!"
There's a Little Rascals episode that I remember to this day. In it, the young Robert Blake of the 70s TV show Baretta played "Mickey". Mickey was playing baseball with Spanky, Buckwheat, Froggy, and the gang when he chases a ball out into the street and gets hit by a car. He's hospitalized and as he recovers, the children come up with a plan called "1-2-3-Go!" that they promote to encourage street safety. Whenever you get to a place of danger such as a street, you don't just run out blindly. Instead, you stop and 1) look to the left 2) look to the right 3) look behind you. Then, when all is clear, do you go.

I'm not really sure why I remember this episode from childhood. Perhaps the self-help of the children appealed to me. Perhaps the fact that they all worked together to make their lives better and safer resonated deeply. Or may the slogan itself is something that makes sense even today, or, perhaps, even more so today with everyone walking with their faces buried in their smart phones.

These thoughts came to me this week as I was reflecting on this journey through Lent. I began to wonder about the journey itself. You see, one of the things I help do is help prepare the prayers and music for the worship in the style of Taize at All Saints Episcopal Pasadena. During the 40 days of Lent as we approach Easter, I have to remember not to include the Alleluia but to sing a different hymn instead. We don't sing it because during the liturgical year, this is a time of reflection and penance, and Alleluia isn't consistent with that theme. And yet, sometimes, like last week, I forget that a hymn has an Alleluia buried inside the lyrics. I've had to think about being more focused and not in auto-pilot as I put together the liturgy.

Because yes, Lent is a penitential season. Now, any of us think of penance as punishment for our sins. When we seek penance, many believe that we repent so that we can seek to be absolved of sin. In some faith traditions, an intermediary like a priest absolves us. In others, the repentance needs no intermediary and Christ is present to absolve us directly.

It's hard for me to think of repenting without understanding sin. In the Episcopal tradition, we confess to sin with a confession. Here's a standard confession in the style called "Rite II" from the Book of Common Prayer.
Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
It's a spiritually meaningful prayer to me,  as is the similar Roman Catholic confession, because it makes sure that we acknowledge that sin is both in the act and in the omission of acts (what we have left undone, or what we have failed to do). Even more so, it helps make it plain what sin is. It's directly related to the Great Commandment. Here's the Gospel of Matthew version.


Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
— Matthew 22:35-40

Given that these are the two commandments that Christ gives in the Gospels, that all the commandments hang off of these, we can see how the confession takes shape. Forgetting the first commandment leads to the confession that "we have not loved you with our whole heart"; forgetting the second leads to "we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves".

Unlike the popular view that sin is an evil act, sin is more extensive. Sin in the Gospel isn't about intrinsic evil It's about what you say, do, think. There can be sin in both what we do and what we do not do.

But how can we possibly love God all the time? We experience tragedy and pain. War and politics. Racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia. It's so overwhelming that we forget to pray. We forget about the sick and the old, the prisoners, the lawyers and the tax collectors. How do love God, how do we love our neighbors as ourselves, how do we stay out of sin when we so easily, well, sin?

Sin makes more sense to me and is easier to work on when I think of it as separation from God. Whenever we sin, whenever we don't love another as we are loved, we move ourselves further from God. So penance is more about coming to a stop. Standing still. Assessing where we are. Looking to the left, looking to the right, looking behind us before we proceed. And, if necessary, changing directions on our journey. "1-2-3-Go!" We repent when we see the sin and change our trajectory. We repent when we fully acknowledge our misdirection. We choose to go towards God.

To me, that's the beauty of Lent. It's a pilgrimage towards Wholeness that fully appreciates that we will often wander away into the desert, further from divine unity. We get lost, out of intention. We get lost because of our habits. We get lost because of a lack of commitment to the path towards God.

And we acknowledge during Lent that this happened, is happening, and will happen again.

And we say "1-2-3-Go!"

We heal our relationship with God. We heal our hearts. We choose to be made whole.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

On the Road to Emmaus - Lenten Reflection 2017


If you know your Bible stories, the road to Emmaus seems like an odd one to discuss during Lent. It's a story that takes place after Easter, after the resurrection, not before. You just don't see it as a reflection item during Lent.

But it keeps popping up in my head. It keeps popping up because it's about recognizing God in our midst, of seeing Christ beside us when we thought we were with a stranger.

Here's the passage in Luke 24:13-32

Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.

He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”
They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

“What things?” he asked.

“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
I keep wondering as I go through Lent if I recognize Christ in our midst. Where is God as the world burns I ask? Why does the world burn?

And I come to a recurring theme in my morning prayers. That God is here with us, in us, around us, but we do not yield to God. Christ is walking beside us, but we don't recognize Christ and we treat him as a stranger. A foreigner. Thankfully the disciples welcomed him and shared their dinner with Jesus.

And it was while breaking bread that they realized Christ was in their midst.

Are we breaking bread with the stranger? Or are we walking around that person wandering the streets like a foreigner or homeless person? Do we cut off any opportunity to see Christ in our midst?

It feels like it.

With me.
With others.
With the world.

This saddens me. Not because I'm a raging extrovert, which I can sometimes be. In truth, I need much time for myself lately to process and digest what's in my head. Prayer at this time is a wonderful exercise to be extroverted not with other people but with the Holy Spirit, to be in deep conversation with Her, to listen and to learn.

It saddens me because we have our changes and we turn away. The world burns because we don't realize that Christ is here to help us put out the fires. We fear that stranger and turn out back on the one who saves us.

Some events since Ash Wednesday that got me thinking this way:

  • I voted for Proposition H in Los Angeles, which would create constructive ways to deal with the homelessness problem in our county. I wonder if others recognize that homelessness is not something we need to fear or accept, but a symptom of our own failings, as individuals and as a community.
  • From home, I hiked around Mount Wilson, San Gabriel Peak, Mount Lowe, and Inspiration Point, some of tallest mountains on the front range of Los Angeles' San Gabriel Mountains, maxing out at 6100 feet. In the predawn light, I watched the fog swirl in the deep valleys between the mountains (see photo above). It made me think of how dark it was in those valleys, where light could not penetrate or be seen. And yet the sun rises. It shines even when the fog blocks it out. It might be hazy, cold, even dim, but it's there, and it's a far cry from abject darkness.
  • We attended the wedding of my husband's sister. All of us watched as Jen and Tara married in a beautiful farmhouse field, the family arranged not in rows or pews, but in a circle of chairs around the couple. The family surrounded and supported the new couple to start the life together as a blessed union. How often do we forget that our family and friends are around us to support us when we feel most vulnerable? How often do we forget to help prop up our family and friends when they need a shoulder to lean on? And why do we forget that - by defining our circle too tightly - we may don't get to have as big a circle of love? Sure, make a tight circle of 10 people. But 20 people can support you better, 30 even more. You might be leaving out the one who could save you when your time of needs comes.
  • Husband leaping for joy for his sister,
    as we finish setting up the chairs for the wedding circle

