Mel's Healing Pilgrimage 2016

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


Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Separate journeys, Shared Destination

2014 Camino de Frances - on the meseta heading towards Sahagun
At one point a week ago, I had three friends walking the Camino: One was on the Camino Frances, one was on the newish Camino Invierno, and one was on the Camino Norte. The Camino Invierno and Camino Norte overlap a little with Camino Frances in various places. Three different trips by three different friends. Three separate journeys, several shared intersections, with one shared destination.

And I have several more friends or acquaintances going this summer and fall. A group of friends is on pilgrimage to Lourdes, which I last visited as part of my 2016 spring camino and was its starting point. And I myself will be walking on short segments of a couple pilgrimage routes this summer. The need to walk and find wholeness "out there" moves powerfully in the people who I know. If I'm asked for tips, there are the normal ones about learning a few key phrases if in a different country (Where is the bathroom? Left? Right? Numbers.) and places to sleep. But I also have a few that are less specific, more guidelines than specific suggestions.

The four guidelines are below. And, whenever I share them, I realize that they apply not just to the pilgrimage on the Camino but to life in general. To our journey on this planet home.

* Listen to your heart. If it says stop in this village, go on to the next, catch a cab - do it. It's your camino. Embrace it. Don't resent or regret it. Love it.

* Listen to your body. If your feet say they hurt, don't power on blindly. Take the shoes off, put on a new pair of socks that feel fluffy and nice (something I recommend if they are hurting because the new dry socks will limit/avoid blisters), massage them, rest a spell. If you have a headache or are dizzy, rest a spell. If your back hurts, put the pack down, rest, and adjust the backpack settings or move the weight around until you feel comfortable enough to continue. Your body knows you need rest better than your mind knows.

* Listen to the earth. If the stream calls you, pause and sit beside her. Dip your feet into the cold invigorating water. If the sunrise or sunset asks you to stop and see, then stop and be grateful. If the chestnut and apple trees and the wild grape vines are dropping fruit at your feet, accept them and share them with other pilgrims and the horses and those who thirst and those who hunger.

* Listen to what called you there in the first place. You'll see litter. You'll hear complaining. You'll find busy restaurants, noisy albergues/hostals/hotels/homes, confusing road signs, tired voices. And you may be feeling similarly. Accept your reactions and remember that you are on this trip because you felt a tug, a call, a voice that invited you to come. When negative emotions or doubts come to you, remember the invitation and have a conversation with the calling voice.

As summer approaches, may you find rest on your journey. I'll be grateful if our paths cross on the same day; I'll be grateful if our paths cross but we miss each other by minutes or days or weeks. May we head towards where we dream and remember from where we came.

http://www.facebook.com/groups/CaminoOfHealing

Saturday, April 27, 2019

In the Wounds of Manzanar

I'm feeling something today. I was on a pilgrimage to the Manzanar National Historic Site with folks from church and the diocese to remember all the Japanese American families that were forced to sell their possessions and move into internment camps. Up to 120,000 men, women, and children were imprisoned for up to 4 years for no other reason than they had at least one great great grandparent who was born in Japan.

I walked around feeling such tremendous sadness and outrage. I couldn't imagine what it must have felt like to have dust blowing into the barracks relentlessly. Or having no privacy in the bedrooms or in the bathrooms. These folks weren't soldiers. These folks weren't convicted of any crime. They were just feared not for what they did but for what they looked like.

I kept thinking about what it must have felt like for them all. How do you forgive and reconcile with people who are oppressing you? Where's the grace? Where was God?

So I kept searching. Seeking. I couldn't believe that God could be here.

And then we stumbled upon an artificial pond, made of stones and cement. It had two wings, sort of like angel wings, with a bridge crossing over. On one side was a rudimentary, primitive stone lantern made of rocks from the area. Lovingly, the lantern lined up with the bridge, which lined up with a path that went off towards a mountain. And the lantern was built to look like that mountain.



The soil was hard. Hard as the hearts of the government and soldiers who imprisoned all these innocent people. Flinty as the people who turned their backs to the plight of the "evacuees" who were collected and concentrated in these camps. Dry as the faces that could no longer cry as their families were torn apart.

And in these wounded grounds, the people built gardens, and ponds, and serene spaces filled with sacred quiet. In these painful voids, they found God, unearthed beauty, raised up life-affirming inspiration. And I sensed what it felt like to have the the Holy Spirit comfort and inspire you. And I sensed what it felt like to believe that there was hope.

This wrapped around me as I contemplated the Gospel reading for this Sunday. We read once again the story of Thomas, aka Doubting Thomas, and his transition from doubt to belief.

Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
John 20:24-29 

On the long bus ride back, I pondered the scripture from a different perspective. I thought, what if the wound that Thomas explored wasn't just in Christ? What if he was exploring the wounds in himself? In his side, in his hands, in his heart? What if Christ wanted us to touch our own wounds as well as his? That in touching all these wounds, we can believe in God?

And in doing so, in feeling those wounds, in reaching our hands into the places that we protect from painful touch, in caressing these sacred places, we can believe that Christ is present. We can believe in his miracles. We can believe that our inspiration for healing, our Christ, showed us the path into our bodies so that we can find our own healing. Our own miracles. In exploring the wound, we can remember what our bodies are made of, what we are made in the image of, what we need to be made whole.

And with that thought, I remembered the pond. That in this wounded place, someone touched the ground and created a place for healing waters to flow. And with the water flowing into the pond, inviting even more life - birds, squirrels, rabbits - to come, rest, and heal.

We don't have to demand to see the wounds. They're all around us. Sometimes the wounds are wildly painful like at Manzanar. Sometimes they are wounds that only we know. May we touch these wounds - invited by Christ to see that they are real, invited to believe in his healing presence - and discover the grace of God in the most unexpected places.

Monday, April 22, 2019

The Pilgrim and the Tourist

Two things this month have caused me to write this. The first is the disaster at Notre Dame. I've touched upon that in my prior post "Sacred Spaces".

This Saturday, I'm helping out a diocesan group - "The Gathering: A Space for Asian-American Spirituality" - and All Saints Pasadena's Transformational Journeys as we head out to Manzanar National Historic Site. Manzanar is located in a desolate area of California, in the Owens Valley, about 230 miles from Los Angeles. And, it was one of 10 internment camps in the USA, where upwards of 120,000 people of even 1/16 Japanese blood were sent. The definitions of internment camp and concentration camp were historically identical until the Nazis horrific acts caused concentration camp to be linked with extermination camps.

As I prepare for this pilgrimage, and it's a special one as this will be the 50th anniversary of annual pilgrimages to Manzanar, I was asked to share a reflection with the group. The topic is one that I've pondered often, the difference between a pilgrim and a tourist. We are heading to Manzanar as pilgrims. I've done many pilgrimages. I've been a tourist many times. And they aren't the same thing.
Julz of Australia from my 2017 Camino Portuguese
reflects on our long walk. We broke bread many times
on this pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, with
lots of laughter, tears, and stories. Even our swim
to waterfalls on the walk here felt holy

Oh, I take photos on both. I laugh, share stories, linger, purchase trinkets and memorabilia, meet strangers, take selfies on both types of journeys. I sometimes have to grab a group or bus or listen to guides because I need the experienced person to explain what I'm seeing.

But they are different. And - I am adamant about this - it's not a judgment to be one or the other. A pilgrim is not better than a tourist nor the tourist better than the pilgrim. I distinguish the two because it helps us to know how to approach a destination. Whether we go to a cathedral or to a secular spot, we can approach it with a better understanding of what to find and what to anticipate. On a visit to a new city, I can be a pilgrim at one or two locations and a tourist at all the others.

Here are some ways that the two differ to me.

