Mel's Healing Pilgrimage 2016

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

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 Mariña, 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.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Even When Alone, We Walk Together

I leave on Tuesday for Madrid. Yes, I'm returning to the Camino de Santiago. Unlike the 2014 and 2016 walks, I'm doing this differently.

In 2014, I walked 270 miles from after Burgos to Santiago de Compostela. In 2015, I walked short segments as I drove my parents along the entire route from Lourdes to the end. And earlier this year, I walked the 600 miles from Lourdes to Santiago de Compostela. For the most part, these were by myself or with people I met along the way. This spring, my husband Stephen joined me for the final 200 miles. So I had a little practice walking and guiding someone, but it was just one individual, someone I knew quite well.

Now, I'm leading a few people from my church. All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena has a Transformational Journeys ministry, and though I've taken a trip with them to China before, this is the first time I'm leading a group. We range in age from 31 to 67 and will be walking 117km from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela.

And yes, once again, I'll be blogging every day on this journey.

I've spent some time preparing us and the itinerary for group, but this week I had an opportunity to synthesize and reflect on this coming walk. First, it was brought to my attention that like many things in life, pilgrimages and retreats come in three phases: awareness, destabilization, and reconstruction.

First, we become aware of our surroundings, our bodies, our challenges. We identify and feel everything. We absorb and let our senses take it all in. Then we move to a period of destabilization, where we recognize that the information our senses are collecting is not what we expected, or wanted, or aspire, or accept. It's destabilizing to realize this knowledge, for we spent so much of our normal days avoiding the awareness.

To coincide with this stage, let me bring up a quote from Father Henri Nouwen. This week, we recognized the 20th anniversary of his passing. He wrote in "Making All Things New":
As soon as we are alone...inner chaos opens up in us. This chaos can be so disturbing and so confusing that we can hardly wait to get busy again. Entering a private room and shutting the door, therefore, does not mean that we immediately shut out all our inner doubts, anxieties, fears, bad memories, unresolved conflicts, angry feelings and impulsive desires. On the contrary, when we have removed our outer distraction, we often find that our inner distractions manifest themselves to us in full force. We often use the outer distractions to shield ourselves from the interior noises. This makes the discipline of solitude all the more important.
The last phase of a journey is reconstruction. You've felt, you've seen things torn apart by true awareness, and now it's time to rebuild yourself and find a new understanding. It's what we think pilgrimage is about, and yet to get there, we must first go through the other two phases. I feel that some who don't get to this part of their journeys, who feel that the Camino did not yield to them new insights, may not have allowed themselves to go through the first two phases fully and deeply.

I had a deepening of this last phase of my last Camino this week. Daniel from the UK was visiting California. If you followed my Camino, you would have seen my post "The Healing Water of Lourdes" where we walked together for the day. We spent breakfast together the next day ("Empty Nests"). And he figured prominently in my synthesis of my journey, as one of my angels who guided me ("Walking in the Kingdom of Heaven").

We met for dinner and while he stopped by Los Angeles. Two other friends of his were with us there at that restaurant in Silverlake. One of them, Sandy, seemed to walk around the same time as me. In fact, after hours of chatting, we realized that we knew many of the same people and had interactions with the Texas A&M students on the same day in Carrion de las Condes. And yet we never met until Wednesday night. And we didn't know how our lives were connected, even though they were. Even though they are.

So much of the Camino and life can be like that, I realized. We are interacting with people we never meet, their influence on us slight and indirect, our influence on them similarly subtle.

You may walk alone, but you're walking with the person in front of you, walking with the person behind you, with the person passing you on the left, with the person, you're passing on the right.

I may not know what I'm seeking on this pilgrimage. But I approach it with an open heart, and an open mind. I appreciate your prayers for our safety, for the health and well-being of those who I walk with, and for all of us reading this. We are all bound together in ways we cannot recognize, destabilizing and reconstructing each other whether we know it or not.

But first we have to feel it.
To sense it.
To become aware of what we have in front of us.

And though it can be frightening, we can move on in prayer with each other and for each other and for ourselves.

And for those who are Christian and spiritually inclined, I want to bring up that not only are we connected to each other, we are connected to the divine. Whether we know it or not, we are affected and informed by this relationship, seen or unseen. I'll close with a portion of a prayer attributed to Saint Patrick.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me. 