  • During the most fierce storm of the drought-ending season here in Southern California, we passed dozens of homeless on the streets of Santa Barbara, with all their possessions, soaked to the core. The issues of homelessness are plenty, but it saddened me that such a prosperous city could not find a way to help possibly mentally unhealthy people into shelters for those dangerous nights.
  • We watched the Oscar-nominated movie Hidden Figures, which recounted the tale of brilliant and resilient African-American women who helped NASA get our astronauts into space. It made me wonder how our systemic biases prevent us from reaching our dreams and goals. It made me wonder how we can be blind to our own blindness, at least until someone opens our eyes for us. 
So are we, on our road to Emmaus, remembering all around us who can help us, protect us, raise us to unimaginably lofty heights? Or are walking past the stranger, holding back on our chance to break bread with the one who could save us.

May your Lent be filled with strangers who open your eyes to the light and lift your hearts to the stars.












Tuesday, January 31, 2017

I am lucky

I am lucky.

I was born to a Christian family
      and raised in predominantly Christian countries.
I am a minority, and got in fights as I was called a "chink",
      but never got seriously hurt.
I am brown, played cops and robbers,
      but never got shot.
I am an immigrant
      but never had to contend with uprooting my family like my parents did.
I am male
      and thus never experienced misogyny directed towards me.
I am gay, and had to endure name calling and fear, 
      but have outrun attackers the two times I was chased by gay bashers.
I am cis-gendered
      and have cried with my friends because I can only guess how awful it must be
      to feel like your body doesn't match how God made you.
I have genes that give me health issues, 
      but I am strong and reasonably fit for my age.
I've seen accidents, drugs, and disease
      and yet I'm still standing because I've had medical insurance.
I have had psychological crises that necessitated intervention,
      but I had counseling and care.

I'm damn lucky.

Not everyone is lucky -- or privileged, or whatever word you want to use.
It's not just to think them weak or call them snowflakes because they don't have what I have.

Blessed are those who haven't had the same luck.
God, help me be an outward blessing in their lives
And thank you God for surrounding me with blessings and angels, 
      whether friend, family, or stranger, 
      who walk with me in my life

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Rain Delay

Millard Canyon
It's been a month since I last blogged. Like most, I got caught up in the festivities and demands of the season. I'd like to say that I posted a reflection regularly during that time, but like so much in life, we can't get what we want, not yet, not now.

So my reflections have been delayed. I'm thinking of it as a rain delay. Like during the 9th inning of the 2016 World Series. Everyone's on pins and needles as a monumental comeback followed by an equally impressive rally brings it to an extra innings overtime. And that's when the rain comes in to delay the game even further. I remember people commenting, "Wow, God really doesn't want either of these teams to ever win a World Series ever again". My beloved Cubs did eventually win, after a century of waiting, but that journey in October was a struggle to watch.

Sometimes life feels like that. We're so eager for good things to happen right away. We are so impatient. Like kids wanting to rip open that Christmas gift and bargaining for an ever-earlier Christmas Eve unwrapping, at least for one gift. We want to act and act now, but in truth we have to wait. Wait for things to happen, good or bad.

We want and believe that verse from Amos: "But let justice roll down like waters And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream". But it doesn't say it will happen right away. It doesn't suggest that it will happen tomorrow, much less today. We pray that it happens and that it does so now.

When I last blogged, I mentioned how the rain in San Francisco moved me deeply. The rain itself was refreshing, cold but invigorating. But it was unwelcome, as I slipped in the mud repeated while walking through a hilly park before dawn. I felt sorry for myself and wished the rain to stop, or at least pause until I got out of it. Yet that's also when I started to see people sleeping in doorways, and bus stops, pulling their sleeping bags tight to their bodies to keep warm and dry. In truth, they probably weren't dry, but at least it could keep the wind of their faces as they slept.

This week, I've been walking before dawn, as is my custom. In the rains that has deluged California for the past month. And I would duck into my car or house if it went from a light sprinkle to a heavy rain. That's because I never wandered too far away from safety and comfort. And that's what's unsettling. I choose to walk in the rain. It's a privilege that I can afford. Those sleeping outside this week most often did not have a choice. I chose to accept discomfort, and they had to endure it.

This weighs heavily on me as I read about our new federal executive administration and Congress, as they find ways to remove health care, housing and employment protections, and equal protections under the law. It screams injustice to me, taking from those in need what little we already offer them. It makes me look up to the water-laden clouds and say "Bet let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.".

And yet, there's this wait, this rain-delay.

Earlier this week, I was strolling in Millard Canyon. I couldn't see the stream through the fog and drizzle, but I could hear it flowing. I could hear the waters flowing. It's not ever-flowing. Few Southern California rivers or streams flow constantly, especially when we're praying that this winter may be the last for this terrible drought we are having. I could not see a thing, but I knew the stream was there. I stepped into it partially at one point, but still could not see. But as the photo above shows, the rains paused. The fog lifted. And yes, yes I could finally see the stream that was shrouded and hidden away. And I was struck by how we can sense justice and righteousness at our feet, even if we cannot see it yet. It's there, waiting for us, if only we can see our way through the fog.

I've dried my feet on a fuzzy towel. My toes are snuggled in a pair of toasty slippers and I've leaned back writing this reflection. I bought a stranger a combo dish at Taco Bell an hour ago. He didn't want money. Just food. I asked if he knew about the rain shelter and he said he did. I doubt his feet are warm and toasty right now.

Must we wait for justice to roll down? Must we wait for the fog to lift? Yes, for the world to find justice and righteousness we must wait. But we don't have to sit and wait for the rest of the world. Perhaps here, perhaps now where we stand, we can see just a little bit more clearly. Perhaps, we can do our part, share what we can or know, so that for those we encounter, maybe, perhaps, the rain delay will be a short one. We can open one little gift now, and know - believe - that the other gifts are sure to follow.



Monday, December 12, 2016

Seeing is Believing - Reflections from the Train - Advent IV


The fourth candle of the Advent wreath will be lit this coming Sunday and it's the one that represents love. In the Christian sense, love is not the romantic emotion but the unbreakable love that flows and comes down like the rain. It can't be beckoned, it can't be made to stop, and but it does sustain life on earth.