Pilgrim Tourist
FocusThe destinationYourself at the destination
ExpectationTo be changed by the visitTo see sights and learn from the visit
Common ActivitiesSit and absorb, perhaps skipping some of the popular or common sights to see, not making a long checklistTake the various sub-tours, read all the posters and signs, make sure to hit the checklist of activities and things to see
PreparationRead about the facts and storiesRead about the facts and stories
ChangeYou want to be changed or to know yourself betterChange isn't an issue
Visiting the World Trade CenterYou had a relative or friend who died there on 9/11 and are grappling with issues about lifeYou want to pay your respects
Visiting the VaticanYou're a Roman Catholic. You want to confess, go to mass (often), pray.A huge basilica, a square, history, spectacular art,and Swiss Army guards
Visiting the Golden Temple in IndiaYou're Sikh. You want to pray and help feed the 50,000 people who eat there daily. You want to see the temple and watch the 50,000 people who get fed there daily
Visiting the LouvreGet a pass and go multiple days because art is in your blood and this place is everythingMona Lisa, Winged Victory, Venus de Milo, Law Code of Hammurabi,
Gabrielle d’Estrées and Her Sister
Visiting the Grand CanyonYou care deeply about water and land conservation, Native American culture, natural beauty, creationYou care deeply about natural beauty and hiking
Your local place of worshipYou want to be transformed, pray, give thanks, be willing to be uncomfortable.You want to meet your obligations, hear good music, raise your kids right, be comfortable
When you returnYou know yourself or life betterYou are the same, perhaps better informed
ScheduleSchedule isn't as important as time to process and internalize what is seenSchedule is important to see/do as much as possible
Sacred landThe site is sacred and is respectedThe site is respected
ResultTransformationInformation
Passing throughThe destination passes through youYou pass through the destination
Not quite what you imagined? Construction?Not a distractionDisappointment

Let's take an example using that well known phrase "It's not the destination; it's the journey". When you're a pilgrim, the destination does matter. You're going to a place that holds deep meaning to you and you want to be transformed by it. The preparation for it is important because you want to be ready for transformation. When you're a tourist, you look forward to the destination because it's something you've wanted to see and learn about; you prepare because you want to make sure you see everything you wanted to see and not find yourself disappointed if you miss something.

Lately, I accept that I enjoy my tourist visits to places AND that much of my life has been a pilgrimage. I may forget that it is, but I remember that it is a pilgrimage much more often than before. I will always be a tourist to new places. But I am rarely surprised when I find myself transformed by certain journeys.

The pilgrim accepts blessings for their journey because there's some fear there. Will your heart be open to transformation? Will you be afraid of what the changes are asking of you? Will you accept the ramifications of change?

With that, allow me to again share "For a Traveler" by Father John O'Donohue.

Every time you leave home,
Another road takes you
Into a world you were never in.
 
New strangers on other paths await.
New places that have never seen you
Will startle a little at your entry.
Old places that know you well
Will pretend nothing
Changed since your last visit.
 
When you travel, you find yourself
Alone in a different way,
More attentive now
To the self you bring along,
Your more subtle eye watching
You abroad; and how what meets you
Touches that part of the heart
That lies low at home:
 
How you unexpectedly attune
To the timbre in some voice,
Opening in conversation
You want to take in
To where your longing
Has pressed hard enough
Inward, on some unsaid dark,
To create a crystal of insight
You could not have known
You needed
To illuminate
Your way.
 
When you travel,
A new silence
Goes with you,
And if you listen,
You will hear
What your heart would
Love to say.
 
A journey can become a sacred thing:
Make sure, before you go,
To take the time
To bless your going forth,
To free your heart of ballast
So that the compass of your soul
Might direct you toward
The territories of spirit
Where you will discover
More of your hidden life,
And the urgencies
That deserve to claim you.
 
May you travel in an awakened way,
Gathered wisely into your inner ground;
That you may not waste the invitations
Which wait along the way to transform you.
 
May you travel safely, arrive refreshed,
And live your time away to its fullest;
Return home more enriched, and free
To balance the gift of days which call you.






Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Sacred spaces

There are moments where many people from very different lives suddenly find themselves in emotional unity, in harmony, with hearts beating together. The distances between them can be short or they can span around the world. This week many experienced one of these moments as we saw a well-known Roman Catholic cathedral, the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, burn in flames.

It is entirely predictable that the French Roman Catholics were moved. It's part of the national identity. It's also very understandable that Roman Catholics around the world were touched by the unfolding tragedy. There are the many Francophiles around the world who are deeply saddened. Architect lovers. Historians. Many different peoples who would have been shocked by the fire.

It feels like a wide range of people were emotionally touched by this fire. It makes me appreciate the human need for beautiful places, quiet spots, sacred spaces. To some, such a space might be a cathedral. To others, a small chapel. To many I know, it could be in the wild country, the mountains, their garden. And to some, it could be a yoga mat, or window where the sunlight warms you as you sit quietly.

We all can be inspired by art or by music, by simple walls or by silence. These places and visions, scents and touches have a way of reaching deep into ourselves, giving us grace to think, to connect, to process. They also are highly personal. What works for me may not work for people close to me, even my own spouse. And that's ok. What resonates within us is part of our unique being.

To each of us, these places are special; they are sacred. They are sacred not because of a label or certificate, but because we consecrate them with our love and our intimacy with Creation and our Creator when we are there.

They are where we are invited to discover ourselves, see ourselves, be ourselves. They are where our core being floats to the surface, able to breathe in the air of life. We all need these places because our longing, our life energy, depends on a fertile ground to grow. Sacred spaces make space in our hearts and minds to discover the sacred within.

What if those places become destroyed, burned, and hidden? What if we move away? Are these places any less sacred? Are we bereft of the sacred when this happens?

All things return to dust. We certainly do. And special places cannot escape this truth of this world. It doesn't mean that we who remain behind cannot find meaning in the ashes. We can build ourselves a new space. We can give new life to a new place that in return gives life to us. We ourselves make a place sacred by discovering how that spot, that room, that wild open countryside changes us, reshaping us, reminding us of who we are.

Some places, like the Cathedral of Our Lady of Paris, were not on my radar as a sacred place to me. I didn't understand my emotional response. But when I looked inside, I had subconsciously found in those aged stones a foundation for my journeys. I began my backpacking journey through Europe, my first visit, as a college student. I attended daily mass there on various trips, by myself, with my parents, my ex, my husband, my nephews. I started my Taize pilgrimage from that Cathedral. I started my Camino from Lourdes to Santiago de Compostela by first visiting this Cathedral. I listened to the bells all night long -- every night -- on my last visit to the cathedral, as my AirBnB was a block away. I didn't intend to do so, but I had consecrated the cathedral because she invited me to share these special journeys with her.

What places have you 
intentionally or unintentionally 
made sacred with your love and presence?

May we always remember those places which invite us to feel alive, and may we be privileged to return to those places as often as we need.  In these sacred spaces, we are blessed by merely being present and we become one with the blessing that unites us all.

Monday, April 15, 2019

You will not always have me

Gratitude can be expressed in many ways. Most people write a card or buy a gift or dinner to the person they want to thank. Some offer to lend a hand, to raise a wall, to show their appreciation for whatever was given to them.

And some things leave you wondering how best to say thank you. Perhaps you might not even know that the feeling you have is gratitude, much less how to best express it. I often find myself forgetting all the things I have that can make me feel grateful, as long as I notice them. But when I do notice them, I am more than honored to share my feelings of gratitude and love for the kindness given.

Let me describe a little story that happened last week. I was at a work conference in Phoenix and a business colleague who I have known for at least a couple decades was attending. He brought his 90 year old mother along, picking her up at the airport after her flight from her home in Florida. She's a charming, delightful person and I immediately enjoyed her presence. At one of the receptions, he asked me to tell his mother about my volunteer efforts at Laundry Love. I described how I volunteer at a couple of Laundry Love offerings: one in Hollywood, one in Eagle Rock. I shared that we offer 2 hours where folks who are struggling to make ends meet can wash their clothes, receive detergent, dry their items, and even toss in a dryer sheet, with the funds coming from donations and from local religious organizations. Folks can walk away with some dignity wearing clean clothes; some families don't have to choose between laundry and food; some folks can walk into a job or job interview wearing clean apparel.

She thanked me for telling her about this volunteer work and was glad to hear that it was becoming popular across the country. And the next night at the conference, she brought me to tears. She had walked over to my dinner table and grasped my hand, gently but firmly placing money in it. "Thank you for what you do. I do hope that Laundry Love can use this."

I thanked her and could not get the story out of my mind. It was such a caring gesture at a business setting. It's not something you see often at a technology conference unfortunately. It was an intoxicating, infectious moment. Her gratitude filled me with my own gratitude. Gratitude creates gratitude, like love creates love. If you've read Diana Butler Bass's latest book "Gratitude", you'll find numerous examples like this moment, and I cherish these moments that connect me with things I've read, with my left brain life, with hand-grasping-hand gestures of love.

It made me think of one of the Lenten gospel readings of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus welcoming Jesus into their homes. Mary lavished oil on Jesus's feet, drying it with her hair. Others balked at the extravagant gesture but Jesus said let her be. You will not always have me.

We should not be afraid to love those who bring love into our lives, into our homes, into our hearts. We should lavish them with the gratitude that fills you, because love and gratitude are not zero sum games. They grow and proliferate when we share them abundantly. There's no need to hold back. Be generous in your love and gratitude for love is generous with you. Nothing in this world is permanent, and everything moves on. So show it now. Share it now. Be thankful now.