Buen camino fellow pilgrims. Buen camino.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Is your Journey an Adventure?

I saw this image on the web and had to share it, as it caused me to think. It's about adventure, and the Camino de Santiago, the whole journey of life for that matter, is an adventure.

The picture is certainly a bit of fun with a whole lot of tongue in cheek about adventure. And, I hope you don't have to worry about cutting off an arm.

Yet many times we worry about our difficulties and focus in on them, forgetting about the happiness we encounter. When deeply involved with those troubling times, we might not even see the joys of life around us. They're there, but we obsess about the tough parts.

I certainly can get that way. Once I'm in pain or things aren't going as planned, I start worry about contingencies. Even if there's nothing I can do for the moment, it's all I seem to think about. In the end, though, as the picture suggests, if we aren't about to die, then it might not be as bad as we think. And, it might even add to the adventure.

I recall the many difficulties I've had while traveling on vacation, on Camino, through life... They weren't fun at the time, and yet today, I sit back and tell stories about what happened. How I hurt or was scared or angry. In the rear view mirror, it doesn't look as menacing as when I was in it at the moment.

So I'm try not to stay in that "are you about to die" moment, trying not to micromanage an outcome, to control what cannot be controlled. The world needs us to be present with each other, as well as with the trials testing us. If we can approach life and each other as the adventure that never stops exciting us, I think we'll find ourselves less fearful of the daily threats and troubles around us. We'll be able to see both sides, the unsettling side AND the joyful side.

And then, then we can take pictures to remember, stories to tell... and post them on Instagram.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Walking in the Kingdom of Heaven

I was asked what were my most memorable moments along the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage. I reflected on this, as I had so many memories, photographs, and blog postings. It occurred to me that my most memorable points were not about me alone, about the flowers, or about specific places.

It was about people.

Now, I found many amazing people along the Camino but for this question, I focused on three people in particular. Three people who I view as messengers in my life. Angels really. After all, the original depiction of angels were messengers, so perhaps it's fitting, on this Feast Day of Saint James the Apostle, the saint for whom the Camino de Santiago is named, that I dwell on those who bring Good News to people.

The first person came to me in the middle of my deepest fear I've had in decades. The full account of that day is in "Angel Messenger and the Comfort of Christ". I held back tears because I was afraid that I would die of exposure while crossing the Pyrenees. I thought I had such good fortune because just when I thought my hip and lower back could not get me over the mountains, I saw the luggage transportation van, and the woman was able to take at the last minute my backpack to my destination. Unfortunately, in my haste, I grabbed almost everything I needed for the daypack, except my jacket. As the clouds came, the rains came and the painful hail poured down for two hours, shredding my poncho and leaving me basically with my day pack and my quick dry long sleeve shirt. The fog and my steam-covered eyeglasses could barely see where the trail was and where the cliffs threatened. I could not even venture to see a statue of the Virgin in the mountains because I feared falling off the slopes.

And then came a vision from behind me. I only saw his chin peeking out from his clothing, a chin where my immediate reaction was "Oh, that looks like the guy who played Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar". He asked me how I was and I responded with "cold and frightened." And this person just smiled and said "You'll be fine." He continued, "Where are you going?" I answered "To Roncesvalles on the other side of the Pyrenees". With his calm smile he said, "I'll see you on the other side" and continued walking into the foggy hail. For some reason, this was weirdly re-assuring. Moreover, he wore a fluorescent red backpack poncho, a colour so bright that I could actually see it and follow along the twisting, unseen trail. So I followed this young man who looked like Jesus into the unknown, somehow comforted, somehow feeling safe, somehow confident.

And the next day, after I made it, after I slept, I was back on the trail and he placed his hand on my shoulder and said that he knew I would be there. And he walked with me the whole day. We broke bread together on a mountain top. His name was Thore, after the Norse God of storms and protection.

And on this fifth and sixth day of my Camino, yes, this person whose image first made me think of Christ, he met me in a storm and was my protector.

The next influential person appeared after Pamplona. I had been upset and fearful that my blisters, acquired from wet feet and the struggle over the Pyrenees, would impair me. For now, I was doing better. And I came across a person who simply radiated love. In fact, almost every person who ever met Daniel from Oxford described his intensely caring eyes and his beautiful affection for everyone he met. He was astonishingly humble. We talked and walked all day, breaking bread at dinner and the next day at breakfast. He was thrilled that I had water from Lourdes that I was sharing with those on the Camino, and he thankfully took a sip and asked to be anointed with it. He touched almost everyone he seemed to meet.

