Mel's Healing Pilgrimage 2016

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

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Day 16 - Finisterre Fire video

For those who want to see Conrad's recording of my fire purge after the Camino walk:

Days 14-16 in Santiago - Are We There Yet?

So here we are in Santiago de Compostella and the first thing we do after we relax, soak in the Cathedral plaza, and take photos is look for my hotel.

Well, we also get lost and used the occasion to get some tasty pastries (I was allowing myself gluten this day because I had avoided this allergen too long). 

I say "we" because I decided to invite my three Austrian friends to stay with me. I called the hotel to have some extra beds brought in. It was extending beyond my normal comfort zone as I fully expected to have a nice stay, complete with perhaps a spa visit, in a contemporary hotel to celebrate and recuperate.

But given what I've been saying as the trip progressed, that wouldn't have been a celebration. It would have been a regression, feeling lonely and contrary to what I experienced. The Way was indeed a spiritual exercise but I realized that it was most profound when we listened and helped each other, not if we were monastically silent.

So the three young men were thrilled when, my hotel wasn't just a normal business hotel as I expected but a former monastery turned into a rather sophisticated, fancy hotel with valet parking, etc. They have never been to such a place in their youthful lives and marveled at everything.

When I got out of the shower, I was rendered speechless as I listened to Jakob and Elias go through their list and Skype their family. They had not called since they walked out of Linz Austria in June. The shrieks of joy and relief on the other side of Skype was utterly heart-warming. These guys were loved, missed, and thankfully alive. And in listening to the Deutsche - because that's all I can do with Deutsche, listen - I too felt alive. 

We used the hotel sauna, spa, and fitness center, cleaned up, and looked for dinner. We dined at the Taberna do Bispo - a delightfully amusing name but it had good seafood tapas. We ate a bounty and wow the Galician Crema dessert, a sort of flan over cheesecake, was a dream to our senses.

The guys wanted to go out drinking but I was too exhausted. I went back to the hotel and they came back hours later. They were disappointed that I didn't want to drink all night but now I needed rest and peace, leaving the partying to the younger pilgrims. Besides the sunset before dinner was too lovely to not have a few private moments of contemplation.

The next day, I let them sleep in and went to get my Compostella (diploma). I ran into Kyu who like us saw the long lines and decided to just come back today. Arriving 8:30 just 30 minutes after opening, the short line still took 40 minutes. But as stated by another peregrino who we kept meeting (we called him Oxygen guy since most of his pack was Oxygen mask equipment), "It's just a mini Camino". I liked his patience and was buoyed by it.

I got my Compostella and felt so good. Was I there yet? At this moment, I didn't care.

We had a great buffet and the guys apparently had never eaten at a nice hotel buffet. Jakob can really pack it in, even more than me. Heavenly pastries were great, but Elias hauled in a stack of bacon.

I realized I was sounding more avuncular than a big brother. Maybe that's more appropriate since I'm older than their parents. But more importantly, I felt like different generations can find similarities and respect for each other that we often forget at home.

We then went to the noon pilgrimage mass. Oh that felt good. It has been over a week since I attended the mass in Astorga. The days of grinding out the wet kilometers in rural places left no chance to find the mass.

But the last couple days were, in a word, spectacular. Barely a cloud shown, 80 temperatures, and gleaming rays highlighted the city. It was a perfect finish to a long trip of very different weather patterns. Were we there yet? Inside the Cathedral, hugging St James, it seemed so.

So the mass went well and was packed with pilgrims. We were all welcome but reminded that only those baptized Catholic could receive Communion. After this journey, I felt sorry for those pilgrims who weren't invited to the altar. 

Were we there yet? Maybe not yet.

I saw a few who went anyway and - given that the name of my blog shows my feelings on this - I was glad. And I was happy to see a surprisingly emotional Elias get communion.

Alas, no botafumeiro today. The enormous incense burner will wait until tomorrow, on the regular Friday evening service.

I did some shopping while they checked out the Compostella line. I finally chatted up Rudy from Germany, whose wife met up with him now that he walked into Santiago. Jakob, Elias, Conrad, and I met up back at the hotel and, since the hotel pool was under construction, walked a kilometer away to the city athletic center and pool. Of course Jakob had us stop for pastries on the way. I guess I had the same behavior during my backpacking days in Europe during 1980s: walk for hours, get a couple pastries.

They clowned around and didn't do laps, but I certainly did: backstroke no legs. I totally didn't need to add to my leg workout. The cool water felt good and we had a chilaxing time going back and forth to the steam room. My feet were almost ready to forgive me.

We cleaned up and met with some other peregrinos at the Cathedral plaza at 7pm. Caught up with Thomas, finally introduced myself to occasional passerby Martin of Scotland, Susana of Germany, and Marc from Germany. We all had a relaxing dinner and Thomas admitted that he had been laid off from an executive position and was using his Camino walk to find himself.

We then went back to the plaza and Conrad pulled out the cigars. We laid on the stone steps, listened to Galician music, sipped wine, gazed at the stars - nowhere near as bright now that we were in a city - and puffed away with joy. Were we there yet? Maybe yes, maybe no, but we were in communion with each other and that's all that mattered.