Sunday, March 31, 2019

Sermon: Changing Directions


On March 24, 2019 I offered my first homily, at Westminster Gardens Retirement community’s Vespers service in Duarte, California. Below, you can find the scripture reading, the text of the homily, and an amateur video recording of the service.

I am awed by the way the Holy Spirit put words in my heart to share. The congregation was delightful and once the service began, I felt so... at peace. It felt like I had been doing this my whole life. I'll be forever grateful for Virginia and Edie's invitation to preach there.

Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” 

Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’ “ ‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’ ”

Luke‬ ‭13:1-9‬ ‭NIV


Good evening. My name is Melvin Soriano. Thank you so much the invitation to join you tonight. I’m a member of All Saints Episcopal in Pasadena and I bring communion to some of the residents here where we meet at Edie Hovey's home for fellowship every month. I’m grateful that I can share my heart and my thoughts with you, especially during this season of Lent as we journey towards Easter.

Lent is modeled on the 40 days that Jesus spent in the desert. It’s a time when we can look at ourselves, our spirituality, and the temptations in our lives that can lead us astray. For many people, it is a time to give up something, like chocolate or candy. I tend to give up things that act like chocolate or candy in my life, things that might feel good superficially but aren’t really nutritious. Sometimes instead of being sweet, the candy in our lives can be like stones; they’re don’t really bring you joy. You carry around what you think is sweet but you are actually carrying a stone: a stone in our shoe, in our pocket, in our hearts.

Like all stones, they weigh us down, they give us blisters. Lent gives us a chance to pause, stop, look inside our shoes, inside our pockets, inside our hearts and see if we’re carrying any of these stones with us. And we’re invited to downsize our lives, to put those stones down.

Let me share a story with you. I have walked the Camino de Santiago in Spain several times. That's a 1000 year old pilgrimage where people walk hundreds of miles from their homes to Santiago de Compostela Spain. Even St Francis of Assisi did it 800 years ago. You carry a backpack and follow arrows on the road, on the sides of buildings, and on signs to guide you through villages, forests, farms, and cities.

One of the customs of the pilgrimage is to carry a small stone with you across all those miles. When you’re trying to keep the weight of your backpack down, even a small pebble starts to feel like a boulder. I wrote my sorrows, regrets, broken relationships, and tearful memories on that stone and carried it hundreds of miles. Finally, at the foot of a large cross along the trail, I lay that stone down and asked that all the regrets and sorrows that I carried with me with every step be put down as well. In truth, we don’t do this just once because our lives go on, and we eventually find new stones in our shoes. So, we have to regularly look into our shoes and pockets to empty them out. We can do this every day, or every Sunday. We can also do a major spring cleaning during Lent.

Today’s scripture is all about putting down the stones in our lives. We are told to repent or we will all perish. Most people don’t like to talk about repentance. Most often, I see the word repent when I go to a sporting event or to the Rose parade and I see people holding up home-made signs that demand that we repent or burn. It's a shame that many react negatively to these signs, because the idea behind repentance isn't about shaming or accusing.

Jesus is pointing out at the very beginning of this reading that bad things can happen to anyone at any time. Accidents happen; death happens. But he’s not saying that it happens to people because we sin. He says twice, “I tell you No.” Bad things happen all the time, but Jesus zeros in on whether we repent. You can get sick, break a hip, have towers fall on top of you. Jesus says no, victims are not worse sinners.

Now we sometimes judge. When we see bad things happen to someone, we’re pretty quick to judge that maybe they did something bad. Maybe someone got into an accident because they like to go out late at night. Or maybe someone got sick because they smoked and drank for years. And you know who we judge the harshest sometimes? Ourselves. Our bodies. Our looks. Our families. Our lives. But Jesus here says “No.” We should not judge anyone, much less for things that can’t be controlled. In this passage he’s saying that what matters is that we repent.

I think that too many people fear the word repent. It’s been turned in its meaning to control our behavior, to make us feel shame, to make us do what other humans – not God, not Jesus – what other people want us to do.

The original scripture doesn’t use our modern word repent. Instead, the original Greek uses the word metanoia. Metanoia means something more like change of mind, re-orientation, reformation. It’s not at all filled with judgment but a simple reality check. You just need to change directions. It's like the mobile phone apps that give directions. It’s not judging you because you’re lost. It’s just saying, “You’ve wandered off course.” When Jesus talks about us repenting, he's not trying to make a threat. He’s making an observation.

Jesus is just pointing out, in a spirit of compassion and love, that we may be lost, whether we recognize it or not. I’m sure you’ve sat in a car wondering where am I? You could be lost but you’re not sure. In our pride, we often just keep going on, unwilling to pull over. God forbid we stop and ask for directions.

We’re told by Jesus that the consequence of not changing directions is perishing. We tend to think of perishing as a synonym for death. But the original Greek scripture has another definition, which English also has. Perishing can also mean lost, as in a hundred lives were lost. This definition is about being missing, missing from us, missing from God. It's actually the same word that's used when Jesus talks about the lost sheep. He is the shepherd to the lost. This scripture reading is saying that we don't have to be like lost sheep. We can recognize that we’re lost, and let the shepherd guide us home.

Let me share another story from the Camino. I met another pilgrim, a woman in a small village. We began to walk together and learn about each other. Susan was from Georgia, in her 40s, had lost her job, and decided to walk this pilgrimage to find meaning in her life. We were having a great walk together when silence fell upon us. We realized that we hadn't seen a sign in quite a while. We were in a field somewhere in Spain, lost. We began to search. We had to backtrack. About 45 minutes later, we got to a fork in the road and realized we followed the main path but that the arrows pointed in a different direction, towards a smaller, less obvious trail. We were able to right ourselves and continue walking with the other pilgrims.

Susan and I got along so well. We were happily chatting away and didn't feel lost at all. But we had lost sight of the signs that were guiding us. We got so caught up in making a new friend on the pilgrimage that we had followed a popular, well-used path, but that path that wasn't meant for us. This wasn’t the first time I’ve had to change paths; it certainly wasn’t the last. I’m trying to change paths every day when I can remember.

The scripture reading ends with a short parable that Jesus told to give us hope. We have a tree that seemed destined to be taken down. The owner wants to remove it but instead, the tree is given a second chance to bear fruit.

It's a parable of compassion, of mercy. It says that even though things can go wrong that doesn't condemn us to being chopped down. There's still time. We don’t have an unlimited time, because accidents can happen. We all can die at any moment. But there is time to nurture, to fertilize. There’s time to feed the tree with live-giving water.

We can change directions in our lives. And moreover, we can change the direction of life for someone else too. That tree could not change its directions on its own. But the Good Gardener could. The gardener could work with the tree and help the tree become fruitful. We too can help hopeless, fruitless situations all around us, helping others by feeding, nurturing, and watering those that hunger for the chance to be fruitful.

We don't have to be lost. Not if we can pay attention to what we're doing, where we're heading, what signs we're missing. We can look at our steps and see if there's another way forward. We can put down the stones that burden us and turn our attention to what really matters. And like the Good Gardener, we can feed the trees in our lives – including our own - that hunger to be fruitful.

Recording of the service

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Healing Ashes

For many years, I viewed Lent as that season where I gave up something and eventually got to Easter. It was simplistic and easy enough for the child that I was. When I left the church, I gave up any practice. When I returned, I came back with somewhat the same ideas. It caught me off guard when I realized I was adjusting my notion of Lent and what it meant to me. 

Like the camino, Lent is an opportunity to journey on, to explore and find my way to new life, to reconciliation, to wholeness. It's not enough to give up something in a penitential way, but also to take something on, also in a penitential way. Like much of life, to change and move forward, you sometimes have to let go and sometimes have to take on.

It's remarkable how a simple Lenten practice can become a part of your life. Ten years ago, Stephen and I started a simple Lenten discipline of helping at Union Station Homeless Services and, after Lent ended, we found that the journey was destined to continue. It's something that's ingrained in our lives.

There's also the letting go. I shared a story last night with some folks at our bi-monthly Lay Counseling Ministry meeting. I had some beads around my neck and we were talking about Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday. Perhaps 15 years ago, when I was finding myself changing how I viewed Lent, I was doing a work job back east at a historically Methodist college and needed to find a lunch-hour Ash Wednesday service. I found one at the college chapel. Picture it with me.

You enter into the quiet space. As you enter, you find a large stone gourd, many slips of paper, and pencils. A small sign instructs you what to do. "Write the sins, sorrows, and regrets that you carry with you today and every day on a piece of paper and leave it here in the gourd." So I did. I took a couple pieces of paper and wrote some things down and left it. I then sat and waited for the service to begin. As the service began, the gourd processed in and was set on a stand in front of us all.