And he did this while walking on crutches. You didn't notice them after you talked with him; you didn't usually see his bruised hands and feet. The reality was that his ailments slowed him down to just over 1-2 mph and it was taking him three months to reach Santiago, three times longer than most. I can't imagine how he navigated the muddy, rocky slopes of the various mountains we crossed. When asked why he was on the Camino, he would respond "so that every day I can walk again." But he inspired such care in others, as we all cared for him. After evening mass, for example, I lost track of him even though he was sitting beside me. I found him; he was giving alms to a needy man and asking if he was safe this evening.

He embodied so comfortably, so easily, the unconditional love that graces us and that we are called to show. Despite his challenges, he feared not, almost a posterchild of St Teresa's "Nada de Turbe" (Do not worry) prayer. Yes, I shared the healing waters with him, and in his presence and love, I was the one who was healed.

The third person who touched me greatly on this Camino walked into my life the day after Burgos City. I took a rest day in Burgos because my blisters were so painful. And for some reason, on a day I was feeling quite healthy, I saw a grove of trees next to a sign that said "Fuente" (water fountain). I had lots of water and wasn't tired. In fact, I was only an hour away from my destination. But I felt called to sit under these trees, so I listened to the Holy Spirit and walked into grove and sat at the tables. I chatted with some pilgrims and found out the water was empty. Soon, a woman from Italy came over and was looking for water. She became frightened and upset when I said that the well was dry.

I offered her my water since I had plenty. After all, I was only an hour away from my final stop of the day. She filled her bottle and drank much of it. I topped it off for her. In talking, she found out I started in Lourdes and she expressed her interest in visiting it one day. I offered her some of the Lourdes water. And that's when she really caught my attention. She burst into tears, hugging me for a couple minutes, sobbing. Silvia drank the Lourdes water and asked to be anointed by it. In the next week, I would come across her several more times, including walking with her for a whole day surrounded by flowers.

That day, that evening, I didn't know why she cried. It took several more encounters with her to understand that she was exhausted, thirsty, and spiritually challenged. She had come onto the camino looking for a spiritual experience but she was coming away thirsty and longing for that touch with the divine, the mystical. Here I was, thinking I was merely offering her water, but when the Holy Spirit drew me to that well, I was guided to give her a glimpse of the waters of life.

So these three people, these three angels affected me most. As I described them, the person who asked me the initial question reflected and said, "I asked you to describe your most memorable Camino memories. You've just described the Kingdom of Heaven."

I was at first surprised and then it began to sink in. I was so close to these stories, I hadn't stepped back to put them together. In Thore, I encountered the comforting, guiding Christ. Beside Daniel, I walked with unconditional love. And with Silvia and guided by the Holy Spirit, I acted out the great commandment and loved my neighbor as myself. It wasn't a fluke that these three were in my life and were somehow prominent memories of my Camino.

They represented the best promise of life, the promise of the Kingdom of Heaven. In their presence in my presence, in our encounters on the Camino de Santiago, I was making my journey to that Kingdom.

So step back and look at the angels in your life. Where are they guiding you? Where are you leading them? And are you awake enough to see where you are and where you are going?

May your footsteps always walk beside the angels in our lives, on a journey of love, peace, and comfort.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Can't Walk On Any More

Coming off the Camino de Santiago, I still find that journey and travel passages in the Bible capture my attention. So imagine my surprise when I saw that our gospel reading this week is the well known Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) parable.

We are told of a traveler of unknown ethnic or religious origin who gets robbed, stripped, and left for dead at the side of the road. We are told a priest saw the man, literally crosses the road to avoid him, and passed on by. Then a Levite did the same. A Samaritan comes by and actually helps the beaten man.

How fitting for the distressing stories in the news this week and all too often recently. Fitting not because of what happened, but because of how we respond.

A priest in Biblical times performed many of the duties you would expect in a temple. A Levite is performs other temple duties that the priest does not do. They serve the church and supposedly God.

The foreign Samaritans were largely detested by the Jews. Since Jesus was giving his parable to a Jewish lawyer, he clearly was trying to make a point about who stopped to help and who didn't. Clearly those who we expected to be "good" did not act righteously. It's even more poignant because Jesus gave this parable in response a question on the Great Commandment. "How do we get into heaven?" "Love your neighbor as yourself." And, like a lawyer, he asks "But who is our neighbor?"