Love isn't something that can be earned or won. It has to be known. I think that love is there all around us, all the time, in between and connecting all creatures great and small. What we perceive as the earning or winning of love is not the acquisition of something new, but the realization or perception that something already been there all along. Like those optical illusion photos that can look like a vase or two faces, what we see can mean more than one thing if we can somehow adjust our perception. It may seem like one image, but suddenly you perceive something else about the picture. Love is there to be seen in the picture of life, but so many times we have blinkers on to keep us from seeing it. Even when we know it's there, when we look away, it's sometimes hard to focus and see it once again.


In many ways, the Advent season asks us to stay awake. I sometimes think it's bidding us to wake up in the first place. To notice. To see. And on Christmas day, we do awaken. We awaken to the realization that in this child, in this baby, is the manifestation of a love that could not be described well enough with intangible words. It's a love that can not be understood or fathomed or to most of us, cannot be believed all the time, especially during times of trial.

But that love becomes apparent, real, tangible flesh and we finally can see that love because it's in a form that we can understand: a baby.

We can believe in a baby. We can see it. Touch it. Kiss it. And if that baby is and can represent love in a way that we otherwise cannot imagine, that means our beliefs can be based in love, of love, around love. Our believing of a baby is believing in love.

I had a miserable Saturday. It was meant to be pleasant and lovely, as I was going to have brunch with a friend on the east bay of San Francisco. I took my backpack filled with clothing and my laptop, as I would proceed from brunch to the airport, and decided to do a walk through parks and along the Embarcadero en route.

I didn't realize that it would soon be raining, and heavily (to this Southern Californian) no less. The paths became muddy and the slopes in the Presidio soon became slippery. I fell twice. I got lost in the twisting paths. My phone couldn't get a signal in that forested park so I could not find my way out easily. I was soaked and in muddy jeans. Unlike the Camino, where people eat in dirty conditions, I wasn't mentally prepared for this and certainly did not feel comfortable sitting in a nice restaurant, so I canceled my breakfast and tried to find a place to wash up. Later on, BART would be malfunctioning so would have to pay 10x more to take a cab and also I'd get salsa and guacamole staining my shirt. My pleasant day turned sour and I seemed to have "one of those days."

What I didn't mention yet was that during the walk in the rain, I strolled past dozens and dozens of homeless sleeping under overhangs, eaves, and bus stops. They were wet, cold, and without safety. I may have felt awful, but I felt drier than they did, felt fortunate. And I also felt connected to them, knowing that my complaints were miniscule in comparison to their difficulties. I loved them for reminding me of this.

Later that night, on the subway from LA Union Station back to Pasadena, I was surrounded by a quirky mob. There were numerous people of all ages dressed in Santa garb. Apparently there was a Santa convention, and I was surrounded by Santas and elves of all ages. The festive mood jarred me into a state of alertness, to note the difference between their merriment and my self-pity.

There were also three young teen boys carrying skateboards, looking like they just spent a day at a skate park. One was Latino, one was African-American, and one was white. Though I assumed they were friends, their conversation indicated that they had just met that day at the park and were taking the Gold Line to their homes in different cities.

There was an innocence in their talk. They were eager to share skating stories, talk about how good their day was, what tricks they should try, and what towns they lived in. They were seemingly unaware that in many parts of this country, it takes much effort to get strangers of different ethnicities to socialize together. 

It seemed so natural, casual, and sincere. These boys did not have the hangups that society eventually places on us. As sung in "South Pacific", racism is something that "has to be carefully taught." Why can't we retain this innocence and keep love alive? This was brotherly love in a most untainted form, and I felt blessed to witness it and let it melt my heart that still shivered from the day I had.

For many, we love kids because of their innocence, their honest personalities not yet tainted or marred by the world. It's why the story of Christmas feels so accessible to us. We are naturally drawn to a child because in the baby, we find life and love.

And as I pondered this on the train, it made me appreciate more a practice that I've been following for a few months. Whenever I talk with a stranger or with someone I'm not at ease with, I imagine that person as a child. That the person is someone who is still cloaked in innocence and unconditional love. With that exercise, I've discovered that it's easier to love that person, to see the person that God created, before society changes them into something else. 

As my perception adjusts between seeing that person as a child and an adult, like looking at the vase optical illusion, I realize that I'm seeing two images of the same person. And I can love this person more easily than if I didn't try to look past their current situation.

In loving care for my own self, I've been trying to imagine myself as a child as well. I'm trying to see me as someone who hasn't strayed yet from God's plans for me. To find myself as I was once meant to be.

We can awaken to find love all around us, in the person sleeping on streets as we walk by, in the elves laughing merrily in the subway station, in the teens clutching their prized skateboards. We can awaken to see that the love has been there if we want to see it.
May the eyes of our souls perceive, beyond our own confusion, a reflection of the Christ of joy, the Christ of peace, the Christ of hope, the Christ of love.







Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Counselor is Inn - Reflections from a Christmas Party


Every year, I wonder if I'll be invited to any Christmas parties and, if invited, whether I'll attend. Since becoming a Lay Counselor for All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, I know that we'll always have at least one invitation. But this year, with me feeling downcast because of recent national events, I was wondering if I could be up for the cheer. Last night, at the Lay Counseling Ministry Christmas potluck, I felt refreshed and enlivened.

As we gathered, many of us talked about our recent fears for our country. There's something about sharing our concerns and sadness, our vulnerability and our worries, in a setting of joyful anticipation that seems cruelly ironic at best, or at least woefully inappropriately timed. But it felt soothing to know that there are others who are in the same boat I'm in. I felt at ease being the safety net (or safety pin) for others, as they were a safe place for me. We could share in trust.

You sort of expect that, given that this was a group of people who offer themselves up to listen and offer counseling to other parishioners in a professional, discreet fashion. The ministry offers 10 free sessions with a counselor to any parishioner who needs an ear, a sounding board, a wailing wall. Though we will refer you to professional psychologists if your situation puts you in harm's way, we are able to support many in the community for a few months. And last night, we supported each other.

In doing so, we were able to smile and laugh and be merry. It refreshed the spirits.

One moment at our dinner table stuck with me. In our discussions, it came up that in many Spanish-speaking countries, there is the practice of the "posada" in the week before Christmas. In villages and cities, people go from home to home, eating, drinking, laughing, sharing stories. It symbolizes the way Mary and Joseph had to go from inn to inn to find a place to stay. Rather than turning the stranger away, the modern custom welcomes these wanderers into their home for food and warmth.