It was a traditional Lenten service for the most part. But when we came to the litany, it changed. As we recited the litany of prayers for ourselves and for the world, the celebrant lit a match. And the match went into the gourd. Soon all those sins, sorrows, and regrets were aflame, as we continued with our prayers. After the flames died down, the celebrant began to grind away at the smoldering remains until they were pulverized.

We had our ashes. 

Ashes made of the burnt and ground up memories of our sins. Of our sorrows. Of our regrets. We then all moved forward to the front of the church, bowed our heads down, and the ashes were placed on our heads. The traditional phrase was said: "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

That ritual has stuck with me ever since. In it, we are reminded that we are impermanent and will one day return to dust. And strikingly, in a wondrous healing way, our sorrows also were called out as impermanent. Our sins are impermanent. Our regrets are impermanent. All will go away some day.

The remnants of my sins, sorrows, and regrets were placed on my forehead to remind me that they, like me, were not fixed forever. And I found healing in that act. I found forgiveness. Forgiveness by God. Forgiveness for others. Forgiveness for myself.

I think of this ritual whenever I feel the need to fend off the burden of sin, sorrow, and regret. I light a candle and imagine myself burning these thoughts away. And every year, on Ash Wednesday, I let the ashes of those feelings bless me.

May your Ash Wednesday be graced with healing ashes.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Unpack Your Socks

I've blogged numerous times in the past about packing for the Camino. Last week I read a blog post "Unpacking from the Journey" https://www.episcopalcafe.com/unpacking-from-the-journey/  and it made me think... So here's a reflection on the notion of unpacking.

Most people who have ever backpacked or gone on camino spend lots of time wondering what to bring. I'd say most Camino pilgrims who have read up on the pilgrimage have spent HOURS thinking, shopping, weighing, evaluating. Not a single item goes in that backpack or daypack without careful attention to its weight and utility.

I'm down to the following for me:

  • One pair of walking shorts/pants combo.
  • One pair of shorts in case you have to wash your shorts. 
  • Two quick dry shirts.
  • One lightweight jacket
  • One poncho
  • Two underwear
  • A buff (scarf/bandana combo)
  • A light charger for your phone that also acts as an extension cord so that you can share the limited outlets with others.
  • A wide brim hat.
  • Prescriptions
  • Vaseline & Compeed/Mokeskin/blister patches
  • Water camel
  • Day pack
  • Walking stick
  • Lightweight/cheap flipflops/sandals
  • Toiletries
  • Either a sleeping bag (for rustic trails) or sleeping bag liner for Camino Frances
  • A lightweight back brace because I have back issues
  • And most important: 4 pairs of incredible socks


With the backpack, it shouldn't exceed 10% of your body weight for a long journey. Every little bit counts.

I am careful in how I pack. I place daily things at the top or sides and less frequently used items deeper inside. There's lots of attention to packing every day before I head out. I adjust the pack midway to make sure the weight is evenly distributed so I don't hurt myself.

Most people overpack. They bring too much. My first camino was wildly overpacked. I wasn't even close to only 10% of my body weight. And my second camino, the 600 miler, I allowed myself to overpack but had just enough sense to remember lessons from the first one; I brought things I wouldn't mind leaving behind. Because that's what I did on that first camino. I left 1/2 of my stuff behind.

We carry too much.

Like the stone that sits in our pocket to be left behind at the Cruz de Fero, our fears and anxieties hold us down, causing pain in hidden ways - perhaps not at first, but eventually. We trudge on thinking we can't do with less because if there's an emergency we will be without. But as we do so, we creep ever so slowly towards our own internal emergencies.

And that's when we realize you have to leave things behind.

We dump things. It's somewhat comical, somewhat sad, and always with calm knowing when I watch someone at the albergues deciding what to dump from their backpack. They yearn for the quick fixes that will help them feel better.

It's so much like life itself that I sometimes wonder if it needs saying. But we forget. And on our next trip, we need reminders. And on every subsequent trip, like the journeys around the sun we make every year, we learn a little more about what to take. For example, I've learned that socks matter more than anything else in the backpack. Seriously. Socks can make or break a long walking trip. I remember as a child that I was disappointed when I got socks for Christmas or birthday gifts. But now? I ask for them. And I am careful that I never leave behind something as special as socks.

The real lesson in packing is not what you take, but what you leave behind.

Leave behind those stones, those comfortable trinkets of our hearts that we think we need but just get in our way. Bring only that which makes every single footstep lighter, every single moment brighter, every single experience remarkable. All else leave behind.

And if you take them, leave them on the side of the road, like the grave markers you see all along the camino, marking and remembering that which you choose to leave behind. Laundry detergent? Good bye. Extra clothes? Adios. Heart ache? Adieu. Tears? Let them evaporate into air we share between us.

We talk about what we bring and not what we leave behind. We also forget to talk about what we do at the end of the journey. We unpack.

Some people turn that bag upside down and dump it out on floor. Most people take things out carefully, putting things down briefly, and hurry to get the clothing into a proper washing machine. If we bought some souvenirs, we set them aside to enjoy. We share the gifts as soon as we can.

Other things take longer. Sometimes I wonder where my water pack or poncho is and I realize it's still in the camino backpack. We simply don't spend anywhere near as much time unpacking as we did packing.

In fact, this ritual of unpacking happens as often as we pack. For every time we pack that backpack - every single morning - we unpack parts of it - every evening. You have to reach in and see what's in there and decide if you need it right then or there or it can be set aside for now.

It took me a while to realize it, but that ritual of unpacking is meditative and spiritual. You simply have to pause. If you unpack hastily, it makes re-packing that much more difficult. If you unpack without thinking, you might misplace or forget where you put something. If you unpack without reflection, you could just be unpacking something that you didn't need.

And such is life. We forget to pay attention to unpacking the events that make up life itself. We do it hastily, or thoughtlessly, or without reflection and we wonder why we spend so much time thinking and packing again the next day.

But if we pause, reflect, and think, what wonders we discover. I get delighted, just thrilled every day on camino, when I take out a pair of dry clean socks. I wash the laundry including the socks, and as I dry, I joyfully take out and put on the soothing clean ones. They might not bring you as much as joy as to me, but for my feet, they're better than even a foot bathe.

Wouldn't it be great if we could do that with our lives? Do you know which things in your life, something as trivial as socks, make you happy? Comfort you? Soothe you? Heal you?

Do you ritualize that joy? Do you take your joy for granted? I hope you don't take your socks for granted. Don't wear, wash, hang out to dry your socks without recognizing how they felt on your long walk.

I put on my socks with joy every day. I wash them at the end of the day's journey, ridding them of the soil but knowing that the toil and dirt wears at them just a little bit every day. But I have them for now. I let them dry and then pack them. And the cycle repeats.

So I must ask... what are the socks in your backpack, the things that could bring you joy daily? What are the socks that you pack lovingly and unpack with anticipation? Or do you forget about the joy that socks bring you, putting them on without remembering what they mean to you?

May you unpack your socks that are there waiting for you in your backpack, there because they were packed just for you, and may you wear those socks with comfort and joy.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Joy Finding

Our crazy little creche on our fireplace is an oddball mixture of the mass-produced and predictable along side the delightful finds from somewhere on our travels. At the core are a manger, Joseph, and Mary that are made in plaster. The plaster baby Jesus showed up on Christmas morning, having spent the past few weeks in hiding behind the manger. The Magi are off to the side of the mantle, slowly but surely making their way to a January 6 Epiphany appearance, on the Twelfth Day of Christmas.

Meanwhile, a zoo of sorts sits around the scene. There's the glass camel Christmas ornament that we found in Luxor, Egypt. There's a clay Pucara bull from Cuzco, Peru that we found after our hike to Machu Picchu. The little Dala horse that I got during a winter visit to Stockholm, Sweden watches over the baby. An African giraffe and zebra from Ten Thousand Villages are perched beside the creche. A disproportionately large terracotta horse from Xian, China towers over the plaster sheep. And scattered around this scene are angels from so many places and St Nick, historically and literally from Turkey.

So many shopping finds. It occurred to me that though we purchased the animals or were given all these angels, they represented joyful moments that delighted us or the person who gave them to us. The discovery of these individual creatures brought pleasure. And I totally enjoy bringing this weird assortment of characters together as our nativity scene every year.

I was pondering about why I liked doing this. I giggle every time I see that fireplace this time of year. One aspect is that it's bringing unexpected things together to tell a story. But I think what makes it particularly enjoyable is that these finds are positioned by us to tell a story about the greatest find: the finding of the baby Jesus. They are in a story about finding something joyful in unexpected places. They are literal store finds in a representation of the great finding.