So Jesus responds with a parable that is meant to provoke, to make you notice the log in your eye. There's a person who's been hurt and all people, even those you detest, can be the one who stops and helps that individual and do what God expects. Those who seem to be good could ignore the Great Commandment and walk past what they see as an obvious injury.

I see the events in regarding Alton Sterling and Philando Castile in this light. It seems to be happening all across the country. African Americans have a frighteningly high mortality rate at the hands of police. People of color, people like myself, feel that we have to be extra careful when confronted by police, to be docile, to have our hands out in the open, to not make any sudden moves. I remove my hat so that my face is seen when police are around. There is no sense of safety, but of caution. I fear that I could be the next statistic or hashtag on Twitter.

And yet the media and most people who don't worry about their safety at the hands of their protectors walk on by. They change the subject, maybe blaming the victims for their problems. Sometimes, they'll offer "thoughts and prayers".

I see it happening to immigrants and refugees. I see it happening to those who are in poverty or who are forced into homelessness. I see it happening with women whose rapes are blamed by their attire and were asking for it. I see it happening towards the LGBTQ community where their deaths and beatings are blamed upon them. I grew up hearing that we could not possibly be born this way and are living out our lives not out of honesty but in defiance of some concept of normalcy. I see it happening to the weary traveler who is confused and lost, but gets in the way of those in a rush to drive to work in their nice car.

Well the Samaritan story doesn't accept that apathy and denial and those blinders that impair the light of God from shining forth. The neighbor isn't the person who looks like you, the person who shares your faith or homeland, the person who even likes you. The neighbor is anyone who needs a neighbor. The neighbor is the brother and sister, for all are children of God.

So what are you going to do? What am I going to do? I don't know an easy answer. But I do know this. I can't cross to the other side of the road and turn my head away. I won't ignore, blame, deflect. I accept responsibility for my complicity in the problem, whether its because I actually harmed someone, or because I walked past the injured. I don't know the answer, but I know it's not what we have today.

May we be given the courage to get right on down on our knees, down in the dirt, and help those who need us most. To help. To touch. To love.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Camino 2016 07/04 - Thankful for today and tomorrow, tonight

Happy Independence Day! May it be truly a day where we recognize our freedoms in life and not take them for granted. Freedom isn't received. Freedom is lived and exercised daily. And it goes hand in hand with a feeling of gratitude for what we have, compared to what we could otherwise have to endure. It's taken two months in the making, but I've come to understand this in a much deeper way than I expected. 

I left the front door of my home 54 days ago, backpack strapped on loosely. I said goodbye to Stephen as I walked to the Gold Line light rail, first of several travel segments that eventually landed me in Paris.

After dropping things off at a B&B, I took a train to Chartres, where the ancient labyrinth represents pilgrimage for those who cannot take a journey in person. That night in Paris, I also visited the Tower of Saint Jacques, the starting point for those walking from Paris to Santiago de Compostela (Saint Jacques is the French name for Santiago or Saint James). The next day, to open my eyes to new ways of seeing things, I visited Giverny, where Monet painted his waterlilies and through Impressionism gave us new ways to see light. Then I went to Lourdes for several days of healing, for myself, for others, and in the company of thousands.

And then my walking began. Through all that time, I met those who I now view as angels or messengers of God, those who made me laugh, cry, and even  scream in pain. And after a month, I in León met Stephen once again. I missed my husband dearly, and he promptly accompanied me to Urgent Care so that I could attend to blisters that wouldn't heal or may have gotten infected. 

Friends, new and old, walked beside me along the dirt, the mud, the rocks of the Camino de Santiago. Friends, those I've met and those I haven't, walked beside me over the fissures, the blockages, the blisters of my heart. I feel I've learned much.

But most important, I feel that I've begun the process  of cementing the lessons of this Camino into a place in my life. Many of the lessons learned here were made known to me on my prior pilgrimage in 2014. And yet I was surprised to relearn them. And yet I had to be made aware yet again. And yet my dependence on God, on others, and on God in others needed to jar my consciousness into alertness and wakefulness. 

