Mel's Healing Pilgrimage 2016

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

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Lenten Reflection: From the ashes, we bring new life

A century plant on Echo Mountain above Pasadena 2013
We read from John 12 this morning. Here's a couple of lines of John 12:24-26
Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.
There are many times I lament that we take two steps forward, one step back. Sometimes two or even three back. On so many days we feel like we're backsliding. The story unfolding in Indiana with its recent laws permitting discrimination seems just like this to me.

Sometimes, I weep as we lose friends and family. We at times can say goodbye, other times we're not given the opportunity to say goodbye in person. Loss always seems to much worse when it's something or someone you love dearly. The backsliding feeling can overwhelm us.

And yet, in so many ways, that loss is our own, something that reflects personal needs and desires. John 12 reminds us that what we see and feel masks the big picture. Sometimes we have to see things differently. It's hard to do that. As people, we need love and memories and laughter and joy. Lose a source of that joy and we sense an injustice has been done. We've been robbed of our happiness.

From this, we mourn. We rage. We despair.

But shaking our fist at the sky doesn't accomplish much. Moreover, we might not realize, like the apostles in John 12, that we're seeing things too closely, that we aren't seeing the big picture. Because it's not just a matter of scattering the seeds that we get many plants. We have let the seeds die and create a nurturing environment in the soil to get an even greater abundance of life. We have to let go of what we loved into the soil, then care for what we have buried.

And the God who is love is what gets the seeds to spread. In the soil, from which they came, the seeds eventually bring new life, more life. Yes, from the ashes, we bring the new. With help, the circle since Ash Wednesday becomes complete as we grope our way to Easter. But we have to be intentional about our care, our nurturing, our love. Jesus in John 12 teaches us to change our way of thinking if God is make life out of death. We have to play our part, to serve, to suffer, to bring healing. The seed will lie dormant without us and God.

I don't know if Easter is a celebration or a call to action. Maybe it's both. Easter is about life made new. How can we gain from that without first burying the seed AND watering it? May you bury your pains, heal with soil watered from your tears, and find life made new.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Lenten Reflection: Waiting For Godot... and Gary, Indiana.

Me waiting for Godot?
San Diego Coronado Beach. Feb 14, 2015

Monday's Holy Week readings included the following lines from Isaiah 42:3-4

A bruised reed He will not break And a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish; He will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not be disheartened or crushed Until He has established justice in the earth; And the coastlands will wait expectantly for His law.

The recent RFRA (so called Religious Freedom Restoration Act) law in Indiana, like other laws coming soon in Arkansas and Georgia, take advantage of last year's Hobby Lobby Supreme Court ruling and goes far beyond older RFRAs. Rather than preventing governments from putting burdens on people, these new laws are intended to prevent people from burdening people. And, to rub salt into the wound, Indiana reminds us in SB101 that corporations and businesses are people and can therefore have a faith.

This breaks my heart because it feels like such a step backward. It's one thing to willfully ignore the discrimination that we can see happening in Ferguson, Missouri and other places. It's another to enshrine such discrimination into law and actually claim that those discriminating are the real victims. Masquerading discrimination as religion, like a klansman hides behind his hood, does not make the bruises go away.

I read this morning's readings and found strength. As we together walk towards Easter this week, we must keep our wick alive and remember that justice will be served. In the meantime, I pray for those in states like Indiana so that those who feel put upon, whether by faith or by birth, will have their loads lifted and their cups be filled by justice.

I recall watching a Samuel Beckett play "Waiting for Godot" in Stanford and thinking, "I'm still waiting and waiting and waiting." Decades later, I sometimes wonder how long I have to wait (yes, that play still challenges me). And I'm thankful that I have others with whom I can share my wait, for in community, we can draw strength.

But it's still Monday. And the coastlands will wait expectantly for his law.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Lenten Reflection - Did I take that road?

Walking out of Melida, Spain on the Camino de Santiago

My very last reflection before leaving for Spain six months ago was called "The Road Not Taken (Preparing #12)". In it, I shared Robert Frost's famous poem and was considering some of my aspirations and wariness for the upcoming pilgrimage. Clearly, anticipation had built up tremendously and I was eager to take my first steps.