And when the Magi appear at this nativity scene, the finds get wackier. Because multiple nativity sets have come and gone over the years, we have a baseball team of plaster Magi. Added to the caravan is a wooden Don Quixote from Avila, Spain (as in St Teresa of Avila). And the nested dolls from Russia, deliberately unnested as the women search for Jesus. And so on and so on.

All that searching, seeking, yearning. All that finding. All around the discovery of a newborn baby. Joy sometimes comes both in the finding and in the struggle to find.

This past Christmas day, we spent the morning with Stephen's family. Then, mid-day, we headed an hour away towards San Diego where my parents were visiting my sister in Murietta for the week. It was a big family coming together from miles around to spend the afternoon and evening together. My sister's twin boys came from Northern California to surprise their grandparents and sister. She hosted a feast for us all, and my parents got to watch their large family playing games, breaking bread (or pancit), and telling stories.

When Stephen and I got home late that night, we opened our own gifts to each other and went to bed. We never heard the phone ring. When I awoke the next morning, I listened to a voice mail message and read countless texts from my nephews and sister that my mom had fallen in the middle of the night and they had to take her to the emergency room. They found my mom in the bathroom, blood everywhere as she gashed her head on the corner of the wall. As dawn approached, after a CT scan showed she was fine, they were able to return home, a little scared, a little relieved, a whole lotta tired.

I cannot imagine my niece finding my mom like that, as unlike me, she's never worked in a hospital. I heard the fear in her voice when we spoke. My mom, though, says that she wasn't scared. She wondered if this was the end, but she wasn't frightened. She couldn't stay awake so perhaps she was unable to process what was happening from an emotional level. She was relieved they heard her fall, had found her, had lovingly cared for her. My Dad was thankful that the family was around to help.

I suspect that it's not normal to compare the finding of a newborn baby, the incarnation of love and life, to finding a mom bleeding on the floor, but I felt the connection nonetheless. There's a lot to think about when so much happens in such a short time.

My mom is in her 80s now and needs to remember to use her cane, especially when she's tired, in an unfamiliar setting, when she's alone. We wonder sometimes how long we'll have her and pray that it'll be for many more years, but we know we can't control it. My family found her, lying in blood, in a humble room like a bathroom, with fear, with love. They wondered if this was the end. She's fine now and we pray we can enjoy our time together as best we can.

Jesus was found with Mary. It was probably messy, bloody, scary. Mary was tired and in an unfamiliar setting. She knew that the baby was to be called Jesus ("God Saves" in Hebrew) and perhaps wondered how long she would have him, knowing she didn't control it. In a humble place, she gave birth to love. She and Joseph probably wondered what this beginning would bring. Jesus the baby was safe in their arms and they probably enjoyed their time together as best they could.

Joy comes unexpectedly. Sometimes there's anticipation, sometimes there's sheer surprise. Sometimes we have to go out of our way to arrange the figures in our life to bring joy to us. Sometimes we walk miles, sometimes we walk down the hall. Sometimes we just sit in the emergency room or in a manger, waiting for word, waiting for Good News.

We cannot make joy appear. We can only position ourselves, orienting our hearts and minds in a way that gives us the opportunity to see it, feel it, grasp it in our hands. Whether we grasp the hand of a baby, or grasp the hand of an older parent, we cannot make ourselves joyful at what we have. We can only be open to it. Be ready for it.

Many times, we walk away in horror, sadness, brokeness, when what we hoped for and what we yearned for does not happen. Our need for joy, for unending love, of inter-relatedness, can suffocate under the realities of our mortal lives. We don't always get what we want. We can't force a fairy-tale ending to every story.

Yet we can still hope, because the promise of Christmas was fulfilled. In the worst circumstances, there's always a chance for hope. And even if things turn out badly, we dive deeper into what things matter most, because at one time we had found love, we saw it, we touched it.

So when the unthinkable happens, when the fears and the exhaustion and the tears build up inside you threatening to bring you down, remember that you can still be surprised. You can still discover Good News in the most unlikely of places. You can orient yourself to the star of the east buried in your heart, perhaps while the tears are falling from your face, and offer a precious place, a humble place, for joy to be born. And maybe, just maybe, joy can find you.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Driving through the Rain

As I reflect this Advent, a period of waiting, a time of anticipation of life, beauty, light, a month of expectation and wonder, I remembered something that happened to me earlier this year. I shared it on Facebook on the Camino of Healing page back in May.
    I had an observation I made yesterday as I drove back from Lancaster to home. It was a tough morning full of emotions because of the upheaval with work, and I needed to feel God, feel beauty, feel uplifted.

    So I went over Angeles Crest highway. I forgot that since it was rainy in Pasadena, it would be socked in up on the mountain. I barely drove 20mph at some points. And instead of seeing gorgeous valleys and mountains, I just saw rain and fog. Just a blurry hazy fog.

    And yet...

    I pulled over a couple times and looked around.

    Nothing but fog.

    And still yet...

    I felt the beauty.
    I felt God’s presence.
    It was there all around me
    Behind the fog, but there nonetheless.
    I couldn’t see it.
    But I felt it
    It was powerful
    and I never felt alone.
I realize that this revelation happens to me more often than I acknowledge to myself. I can stumble upon the beauty of God despite the circumstances around me. When I'm in stressful moments, confusing moments, angry moments, tearful moments, fearful moments, I find that I've been driving through a mental fog without pause, seeing nothing but rain, seeing none of the beauty I so deeply desire.

But if I pause, if I pull over, if I step out and look around deep... If I wait... If I listen... If I let go...

There. I feel it. I feel the beauty. I feel God's presence on that granite mountain. It's always been there. I just wasn't seeing or hearing it.

Now during Advent, when we wait for Jesus to come, I know that God has been around us throughout our lives. But we forget. We march on. We watch someone fall down, we watch ourselves fall down, and yet move on. But God was there, pausing to tend to the one on the ground. Asking us to wait with them. To listen. To let go.

So we humans need reminders. We need to be sent a little baby to show that Love can be incarnate, be in us, be among us. We need reminders to look and listen and let go.

I realized that might be why I find joy in doing things like Laundry Love and setting up furniture for the homeless shelter. It's because it forces me to physically pause. To wait. To listen. Those are sacramental moments to me, revealing, like the Eucharist does, God's presence to me.

Others more centered than me may have other ways to pause and listen. Please share them. For me, I wake up every day with the hope that I'll actually be awake every day. And if I can be awake, and stay awake, then the wait becomes immaterial, for I feel the healing arms of Love sweep over me like a cloud going over a granite mountain.

May your Advent reflections help you rise above the fog of this time of year, so that you can see the Love that heals in our midst.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

What Are You Waiting For?

I'm impatient.

For those who've worked with me or lived with me or sat as a passenger in a car I was driving, that's not exactly a surprise. It's something I've been working on, and it's definitely a challenge. There's an impatience directed towards myself and there's an impatience directed at others. I've been trying for years to get the words "What are you waiting for?" out of my system. The work is ongoing and may never cease.

I'm sure I'm not alone in this. I like being on time. I like getting things done on time. And like many, I can also procrastinate when I'm not drawn to a task. Sometimes the words "What are you waiting for?" help me get motivated to starting something. There's no problem when it's about motivating yourself into action. There are issues, though, when the words or thoughts are directed at others. I feel I should watch myself and my expectations because I'm not in control of others nor of life nor of God's plans. When my thoughts and words are pointed to others, it's as if I am directing their behaviours, and of course, life doesn't work that way. So for most situations, it's a practice that would best be left behind on this journey.

Yet... there are times when the phrase "What are you waiting for?" makes perfect sense. Times like now, for instance.

This year, Advent starts on Sunday, December 2 and as always ends on December 24. The word "Advent" comes from "To Come" in Latin. It's a church season named to focus on anticipating on what's "to come". It's all about waiting,  about expecting, about times pregnant with possibility. We should be willing to wait now. But for what?

What are you waiting for?

Rather than thinking of "waiting" as something to be avoided, there are times "waiting" should be enjoyed, cherished, appreciated. We can wait in anticipation, rather than in agitation. Advent is a season where waiting can lead to wonderful joys and insights. And maybe, we can figure out what it is we're waiting for.

Waiting is part of the gift of Advent. We await the gift of what is to come. Our waiting builds up hope. The time spent waiting opens a space for us to let the light inside of us grow, gestate, and expand until it bursts out of all of us.

