Mel's Healing Pilgrimage 2016

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

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Camino 09-21 Back to Basque Caminos

I woke up at 4:30 so that I could leave by 5am for my 5:45 train. What was I thinking? I didn't have enough sleep since I had a late night with my cousin. I was dogging it.

I walk the couple kilometers to the train station feeling fine. I skip coffee and just wait until I arrive in Santarém. When I get there, I walk up the hill and am immediately reminded that every town in Europe seems built atop a hill.

I explore Santarém and particularly enjoy the view from the Mirador at Portas do Sol. The view of the river valley was inspiring.

I grabbed my hot chocolate and eclair in the main square by the seminary. I overhear two pilgrims walking by asking for directions to Santiago. I didn't think about it but they walked off in the wrong direction and I wondered if I should have chased them down. I say my first prayer for the Camino, the ancient one for pilgrims, and I begin.

I took a photo of where the Caminos Fatima and Portugués split. As it turns out, the blue arrow in the section is also a yellow arrow as many more pilgrims are continuing from Fatima to Santiago. 

I walked and appreciated my stroll through suburbs and seeing school children heading to classes. It reminded so much of my walk through Basque Country after leaving Lourdes. There, like here, I walked through villages and suburban areas along busy streets and even highways. It's why I trained walking along Pacific Coast Highway beteeen Santa Monica and Malibu. I was frightened in France along the highway and I wanted to be less so his time.

Because of my lack of sleep, I paused at some picnic tables just outside of Santarém after just 90 minutes of walking. I was surprised to have slept almost 1/2 hour!

I then walk through largely unpopulated rural areas. Basically from 11:50am-3:30pm I saw at most 8 vehicles. I wasn't hungry so I just snacked on a granola bar to keep my sugars going. I drank my water but probably should have drunk more.

The plant life was lovely. Most of the grapes were already harvested but I still got to eat a few. Something about eating the leftover grapes just made me feel both humbled and joyful. And that joy gave me gratitude.

An old gentleman at one point in front of a Cafe Nicola corrected me when I said "Bom día". He said something something tarde and I just smiled. It was a few dozen meters away that I realized it was afternoon and he just wanted to point out that it's more like "Bom tarde" now. 

I almost walked the wrong way at a fork in the middle of nowhere, and as I corrected myself, an old man came out from his shack of stuff and started chatting with me. His name was Francois and he offered a stamp on my passport for a donation. His place was covered with emails and photos of pilgrims from all over the world. He seemed happy to meet me, and he first thought I was Korean. 

I passed an Asian woman pilgrim who seemed to prefer to be alone. I prayed for her safety and that she finds what she seeks.

As the clouds melted and the heat rose to 80F, I started to tire. Around 2pm, I split off the trail as I wanted to end my day in Pernes, knowing my later start today would not let me go all the way to the typical albergue site. 

I spoke briefly as I walked with Stephen at 2:30pm. When I got into Pernes, I got more water at a market and the merchant asked "Fatima?". He wished me a "bom voyage". I realized i still had another hour before my room reservation so I trudged on. I stopped into the church and had a quick prayer.

The cars were everywhere now. I grew tired. After I checked in to Hotel do Prado, I bathed, swam in the pool, and rested. Dinner options were weak, as the hotel was at a highway rest stop. The restaurant for the gas station served passable food but I was grateful. I ate my only meal of the day: two chicken cuts and some rice. I ate most of it, which is good for me since I wasn't particularly hungry. I find I need to force myself to eat when tired.

I reorganized my backpack to something more appropriate. You do that on these caminos. You learn what works for one trip may not work for others.

Camino 09-20 Here and Ready

I arrived in Lisbon ready and energetic. My pensione was in a surprisingly good location, just be the Elevador de Santa Justa and Rossio Station. All I really wanted was the train station but this turned out quite convenient. 

I first headed straight to the Cathedral. I found I could get a Camino passport with the Portuguese language here so I filed away the American one and used this. I toured the cloisters and found a column that showed eager normal people ascending to the beauty of heaven, guided by angels. They looked like normal folk. And it made me think of immigrants and refugees yearning for heaven on earth.

Dumb luck - I caught a mass and the Bishop was celebrating.

I lit candles for the people we on our Facebook group are praying up.

