Mel's Healing Pilgrimage 2016

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

Friday, December 19, 2014

Sometimes Love Sounds a Little Crazy

This painting by Tanner might be my favorite piece in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It shows a perfectly typical girl somewhere from the Middle East. This Mary is not at all the fair-haired, blue eyed damsel found in typical Renaissance paintings.

The whole painting is so realistic to me. Mary herself in particular looks utterly true. She's darker, for one.

And scared.

And puzzled.

And maybe even sarcastic. As in, "You're joking, right?"

After all, what sane, sensible girl wouldn't be shocked by the visit of some apparition telling her that she will soon be carrying a special child.

What sane, sensible girl wouldn't be horrified by how her family will feel when they find out? And don't even go there when it comes to telling her boyfriend. If they had slang in those days, which every language does, I'm sure she'd be thinking something akin to "WTF"?

I know I would.

The colors, textures, and shadows of the painting intensify the feelings that she seems to be having. This isn't the happy, glowing Mary we usually think about when we hear about the coming of Jesus. We are told that the story of the coming of unfettered love and compassion. Advent leads to Christmas and throughout this season we are eagerly waiting for this amazing love.

But maybe that's just as mistaken an impression as those Renaissance paintings. I look around and I'd say that most every active Christian in America, especially those who are involved in churches, are frantically busy trying to do what others are doing -- shopping, celebrating, gathering, traveling -- and be active in their churches at the same time. It's frantic and busy and often times less than that picture of perfect love.

Our world today is equally frightened. The political situation in American much less in other parts of our often-times dangerous world offers challenges even to the most wide-eyed optimist.

Yet, love is there waiting to be discovered. We have so much potential to welcome love and grace into our lives, if we move beyond the fear.

I view Mary and Joseph not as awed adults as is portrayed in paintings and media, but as incredibly brave teenagers. Maybe they're a bit like most young adults I meet today: fearless to the point that they behave as though they are immortal. They face the challenge put to them by their visions head-on.

Because love demands it. Love isn't meant to be seen from sideways glances. It's the full embrace, the bear hug, the never-gonna-let-you-go squeeze that comforts. You can't get that by being coy. And you can't see it or even notice that it's there if you're afraid.

I'm in a discerning mood right now. I feel and hear things that call out to me that have frightened me. It didn't dissipate upon my marriage. It didn't disappear upon walking the Camino de Santiago. No, in fact, it got stronger and reinforced. I see this painting and I'm wondering if that's me cowering in the corner.

I look and pray to Mary and Joseph to show me what fearless love looks like. And I invite you to pray for the love that knows no limits into your lives, regardless of your fears. You and I weren't meant to fear the invitation to love. If we know love is there waiting, we must get past our darkest nights and see the light that is to come.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Bowl of Light and Stones at the Cruz de Ferro - An Advent meditation

A friend of mine in choir at All Saints Pasadena reminded us during her Advent meditation of a "story of the people".

Imagine an old bowl. It might look like a simple vessel, but for those who appreciate ancient wisdom from other cultures, it can mean much more. Here's a story from the Hawaiian people.

It is known that “each child born comes with a Bowl of Perfect Light.” And providing that the child is taught to carefully, mindfully tend to his or her light, the child grows in strength and is able to do all things - swim with the sharks in the deepest oceans, fly with the birds in the heavens, know and understand all things. If, however, the child becomes envious, jealous, judgmental he or she must drop a stone into their bowl of light, causing some of the light to go out, since light and stone cannot occupy the same space and time. And if one continues to fill the bowl with stones, the light will go out completely, and that person becomes a stone and like a stone, one no longer emits lights, grows, moves. One remains in this state of being. If at any time one tires of being a stone,  that person must realize that all he or she needs to do is turn the bowl upside down, letting all the stones fall out and making room in the bowl once again. Light can shine through and fill the bowl once more and grow even brighter than before. We must always remember that nothing is impossible, and a life in the darkness can be turned upside if we choose.
Though I had forgotten this story, it struck me how meaningful it would have been had I remembered it on my Camino de Santiago pilgrimage. The Cruz de Ferro is an extremely tall cross at the highest point on the walk across Spain. I had several blog postings about the Cruz de Fero which I share again here.