When Christmas arrives, it brings us that joy in a real way, breathing, with a heartbeat of love that surpasses our comprehension. The wait for this annual reminder doesn't have to be marked by anxieties of store lines and parties and schedules. No, the wait can be simple and tender.

I recognize that there are times expectant mothers cannot wait for a baby to be born. But many times, moms talk about the dreams, the hopes, the joys of new life. That's the anticipation I like most about Advent. I like being part of those dreams, part of those hopes, part of the celebration and joy of new life.

The approach of Christmas doesn't have to be filled with an impatient waiting, but with a loving waiting. We can enter this darkest time of the year with joyful, edge of the seat anticipation. We can wait in the darkness, not forever, but for just a little while longer. Watching with our lamps lit. Waiting for the light to appear.

What are you waiting for?

May your Advent be a journey in the darkness, filled with waiting, and watching, and yearning for a love full of a light, a love full of life, a love where there is no darkness.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Thanksgiving Bookends

I posted these on the Camino of Healing page or on my personal Facebook page. I'm consolidating them on this post as a duet of reflections for Thanksgiving and gratitude. Though the posts were only 3 days apart, they seem to go together like bookends. The first was posted the morning after I attended a church gathering at a friend's home. The second was posted as I was on my way to setup the Thanksgiving dinner in the park for our community in need. I share them with you here in case you missed them or are not on Facebook.

(1) Monday morning - November 19

I was at a dinner gathering this weekend and I sat at a table where a family fed their two sons. They put the hot dogs and mac-n-cheese and kale on their plates. The veggies surprised me because I didn't like them for dinner as a child and these two youngsters wanted them.

Then the parents did their nightly dinner practice, asking the boys to share their gratitudes. The boys shared things like mac-n-cheese, baseball, bread, and a game they made up.

It was all so innocent. Simple really. Expressing gratitude as we broke bread.

And I wished, how I wished, we all could remember to say thanks for all these little things. For the bread in our lives, for the mac-n-cheese, for the games.

We don't have to be grateful for big things only. We can be grateful for the small things. On my Facebook page, I've been posting every day some gratitude that I have. And they're the photo opps of thanksgivings: family, love, jobs, sunsets, etc. But let's not forget the little joys, the games and jokes that put smiles on our faces every day. Let's be grateful for the tears as well as the giggles, the range and rainbow of human emotions, with people we know and love, with people we're getting to know, with people we've never even met. Because all these things remind us that we are alive, and that's the biggest gift of all.


(2) Thanksgiving 6:30am - November 22

I shivered as the cold leaves slipped silently under my feet, threatening ever so slyly to trip me to the ground. I smelled the damp cedars and memories began to fill me.

There was the woman without a home who apparently walked 3 miles from All Saints to the coffee shop I frequent. She had gotten a gift card from our church to help her out, began walking to the store, and became lost. The coffee shop owner told me earlier this week about how she took this woman to the store to help her and then took her back down to the church. The owner didn’t try to take the woman to her nearby church, but back to All Saints, because that’s where she wanted to go. I pondered what it felt like to have to walk everywhere and to get lost.

When I walk, it’s a privilege. I get to walk. And someday my body or my circumstances might not allow that luxury. Or, Someday I might be forced to walk.

I shivered this chilly morning as I smelled the rain-filled air and prepared to head down to the park. We have to set up the tables and chairs, for the diners and for the volunteers, giving a Thanksgiving dinner to those who might not be able to do something special for themselves or their families.

I shivered when I thought of all the drenched people who might have to walk to the park for this meal. Who had to sleep in the rain. We woke up when the rain started, hearing it tap against the windows, then pulled our comforter over us and drifted back to sleep. I didn’t think about those sleeping on the streets at that moment. But I did once I went outside.

I shivered as I remembered walking in the rain on Camino. I wondered where to find safety. Where to dry my clothes. Where to wash the mud off my face, shoes, trousers. Where the next village was. Where to find a bathroom. I wondered where the path before me was leading me.

I shivered. And I parked. Got out of my car. I put on my backpack of supplies I needed for today. I grabbed a bottle of water.

And I am walking the two hours from Altadena down to the park. Right now, I’m nursing a cup of coffee at a different coffee shop, warming my hands. I’m back on my camino, meeting people in the shadows, smiling, shivering together, wishing each other good mornings and happy thanksgivings.

Soon I’ll be at the park, and Stephen will join me and we will set the table for a great thanksgiving. I won’t be cold once we start hauling the many hundreds of tables and chairs around.

The food will come out. People will break bread together. We will give thanks.

And I might just shiver one more time.



May your Thanksgiving be filled with grace, fellowship, family, and love and may our tables be set for the whole human family.



Monday, November 5, 2018

Weeping Under the Rug

As always, All Saints Day, All Souls Day, and Dia de Muertos throw me into emotional upheaval. It's a time of reflection, of praying for and with those who came before us, of asking for prayers and blessings from them.

There was a time I didn't cry in public. Or at home. Or even barely in the privacy of my own room. It's that upbringing - societal, family, cultural - that says men aren't supposed to cry for some reason. Or, you're not supposed to cry because you're the oldest child and you're helping take care of your siblings. You're not supposed to cry as a developing teenager because then people might realize that you're gay.

There was a time I would sit in the theatre and if I felt the tears coming, I'd shield my face so that only the movie screen could see the tears welling up in my eyes. Or streaming down my face. There was a time when I'd curse and spit and shout when I got injured in sports because crying over the pain wasn't "manly". There was a time when I feared that crying after a fist fight just because I looked different than the other kids in rural Illinois would just lead to more fights.

Nope. Instead, I bottled it up. "Don't cry!" Sweep. Sweep the tears under the rug. Sweep not weep.

My lower face would be made of steel if my stiff upper lip were any sturdier.

I'd like to say that I'm past all this. I'd like to think I'm enlightened and to say that I don't think this way anymore.

Well it's a work in progress. I still try not to cry at the theatre. Some of that is an issue of politeness. I sob, and I mean SOB, at some scenes of  Les Miserables and other favorites and it can be distracting to the other patrons. Heck, distracting for the actors.

I recognize that I'm a feeler. I've known this for a long time. I was a Psychobiology major while an undergraduate at USC. My research was in Alzheimer's Disease. Every other day when I was a senior;, I'd head over to the Health Science Campus and do cognitive tests with subjects (actually people, but dehumanized when we call them subjects) who participated in a study. In time, I grew weary of this work. Not because it was challenging driving through downtown Los Angeles to do the study, but because of the wonderful people I met. People who were like me, my parents, my grandparents. People who were possibly suffering from the onset of Alzheimer's Disease.

Every time I got home, I'd feel the emotions of the day unfold in me. I had to cork it up all day and it would spill out in the privacy of my apartment. At first, I didn't understand what was happening but one person made it obvious.

She was a world-traveling journalist with a Ph.D. and a spouse who was a professor. She was dressed in the sort of smart suit that my mother favored. This seemingly "normal" woman sat in front of me and, before we began our cognitive test, shared a pleasant conversation. But as I started the test, she became increasingly anxious, because she started to struggle with the test. And, finally, when she could not repeat three single-digit numbers in a row (much less a 7 digit phone number), she cracked. She broke down and wept. And sobbed.

This woman, who was in her early 50s and would be younger than I am today, knew what this was suggesting and she was fearful, she was grieving, she was furious. And she was rational. She was human.

Meanwhile, I was dying inside. I get tearful every single time I think of this story, as I am as I write this down. I could feel her sense of mortality and feel the range of emotions she shared with me so intimately. And despite the cold, antiseptic, clinical office with chilly fluorescent lights, I felt fearful with her. I grieved with her. I was furious with her.

Meanwhile, I was scared inside. I ran to the physician in charge for assistance, as I didn't know how to handle the situation. We weren't trained to deal with this response. I didn't have any other subjects as it turned out after her, so I had to sit around those cold rooms, confused and burdened by my emotions. She got some counseling. Unfortunately, I did not.

I didn't even realize I needed counseling. I thought, stiffen up. Don't be upset. Stop crying.

Well, I did need counseling. Today, I think many who work with patients and their families should be first in line for workplace counseling. But I didn't think this way back then.

In the next couple of years, I found myself placing impediments to going to medical school. I subconsciously had decided I couldn't do this for the rest of my life, but my conscious brain didn't know this. If I had counseling, if I let myself cry, perhaps I would have been a physician today. Who knows? I just know that I felt a lot better when I could avoid painful moments.

In regards to medical school, I asked to be deferred eventually. And further on, I chose not to go. I instead decided to continue working in technology. It paid the bills. It was logical and didn't require you to face difficult life moments. Tech pointed 180 degrees away from a workplace filled with emotions.