I then headed to the Igreja Santiago. This is the normal starting point of the pilgrimage. The yellow arrow invited me to start walking but I wasn't ready just yet. I learned on the first Camino that you had to get used to the time zone hangs or you'll be a wreck.

I bought my train ticket at S. Apolonia station for the first walking day. I'm not starting in Lisbon. Too many people said (and seemingly were confirmed by friends this spring) how difficult it is to walk out of Lisbon . So I got tickets to get me out and drop me in Santarém for just 6.60e.

I wandered over for a bite in what used to be the old open air market. It's now a very nice and trendy and expensive dining area. I enjoyed my light meal of shrimp.

I then headed back to Rossi train station to get my ticket for tomorrow. Turns out I bought just the right ticket of of Lisbon airport to give me a round trip to Sintra. So I walked around the city and soaked it in.

Sintra was amazing. It's an easy hike up without a backpack in the early hour but I chose to breakfast and just grab a cab for 5euro. The hop on hop off bus was 6 euro but I only needed one ride and would walk the rest.

The Moorish castle was nicely restored with restoration of graves and markings of Muslim and Jewish inhabitants. The church is now a museum though the grave monument outside does not distinguish beteeen Christian bodies and others. An inscription says in rather resigned tones "What Man has assembled only God can separate".

The views were stunning and there sure are a lot of palaces here.

I walked a few minutes over to Pena Palace. It was built in the Romantic 1800s style and, well, looks like the product of a stoned Disney forgetting if he were celebrating Snow White (Neuschwangstein), Aladdin (Agrabah), or just It's a Small World. The crowds were thick. The insides didn't do much for me but the building was the star. I lunched on the patio soaking in the tourists of all nations.

While walking in Palacio Pena, a German lady asked if I knew I was wearing a Camino logo. We talked for a bit; she's walked a part of Jakobsweg (German Camino route).

Then while walking down the mountain, a cab driver pulled over and asked about my scallop shell. He walked the Camino when he was younger and just gave a ride yesterday to some pilgrims.

Yes. The universe is telling me it's time to walk.

After my train ride back, more Lisbon.

The Carmo Convent's church was destroyed by the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. The quake hit during mass on All Saints day so most people inside perished. Maybe 100,000 people died in the region. It was natural to pray and grieve for the people of Mexico City as they grasp the scope of death after their quake.

I then walked over to the church for Saint Roch. He's the patron saint for pilgrims (among other things) and is found throughout the Camino Frances. This time, I lit a candle for me.

I rested and grabbed some dinner. Then I went over to meet my cousin Joy and her friend. What a weird coincidence. She and I hadn't seen each other since 1980 when they visited us from the Philippines. She's now a doctor at LSU and they just finished walking the Sarria Camino. I felt a profound send of joy that others in my family could experience this journey.

And so my prep time came to a close. I felt history, family, and majesty swirling in my thoughts during these 36 hours which is often what you need as you go into the humbling world of a walking pilgrimage.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Stage Fright

It's only 5 days before I leave for the Camino. And with many things happening personally, I barely have time to absorb the frenetic news of the world.

A big party will be held at our house for my sister a couple days after I return. Work projects are getting negotiated. Different loose ends with the ministries I participate in are getting resolved. Car maintenance, of course, rears itself at this inopportune time. Family issues are out there, including a funeral that I'll be missing for Stephen's uncle. I still need to do one more training day for my walk. I want to spend some good quality time with Stephen before I leave. With all that, I acknowledge that the level of anxiety is much higher than I prefer at this time of preparation.

As you can see, I have things that pre-occupy me. But that's not new. We all have an array of concerns swirling in our head. It's possible that the emotion that I'm sensing and attributing to my Camino actually arises from these day to day issues.

But I do think there's something about the anxiety and excitement surrounding the Camino that is unique and remains even though this is my fifth trip back to Santiago de Compostela. It's akin to what seasoned actors must feel when, before getting in front of the camera or on stage, there's still that tingling feeling of nervousness. Many think stage fright affects only the amateur actor or speaker, but it can and, perhaps, should affect everyone.

When an actor goes out on stage, they're exposing themselves. They're vulnerable. As artists, there's an exploration of a character's personality, emotion, and behaviour. Their goal is to portray their character with truth and integrity, even and especially if the character is without any truth or integrity.