And yet I know I will continue to need my reminders for the rest of my life. Because just as my journey didn't end in Santiago, nor did it end in Finisterre, nor other places visited, my need for an alarm clock to consciousness doesn't go away. I must still expect to wake up every day, wake up to an alertness of what can be and will be the journey of a lifetime.

Let me recount some things that happened during the week between my last blog (just prior to entering Santiago de Compostela) and this morning, as I fly home.

We arrived in Santiago de Compostela after a quick and mostly easy final walk. We ran into Grant and Astrida at the Pilgrim's statue at Monte de Gozo. As we walked into the city, I wasn't moved to tears as I was the first time. This puzzled me, as I realized that according to my walking app, I had walked 1087 km since leaving my front door. Why wasn't I tearful?

I think I it was mostly because I didn't feel alone this time. I knew God was accompanying me and that the prayers of so many people, both at home and beside me, were with me. I felt like I was marking a step, a milestone, rather than crossing a finishing line. It was part of, not the end of, my journey.

In Santiago, I greeted so many who walked with me on this trip. Thore, my German angel who gave me confidence on my frightful day over the Pyreness and walked with me towards Pamplona, crossed paths with me multiple times including on his walk out of town to Finisterre. Annamaria from Hungary shrieked as she saw me, as we had not seen each other since Burgos. She fussed over Stephen and noted the similarities of their eyes. Rob and Joey found us as we lunched. So did Grant and Astrida. The four of them sat near us at the Pilgrim's mass that evening and we all watched the enormous Botafumeiro as it spread incense throughout the Cathedral. And Peggy showed up as well, which was quite welcome because we thought she had pressed ahead. We found Dennis and we congratulated him on finishing his pilgrimage. And I caught up with a group of Texas A&M students whom I thought went ahead of me after Santo Domingo.

During dinner we found Nancy from All Saints Pasadena. We already had an unplanned meeting at Cruz de Ferro and we were able to have dinner together in Santiago de Compostela before she left for home.

We did some tourism around the city. We were thrilled when we found not just a Taizé worship service, but that it was in the chapel of the new Pilgrim's Offices. What a gift to those needing spirituality, music, and prayer as they arrived!

We left for Muxía. The winds were mighty and after Sunday mass, we found the area they filmed the final scenes of The Way. We spread some of (Stephen's brother) Tim's ashes. We continued to Finisterre, the end of the world, and after walking to the ocean, left more of Tim there. He loved the beach and thought the daily sunset views would be a fitting place for him. I sat at the beach for some time, watching the waves, scavenging for seashells, letting the cool waters lap at my legs.

It occurred to me that it was a sort of complement to the immersion in the healing waters of Lourdes when I began my walk, book ending my Camino with baptismal water. After that swim, we dined and then watched the sun set. The Romans and ancients worshipped here to pray that as the sun set on the western frontier of Europe, it would once again return the next day. It was a fearful prayer for them. I prayed that, knowing the sun would return, the day was a good one and that the rest of night would bring a revitalized life, one full of love and reconciliation, on the next day.

Before we left Finisterre, we chatted at breakfast with a Jennifer Clampett from South Africa. Small worlds again showed up, as she and her husband Jeremy knew of the Rev. Wilma Jakobsen, a former priest at All Saints and the person who introduced me to Taizé.

We drove all day to San Sebastián, with a refreshing stop in Gijón. There we found pilgrims walking on the Northern route. We loved our stay in San Sebastián, which is the starting point of the Northern route, and spent an entire day simply touring the Castillo, resting at the beach, eating enormous quantities of pinchos, and leaving the last of Tim's ashes in a beach area we were sure he'd love. Our AirBnB host opened his home and heart to us, talking our ears off and sharing his city's vibrancy and history.

We did a day trip to Saint Jean Pied-de-Port, Pamplona, Alto Del Perdón, and Borja. The first three felt wildly odd to me, as I walked through those places weeks ago. It made me think that we never pass through a place once. We may return. And it will look different with a new light of day. The fears and tears were dulled by the sterility of a car ride, but I know they affected me deeply. 

We drove quite a bit out of the way to Borja because I wanted to see the failed restoration of an Ecce Homo fresco that made news the world over four years ago. It struck me that the town, discovering a sudden new source of income from tourism, was being revitalized because of the ridiculous situation. But they didn't lament it. The monastery actually embraced it and helped folks laugh at the situation. And I was touched by this. Here's a woman who sincerely wanted to help (there were photos of her wedding and first communion with the fresco in the background) but couldn't and made things worse. I thought that sometimes God gives us trials that we could lament, or we could embrace, grow, even profit from, if we just accept them. I'm still chewing on this. I think I was called to this 3 hour detour to find some lessons.