Now, when I say inn, I'm not talking Marriotts, Hiltons, or even Motel 6s. The concept of a modern inn didn't exist yet. Instead, people in the time of Jesus would go from home to home to see if there was a place for the traveler to stay and rest. The innkeeper was us. So when Mary and Joseph were turned away at the inn, they were turned away by normal people, people like us, because we had no room.

Or, perhaps, we made no room for the strangers among us... for the strangers who came to us in time of need.

And then Stephen and I noted that the word "posada" did not technically mean journey or party, but was the Spanish word for "inn". When people celebrate the posada, they celebrate the refuge itself, the place of safety and rest, and comfort.

It didn't occur to me until this morning during my daily meditations and prayers that all this came together into a common dialogue. But it made the night's festivities seem more meaningful to me.

We don't always feel able to offer refuge to the journeying wanderers in our lives. Sometimes, we just turn off the lights and lock the doors, to our homes, to our hearts. But we are reminded that if we do, we don't make room for joy, we don't make room for solace. We don't make room for the baby Jesus.

May your posada be full of joy and open to those who come knocking on your door. May your journey take you to the place where hope and warmth comforts and consoles you. And may we all recognize that in the belly of that stranger who comes to our doors lies the Christ who has come to bring us the Good News and Light.
















Monday, December 5, 2016

Letting Joy Find You - Advent III

This coming weekend, we will light the third candle on the Advent wreath - the pink candle - which is a symbol of Joy.

It sure is hard sometimes to talk about joy, especially at this time of year. It's dark outside more often than it is bright. It's cooler, and if you lived in my neighborhood last weekend when the wind storms came, that coolness isn't helped by a power outage. I think that the power outage shorted my PC, too, so I'm not exactly feeling perky right now.

We light this candle not because we are joyful at the moment but because we remind ourselves that there is a reason for joy to come. As Christmas approaches, we are counting down the minutes to a day when we celebrate a truly joyful occasion. For Christians, we are recognizing that despite everything, despite our problems, our wandering our hearts, our selfish priorities, there is unconditional love for us. The unconditional love isn't far off in the distance, disconnected from us, impossible to appreciate or even fathom.

It's a love that through the birth of Jesus shows that there is no distance between humans and God. God is among us, walked and walks with us, breaks bread with us. That, surely, is something to celebrate in times when we need joy.

I nearly wept when I saw that the North Dakota pipeline path will be rerouted. Even if the next administration attempts to circumvent this decision, for now, for this moment in time, we acknowledge the worthiness of a people, their water, and their land. There's much to bring joy when people matter more than the profits of a distant investor. In the midst of the frigid plains winter, joy can still come down and quench our thirst for justice.

Earlier this weekend, on a break from the Los Angeles Episcopal Dioceses annual convention, I walked around a nearby lake, through the dwindling light as evening approached, and reveled at the way the sunset light shimmered on a water. I stood under the darkness of the trees to gaze at the serenity. It was easy to see light reflecting on the lake because there are no obstructions. And then I marveled at the way the light found a way, in a straight line like light rays travel no less, to pierce through the canopy of trees, to allow slivers of beams to shine down upon me. The rays were small, almost imperceptible, but they found me and warmed my skin nonetheless.

Like light, Joy doesn't seem possible in darkness. But it will find a way to touch you even when you least expect it, if you notice that it's been there all this time. May your eyes be opened to the joys that surround us, bridging that chasm between our darkness and the light that cannot be stopped.







Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Light and Truth - Advent Meditation II


We light the candle of light and truth this coming Sunday on the Advent wreath. I find it interesting that it comes after the candle of hope and expectation. In some ways, I think hope and expectation is driven by visions of light and truth, not hope before the light.

But it's not often that way. Many times, hope and expectation comes long before you have a glimmer of light and truth. John the Baptist did not yet see the light before he offered the waters of baptism, the hope of new life, to those who came. He acted and then saw the Light appear before him.

The readings for this coming Sunday are from the his story.
In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’" John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: 
“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. 
I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
Matthew 3:1-12

It's truly the fire and brimstone words you'd expect from a preacher out on the streets of any city. It's full of hope and at the same time warnings for those who don't repent. And this was before Jesus came up to him to be baptized. He had expectations and hope for something when in the midst of what he saw, he should not have had hope.

To me, that's what makes the light and truth so powerful as the second candle. You don't yet see the light but you've lit the candle of hope.

We must be able to hope first. We must act to be hopeful first. We must expect the coming of Christ first.

After that, the light appears.

Last night, I saw Bernie Sander speak to a packed auditorium in Glendale California. An event sponsored by Vromans Bookstore of Pasadena, the talk was supposed to be at my church All Saints Pasadena but had to be relocated to a larger venue because of the high demand. Many in the crowd were Bernie supporters, many were curious about his message now after the election. And he spoke with us, with a short period of questions and answers hosted by comedian Sarah Silverman.



And what did this Jewish Presidential candidate say when he spoke?

I heard a message of Advent. I heard a message that said we must hope, we must act, and we must plan on seeing the light and truth shine eventually. I heard that together we can rid ourselves of the vipers that got us here. And I heard that to act, we must repent, acknowledge the concessions of our souls that yielded too much power, too much of our free will to personless entities lacking humanity, that finds it easier to scapegoat than to heal.

As we approach this weekend, when we light the Advent candle of light, may we all lay the groundwork for the light that comes after today.







Sunday, November 27, 2016

Hope is not Passive - Advent I

Today we lit the first candle of the Advent wreath at church. Perhaps because evening comes so early now that daily savings time has ended and we've returned to normal lighting, it seems dark. Dreary. It actually got gray and rained a lot in Los Angeles this weekend, a somewhat surprising weather pattern for us during Thanksgiving weekend.

And I was thankful for the rain, the clouds, the darkness. Because sometimes, it's hard to see that there is light around us if we don't have that darkness as a contrast. Now, don't get me wrong. I love the beautiful sunny days of Southern California and it's why my family moved here from the midwest in the late 70s and why I've stayed. But we sometimes take for granted all the light around us when we don't see it in stark contrast to darkness.

I haven't posted much since early November, largely because I have been living in a cloud of darkness. I feel anxious and unsettled for our country given that my demographic profile doesn't conform with the current nativist, uncompassionate political climate. And I'm surprised and frankly disappointed that so many people who I care about are suddenly scared and frightened.