Isn't that similar to what a pilgrim does? As pilgrims, we seek to be immersed in truth, integrity, beauty; to walk in the footsteps of love and of humanity; to encounter timeless revelations about who we are and what God intended us to be.

And that's scary.

So yes, I'm still anxious about this Camino. Yes, I'm still excited. Yes, I'm still nervous. And yes, I'm still wondering if I'm ready or if I need another rehearsal or two. 

Coincidentally, each day's leg of a Camino is called a "stage". The Camino Frances from St. Jean Pied-de-Port, for example, is typically 33 stages (33 days). My customized Camino of 350 km (I think) will be over 12 stages. I've incorporated various rest/prayer days at the beginning. But it's always the first and second days that create the most anxiety. The first day because you're testing the waters. The second day is actually problematic because you're usually tired from the first day and are thinking "Wait, what, I have to walk again?"

Whether the stage fright hits you as an actor or as a pilgrim, the goal still remains. Each stage is a step towards truth, a platform to discover the nature of mankind and of God, and an opportunity to dig deep into the soul. And that objective grounds me, allowing me to set aside my fears. With fellow actors and fellow pilgrims, we can and do seek together. We laugh, fear, and cry together. And we stumble into insight into who we are and what we can be. Stage fright... what a blessing!

Monday, September 4, 2017

Cleansing and the Gift of Dirt

One of the enduring images to me of every Camino is the daily ritual of laundry. That's right, we wash our clothes basically every day. You see, when you carry few things in your pack, you end up having only 2 or 3 other shirts, socks, and underwear beside what you're currently wearing. You may not be carrying an additional pair of shorts or trousers, though most do.

So, after a long day of walking through fields, forests, and villages, with farm animals and pets mingling along your path, and with a day's worth of sweat on your back, you look forward to your albergue (hostel), hostal, or hotel. The first thing most people do is to shower, to rinse off that dirt and layer of allergens.

I myself bring a quick dry wash cloth to exfoliate and make sure I have the pollen off my allergy-prone skin. And it feels good to be clean after a day's walk. Real good. I can't describe how delightful a shower or -- if you're staying in a hotel -- a bath feels. And soaking the feet, tired after that long day is a special kind of bliss that borders on sensuality.

After the shower, we wash that day's clothing. If there's a laundry room or tub in the yard, we soap them up, rinse them, wring them, and hang them up to dry. If you're lucky enough to be in a place with a washer and dryer, you can wash your laundry and even share the load with others, since it isn't cost effective to wash and dry just one change of clothing. And half the time, we just rinse them in the bathroom sink, though it's best not to bring wash the mud down normal bathroom sinks. We then hang our clothes up on the laundry line or, if it's raining, on the railing of the bunk bed.

All this cleanses the body and the garments that protect this temple. We feel clean again. And our spirits are lifted, our dignity affirmed, and we're ready to sightsee the village, head to church, stop by the pharmacy, grab some food, or blog/journal.

Me? I take a quick nap before I do any of those things.

I bring this up because today is the American holiday of Labour Day. It's a day where we recognize the efforts of workers. Originally, this meant the manual workers, those who toiled with their hands, feet, and the sweat of the brow. For most of the year, except for the Sabbath or weekend, the labour force toils and this holiday recognizes their value to America.

Wouldn't it be great if we used Labour Day not as an opportunity to BBQ, but to cleanse ourselves? To physically or through our actions, wipe our brows and then help wipe the brow of others who have walked miles to put bread on the table for their family. To help each other rinse off the dirt so that we can be cleansed and stand once again in dignity.

We can do this by supporting the many who toil beside us. We can reflect on the need for policies and actions that promote the flourishing of all of our families. We can work towards an ever clearer understanding of the people affected by as well as the "big picture" of poverty. And we can look to see how we can create a labour market that supports rather than hinders any dream of social and racial equity.

One ministry that I've found powerful is Laundry Love. By giving the homeless and the working poor an opportunity to launder their clothes without cost, we offer them the chance to be clean, to present themselves and their families with dignity at work, at job interviews, and at school. We offer these families ever more self-dignity.

So, as I look forward to a few weeks where I wring out my socks and stare at the grimy water that takes the dirt off my shirt and off my face, I remain humble. Because I know that this pilgrimage is a privilege that others do not get to do.