Now, in the midst of Lent, I reflect on whether I had in fact been able to ward off the judgment of others and my own self-judgment. I admit in reviewing my blog postings during the walk that I wrestled with these thoughts and found it frustratingly difficult.

First self-judgment. It didn't take long at all. Here I was on day four (see "Day 4 - Recap - Changing Plans) and you will see that I grappled with a decision to skip a five hour walk through an industrial area. Rather than trudge through that mess and then stop and sleep before Astorga, I wanted to take the bus past the industrial area and then get to Astorga early enough to explore the city and cathedral. My original plans were to stay in a village then get to Astorga  at 9am but then continue onwards after a couple hours. But to take the bus and skip the industrial area made me feel like I was changing my plans and "cheating" on the pilgrimage.

I'm glad I did. I'm thankful that I spoke with Stephen back at home via Skype about this. He's the one who reminded me about my desire to not judge anyone about what their pilgrimage looked like. And here I was judging myself! I had to let go of my self-judgment and plans and go with the road that felt right. Thank goodness I did. I was able to enjoy the marvelous small city, meet some interesting people, buy a pilgrimage scallop shell, picnic at a Gaudi building, and attend mass celebrated by the Bishop.

I just had to let go of my ego.

The other judgment was the one that rocked my walk (see "Preconceived Notions and Judgment") because I didn't even realize I was being judgmental. I was reflexively judging another peregrino simply based on his appearance. I assumed that he and I were going to be radically different in theology and politics and I evaded him.

How damning I was... and it was me who got damned.

When I finally faced him, I realized that I was judging him so unfairly. I was blocking my own personal growth. I was creating walls of separation instead of sharing, bonding, healing. In my despair that night, I wrestled through the night like Jacob and slept at most four hours. That's something when you're really tired from walking.

And now, six months later in the midst of Lent, here in the US we've had things happening that make me wonder about this judgment by reflex. It seems to me that Ferguson is a community-wide version of this reflex. It's judgment on steroids. Take every person doing the judgment that I was doing, magnify it, point it at the disenfranchised, and you get the sort of systematic discrimination that just won't go away.

I think I'm more self-aware of this reflex in me now. I'm working hard to detect my judging before or as it is happening, to meet my neighbor with the knowledge that we are all God's children. My prayer this morning after the latest horrible news from Ferguson is that we as a people, as a community, as a human family, can work together to understand this destructive force and return to a place of sharing, bonding, healing.

What road will we be taking this Lent?

               Two roads diverged in a wood,
               and I — I took the one less traveled by, 
               And that has made all the difference.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Looking forward from the Camino, 6 months later

This is a photo I took in Burgos Cathedral at the start of my Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in 2014. A young tourist or peregrino (pilgrim) is capturing the stunning stained glass at the end of a hallway near the courtyard.

This photo haunts me. To me, it raises so many questions. What are you seeing that you wish to capture? Does it capture the beauty you saw? Will you forget this beauty once you walk away, except if you take this photo? With whom will you share this photo and what will you tell them? What do think knowing that this window, like all windows, eventually returns to dust?

I share this photo because here we are in the middle of Lent, and lo and behold I realize: it's been exactly six months since I landed in Spain and began my Camino de Santiago pilgrimage.

What happened to me in that time? I walked the Camino de Santiago, discovered and rediscovered some timeless lessons about community and relationships, deepened my faith, and found myself  in a deeper journey of spirituality than I expected.

Yes, the Camino was an adventure. Indeed for some, the adventure of the Camino is a primary attraction. I admit that I was looking forward with only the slightest trepidation an opportunity to relive my backpacking and cycling days of youth through Europe.

But I went into it as a journey of the soul. I came out of it seeing the face of God ever more strongly as I shared and touched and connected with some amazing people. Every person is your closest friend, if ever so briefly on your journey. And one marches on, with a growing realization that more angels will come every day and show you your way.