There was no weeping. I didn't need to sweep the weep under the rug.

But life doesn't stop. The AIDS crisis started knocking off people I knew. Friends. You could not escape it in Los Angeles. And people get older and eventually die. Family members struggled with cancer, struggled with death. So though work offered some protection, I still had to cry. I still had to face the reality of being a human being.

I had this in the back of my head when, about 15 years ago, I was in a ministry leadership class at All Saints Pasadena. One night, Rev. Richardson led a discussion about pastoral care. With my fears and lifetime of avoidance, I raised my hand with a simple question.

"What if you suck at pastoral care?"

He looked at me kindly, almost bemused, asking why I thought this. I looked around me and felt comfortable sharing my answer. "I cry. I cry easily. I cry visibly. And I cry a lot." He caught me off-guard with his answer. He basically said that many people don't have that sort of empathy. And he thought that I might actually be really good at pastoral care because of these feelings, not despite of them.

After Christmas last year, Rev. Zelda Kennedy died, less than six months after she retired from All Saints Pasadena. When her medical diagnosis was shared via email back in July 2017, I was walking in another country with my husband. I glanced at the email and I crumbled onto the cold, wet pavement. It was around 10pm at night and I sobbed. I was furious at God. And I needed Stephen to help me keep it together to get back to the hotel.

Through the years, Zelda saw my emotional side and felt that they belonged in pastoral care. I argued with her. I argued with our Rector Ed Bacon when he asked me to serve as a vestry liaison to pastoral care. But Zelda insisted. She persisted. She later told me that I needed to realize that this is where I belonged. She was a force moved by the Holy Spirit, and I wasn't going to be able to say no.

This weekend, holy and passionate, stirred up these memories, as they do every year. I no longer fear the emotions that awakened. Those emotions are real. They flow from within, flow through, flow out of me. And they're a gift. A blessing. And there's no way I can hide them.

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven."
Matthew 5:14-16... Before the sermon on the mount (which we read about this weekend)...
The flames of our lamps are fed with oil made of tears. May we remember to let the flames glow bright so that our eyes can be opened, so that we can see the love that surrounds us all. May we weep on the rug, not under it, so that others can place a shawl of comfort and healing when we need it most. May God fill our eyes with tears so as to make our ears stronger, so that we can hear the cries, the laughter, the anxieties, the love of all yearning to share their lives with us.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Picturing a Scary Love


Sometimes I think the Holy Spirit works tricks on me, because She likes to throw coincidences at me that catch me by surprise, leaving me to wonder what I'm supposed to make of things. Two different sets of coincidences in two days make me think, "ok, someone's trying to get me to think about this."

The first coincidence was on Sunday afternoon. Kristen Johannesen, an artist friend, had an exhibition going on at the Avenue 50 gallery in now trendy Highland Park, a neighborhood of Los Angeles. She and I were very close in high school and so I wanted to see her latest work. And, for some reason, perhaps because I knew he lived near there, I invited another high school friend, Glenn. Now, it wasn't planned, but Glenn and Kristen were influential in getting me to see photography as something as other than poorly cropped, overly posed family photos. They were particularly skilled in black and white photos and I learned much from them through the years.

I would have gone into the gallery but there was a poetry reading going on so I thought I'd wait outside. I paced a little. I watched the Gold Line metro go by a couple times. Then I decided to stand at the doorway and listen to the poetry. And I was stunned.

In the main gallery, there was a sign that said "Viva Las Fotos - A Memorial for Laura Aguilar", along with a photo of Laura. Laura's a friend from All Saints Pasadena, a brilliant photographer who died earlier this year. Her memorial in church was just one month ago.

I had first met her years ago, when she and I would set up the Taize service. She never talked about her profession. She would set the candles on the table and sat with us as we prayed, sang, and worshiped together. And one time, when I was taking photos of the candles, she adjusted them for me so that I would have a better shot. And another she asked if I could help her get the candles in just the right positions for her perfect photos. And they were beautiful. They were beautiful because she's a gifted photographer who until that day was just my friend Laura. Since then, I learned from others that her work has been shown in famous galleries and the tips she had been giving me were like private lessons from a master.

The main room of Avenue 50 Studio was filled with homages to Laura, created by other artists. And another room held some of her work from 1990 that had been filed away and forgotten. And there was a beautiful Dia de los Muertos ofrenda for her.

As I walked through the gallery with Kristen and Glenn, it occurred to me that perhaps the three who gave me the most guidance on photography were in the same space. The veil between the physically present and the spiritually present was remarkably sheer that afternoon. Laura was smiling at us from another level and it was a soothing balm to the grief.

Then yesterday, I was working away and popped a couple videos to play in the background. One was "Addams Family Values", one of many of my regular flicks we watch as Halloween approaches. It's a movie that juxtaposes unconventional (ok, amusingly scary) love and affection against what's expected from us. It's subversive, ironic, and a great way to celebrate the different faces of love.

After I finished working, I sat down to watch "Coco". This Dia de los Muertos movie came out last year, a celebration of family, love, and the timelessness of unity. My face was awash in tears, which happens whenever I watch it. I mean, the abuela look just like my own grandmothers!

Then before I walked over to an evening meeting, I took a look at this week's lectionary. It happened to be from the Gospel of John - the story of Lazarus and Jesus raising him from the "stink of death".

I couldn't help but reflect on this second set of coincidences. I just watched two movies, ostensibly about Halloween and Dia de los Muertos, but were about unifying love that goes beyond the living, lies outside the pace of the regular world, explores family and death. And now I'm thinking of Lazarus, his family, and the love that brought Lazarus back to life. It was a quiet, pensive walk that made me think of the concept of contrasts. And I found myself taking photos of images that made me think about juxtaposed, jarring contrasts.

There was a time when I'd laugh off a coincidence or two. But the ones from the past couple days, well, I think I was meant to reflect on them instead. Love, friends, and family eventually confront death. Death can be scary. Death can push away. Death can cause denial.

But death can also just be one scary moment, a blip in an endless timeline. We fear the loss, but that loss is effectively illusory. In love, in believing in love, in giving in to love, we can salve the hurts and walk out of our dark caves, into a timeless unity.

May your Halloween give way to a celebration of the love and spirits of all the souls and saints in your life. May that celebration be a picture that you can place in the ofrenda within you.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Angels By Our Side

I'm often asked about what I discover while walking along Spain's Camino de Santiago. I say that it's the people I meet that show me what I seek. It's not about me, my thoughts, the flowers, or sights. I learn and grow because of the relationships, short or long-lasting. The universe calms you on the walk and in the wild, quiets you down so that you can really meet people and listen to them, be present with them. And in doing so, well, in doing so that's really how I feel like I'm in touch with God.



In the 600 mile walk in 2016, besides my husband Stephen who joined me on the final 200 miles, I can say that I found three people who most influenced me. Three people who I view as messengers in my life. Angels really.

The first came to me during my most fearful moments in decades. I held back tears and panic 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, with the hot temperatures, my hyperextended hip could not get me over the mountains, I saw a luggage transport van which took my backpack to my destination. Unfortunately, in my haste, I grabbed almost everything I needed for the daypack I retained, everything except my jacket. As the clouds came, the temperature plunged, the rains attacked, and painful hail poured down for two hours, shredding my poncho and leaving me basically with just my daypack and quick-dry T-shirt. I could barely see past the fog and my steam-covered eyeglasses, where the trail twisted and where the cliffs threatened.

A figure came from behind me. I only saw his chin peeking out from his hat, a chin where my immediate reaction was "Oh, looks like the guy who starred in Jesus Christ Superstar". He asked me in an accent how I was and I responded with "cold, frightened." This young man just smiled, saying "You'll be fine. Where are you going?" I answered "To Roncesvalles (on the other side of the Pyrenees Mountains 15km away)". Calmly smiling, 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. Better yet, he wore a fluorescent red poncho, a colour so bright that I could actually see it through the fog and follow him along the unseen trail. I followed the young man into the swirling fog and hail, somehow comforted, somehow feeling safe, somehow confident. I wept as the hail stopped and I made it to the monastery which would house me, skipped dinner, and just slept.

I was back on the trail the next morning when someone placed a hand on my shoulder. I turned to see him once again, and he said that he knew I would make it. We smiled and he walked with me the whole day. We broke bread together on a mountain top. When I found out that his name was Thore, after the Norse God of storms and protection, my jaw dropped.

The next person who deeply touched me appeared after Pamplona. I had been upset and fearful that my blisters, earned 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, touching almost everyone he met. We talked and walked all day, breaking bread at dinner and the next day at breakfast. He was thrilled that I started in Lourdes and had some of the water that some say is filled with miraculous healing power. I brought the water to share with those on the Camino. He took a sip and I rubbed some into his hands.