So with this daily ritual, I get dirty and sweaty in communion with others on the journey, with others who I walk past as they toil on the farmlands, with you. Together we accept the work we must do, and look forward to the opportunity to cleanse, heal, and rest at the end of the day.

We are people on a journey
Pain is with us all the way
acudamos jubilosos a la santa communion

Somos pueblo que camina, Manuel Dávila

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Accepting the creases

Sunrise moment of reflection at Alto de Poio, on my 2014 Camino.
I was thinking of the pains we cause each other and the way towards healing is often by taking the road of forgiveness.

It's not an easy map and sometimes it's easier to just carry that pain with you. Like the weight or stone that you carry on the Camino but leave behind at the Cruz de Ferro or any other place along the Camino. You must be ready to relinquish it and set it down, and lose that which burdens you.

It's a great image and it means much to me.
But I'm learning that it's not enough.

A phrase came back to me this morning and it's a good reason why leaving the burden behind you isn't enough. You can't just leave a pain behind and forget it happened.

"You can crumple a piece of paper, but if you unwrap it, it still is covered in creases."

You can't just leave the burdens. You can't just say you forgave someone. If you want to use that piece of paper again, if you want to use your legs and back again after setting down that stone, you have to set down, to forgive, and to accept that things will never return to the way they were before.

Laying down the stone isn't about the stone. Straightening out a crumpled paper isn't about the rolled up wad in front of you. It's about what you wanted to do, couldn't do, and now are ready to do once again. And unless you accept that it will be different, you'll still be limping along.

That's why I walk for peace and reparation. I want to be reconciled, but more than reconciled. I want to be restored, but more than restored. I also want to be repaired. I want to be repaired, knowingly not to my original state, but to a state that gives me new maybe different functions and usefulness and beauty. Rebirth isn't about being born again in your current life. It's about something more, something different, something inspired.

On the walk, I pray for our rebirth as individuals, as a community, as a world where we set down our stones, accept the creases of our past, and see a path of lasting peace.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

One more time

I leave for the Caminho Portugues (Camino de Santiago - Portuguese Route) in less than 6 weeks. This will be my 5th journey into Santiago de Compostela. Instead of walking from Lourdes, France to northwest Spain, I'll be heading north from Southern Portugal.

Some have asked why I keep doing this. I usually suggest that they sit down with my blog posts from the past four years to identify the yearning in my heart that draws me to return year after year.

I walk because I'm hungry. I'm hungry all the time - physically, mentally, and spiritually. With so much to choose from, I still eat poorly. And my body, mind, and spirit reflect the accumulation of these bad choices. Sure, I sometimes eat smartly, resisting cravings, saying I've had enough. And in a few hours, I've forgotten and am hungry once more.

I walk because I'm lost and not where I should be. I'm lost all the time - physically, mentally, and spiritually. In a time of life where I'm told I should be coasting into the sunset, I look around and see that you can't coast downhill when everywhere you look is up a hill, through a forest, into the darkness.

I walk because I am fallen. I fall down all the time - physically, mentally, and spiritually. And in falling down, I now accept that it's ok because feeling hurt, feeling pain, feeling other's pain is part of the fabric of our lives. It's woven deep into our DNA.

So as always, as before, and once again, I walk. I get up, dust myself off, and look to the skies seeking guidance so that my feet are directed in ways that I never expected or tried.

“The secret of life, though, is to fall seven times and to get up eight times.”
― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
I leave for Lisboa (Lisbon) on a Monday morning. This trip won't be a complete walk along the Camino but will take me from Lisbon to a detour through Fatima. I'll be there a couple of weeks before the Pope arrives to celebrate the 100th anniversary of "The Day the Sun Danced", a miraculous vision experienced by thousands. 

After a couple of nights of prayer, I'll take the bus and walk a section to Porto. In Porto, I'll rest a couple of nights, enjoying a few glasses of port wine (named after this city of its origin) and visiting the many churches.

From Porto, I'll look at the weather and decide what route I want to take. If it's good weather or if it's too hot, I'll go along the coast. If the weather is just too rainy, I'll take the ancient route. I'm leaving it to Providence to guide my journey.

And, after I finish with some time in Santiago de Compostela, I'll spend a few days at a beach, digesting what I've learned, contemplating the people who touched me along the way. It will by then be October, which is also the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing the 95 Theses onto the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg and other churches. October 31 is called Reformation Day.