The custom is to bring a stone with you from wherever you came from across the world. I brought mine from the 3200ft (1100m) mountain behind my house here in Southern California. The stone was carried across way, a reminder that you carry with you things that weigh you down, even on the most arduous of journeys. The pains and suffering we experience while taking the pilgrimage aren't helped by carrying that stone, just as the stones in our lives weigh us down and impede us on our life journey.

So we leave that stone at the cross, asking that our Christ, who carries our burdens and for us, to take that stone off us, relieving us of its weight, lightening our load. Some leave the stones plain, others like myself wrote on the stone the things that the stone represented. I left my stone at the cross and was overwhelmed at how much lighter I felt inside.

Advent comes in the middle of the darkest times of winter. And yet, in the stillness of the night, we still have hope that comes. We await and prepare for that hope. We turn over our bowls to make room for the light. We leave our stones behind at the cross. We remember that we can choose to walk away from the darkness and into the most humble and otherwise empty spaces to find the birth of a miraculous life and light.

Thank you Cynthia for reminding me in these times of winter's darkness that we, celebrating Advent, know that a light shall come and we can make room for that light in our bowls.

May all of us have the courage to turn our bowls upside down and may light perpetual shine on us.

May we help those too weak or poor to turn their bowls upside down and may light perpetual shine on them.

May we help those too powerful or rich to have the courage turn their bowls upside down and may light perpetual shine on them.

May we help those too frightened, confused, or lonely to turn their bowls upside and may light perpetual shine on them.

And may your stones be set down so that the light may arc into your bowl of life.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Advent Meditation: Soft vs Hard, Natural vs Man-made, Love vs Fear.

Cloud and Chichenitza pyramid, Mexico. Mel Soriano 2014-11-30
I've been contemplating why this photo struck me so strongly as I took it last week while I was traveling in Mexico. It's basically a corner of the main pyramid at Chichenitza and the cloud behind it. I took many photos that day, but I focused on this one in part because it highlighted an interesting contrast to me. At that time, it was just the difference between soft vs hard materials. But more than that, it meant something deeper, and I gazed at it in wonder. It attracted me more than I understood at that time.

This morning, a comment by one of my best high school friends on Facebook gave a clue as to why I liked it so much. Glenn pointed out that it was also a contrast between the natural and the man-made. Finally, it all started to make sense.

Juxtapositions like this happen all the time but do we really pay attention to the contrast as it happens before our eyes? What might seem simple and direct might actually be connecting at a deeper level, yet we sometimes move on before we have a chance to fully appreciate and understand what is before us. In this instance, the cloud and pyramid weren't just material textures that contrasted, but represented much more, especially during this troublesome Advent season.

The natural is floating so gently in this photo, with elusive, indefinite boundaries. The edges in fact change constantly: it's a cloud after all. The pyramid has striations laid out by man. Strong lines mark every step with heavy burgeoning stones. The soft versus strict lines are as disparate as, say, the concept of justice to Jean Valjean compared to Inspector Javert in Les Miserables. One is difficult to define, the other easily precise.

In addition to the lines, you also have a temporal contrast. Clouds are ephemeral, transient, elusive. They float by and change shapes while you stare at them. What might look like one thing can transform and suddenly you realize it looks like something else. The pyramid, however, is permanent and unchanging. It's ancient. Really ancient. It's so unchanging that the Chichenitza pyramid was lost and forgotten in the jungles for centuries before it was re-discovered. And of course, it hadn't changed during that time.

You also have a marked contrast in origin. The cloud is a gift from God, the source of life, a sign of nourishment, a spigot of life-giving water. It shades from the sun and recedes after it gives of its gift. The pyramid on the other hand is wholly man-made as a gift TO the gods. It's a way to reach towards the heavens, but not to inspire connectivity with gods. Instead, it perpetuates fear of the gods and was a way to make sacrifices to those angry gods. Rather than affirming life, the pyramid was the site where lives were taken to placate and appease. By dispensing with a few, the larger masses felt better, safer, shielded from wrath.