Marc made a dramatic exit. He said his goodbyes and offered his cigarette lighter to Elias and Jakob for use at Finisterre. He said that was his last moment smoking, as he promised himself on this pilgrimage. He then walked into the darkness with a spring in his step.

The next day, after another hearty breakfast, Conrad and I said our goodbyes to Elias and Jakob. It was heartwarming and full of invitations to stay in Austria and Pasadena. They began their march to the end of the world.

Conrad and I took the bus instead. Though we napped most of the way, we still saw some lovely beaches and Californiaesque coastline. I'll describe this day trip in the next blog. But it was after that bus trip to the ocean that I said my goodbye to Conrad. Was he done with his journey yet? I doubt it.

I came back with sore feet and ran into Ann. The day I lost my hat but gained a fellow friend on the journey, Conrad and I were having cocoa when she chatted us up. Ann is from Pennsylvania and walking in from Sarria.

I congratulated her for completing the journey and found that she had deeply personal reasons for making this trip. We shared smiles, hugs, and support and told her I would keep her in my prayers.

I grabbed a quick bite of more pulpo (we need pulperías in Pasadena) and at 7pm barely got a standing place at the cathedral for the 7:30 Friday night once a week pilgrim mass. I ran Into the woman whose backpack obscured my eyeglasses for almost an hour in Grosvar. 

The announced welcome heartened me when in Spanish I heard the welcome to those peregrinos from Los Angeles who started in Burgos. "Hey that's me!". Communion was again introduced with a welcome, but also a warning to those not baptized Roman Catholic. We were there, but not there yet.

The highlight was the botafumeiro. The enormous incense burner was lit at the end. Tourists and pilgrims alike suddenly became electronic gophers. On cue, hundreds of hands popped up with mobile phones, cameras, tablets, and iPads lighting up the room.

We were blessed and probably fumigated by the incense. It swung back and forth, almost as high as the ceiling. Up and down it made its journey but like us, it knew where it would end, in the center of the Cathedral.

At rest.

At peace.


I boarded the night train to Madrid, slept soundly on Dramamine, and now continue my pilgrimage towards Salamanca. 

May our days be filled with ups, downs, fragrances burning, and dramatic flourishes. And may your relations include tears of joy, playfulness, and sweets. May we be there, wherever there is.

And let all who are thirsty come.

Day 16 - It's the End of the World as We Know It

I feel fine.

The bus trip to Finisterre was easy and Conrad and I walked the 4km from the bus stop to the Faro (lighthouse) easily. The coast was almost like Southern California. We walked besides peregrinos and when we arrived at the end of the world, we soaked in the warm sun.

While there we observed the reverent ways people marked the end of their journeys. Many left or burned their walking sticks, their scallop shells, shirts, or shoes.

I ran into Rajko, head of pathology at a university hospital in Slovenia, and his wife Lydia. We met in Foncebadon at the Cruz de Ferro and bumped into each other almost daily. His son got his medical degree at UCLA and is now in San Francisco.

Lydia had burned some papers, which was my intention. They offered me their lighter as a way to both light my offerings and to remember how we, as ships sailing in the dark, saw each other's flames throughout this journey.

Conrad and I talked of his future, of his dreams. We laughed and cried. 

Then, when it seemed right, he filmed me as I set aflame my papers. The papers were the holding words, phrases, and thoughts of things that have held me back, that have weighed me down.

I burnt them as an offering of Thanksgiving that I made it to the end of the world. I prayed that I could leave them here if grace allowed. I let the ashes smolder as each word lit up then flickered away. And I thanked God for bringing me to this heavenly place.

I said goodbye to Conrad and hoped we met again soon in America or Austria. It was like saying goodbye to a son. I felt good for his future and hoped I affected him well.

On the walk down to the town, I ran into Kyu again. We said our goodbyes once more as he prepares to pack his London apartment and move back to Korea. I hope he finds a fashion job back home as he dreams.

While waiting for the bus home, an older gent from Sussex chatted me up about my Taizé cross. He has been there four times since 1988. He also was finishing up his second Camino. We enjoyed our brief but deep discussion about ecumenical spiritual communities that we both seemed to enjoy.

I rode back in silent contemplation to finish my time at Santiago. 

And I felt fine.

Day 14 - The Way

We four walked together after a later than normal start because we knew today was a short day.

Our way was set. Our way should be easy. Our way would be a final triumphant stroll. It would be laughs and joy all the way there.

We paused for a light breakfast and talked in German and English the whole day. Well almost. After a picnic lunch we stopped talking.

Conrad, always observant, found it fascinating. He asked if I noticed how quiet all the pilgrims (not just us) had gotten. I theorized that we were feeling the enormity of our journey in our hearts. The silence was an innate respect for the hard-work and spiritual quest we were all taking. Even if some of us were not walking for religious reasons, this was a day of awe, a day of questioning. Did we learn anything and if not, why did we do this? I think do we as Christians learn from the journey Christ made?

I think we all gasped when we first saw a statue in the neighboring town that overlooked the big city of Santiago de Compostella. We could not yet see the Cathedral but it meant we were close. Did we succeed though? Did we succeed?