Our Lady of Fátima and Martin Luther speak to me as voices of renewal, restoration, reparation. As an Episcopalian, I feel comfortable holding different spiritual traditions in a balanced tension, praying to Our Lady as well as for Church and spiritual renewal.

My prayers on this Camino will focus on peace, renewal, and reparation. But I'm also keeping in mind that I've done this before. I'm trying to release my expectations so that I can keep be open to new things, new life, new visions.

That's not to say I won't keep certain realities and truths in mind.
  • I'll meet people who amaze me with their stories.
  • I'll try to be open-hearted and generous of my spirit, because each walk gives me more practice to give of myself so that I can receive.
  • I anticipate my physical behaviours: that I won't have an appetite because I'm not hungry whenever I'm tired. So I'll have to eat adequately and eat wisely.
  • I must accept that I will be trudging in the rain and thus might have blisters.
  • I won't be surprised when I feel the presence of the Holy Spirit as She moves through the trees and valleys and me.
  • I got by on my basic French and Spanish in the past, but I must humbly accept that I don't know how to speak Portuguese. 
  • I will join others who make a pilgrimage to Fatima. I will light candles in prayer for those who've asked me to pray for them or their loved ones. I'll ask for prayers for myself.
  • I'll share what I learn, the ways I'm foolish, the light hidden in surprising places.
  • And most of all, I know that I'm not alone. And the person in front of me is not alone. And the person behind me is not alone. And whoever is beside me is not alone. For we walk with each other and for each other, in love, as Christ loved us on his journey.
As always, I invite you to walk with me again, to pray with me, to sustain me as Christ sustains me, to seek peace in our world. It's on our mutually intertwined journey that we appreciate that Love moves freely through the universe She created, and that we were meant to be with each other. Like photons speeding through the void of space, we are both matter and light, we can't be pinned down with certainty because that's not what was intended, and we aren't meant to sit in silent isolation. 

Because one more time, your light shines on my journey. You move me like Christ moves me. 

And thus I remember that I'm alive.

Prior Camino blog chapters (some links will be updated shortly)

Friday, June 2, 2017

It Takes Two

We watched Into the Woods recently at the Los Angeles Ahmanson Theatre. We've seen the Broadway recording and the movie but had never seen it on stage before. The songs are marvelous and the play itself is a fascinating exploration of fables, expectations, aspirations, and disappointments. What seems like a fairy tale with a happy ending soon ends up with confusion in the woods.

And as any person on a journey, whether on the Camino de Santiago or in our daily struggles, we sometimes are lost in woods. And we don't know we're lost. Or we play it safe, stay out of the woods, and never realize that we're not making any progress on our journey, not when we just lock ourselves up, locking up our hearts, shutting out our dreams.

As Pentecost approaches, I think about the Holy Spirit coming alive in each of us, emboldening us, enjoining us. It was God's visit to the disciples, just sitting in their rooms, giving them the ability and the courage to come out and speak truth.

I think it's appropriate that LGBT pride celebrations happen around the time of Pentecost. The protests that sparked these annual celebrations were ignited when the oppressed and maligned, blackmailed and abused drag queens of New York's Greenwich Village finally had enough. And they were inspired to speak out, stir up trouble, make their different stories of oppression in their different voices heard. That's a Pentecostal story to me.

Rev Ed Bacon, the former Rector of All Saints Episcopal Church of Pasadena, sent me an email this morning, as a response to a series of emails, that just said "Holy Ignition! Alleluiah!". And I thought, "that's a Pentecostal message!"

I think of the Holy Spirit igniting each one of us to see past our fears, our hurts, our ills. The Spirit challenges us in times of deepest, darkest trials. By ourselves, we cannot do it. We cannot change. And though we hear the message of Christ, though we hear the message of justice, is that enough to get us out of our places of comfort? Or our places of pain? Or our places of self-satisfaction?

No, it takes two. We need the Holy Spirit to help us follow Christ, and She's there if we want Her. I think the Holy Spirit's breath is a powerful but quiet force. We can't hear it unless we are open to hear Her.

And when we do listen, we can invite Her into our hearts. We can live together, move together, breathe together.

And in those dark woods, I think we discover what God made us to be.