I already had my morning prayers today, but they were focused on the troubling state of affairs in our country in regards to police and ethnic minorities.  My prayers were also on the horrifying revelations found in the torture report regarding the CIA's "enhanced interrogation" techniques. In my name, I feel sin is committed every day. In my supposed security (unfounded as the report shows), people were tortured and minorities are killed without due process. As a way to appease the fearful, our government high priests have deemed it acceptable to maim, intimidate, threaten, terrorize. Where is the Holy Spirit when you need Her? How do you prepare for Christmas with this stain?

So thank you Glenn for digging out of the jungle of my mind the reason the photo struck me so strongly. I prayed, pray, and will pray for a day when we reach out to our God of love and no longer need to build temples of fear. I prayed, pray, and will pray for a day when we no longer need to sacrifice our own to appease the gods, as a cover for the fact that we are just appeasing our own human fears. And I prayed, pray, and will pray for a day when we can look at these monuments of injustice we see today as mere stepping stones to a heaven filled with grace.

May your Advent be lit by the candle of light and life.

Praying for the sacrificed at Chichenitza pyramid, Mexico.
Mel Soriano 2014-11-30

Friday, December 5, 2014

As Thanksgiving yields to Advent

The last wedding we attended was our own, six months ago. On the Saturday before Thanksgiving, we attended the holy matrimony of a dear couple, Jeff and Chris. .Weddings are an outward sign of love, community, charity, and self-assurance. Stephen and I hoped ours felt that way as much to our guests as to ourselves. We certainly saw that in Jeff and Chris's union. In offering and sharing a sign of love, weddings are the visible rainbow promised to us and where we, if we desire, can find a pot of grace granted.

As the old hymn goes, "Ubi caritas et amor deus ibi est". We used that hymn as did Jeff and Chris. It means more or less "Where charity and love exist, God is there." People can be in love and keep it to themselves. I'm sure politically, many would prefer this. But loving just yourselves is basically self-focused, with no outward benefit or creation. By sharing the love with others in the most charitable way, one creates. Creation can be in offering life, in supporting life, or in sustaining life. Some have children. I myself prefer feeding children and working towards their safety. Charity and love combined show us the face of God.

Thanksgiving itself was a marvelous affair for us this year. It started on Thursday with a morning of work at Union Station Homeless Services's Dinner in the Park. We love the set up tasks. Many prefer actually dishing up the food, but we prefer to work with the team that hauls out the tables, sets up the temporary structures, and decorates. It's very behind-the-scenes, but for us it's not important for the one hand to know what the other is doing. It's about sharing hospitality, abundance, and grace with those who are in need.

We then had a quiet and intimate dinner at my sister's apartment. It felt warm and joyful. The next day, we had a much larger, combined dinner with both sides of our family together at our place. Noise and food were plentiful as we shared stories and laughs late into the night.

And then I took off to Cancun, Mexico.

At the top of Coba pyramid in the Yucatan jungle.
Stephen had to be at school so he stayed home. I traveled and did some work from afar. I met up with a Camino peregrino - 19yo Jakob from Austria - who I befriended on my pilgrimage. He was one of the two cousins who walked not 800 km, but 3000 km as he started from his front door in Austria. Together, we celebrated, learned, shared dreams, and immersed ourselves in culture, history, peoples. Jakob is starting a 9 month journey that will take him from Mexico down all the way to Chile in South America. In that time, he'll work organic farms, find odd jobs, camp, swim, hitchhike, learn about the cultures, and improve his 5th language Spanish.

And that's what led me into thinking about Advent. Advent is about preparation and waiting. I found myself turning on a dime from a season of thanks by spending time with someone preparing for what is to come. His dreams and aspirations are so similar to what I carried with me at his age. I share with all who listen that I view my young Austrian friends from the Camino de Santiago as almost my nephews. I hope that I can share my stories with them, offer ideas not based on judgment, and encourage them. Jakob has so much going for him and his heart is as expansive as his mind.

Spending a week with Jakob allowed me to feel hopeful and alive. It was a move from the past -- where your mind must be in order to give thanks -- towards the future where your mind must be in order to have hope. Jakob takes the needed risks on this journey so that he can be ready for what is to come. He's willing to walk away from worldly conveniences and stable relationships in order to ensure that he's prepared.  I feel blessed that he helped make my Advent more meaningful and personal.

Y con eso, para mí, mi Advent ha comenzado (and with that, my Advent has begun)