I think of my Austrian "nephews" who began to walk with me towards the end, and made my trip so deeply satisfying. Isn't it amazing how the young always seem to energize us? I didn't think of it at the time, but they infused me with the same hope and love of the future as when I stayed with the Taize community in France. The love of our Creator knows no bounds and in our young, we see the same limitless hope.

And while Lent also strides onwards towards Easter, I immerse myself in reflection about the cross and the burdens of our mortality. We are on this planet for such a short time, yet we act as though some days can be wasted on trivial things. What does it take to remind ourselves that we must live life anew, fresh and as hopeful as children?

Is it in children?

Is it in Jesus?

Is it on a spiritual quest?

None of these offers a quick answer. Anybody who thinks so will find possibly simple satisfaction, but might find themselves also in an existential crisis when challenges of life come crashing down.

This is why I think my Camino pilgrimage continues. Lent is a season, but the introspection is needed every day. Children grow up, but the wonders in their eyes must reside in us always. Jesus inspires, but we need to carry His love throughout our day and not just in the pews. My spiritual quest hasn't ended but just cycles through yet another phase.

So as six months have passed by and I reflect on what I've learned from my Camino walk, I'll look at various aspects of my journey - before, during, and after my pilgrimage - for the remainder of this Lent. Not because I'm planning on returning, which I am next year, but because life's lessons, like life, must be renewed and restored.

May your spring bring forth a bloom of life and potential life anew, from the soil you've tilled before.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Walking for me, Walking for others

You may have heard that I walked the Camino de Santiago in 2014. If you read my blog series on that pilgrimage, you're well aware of what went through my head and heart. If not here are the two main links:
   Before the Camino
   During and after the Camino

It amazes me how much the Camino changed my perceptions. Perhaps that's not correct. I think inside I knew what should and could arise from this pilgrimage. No, what's amazing is that in spite of all that I knew and perceived, my focus was all around one being.


My journey in faith.

My spiritual direction.

My own Camino.

And what I discovered, especially as I re-read my blog postings, was that what was changing was not necessarily my perceptions, but my focus. By focusing so much on me, I so lost sight of many of the things that truly make for a grace-filled world. The low point and high point of the refocusing pivoted on one night, as I describe in the blog entry Preconceived Notions and Judgement . As I mentioned there, I was up half the night, shocked that my self-focused walk almost blocked the Holy Spirit from working both within me and within others. On my camino, I was twisting in my path.

So the lessons revolved around the focus, not on what I knew. I know that religion is about our inter-connectedness, our relationships, other love with others on this earth. My spiritual focus was on me, which obscured the eternal truths. So, this next walk will not focus on me. It will be on


Our journeys in faith.

Our spiritual directions.

Our own caminos.

Now, with All Saints Pasadena friends Matthew Rhodes and Michelle Johnston, I'm planning on returning to the Camino in 2016 May-June. And many, many more are coming, though they will start at different places. Matthew and MJ will start at Saint Jean Pied-de-Port on the French border, the typical starting spot for the 500 mile journey. Stephen will likely start in Astorga. Others in Burgos, where I started my journey in 2014. And I'll continue to Finisterre, on foot this time.

This time, in 2016, I won't be starting in Spain. I'll be starting in Lourdes, France.

The Virgin Mary made over a dozen appearances to the village starting in 1858. The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes is a place of mass pilgrimage. The spring water from the grotto is believed by some to possess healing properties. This pilgrimage site of healing receives millions of visitors every year.

I will begin my pilgrimage on the Camino here. I will seek healing in communion with others. Then, with oils and waters from this site, I will begin my Camino walk towards Saint Jean Pied-de-Port and onwards to Santiago de Compostella. Most importantly, I will share the water and oil with those who wish to share in a healing moment.

So it won't be about me this time. It will be about sitting with others and praying together for healing and love. I'll be praying with and for everyone I meet. I hope I stay in the moment and present with all I encounter. And, with a grace-filled heart, my focus won't need adjusting this time.