We proceeded to Bilbao to see the amazing Guggenheim museum and then to Burgos. There Stephen saw where I rested and we enjoyed the lively small city. During dinner at a Chinese restaurant, for I craved something that tasted more like home cooking after all this time, we met Jennifer and Katie, who were in the midst of their Camino. It underscored for me the feeling that ours is a shared pilgrimage, and though we are at different points, starting and stopping at different times, we walk the same paths, just differently. Our journeys intersect at different stages and we can be frustrated by that or we can embrace it.

Then, with a short pit stop in Segovia to see the 2000 year old massive aqueduct, we continued to Toledo, the one time capital of Spain. We went from 75F to 100F. Though the city sizzled, the history was no less profound. The city was once home to a lively, interdependent multi-faith population. There are Jewish and Muslim references in the architecture of every older Christian structure, including the Cathedral. We visited a couple convents that were once synagogues, and the El Transito Jewish museum which was once a majestic synagogue. We also saw a tremendous amount of El Greco works, as the artist spent much of his life in Toledo.

And on the eve of my birthday, I rode a zip line over the river gorge, beside the ancient Saint Martin bridge, originally Roman, and Muslim, then Christian. I'm normally fearful of heights but on that day, at the end of the Camino, I felt free. I was grateful that I could enjoy the exhilaration without paralyzing fear.

We spent the last two days in Madrid. Upon coming into the city, we realized that our central hotel by the Puerto Del Sol (the Madrid Time Square) was adjacent to a huge stage and that within a few hours, we would be able to catch their Gay Pride parade. As it turns out, the Madrid pride parade and festival is the largest annual public event in all of Europe by far, with some two million attending. It seemed every bit as busy as anything I've seen and we in Pasadena have upwards of a million celebrate New Year's Day at the Rose Parade. It seemed as though every business in the city was showing off their rainbow flags. It was liberating, intoxicating, empowering. The number of straight folks celebrating was astonishing. Love wins when people are allowed to live truthfully, lovingly, faithfully. Gratitude filled the air for this freedom from fear. And this wasn't a Madrid only phenomenon. We saw rainbow flags at many business and public buildings throughout the country.

The next day, before we wrapped up with a birthday visit to the Cathedral, we spent the day at the impressive Prado museum. Excitingly, they were featuring an exhibition on Heronimous Bosch (or El Bosco), to celebrate him on the 500th anniversary of his death. I've always loved his artwork, as I do El Greco, in spite of his interesting morality in his paintings. He seems to portray good as the absence of temptation rather than as a positive force. This doesn't sit well with me. It works for a model of disease or engineering, but it provides little explanation of the benefits of goodness. It's a punishment only model and that's not the image of God that moves my heart.

Lastly, today we return home, on the Fourth of July, celebrating the birth of American freedom from colonialism (though not remembering that we too have become colonizers despite our former status as the colonized). 

What marks this period of reflection and 2100km of driving around the country? What did it say about my Camino?

I realize that it spoke of freedom. Pilgrimage frees us from the restrictions and confines of daily life, of the self-constructed jails that limit our exploration, reflection, and loving veneration. Our daily lives have too many obstacles to prayer, to community, to real love. Until we shake these off, we forget what's possible. A successful Camino is a revelation of life's potential. It gives us an opportunity to be grateful for what we have.

And it can't be reduced to a single focus point, a tiny laser beam of a spotlight that says "Here! Here's where life is different." Just as Independence Day marked an anniversary of a start but was still to be earned - is still being earned - so to does the end of a Camino. 

So though we picked up our Compostela (certificates) showing that we completed our walks, I know that it's just a marker, a document with a date of celebration, a moment of thankfulness. The journey never ended, but continues tomorrow. The pride parade doesn't mean homophobia and transphobia are gone, but celebrates what's happened so far and what can still happen tomorrow. The wonders of interfaith history shows that we can live in a harmonious world like was possible in the past. The rest and food found at San Sebastián, the ability to celebrate folly in Borja, the gratitude with which we connected and reconnected with friends new and existing on the path or online, these are the ways we recognize that freedom means leaving fear behind, pausing for reflection, and living in the light of love.