"Really?" I think to myself, "How is it possible that people -- people that I know feel as I do -- can't see the bigotry, misogyny, and racism abounding in this country? Why does it take a political upheaval to make them realize what has been there all this time?" It's like not wanting to go into the horror of a mess in my storage in my basement, knowing what a nightmare I'll find, and thinking it's ok to just ignore it. Well it won't clean itself up unless we address it. And, if I'm honest with myself, it needs my participation to make it happen.

Which is why that first candle of Advent means so much. It's the candle of Hope. With the first light, the light that starts the Advent season, we burst through the darkness and inspire something that wasn't there before. The candle didn't come of its own but was lit by someone, lit to create sight where there wasn't before. It's a game changer, if even just a flicker.

I suffered from measles when I was a toddler back in the Philippines. I recall that extraordinary pain when my eyes opened to see light. There are very few memories of my childhood kicking around in my brain, but I do recall this one. I remember it being night but I had my eyes closed from the pain. My mother was talking to what I now know was the doctor. During that conversation, the doctor was asking me questions. After a few questions, the doctor said that he was going to stand on the other side of the room and tell me to open my eyes.

Then he asked me to open my eyes.

And I shrieked in pain like I never have screamed ever since (well at least until this spring on the Camino).

I quickly shut my eyes again because the doctor, from the other side of the room, had lit a match. And that little bit of light was all that was needed to cause me incredible pain. That's what happens for many who suffer from measles. Light sensitivity is profoundly painful.

But it's that sensitivity that I think we are needing right now. We're wandering in the darkness, yearning for light. And when that light, that hope, that spark finds us, we will be blown down in pain and fear, shock and awe. We know it's coming, we await it's coming, we want it to come. But it's not going to come without some bitter pain, at least at first.

And we await during this penitential season for Christmas to come. Yes, I am one who enjoys Advent for the season it was meant to be. Like Lent, it's a time for reflection and penitence, where we await the Good News that has been foretold. I'm thinking that we as a country are going through a penitential time, a time of waiting, of fearing, of awe-filled hope. We're in our Advent, when we prune back the deadwood for the coming spring and new life that will come.

There's a Taize hymn that I particularly like to sing during penitential times of the year. The words are:

Within our darkest night, you kindle the fire that never dies away, never dies away.

You can hear the song on YouTube: "Within Our Darkest Night".

I sang it over and over during the darkest times of my divorce 10 years ago. Ten years. It seems like a lifetime since that time of immeasurable darkness. And yet the pain and depression was so profound that I placed myself repeatedly in irrational situations, hoping that my external world would crash down as intensely as my internal world. I was deeply hurt back then, so hurt that I'm still dealing with it.

And ... I'm also still growing from it.

Because the fire never died away, never died away. It shone, if even painfully, in the bleakness, painfully shining on my sores.

I'm not sure how I arose from those ashes, but I did. I know that I didn't sit still. I attended services, though they were the contemplative ones, not the typical liturgical ones in the Episcopal church. I spoke with others who had experienced similar pains. I let myself cry. I gave myself time and room to cry.

And that's the active part of the light in the darkness. We don't just feel hopeful. Hope is not just a noun but an active verb. Diana Butler Bass (in her Thanksgiving prayer) and Rev. Susan Russell of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena (in her sermon today) both talked about choosing hope. That you have to choose to hope and not just feel hope.

I agree and more. You have to hope to be hopeful. You may not feel like hoping, but that's what you must do to survive the sometimes existential emotional difficulties of penitential seasons of reflection. You have to hope to be hopeful, just like you need to exercise if you want to be fit or rehearse if you want to sing well. It takes practice. We must act in order to hope because it is in action that we swim across the riptide current that takes us under.

It certainly isn't pretty or tidy or comfortable at first, or even for a long time. But with practice and conviction, you'll reach a level of hopefulness that you might never have anticipated or believed.

In closing, at the top of this reflection, there's a painting from Henry Ossawa Tanner that hangs in Philadelphia. It's one my favorite art pieces. "The Annunciation" (1898) depicts the angel Gabriel appearing before Mary. In it, you see Mary's simple yet deeply moving body language, implanting her deeply personal reaction into our own psyche. James Romaine commented that "Through the visual language of her pose and expression Tanner draws the viewer into Mary’s inner life of virtue, trepidation, acceptance, and wonderment." (Art as Spiritual Perception, 2012). I connect with Mary in this painting because, though I certainly don't share in her virtue, I too feel her trepidation, acceptance, and wonderment.


And if you don't know who he is, Tanner was the first African-American artist to achieve international acclaim in his day. One of his paintings hangs in the White House, the first painting by an African-American ever to be installed in that building, by a President from a town called Hope.

Hope is like that. It isn't a merely feel-good action. It's not passive. It fills us with pain and trepidation, acceptance and wonderment. And as Christians, it's what we are doing when we're asked to do the one thing commanded of us: to love one another. Hope is the verb and noun that embodies true love. We may not feel it. But we have been asked to do so. And, we are committed to hope. So join me in the act of hope.




Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Beatitudes 2.1

As All Saints' Day and All Souls Day arrive, I start to think about the blessings all around us, the cloud of witnesses who came and laid down the pavement for us to walk upon but are no longer physically present. And it seems fitting that the readings this coming All Saints' Day (November 1) are the beatitudes as laid down in Luke 6:20-31. It's slightly different from the beatitudes of Matthew 5:3-12.

Here's the one in Luke


Blessed are you who are poor,
    for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now,
    for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
    for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you,
    when they exclude you and insult you
    and reject your name as evil,
        because of the Son of Man. 
Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

But woe to you who are rich,
    for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now,
    for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
    for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,

    for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.

Luke 6:20-31


In comparison, here's the one in Matthew.


Blessed are the poor in spirit,
   for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
   for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
   for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
   for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
   for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
   for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
   for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
   for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds    of evil against you because of me.
Matthew 5:3-12 

It seems that the reading for today is focused more heavily on those who are truly poor and the one in Matthew focuses on the ones who are poor in spirit. They are both in the Gospel and I am inclined to think that both are equally important for us to ponder. In many ways, I conflate the two and think Christ was focused on all the poor in society, body, and spirit.