I realized during my morning contemplations that a song from Into the Woods reminds me of what's possible when we're lost or weak or scared or hurting. So I sang it with the idea of the Holy Spirit descending into each of us.

You've changed
You're daring
You're different in the woods
More sure
More sharing
You're getting us through the woods
If you could see
You're not the man who started
And much more open-hearted
Than I knew
You to be

It takes two
I thought one was enough
It's not true
It takes two of us
You came through
When the journey was rough
It took you
It took two of us
It takes care
It takes patience and fear and despair
To change
Though you swear
To change
Who can tell if you do
It takes two

You've changed
You're thriving
There's something about the woods
Not just
You're blossoming in the woods
At home, I'd fear
We'd stay the same forever
And then out here
You're passionate

It takes one
To begin, but then once you've begun
It takes two of you
It's no fun
But what needs to be done
You can do
When there's two of you
If I dare
It's because I'm becoming
Aware of us
As a pair of us
Each accepting a share
Of what's there

We've changed
We're strangers
I'm meeting you in the woods
Who minds
What dangers
I know we'll get past the woods
And once we're past
Let's hope the changes last
Beyond woods
Beyond witches and slippers and hoods
Just the two of us
Beyond lies
Safe at home with our beautiful prize
Just the few of us
It takes trust
It takes just
A bit more
And we're done
We want four
We had none
We've got three
We need one
It takes two

It Takes Two
Into The Woods
Stephen Sondheim

I sang these words and I recognize how I'm different in the woods.

But it takes two.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Fear, Health, and the Visitation

2016 Camino of Healing. Somewhere between Estella and Los Arcos
I've been reflecting on some of the events from my first Camino of 2016, the one that went from Lourdes to Santiago de Compostela. In it, I had to cope with a fever, hail, strained hamstrings, and countless blisters. Truly, during the hailstorm, I feared for my life (see Angel Messenger and the Comfort of Christ). But if you follow the daily postings on that page of my blog (2016 Camino of Healing), there's a consistency to it that I now see after the fact.

Pain, sickness, and the unknown create fear in us. They generate a fight or flight reaction of anxiety, and since we can't flee from pain and sickness, we're left with an elevated sense that we're fighting an external enemy. It may be true. It may be a parasite or virus living within us that we fight. But the psychology of that anxiety has its costs.

We get exhausted. We may start to despair. And we can give up on putting one foot in front of the other, as we struggle to maintain our strength. I've seen it in others. I've seen it in patients, in pilgrims, and in caregivers. And I have seen it in myself. And I see it in myself.

I'm waiting for my 82-year-old father to undergo a biopsy next week. He's recovered from a severe lung infection but the doctors are unsure of what they see in his lungs. This has my mother anxious. And that's ok. It makes sense to be nervous about the unknown in your body.

Somehow, though, we need to move past that anxiety. I was thinking about this as I reflected on the Feast Day of the Visitation (May 31). It's when cousins Mary and Elizabeth meet up and see each other with child. Elizabeth greets her, "Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb."

I imagine that this must have shocked Mary. Here she is, having traveled over 80 miles back then, while pregnant, while young, while nervous, and her cousin greets her with a most amazing blessing. This must have been incredibly comforting and loving.

And according to Gospel of Luke, Mary responds with the Magnificat.

My soul doth magnify the Lord,
and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.
For he hath regarded
the lowliness of his handmaiden.
For behold from henceforth
all generations shall call me blessed.
For he that is mighty hath magnified me,
and holy is his Name.
And his mercy is on them that fear him
throughout all generations.
He hath showed strength with his arm;
he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seat,
and hath exalted the humble and meek.
He hath filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he hath sent empty away.
He remembering his mercy hath holpen his servant Israel,
as he promised to our forefathers,
Abraham and his seed forever.

I can't imagine that she was having these thoughts on that long journey to see her cousin. I see it as something that burst from her as the burden of fear and anxiety were lessened by her cousin's words, by her cousin's embrace.

It's why we visit each other when we're sick. We aren't all medical professionals so my advice isn't worth more than anyone working at a hospital. And people who comfort me are most often not the medical professionals.