When Stephen's brother passed away of cancer two weeks before our wedding, we knew that his journey on earth had changed. But it gave us hope in his memory, in the spirit of healing and reconciliation, in his love, that we were able to leave his ashes on the Camino at the places he would have appreciated. His journey may continue in a realm we can't yet know, but we walked and shared in that journey as best we could.

When I connected with others online or on the Camino, it gave me deeply powerful feelings of gratitude. I was thankful that I could pray with others without embarrassment or fear. I felt free to be myself in an authentic way, talking about Stephen, my journey, my blisters. In that freedom, in the fireworks of that love, in the Christ who helps me see God in all, I felt unending thankfulness.

So, the journey ends; so, the journey continues. The light and aura of the past two months comes to a peaceful silence. It all seems so appropriate after a 54 day journey where the days flow into each other, the villages and dust molding together into a composite whole. It's been a prolonged day where we examine life in the light.

As this pilgrimage reaches this milestone, as it comes to a close for now, I offer a prayer for the coming "night". And unlike Finisterre where the ancients fearfully prayed for the return of the sun the next day, we know this night is not the end, but just a pause after one day, a pause before tomorrow


it is night.

The night is for stillness.
Let us be still in the presence of God.

It is night after a long day.
What has been done has been done;
what has not been done has not been done;
let it be.

The night is dark.
Let our fears of the darkness of the world and of our own lives
rest in you.
The night is quiet.
Let the quietness of your peace enfold us,
all dear to us,
and all who have no peace.

The night heralds the dawn.
Let us look expectantly to a new day,
new joys,
new possibilities.

In your name we pray.


May your night give you rest, free of fear, as we give thanks for the day, and as we look forward to the coming light.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Camino 2016 06/23 - for this most amazing day

This is my last blog post before arriving in Santiago de Compostela. I will not post anything on 06/24, as the day will be full of emotions and celebrations. I shall post once again on either Saturday or Sunday, June 25 or 26. I return to regular Facebook on Friday after arriving at the Cathedral.

We woke up an hour late but since it was a short day, that wasn't a problem. Our last two days are shorter, about 12-13 miles each day, so we weren't rushed. We strolled through forests with numerous pilgrims. We chatted perhaps one last time with Dennis and found the men walking their Camino with a donkey (who I last saw before Atapuerca).

Yesterday, I was wondering if any of my "class" was still around me. As it turns out, I ran across Thore for the first time since Astorga. Today, we ran into him and walked for a while before he continued on. We promised to meet once again at the cathedral.

We chatted briefly with Grant and Astrida, Marilyn, Rob and Joey, and Caitlin. It wasn't really a time to chat with new folks, though since Sarria there were certainly many with whom we could chat. It is a time of connecting the dots in our heads. So it was fitting that I got to walk with Thore, the first pilgrim I met from Ssint Jean, and walked a few kilometers in closing conversation.

At tonight's blessing after the mass, the last church service before arriving in Santiago, several of us who have walked a difficult long Camino had tears flowing. During the pilgrim's blessing, we were asked by the priest for a word that comes from our heart about our pilgrimage... "Graçias", I said.

Thank you God for giving me the chance to make this pilgrimage of healing and reconciliation, in safety and in peace. Thank you Holy Spirit for inspiring me to open the journey to a group who would and could appreciate the opportunity to pray and walk together... Miles away from each other and me... Miles and miles from beginning to end. Thank you Christ for showing me that in your wounds, I can touch and discover that life can surprise and let me touch God without any doubts. 

Thank you Stephen (pictured here with his rarely worn glasses and two days of stubble) for being my intellectual and emotional counterpart, whether on the phone or here by my side as I write this.

And thank you. All of you. Thank you for joining me, inspiring me, crying with me, walking with me, comforting me, provoking me, praying with me, leaning on me, laughing with me, holding me up when I limped and froze and melted and screamed in pain. 

It is now 6:30 am on Friday morning. I will leave in a few minutes for the final 20km of my 920km pilgrimage. According to my walking app, with all the extra walking one does on Camino, I've already walked 1070 km since I stepped walked out my front door in California on May 12. So I close with a "graçias" in the ffrom of an e. e. cummings prayer: 

i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any—lifted from the no
of all nothing—human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

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Camino 2016 06/22 - For the Beauty of the Earth

Our albergue in Ribadiso was a delight. It's right after the town and overlooks the valley. You feel like you're at some fancy Napa Valley winery. And to top it off, there's a foot bath fountain where you can cool your toes while sipping your drinks. Peregrino luxury at its best for 10euro per bunk bed.