Last year, I blogged about creating my own list of the blessed, the Beatitudes 2.0 if you will. It came a presentation when Nadia Bolz-Weber visited to All Saints Pasadena and she offered her list. My list came out to be as follows

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    the spiritual but not religious
    the seekers of their authentic selves
    the suffering who begin to doubt because the pain never seems to end
    the sick who fear their own bodies
    the stranger in our midst who needs a smile, a hug, a friend
    the child afraid to venture outside lest the bullying return
    the scared who fear coming home lest they return to a place of anger and judgment
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn,
    the spouse who lost the person they've loved deeper than we can understand
    the lovers who no longer find the trust and joy in each other's arms and say goodbye
    the child who doesn't understand why her parent won't be coming home anymore
    the friends who viewed a couple as one, as was meant to be, but now just find hollow eyes
    the family shocked at the loss of someone taken too soon by gun violence
    the relatives whose loss is viewed by others as collateral damage
    the breaking hearts who did not even have a chance to say goodbye
    the silent who must watch dementia steal someone's memories away leaving just a body
for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,
    the teenager who stays in the closet, fearing that the name of their love will be discovered
    the pained who turn to the bottle or to pills to give them strength and energy
    the thinker and artist that lacks the opportunity to share
    the pastors who heal others but wonder who will tend to them
    the friend who realizes that somehow their bodies and souls don't fit a M/F binary
    the nurse who washes our sores  
    the friend that listens to hear us, watches to see us, and grabs our hands to hold us
for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    the foreigner who is told to leave and go to a place of fear and hunger
    the friends who cannot walk down the street in a hoodie or even complain about injustice
    the mother who just wants to get affordable medical care to plan a family
    the inmate facing the final judgment of Man and not our Creator
    the families torn apart because of arbitrary rules regarding homeland
    the kneeling who face violence because of their love for God, YHWH, Allah, Buddha, Shiva, ...
    the proud who won't let others impose their bigotries on them
for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful,
    the heros who take care of us behind our backs
    the friends that know all will benefit from roads, sanitation, health, protection, education
    the families who reach out and adopt and care for all children, not just those that look like them
    the older sibling, real or implied, who has our backs
    the comadre and compadre who listen to our problems without judging us
    the teacher who gives of their own time to care for that special child
    the mother and father, sister and brother, who just want you to be happy
for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart,
    the custodians at the church, homeless shelter, and hospital
    the teachers who want the most for your child
    the person at the grocery line who lets you cut in front of them
    the staff at the store and restaurant that share the bathroom even if you didn't or can't buy anything
    the ranger who tends to our land so that future generations can marvel at Creation
    the homeowner who sees you lost, gives you water, and guides you home
    the friend who gives you a ride, cares for a prisoner, plants flowers on a trail
for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,
    the police and judiciary that understand that true safety starts in trust
    the people who unite us as a human family, rather than divide us like spoils of war
    the artists, writers, and musicians who inspire us to love and compassion
    the fire crew that calms the fearful neighborhood
    the military who put their lives on the line for our protection and not for their glory
    the unknown missionary who lies in a shallow grave for the civil rights of brothers and sisters
    the good Samaritan whose name we never knew, or whose face we've already forgotten
for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    the ones who care for the Children of God
         ignoring false idols
         ignoring their own egos
         ignoring the sense of their own righteousness
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Perhaps because I've spent my career in software, I thought I would revisit this list and made some changes. I do this not because some things are less blessed than others but because sometimes, with the filter of time, you start to see things differently. I put in italics the areas that changed.

Blessed are those guided or seek guidance by a higher power
    the poor in spirit,
    the spiritual but not religious
    the pious and self-righteous
    the broken one feeling the weight of their perceived sins
    the seekers of their authentic selves
    the suffering who begin to doubt because the pain never seems to end
    the sick who fear their own bodies
    the stranger in our midst who needs a smile, a hug, a friend
    the child afraid to venture outside lest the bullying return
    the scared who fear coming home lest they return to a place of anger and judgment
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn,
    the spouse who lost the person they've loved deeper than we can understand
    the lovers who no longer find the trust and joy in each other's arms and say goodbye
    the child who doesn't understand why her parent won't be coming home anymore
    the friends who viewed a couple as one, as was meant to be, but now just find hollow eyes
    the family shocked at the loss of someone taken too soon by gun violence
    the relatives whose loss is viewed by others as collateral damage
    the breaking hearts who did not even have a chance to say goodbye
    the silent who must watch dementia steal someone's memories away leaving just a body
for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,
    the woman who must remain meek and the man who must not be meek
    the teenager who stays in the closet, fearing that the name of their love will be discovered
    the pained who turn to the bottle or to pills to give them strength and energy
    the thinker and artist that lacks the opportunity to share
    the pastors who heal others but wonder who will tend to them
    the neighbor who realizes that somehow their bodies and souls don't fit a M/F binary
    the nurse who washes our sores    
    the friend that listens to hear us, watches to see us, and grabs our hands to hold us
    the person down the hall whom we intentionally or unintentionally oppress
for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    the foreigner who is told to leave and go to a place of fear and hunger
    the friends who cannot walk down the street in a hoodie or even complain about injustice
    the mother who just wants to get affordable medical care to plan a family
    the inmate facing the final judgment of Man and not our Creator
    the families torn apart because of arbitrary rules regarding homeland
    the kneeling who face violence because of their love for God, YHWH, Allah, Buddha, Shiva, ...
    the proud who won't let others impose their bigotries on them
    the neighbor whose land was taken & defiled by governments, industry, oil, & ourselves
for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful,
    the heros who take care of us behind our backs
    the friends that know all will benefit from roads, sanitation, health, protection, education
    the families who reach out and adopt and care for all children, not just those that look like them
    the older sibling, real or implied, who has our backs
    the comadre and compadre who listen to our problems without judging us
    the teacher who gives of their own time to care for that special child
    the mother and father, sister and brother, who just want you to be happy
for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart,
    the custodians at the church, homeless shelter, and hospital
    the teachers who want the most for your child
    the person at the grocery line who lets you cut in front of them
    the staff at the store and restaurant that share the bathroom even if you didn't or can't buy anything
    the ranger who tends to our land so that future generations can marvel at Creation
    the homeowner who sees you lost, gives you water, gives you refuge, and guides you home
    the friend who gives you a ride, cares for a prisoner, plants flowers on a trail
for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,
    the police and judiciary that understand that true safety starts in trust
    the people who unite us as a human family, rather than divide us like spoils of war
    the artists, writers, and musicians who inspire us to love and compassion
    the fire crew that calms the fearful neighborhood
    the military who put their lives on the line for our protection and not for their glory
    the unknown missionary who lies in a shallow grave for the civil rights of brothers and sisters
    the good Samaritan whose name we never knew, or whose face we've already forgotten
for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    the ones who care for the Children of God
         ignoring false idols
         ignoring their own egos
         ignoring the sense of their own righteousness
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

In your world, what are YOUR beatitudes? And in your heart, who do you bless as Jesus would bless?




Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Climb that Tree and Find What You Seek

There was a time when I felt lost. I mean, really lost, and not like lost as I am in general today. I didn't enjoy attending my church because I would hear reinforcing messages that the way I was born, the way I was created, was somehow intrinsically maladjusted, bad, sinful. Not just any bad, but worse than the run of the mill sins that other people committed. And I was too young to even act upon these sins. These were just thoughts and feelings that I had inside and society told me to keep under wraps.

So I started to stay away from Church. I think a lot of people do that today.  They hear messages at their church that they don't like or disagree with and they stop attending. But how does one then differentiate that discomfort from making church all about themselves? What is to differentiate self-gratification in a human-constructed church from self-gratification from an ego-constructed sense of identity?

How does one leave a Church without it being about him or herself?

It took me a long time to come to terms with that problem. I'm still dealing with it, but have gotten further than ever before. Meanwhile, during the times I walked away, I still felt a hunger, a wanting, so I would sneak into church for silent prayer. This was at a time when I was out at university and I didn't want my gay friends to see me in church. Church hurt too many of them as well, and the explanations I'd have to give seemed to difficult to express. No I wasn't self-hating; I was hungry. No I wasn't actually still in the closet; I was seeking more from my life. Sure, I had made mistakes. Lots of them. And that's what made me feel like I needed to understand myself and my values ever better.

So yes I would sneak back into church. I was out as a gay man but closeted as a religious person.

The return to church in the past two decades has been life-sustaining for me. I have realized that I can't begin to live the life I'm intended to live without coming to the water when I'm thirsty. We are called into a place where we can be healed, where we can be the source of healing, where we are meant to be, and that calling is both internal and external.

We must respond to the feelings inside of us. We must move our butts to the places where we can put our values and life-meanings into action. Inside and out fully expressed: there is no more need for any closet. Instead, we climb the highest trees to see what's possible, to see the good in the world, and commit ourselves into the direction we were meant to go.

I think that it takes a great deal of reflection to decide that your spiritual journey may or may not need a church. Likewise, it takes some commitment to accept whether or not your journey includes a spiritual guide. Like a tour guide, you sometimes need others to show you the way. It's not that you can't figure it out on your own. It's just that you might want to get to your destination sooner, easier, with less wear and tear, so that you can enjoy yourself more fully. I've always avoided tour guides in my travels but have learned to understand my need for them when I'm immersed deeper in foreign languages and lands than I can handle. The same has applied in my spiritual life. It's taken me a long time to accept my need of church and spiritual guides, but once I set my ego aside, once I accept that my journey doesn't have to be over broken glass and bloody thorns, then I can yield to those who can help me get to the place I'm meant to be sooner, happier, safer. And in doing so, I make it clear to myself that it's in trusting others, in loving others, that I can find my way.

Last night, Stephen and I watched Les Miserables, the movie from a couple years ago. It's my favorite musical and though the movie has issues, the story line still brings me to tears. The contrast between Javert and Jean Valjean is marked, and yet they both sing the same melody when they come to their spiritual crisis. Jean Valjean's crisis is when he must decide who is the man that God intended him to be; Javert's crisis is when he confronts his moral world and finds no place for forgiveness. Both, in the end, are confronting the issue of Love unfolding, Love all-encompassing, Love made flesh. And at the end of the musical, my favorite line: "To love another person is to see the face of God."

We attended a cousin's wedding this weekend. Cousin weddings happen in my life more often than most, as I have 54 first cousins. And yet, sitting in the Roman Catholic church that I once walked away from, that I once felt outcast and excluded, I watched two people in love come together, seeing the face of God in each other. Trusting each other to help guide the other, to help each of them find their way in this life.

I close this blog entry with this coming Sunday's reading. Jesus promises to be there for us, if we reach out, if we love, we allow ourselves to be loved.
Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
                               Luke 19:1-10

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Take me, Take me as I am


I walked this Camino thinking that I might be posting, as I did this spring, nightly. Obviously, I did not. I spent much time thinking and contemplating, like before, but this time with a fixed group - All Saints Episcopal Church Pasadena's Transformational Journeys- traveling together as one. So some of the time I would have spent writing was spent sharing stories and breaking bread.

And increasingly, as the 10 day trip continued, I felt humbled. I didn't think of myself as a group leader per se. I was there to help guide people on their journey in my mind, to make it a safe space. A friend on Twitter posted yesterday :
Now that I think about it, a walking meditation group may not be safe. What will the church do if a member is injured or dies on a walk?
I responded
Pilgrimage isn't about safety
So though in my heart, I knew that risks are always taken when one goes on pilgrimage, I was serving these new friends of mine in a way not to create the journey, not to create the spiritual space, not to inspire, but merely to make that journey just a little bit safer, a little less frightening, a little less scary.

In between the delicate spider webs, the soaring spires, the wide open fields, the rolling hills of forests, different people had blisters, and stomach issues, and sun exposure. Sooner or later, someone would wander far ahead or far behind. But the gentle rhythm of life in a pilgrimage walk keeps you moving and drives you forward, and you flow through and with and in that stream in community with others.

So as the days passed, I grew increasingly humbled that I had the opportunity to be a part of this journey with others. That in my own way, as someone who was there to care for the safety of others, I got to draw inspiration as they did, to find new insights into my own journey, and into my own failings.

I had another coincidence involving meeting someone from home. This spring, I ran into Nancy at the Cruz de Ferro. Well this time, my friend Ralph and I had been speaking this summer about his coming Camino. As it turned out, we ended up in Palas de Rei on the same night. He started in Saint Jean Pied-de-Port in early September and caught up with us on our shorter journey. I was thrilled to be able to sit in the Cathedral with him as he watched the botafumeiro swinging wildly from the ceiling. With both these instances, the Holy Spirit just wanted to remind me that we are never alone and that always walk with others.

My pack felt incredibly light this trip. Did I really pack that much less? I don't think I did. I may have packed more. But I felt strong and confident in body, which was quite ironic because I started the trip with a visit to Urgent Care in Madrid. You see, I felt I had a growth or something in my chin that I tried to attend to in Pasadena before I left but time ran out before my flight. So, I went to the Spanish doctor who gave me antibiotics which nipped the problem quite well. Physically, I felt fine, but I talked awkwardly (and unbeknownst to others perhaps, with discomfort) for a couple days. Everything got better with each passing day and soon I recovered.