And he did this while walking on crutches. You didn't notice them after you talked with him; you stopped seeing his bruised hands and feet. The reality was that his life-long condition slowed him down to just over 1-2 mph and it would take 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 learn to walk." But he inspired such care in others, as we all cared for him. After evening church services, I lost track of him even though he had been beside me. I found him: he was giving alms to a needy man and asking if he had a place to sleep.

He embodied so comfortably, so easily, the unconditional love of the universe. Despite his challenges, he feared not. Yes, I shared the healing waters with him, and in his presence, I myself felt healed. Like St Francis' prayer, I saw us both receiving when we were giving... And every day, I learned to walk.

A third person who touched me was a deeply spiritual professor from Hungary. She was a talker and lit up every conversation. Annamarie speaks 7 languages fluently and showed deep caring about all she met. Soon after she checked into any albergue, she'd be leading yoga with anyone interested. At every stream she found, off came her shoes and socks, and up came her trouser legs. Wading into the rather cold waters, she'd laugh and thank nature, God, the universe and invite others to wade in with her. Despite my blisters, I would accept her invitation and wade in - albeit briefly - just to share in the invigorating joy of waters full of life.

To me, she was a messenger that said life isn't just for just walking the camino, but for living and being part of the camino. Annamerie reminded me that we don't just talk the talk, or even just walk the walk, but that we also live the life. Walking with her filled my days with joy and gratitude.

All three taught me lessons along the Camino. And like the dense person that I can be, I didn't realize it can work the other way too. I now realize that I too could sometimes act as a messenger, an angel, to others, if I let myself be present in the journey.

I took a rest day in Burgos because my blisters were so painful. After that rest day, I continued onward, feeling much less pain. And for some reason, on a day I was feeling healthy, I saw a grove of trees next to a sign that said "Fuente" (water fountain). I had lots of water, wasn't tired, and was only an hour away from my destination. But for some reason, I felt called to stop. To sit. To soak be a part of this rural setting under these trees. I had no reason to stop, but I turned down that path to stop. So I walked into the grove and sat at the tables. I chatted with other pilgrims and learned the well was empty. Soon, a woman from Italy stopped by looking for water at the well. She became concerned when she learned that the well was dry.

I offered her my water since I had plenty and was near my final stop. She filled her bottle and drank most of it so 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 did the unexpected. 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 glorious, bountiful flowers. Stephen got to meet her in Leon on his first day of his Camino, as she translated the pilgrim's blessing from Spanish to English for the basilica priest.

That day I met her, that evening, I pondered why she cried. I didn't have a clue at the time. 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 tired and longing for inspiration, for the mystical. It took me a while to figure out what was really happening. In fact, I needed my spiritual advisor to help me figure out why I was confused. Here I was, thinking I was merely offering her water, but when I got called to that well, I was guided to the well, prodded to be present. I was sent to help her, share the water, share some rest and a smile. With the woman at the well, thirsting for water and something deeper than a well, I offered her a gift and a message that she needed to hear. To be her angel.

So I walked with three angels. And with a woman at the well, I eventually realized that I was the voice and flesh by which angels had come to her. Life can be that way in so many ways. We walk with people who we may immediately recognize as important messengers to us, telling us to wake up and smell the roses, to find ourselves, to be inspired. And maybe without us knowing it, we too may be that angel messenger to others.

Most often, we're too close to our own stories to realize what's happening. We forget that we should walk intentionally, always awake, always open to the new. Sometimes it takes a prolonged journey to realize that you're always on a pilgrimage and should be ever present to those who may be there to help you and guide you. May your heart be always open to so that you can hear and see and touch the angels walking by your side.


Monday, October 1, 2018

Estamos Caminando por la Ciudad de los Ángeles

We are walking through the city of angels. Yes, you can take that to mean that I'm a resident of Los Angeles, and I walk through it. I walk between great buildings, through children-packed parks, among camps of homeless, and beside an untamed ocean. This city is crisscrossed with fault lines: not just geological ones, but political and economic as well.

But when I say that we are walking through the city of angels, I'm also talking about the angels in our midst. I might not be referring to actual angels as recognized by formal theology, but to angels in effect, in spirit, in love.

I've really enjoyed my new participation in a couple of ministries this past year. Perhaps they're not new in general - as I've done stuff with other programs since high school - but new specifically. And I realize that angels had something to do with me finding these places of love.

First I started attending Laundry Love in East Hollywood. The Laundry Love initiative consists of regular opportunities to come alongside people who are struggling financially by assisting them with their laundry. Laundry Love partners with local laundromats in cleaning clothes and linens of low-income or no-income families and individuals. During select days and times, laundry is free. Just bring your clothes. Quarters, soap, and dryer sheets are provided. There are no income requirements, and everyone is welcome.

I've also started to participate with The Gathering, a community of Asian-American congregants throughout the Los Angeles Episcopal Diocese, who wish to share our perspectives on our faith and practices with each other. I spoke on a panel discussing "identity" earlier this spring and am now assisting in organizing a musical event on Oct 13 at St John's Cathedral and featuring musicians in the diocese.

Both have opened my eyes to the multitude of angels that live and breathe and walk around me. You may have noticed that I in prior blog postings have talked about the being awakened periodically to discovering that someone in front of me is acting as a messenger of God. They're opening my eyes, unstopping my ears, and clearing my throat. I become aware of God's grace. I am reminded of God's love. And I feel connected to God ever more closely.

That's what an angel does. The angels that people think of in classical paintings - the cherubims - are chubby pink babies for the most part. But in those places in Scripture where angels are mentioned, the angel is almost always a messenger from God or from the Archangel Michael. They don't show up to be cute.

No, they usually are there to say "Wake up" and "God is here".

These two ministries, like the others that I participate in, poke me, prod me, blare a trumpet at me - anything to catch my distracted attention. In today's world, it's more than a little easy to be distracted after all. I'm undoubtedly as guilty of that as anyone else, if not more so given my job in technology.

Instead, I'm reminded how much we depend on each other to help each other. I'm reminded that regardless of what we look like, we are all welcome to Christ's table. I'm reminded that whether we talk with other, sing with each other, or sit in silence with each other, we are in community together and that we're in this thing as one.

I feel lucky that the wonderful members of Holy Spirit in Silver Lake reminded me of their Laundry Love ministry. I came for prayer and I walked out with my eyes opened. And when I started to attend, I so appreciate it when I can recognize people at the laundromat; I'm not great with names but I'm good with faces and that's a useful place to start. And I'm surprised and happy when they recognize me, too. It means that irrespective of where we are on our journeys, we know we've crossed paths here and that we share something together.

These times at Laundry Love complement all the time Stephen and I have spent with Union Station Homeless Services. We appreciate that society has to both help the emergency nutritional and safety needs of those who lack basic resources but also to help them move past the crisis and into sustainable employment and programs. It's hard to get a job or keep a job if your soiled laundry discourages employers from hiring you. But the reality is too many people have to choose between feeding their families and washing their clothes.

And, I feel so very connected when I'm interacting with The Gathering. I don't often participate in Asian ethnic events. I used to do that as a child and it wasn't something that I enjoyed. Mind you, Filipino families are quite large and, with almost 5 dozen first cousins and 17 nieces and nephews, there's more than enough cultural interaction just hanging out with each other. As I grew older, I enjoyed discovering other cultures. I didn't spend as much time exploring my actual roots, which are Filipino, which is sort of Asian, sort of Pacific Islander, and in some ways sort of Latino. And oh so very Roman Catholic.

So Rev. Peter Huang and the Gathering, by reaching out to me, have opened my eyes to ways I can connect with others in the church who want to experience their faith while acknowledging and celebrating our cultural heritage. It's something I've been wanting and it surprised me that it somehow appeared to happen.

I had heard of both Laundry Love and Episcopal Asian Ministries before, but I think angels are insistent. They're there to make sure you're awake and hearing the message sent to you. We each have our journeys and we'll always have times alone and times in community on the path. But the angels. The angels will tap you on the shoulder and say "If you would just listen, I think there's something you want to hear."

And I think back to the first of three angels that I met on my 600 mile Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in 2016. (http://letallwhoarethirstycome.blogspot.com/2016/05/camino-2016-0522-angel-messenger-and.html). He told me "You'll be fine". He told me I was safe. And I felt safe. And that's what I needed to hear so that I wouldn't feel alone, so that I wouldn't be afraid.

So keep an open heart to those you encounter on the road. You may not recognize the angels in our midst, but they've got something you need to hear.