It's our cousins, relatives, friends who do so, who lighten our fears and anxieties. And when I visit someone, I know I can't answer all or any of their questions of healing, but I hope that I can listen. I hope that I can hear,

So when I reflect on last year, and what transpired over the Pyrenees, or on the paths, or at Lourdes, I like to think that it was the simple stuff - a gentle hug, a tap on the shoulder, an embrace, a healing bath, a voice over the phone - that gave me strength to go on. And in finding that calm, in finding that strength, we like Mary can rejoice and find ourselves filled with a healing love that cannot be denied.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Wild Geese

Some days, the sun rises, the birds chirp, the flowers bloom. It's spring. Some days, all looks right in the world.

And yet, sometimes, deep inside some of us, the waters lie dormant and the skies are dark. In fact, the pain affects not just some of us. The pain hits all of us, at different times. Depending on the day, we all can look out that window and wonder why the world looks so bright when all feels so gray in our hearts.

I've been trained and been serving as a Lay Counselor at All Saints Pasadena for almost two years now. We meet with those in our church community who need advice, an ear, a friend who isn't already mired in the problems they have. We direct people to professionals when their problems are beyond our abilities.

Most of all we listen. We listen. We listen, we ask, we comment, and we pray.

I empathize with those assigned to me because we all have those bad days, weeks, months.  We all notice that when our feelings seem misplaced, dark silhouettes block out against the bright sky. We feel isolated. We are dimmed by the eclipsing moon, in shadows when we yearn to be in the light. And over there, a few steps away, we sometimes see that others are not in the shadow. We don't know how to get there, at least not on our own.

So we cry out. And we hope someone hears us. If we can communicate and ask for a sound, a turn of the head, a honk, anything that can show that someone hears us, sometimes that's all we need to get us on our way. As a Lay Counselor, I think I'm there to listen and honk for you if you need to hear my voice.

I do it in the spirit of Christ. I do it in a community of people who help other people. And I do it because if we don't, we all might find ourselves adrift in the sky, wondering where we'll land.

And it's something we all should do.

Tuesday night, during our twice a month meeting as a ministry, I read a poem by Mary Oliver.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

I imagine the geese, flying to far off lands without a map, with a GPS that's built into their very being. But they can't do it alone. And they don't do it alone. No matter the weather, no matter the world around them, they make sounds and gestures towards each other. They call on each other so that they can stay the course, whatever that course might be.

It's enough to keep them in beautiful formation as they slice through the skies. They may not know their way out of the storm or the desert by themselves, but they say things to each other. They say things, and they listen to each other.

And they soar.

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Monday, May 1, 2017

Blissfully Unaware of Threat

"Blissfully unaware of threat" in Leonard Bernstein's Chichester Psalms

All Saints Pasadena Episcopal Church has an impressive musical program. I've sung with them for 17 years and in that time we've sung at the prestigious Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles several times with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. And this June, we're tackling for the first time in two decades Leonard Bernstein's Chichester Psalms (1965).

It's an amazing piece, sung in Hebrew, and full of deliciously difficult chord progressions. I can say wholeheartedly that I'm glad I sing bass for this work, as the tenors have a wildly challenging job in this score. If you've not heard it before, I invite you to our concert on Sunday, June 5, 2017, at 5pm. For those who cannot attend, we will be live streaming it at

One composer note had the choir giggling during our first rehearsal of the piece. It was above the women's parts. Berstein wrote "Blissfully unaware of threat".  Undoubtedly, that might be the oddest and most amusing composer directive many of us have seen.

And yet it had me thinking into the night.

You see, Chichester Psalms is based on several passages from the Book of Psalms. The English text is as follows

Psalm 108:2
Awake, harp and lyre!
    I will awaken the dawn.

Psalm 23
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
    he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord

Psalm 2:1-4
Why do the nations rage
    and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth rise up
    and the rulers band together
    against the Lord and against his anointed, saying,
“Let us break their chains
    and throw off their shackles.”
The One enthroned in heaven laughs;
    the Lord scoffs at them.

Psalm 131
My heart is not proud, Lord,
    my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
    or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted myself,
    I am like a weaned child with its mother;
    like a weaned child I am content.
Israel, put your hope in the Lord
    both now and forevermore.

Psalm 133:1
How good and pleasant it is
    when God’s people live together in unity!

The "blissfully unaware" notation comes as the women are singing the well-known Psalm 23, where we shall not fear, and we shall not want, where we will fear no evil, and where we lie down in green pastures.