I got to chat at length with Grant and his wife from Winnepeg. They lived in Dominique for 5 years and are part of the Dutch Reformed Church. Then for dinner, we spent time with Aubrey and her mom from Victoria Canada and with Caitlyn from Perth Australia. We were having such a good time that Stephen even had a glass of wine.

Other than those bonding hours, the walk was quiet. There was a bit of a hill that I had forgotten about, 7 km after Melide. Just a quiet walk filled with fog, then hot sun, but always abundant life.

And it was in life's abundance that I drew much gratitude. Stephen said that this Camino walk was so beautiful and he totally "gets it" when he thinks of my affection for the path. It's that 360 degree view of the world that shows us all the plenty, all the life force, all the spirit that's there for us if we look. Some of it comes from God, some from mankind, and it's so vibrant and alive.

Pilgrimage and the Camino aren't creative forces. They don't generate new vistas, new worlds, new horizons, new life. I'm feeling these things all around me and what arises that feels new is the awareness, the recognition, the epiphany. When one goes on Camino, when we walk together, we roll back the stone of a cave, we pull the log out of our eye, we share in our common humanity, and we see what we should have seen all along.

From the hymn "For the Beauty of the Earth"
For the beauty of the earth, sing, oh sing today
Of the skies and of our birth, sing, oh sing, always.
Nature human and divine, all around us lies.
Lord of all to Thee we raise grateful hymns of praise.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Camino 2016 06/21 - Counting

It's Tuesday night. I have this blog post, tomorrow, Thursday, and a Saturday/Sunday post left as part of this Camino. I won't be posting one on Friday itself (the day we walk into Santiago de Compostela) because I'll be taking in and absorbing what happened for the past two months of my life.

We are at the point where we start to count down the kilometers left and the numbers are plunging rapidly. On my last Camino, I had a certain smugness about me, as I felt I had learned much and was about "done". It's a fool's game this countdown is, as marking of arbitrary delimiters does not automatically confer insight or brilliance, wealth or fame.

In Melide last time, I found myself realizing that I was erring and pushing away someone because I was afraid. I was evading confrontation rather than accepting that we will inevitably have differences on Camino and that a charitable heart does not discriminate without cause or consideration. (See ) So keeping those things in mind, I remain open to transformation, in myself and others.

And I've been blessed. Literally. On the walk to Palas de Rei today, Stephen and I were blessed. Near Lagonde, I had been walking for a bit with Rob and daughter Joey when a place to stop and rest came up. Stephen and I pulled over and all four of us were greeted at this house that served 7 beds to pilgrims. The volunteers came from various churches. This one was staffed for a couple weeks by a Baptist church from Nashville and the woman was totally welcoming us and showing us the 300 year old home.

Afterwards, as we were leaving, she asked me if she could bless me and my husband. I was surprised since I didn't mention our relationship. So she held our heads close, held our hands, and blessed us from head to foot on our life Camino and life journey together.

It's always wonderful to ask and receive a blessing and more so when it comes unbidden. That she blessed us as a couple did surprise me but only that Stephen said something. So I felt doubly blessed: by her, and by the amazing way the Holy Spirit gets my introverted husband to say things at just the right times, at just the right places. Once again an angel has come to me on this Camino and the message was to underline underline underline what I was to remember from last time.

We had lunch with Rob and Joey, having a marvelous time, as we waited for the albergue to open. Already checked in were Grant and his wife who we met last night. I found out that they were finishing up their third leg (Astorga to Santiago) in four years and were celebrating their 25th anniversary. After dinner, we met a young woman Caitlyn from Perth Australia and Aubrey from Victoria, Canada who is walking with her mom. Another family affair!

So the day went quickly, hotly, quietly. And on this balmy night, I look out at the setting sun and pray that I'm learning something, pray that I keep trying to open this heart of mine, and frankly pray that I can fall asleep in the heat. 

So, like counting sheep, like counting down the kilometers, like counting the blessings that I've had before and during this trip, I look back at what I've walked and for whom I've been praying for, and I just pray. Pray. Pray...

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