But we were still tantalizingly close, yet an hour plus walk away. We had to walk through the outer modern and busy part of the city. But yes, we finally glimpsed the Cathedral. Jakob pointed it out to me and, quite touchingly I thought, held me as I got teary eyed. 

It was at that moment I realized that I befriended these guys in a way that was paternalistic or at least avuncular. They could easily be my children but because they weren't, I wasn't trying to control them. I supported them and they held me up. I truly cared for them and hope our bond will last. It reminded me of the ache I get when my siblings or cousins or mother intimate that since I'm not a father I don't know how it feels when a parent sees their child get hurt. My extended family might reach further than blood relations and it certainly can feel as strong. My care for the young doesn't have to be just for my own offspring.

We arrived at the Cathedral to bagpipes. Gallician Celt music is all about bagpipes. We rounded the corner, came upon the great square, and dropped our bags.  

I love this picture. Conrad and Elias look utterly speechless. We've seen a dozen cathedrals on this walk, but they were mid-Camino. We arrived.

The scaffolding covered two towers but after our journey, we shook that off like we shook off all the bites, bruises, and blisters. The construction did not matter.

And like others who made the journey, we sat or leaned back and gazed at the Cathedral.

I thumbs upped the two Korean girls who I saw for most of my walk.

We cheered the older Uruguay couple who finished their bike ride.

I wept.

Conrad and Elias began to play their ukelele and harmonica. 

After an hour, we took our tourist photos of victory.

After that, we continued our journey. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Day 12 - Preconceived Notions and Judgment

The walk from Grosvar to Melides was a lovely and long stroll through various ecosystems. You descend from a mountaintop that'd rather bare except for the road. Of course within a few feet of the albergue I stepped off the asphalt and fell on my bad knee yet again. This time I also fell on my right hand which then got bloodied in a few places.

I then came down into a tree covered area and met Emma and Karol from Slovakia. They are doing the walk from León and largely for spiritual reasons. Emma sounded like she had to walk as a lone adult, so I was wondering if there were sad relationship issues involved. I didn't ask but their journey was so courageous and beautiful that I prayed them a safe and profound pilgrimage.

If I hadn't mentioned it, Karol is Emma's toddler son.

I chatted for a while with Daniel from British Columbia who said that he was 68. This was his second walk. His first walk ended when his inflamed tendons got the best of him. He had walked the whole Camino Frances but had to stop within 40 km from Santiago. I pray him better luck this trip.

I chatted for a kilometer with two men traveling from upstate New York. They looked like they were in their 70s and were quite well read. They pointed out that this otherwise unremarkable little building has a Tudor coat of arms, suggesting that a monarch likely stayed here once while traveling on the Camino as an established trade route.

Soon I was surrounded by eucalyptus trees and this type of tree. I'll explain what it is later but let's just say that the fruit is simply all over the ground right now.

The rest of the walk didn't include more deep conversations but did have lovely sights. The prolonged me-time on this day gave me opportunities to think of my spiritual direction. 

Where do I go from here? Why do I feel so called to work on a more spiritual level? What do Rev Zelda Kennedy and Rev Sally Howard mean when they see the Holy Spirit working on me?  

Why is my path taking me to unseen places?

After I got to the albergue, I met a 73yo gentleman from Alabama who saw my USC shorts and mentioned that he was born in the Bay Area. He had a cross and I thought it would be interesting to chat with Jim further, but I really doubted we would have anything in common. Older, white Southerner? Not likely to understand my progressive Christianity I decided.

For now, I cleaned out my wounds and went to the Melides church.

This place had some of the most sorrowful and over the top dramatic Lenten pieces I have ever seen.

I reconnected with Elias, Jakob, and Conrad, and we had fabulous - FABULOUS - dinner of Galician octopus (pulpo) and navajas (razor clams). We couldn't get enough. I'm learning so much about these guys.

Maybe they remind me of my wanderlust laden self at that age. They're out on their own and want to know the world. And the adventures they're doing: the cousins - practically brothers - walking 1900 miles from Austria and Conrad cycling / walking alone from Pamplona.

Last I spoke some more with Jim from Alabama. I pondered what we could talk about in common given our likely different theologies. I asked him to describe his pilgrimage. It turns out he's Presbyterian, an elder, and... and he wants to find a way so that his grandson can marry a husband in his church. You see, Jim's trying to work with his congregation because he's convinced that the Reformation isn't over and that inclusion is the right thing to do. His gay 17yo grandson is as much a child of God as anyone else. During a post General Session meeting his heart was opened by the surprising support he heard from his congregation, even from people he assumed would be against inclusion. In the end, he lost six members, but gained six.

I was silently shocked by our conversation. It showed that I was using stereotypes to prejudge people. Here was a spiritual friend and I had, because of simplistic generalizations, relegated him to an Alabama church person I would not, could not, will not connect with. I chose a wrong path without looking hard for a sign.

In my stunned shame, I realized I still must rid myself of locking people out by prejudging. As Jakob said regarding another situation, if you don't try you can never win. Prejudging is a losing proposition from the first moment. 

Much meditation and self awareness was expected for the next day.