As they sing this, the men come in with Psalm 2. And, boy do we ever. It's a hard-hitting, menacing sound that feels like a war cry. It's violence depicted chorally. This pounding cry is a stark contrast to the bucolic, pastoral sound of the women's voices.

It bangs on the heart.

As I thought about the text, it made me think about life, and how we who regularly attend church cherish Psalm 23. We yearn for that protection and peace, for heaven on earth.

And yet, the nations rage.  The people plot, in vain. We are stymied in our effort to find that tranquility.

Are we naive? When we're blissfully unaware of the threat, are we walking with blinders on? It sounds like we're doing it unintentionally, innocently ignoring the dangers that lurk around us.

Or perhaps, just as disconcerting, we are doing it intentionally. We choose to ignore the threat, to maintain a facade of bliss.

And is it bad? Is it bad to be blissfully unaware of threat? If we are at peace with ourselves and our Maker, then shouldn't we be blissful, whether aware of threat or not? Shouldn't we be willing to march to our call with the happiness that we do so with an eternal protection and grace that cannot be threatened away? It doesn't specifically mean to me that we do not see the threat. But it might mean that we do not react to the threat, that we do not feel threatened. 

To feel safety in the face of threat. Call it unaware or call it trusting. But Psalm 23 offers refuge and bliss, even as we are surrounded by a valley of death. 

May we in the abyss trust Him with bliss.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Easter, Actually

Every year on Good Friday at All Saints Church, we sing one or two versions of the spiritual "Were You There". It's gripping, and I often break into tears singing it, even though I'm usually standing in front of a few hundred people during the noon to 3pm service when singing it.

For the last several years, I've also sung it at around 7pm, as I have served as the cantor for the Via Crucis / Stations of the Cross march from our church, around the Courthouse, Police Station, Homeless center, Jackie Robinson memorial, and ending at City Hall. Quite symbolic locations for the stations in my opinion. While singing it this year, it occurred to me that it's in the wrong grammatical tense. It's sung in the past tense when we should be singing it in the present tense.

Are you there when we crucify our Lord
Are you there when we crucify our Lord
Oh sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble
Are you there when we crucify our Lord

Are you there when we nail him to the tree
Are you there when we nail him to the tree
Oh sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble
Are you there when we nail him to the tree

Are you there when we lay him in the tomb
Are you there when we lay him in the tomb
Oh sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble
Are you there when we lay him in the tomb

And it needs to be in the present tense, because Easter isn't just about what happened 2000 years ago. The events leading to Easter, yes, occurred in the past, but Easter is more than that single day. Even the liturgical calendar has Easter spanning 50 days, almost one out of every seven days. Think of it as "and on the 7th day, He rose".

Easter is the apex of the liturgical year, and the 27 different services that occurred during Holy Week at All Saints sure feels like everything led up to it. The resurrection is God’s great revelation and is the center of worship for practicing Christians. But is Easter truly joyful? Does it speak of unimaginable love, for us, between us, about us? Is it a celebration that permeates our lives? If so, wouldn't we accept Easter every day, regardless of the liturgical season or which sport happens to be on television? We celebrate it weekly at the Eucharist, but do we carry that joy with us throughout our day?

I don't think most of us do. And I think that most of us forget about Easter because we forget about the intensity of Holy Week and the Passion most of the time. We think that Christ was crucified by the Romans at the request of the temple authorities 2000 years ago.

But don't we crucify Christ today? Don't we do crucify Christ every day when we ignore those he commanded us to love as He loved us? Don't we Christ to the tree when we turn a blind eye to injustice in our midst? Don't we lay Christ in a tomb every time we forget to give thanks for all that we have?

If we can remember these things when we hear about executions, about poverty, about homelessness, if we can remember these things when we walk past the hungry on the street, if we can remember that we crucify and nail throughout our day - yesterday, today, and tomorrow - perhaps we can remember that the story doesn't have to end on some Sunday in April or March.

Perhaps every day, we can feel the pain of the cross. And every day, we can live into the promise revealed by the Resurrection. And our lives can be intertwined with each other, as we balance the tears and pains of our day with the joys of our day. And that we can actually appreciate Easter throughout the year.

Perhaps every day can be Easter. Everywhere. Perhaps we can have Easter, Actually.