The flowers had passed by this time of year but the weather was spectacular. Normally Galicia is rainy, but it never rained on us more heavily than a light mist for 5 minutes out of the whole week. This made my walk and the walk of others that much easier and made it easier to take photos.

Given this background, I was thinking about my three angels from the last camino. Thor, the one who saved me; Daniel, the one who showed beautiful love and life; and Sylvia, the one who cried at the well. (I recounted their stories in Walking in the Kingdom of Heaven). I thought of my journey in life, and what I was doing on the Camino this time around.

Every day we did morning prayer and we tried to do prayers every evening before dinner. At first we did it in my room, but then we took it out into the open and just did the prayers in public. It felt so good. It felt right. We were keeping the spiritual journey focused with these prayers. And we prayed not in isolation, but with the world, as we prayed for the people in Haiti, Syria, and our community. As a Lay Eucharistic Minister, I brought some consecrated bread and wine with me and surprised them so that we could have communion on our Sunday walk and on our last day walking. I was moved that they were appreciative of this, as I was of being able to share with them the Eucharistic feast.

So with all that, yes, I grew increasingly humbled by where my journey was leading me. A hymn kept popping up in my head that I didn't consciously bring along but wouldn't leave me alone:

Take, O take me as I am
Summon out what I should be
Set a Seal upon my a heart
and live in me
It's a hymn from the Iona community in Scotland by John L Bell, of the Church of Scotland. I wasn't guiding, I wasn't leading, I wasn't pushing people along. Instead, I felt like I was just asking to be taken as I am, with the imploring plea that I become the person I was meant to be. And with the grace of love on my heart, may that love live within me. Not exactly the hymn you think a pilgrimage leader would have, but there you go, that's what was going on in my head as I went to sleep, as I walked over streams, as I broke bread.

I got home last night, tired and a little under the weather. Not surprising I suppose because after the Camino, I went off to a beach-filled rest in the Canary Islands then to meet with a friend in chilly Mainz, Germany. But I got home, had dinner with Stephen, and then glanced at this weekend's readings and had to smile.

The reading will likely be used at churches across the country to talk about sin, idolatry, and perhaps even the current election season. But I smiled because I thought it fit with this Camino oh so well. I find it hard to think of myself as a leader in spirituality, when I am on the journey as much as everyone else is. But perhaps, that's what the Holy Spirit is summoning out of me. Perhaps, I've got to accept that it's my brokenness that my personhood is justified.
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Luke 18:9-14 NIV



Monday, October 3, 2016

Knock knock

Today's the feast day of St Fancis. As I walk on an ancient pilgrimage route that this man from Assisi once traversed, I wonder what the animals thought of him, his Italian words and prayers, his simplicity. I wonder if he delighted in seeing cows and sheep and chickens like we are on the Camino.

And I wonder how he laughed.

Did he tell knock knock jokes? Or tell groaners or "Dad jokes"? Or snicker at the folly of a fellow brother?

We may not think of saints laughing or crying or looking anything but pious and stern. Ascetic perhaps, or maybe suffering. But certainly not busting out in laughter much less busting a move on a dance floor.

And why not? They were human. They walked and breathed among us. Why must we expect others to sit outside of the human condition before we can appreciate their extraordinary gifts?

He may have walked the Camino in a group like I am. And I've certainly had my share of laughs in between the insights and prayers. Don't most?

I want to think he laughed when the goats skipped merrily along a wall. Or smiled broadly, perhaps saying "awwww" when a calf appeared beside her mother. Or swooned when a bird flew over a setting sun.

Because it is in that humanity, we too can walk with saints. And smile.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Different, Yet the Same

Now that I'm in Sarria, I've spent a day dining and traveling to our Camino starting point with the All Saints Pasadena Transformational Journeys group. It's my first time leading a pilgrimage group rather than walking the Camino independently. I've had an inkling that it would feel different than my other Caminos and it's true, it does. 


To a point.



I'm preoccupied with the itineraries and luggage needs of others. I'm making sure their concerns are allayed and that we minimize situations where a member of the flock wanders away. And instead of my own personal prayer sessions, I'm inviting us all into my ritual of morning and afternoon prayer, going from an informal conversation with God to one based on the Morning Office of the Book of Common Prayer.






We didn't start those prayers Thursday or Friday. I figured we would do so on days we walked, the other days focused on jet lag, eating, and worldly needs. Three of us had dinner in Madrid Thursday night and our first group meal was here in Sarria for lunch. We attended the evening mass and blessing at Santa MariƱa, the large church at the top of the stairs in Sarria, and then proceeded to beer, wine, tortillas (egg omelet), and cheese for a light dinner.




The differences:
• checking us as a group into an hostal (inn) and paying for it

Uhhh, in truth that's it.




The similarities:
• great laughs while simultaneously eating and sharing personal stories of our lives, loves, and Journey
• chatting with random pilgrims 
• wandering and seeking of beauty and the new
• discovering that Spanish mass is the same yet different
• sensing rain and cold and yet valuing the present company and relationships
• laughing at our encounters with languages
• pointing out landmarks and buildings to each other
• walking separately and yet together




I'm excited about what will happen in the next few hours as we breakfast, do morning prayers, and commence our walk. I can't make someone's Camino the spiritual journey of their lifetime. That's up to them and the Holy Spirit. But I can be there to assist.



Somehow that's the most similar to my most recent Camino, the one focused on healing. Recognition that I can help and guide in the spiritual journey, but cannot control it. Being both helper and helped. Finding in our humanness, the divine. And trusting that the Holy Spirit will provide, guide, and feed each of us.

I'm feeling really blessed right now because of this opportunity, yes, but mostly that others are there to help me and praying for me.


For Thursday started with a predawn visit to Urgencias. I had a jaw pain that turned out to be a cheek abscess likely brought on by an accidental bite. And it got infected and made it painful to talk and eat. Yet everyone here and at home via Facebook has poured out prayers for me.



That's a continuation of my Camino of healing. That's Love embodied in the family and friends in our lives, in the strangers who help us at the hospital and  train stations.



I close this blog post with a photo from my hotel room in Madrid. Four skyscrapers that are instantly recognizable as financial centers in Madrid outside my window. And just below are the tents of the homeless. And I think to myself, what journey are they on and how do our journeys interact? What have we done to accidentally guide them there and what can we do to lead them to a better place? Is there Hope in their lives? I know there's Hope all around us. I'm just asked to help remind others when fear and new situations frighten. To be there for others as they are for me. To love and be loved.