Mel's Healing Pilgrimage 2016

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

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Who am I

I watch certain films during Lent. Chocolat. Les Miserables (1995 concert version).

This year, I was particularly moved by the song "Who am I". It comes after Inspector Javert feels he's captured the Jean Valjean, prisoner 24601, who abandoned the terms of his parole. Unwittingly, he tells the mayor, who in fact is Jean Valjean but under an assumed name. Jean Valjean must face whether he continues in his disguise, maintain his office, sustain his successful business, and escape prison, but causing an innocent man to go to jail. Or he could reveal his identity and lose his business and position.

From the lyrics to "Who am I"
from the musical Les Miserables

If I speak, I am condemned.
If I stay silent, I am damned!

I am the master of hundreds of workers.
They all look to me.
How can I abandon them?
How would they live
If I am not free?

If I speak, they are condemned.
If I stay silent, I am damned!

Who am I?
Can I condemn this man to slavery
Pretend I do not feel his agony
This innocent who bears my face
Who goes to judgement in my place
Who am I?
Can I conceal myself for evermore?
Pretend I'm not the man I was before?
And must my name until I die
Be no more than an alibi?
Must I lie?
How can I ever face my fellow men?
How can I ever face myself again?
My soul belongs to God, I know
I made that bargain long ago
He gave me hope when hope was gone
He gave me strength to journey on

Who am I? Who am I?
I am Jean Valjean!

And so Javert, you see it's true
That man bears no more guilt than you!
Who am I?
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I normally love this song because it brings me to tears. This year, however, I found myself actually sobbing. 

The tears flowed not because I'm a former prisoner, but because the parallels feel so true right now. Was I a literal prisoner? No. Did I feel like a prisoner? Yes. When I was in the closet, I felt oppressed and unable to be myself. I got glimpses of a happier choice as a pre-med student who loved working in caring gerontology environments, helping the elderly, healing people in spirit. But I chose not to enter that profession because of the emotional nature of working with dying patients. I since then have worked for the sake of work.

Today, I lead a pleasant life with a wonderful husband who I adore. I enjoy a certain freedom in my business and get to travel. 

And yet, I daily face the question of "Who am I"? It's the same question I faced when I was a prisoner in the closet. It's the question I asked when I left the medical career. In some ways, my freedom from that world allowed me to flourish and be financially secure. I've also since returned to the Church and have a deep relationship with God.

So what has happened this year? Why am I facing a choice about me as I live versus me as my true self? Was it the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage? Perhaps. I undoubtedly feel as though I'm on a spiritual journey. In the end, I think it's this Lenten season, coming soon after a big pilgrimage.

Lent asks us to go deep into our search for God and our place on earth. We're asked to find God by being true to ourselves as we were created. Anything that distracts us from our true selves distracts us from God. Anything that distracts us from God is temptation. 

We usually say that temptation distracts us from God. But in many ways that allows us to wiggle out of our responsibilities because we don't have to define temptation. 

Anything that distracts us from God is temptation.

So this Lent, I face the temptations that surround us and find that almost everything that isn't about helping, caring, nourishing, welcoming, healing is a temptation. Because on my journey of faith, I find God in Creation and in people. If my relationship with people and creation are not central, then it's a distraction to God. Or, if it's not about relationships and creation, it's a distraction, a temptation, from God.

Fine, how do you make a living without the distraction of work? I'm not sure I know the answer. It's certainly not going to be an easy answer. One can depend on others for their livelihood but at some point, somebody has to help create a sustainable place to live and and find food to eat.

As such, like most, I lead a balanced life, lifting up when possible the aspirational goals but held down in the ashes from which we came because we're expected to live life a certain way.

So who am I? 

"My soul belongs to God, I know. I made that bargain long ago. He gave me hope when hope was gone. He gave me strength to journey on. Who am I? Who am I?"

That's the question that will follow me throughout this Lenten pilgrimage.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Slouching Towards Lent

As the season of Lent approaches, my Roman Catholic upbringing comes racing up the ramp reminding me to give up something. I haven't really thought of it as a giving up since returning to the Church. I prefer to think of Lenten practices in a newer way, to provide deeper mystical insights.

Maybe, I am in fact slouching towards Lent  (apologies to poet W. B. Yeats for the inadequate comparison).

Instead of how I was raised,  I've tried to do a give and take. I give up something and take something up. The odd thing is, I've found that taking something up has been so fulfilling that it's gone past Lent. Really past Lent.

So yes, I every year give up meat for Lent. Admittedly, until about ten years ago, I didn't realize that fish and seafood weren't meat. I'm not cavalier about definitions, but suffice it to say that when you're taught to give up meat on Fridays and you eat seafood instead, well, those things are hard to drum out of your brain.

I also don't drive past the speed limit unless I'm putting myself or someone else in danger because everyone else is going exceptionally fast. It's an odd one to do, but I practice this because it reminds me that I am not more important than any one else, that my time isn't more valuable, and that I need to make space and time for myself so that I won't feel the need to rush while driving.

So what is the thing that I've taken up? Six years ago, Stephen joined me and together we began at Union Station Homeless Services as volunteers. It's the largest agency in Pasadena, or actually all of the San Gabriel Valley. We decided that in addition to giving something up, we'd offer something back to the community.

Our affection for helping at Union Station can not be minimized. On a personal level, this practice unleashed a life-giving force in me. We loved what we did and we became regulars. It's been six years and that Lenten discipline has never ceased.

As a journey of spiritual exploration, it opened my eyes not just to what we do, what we don't do, and what we can do, but it kept them open to all those things and more. Lent didn't end on Easter that year for me. Whenever I walk the labyrinth, whenever I help those in unfortunate life situations, whenever I try to help heal an open wound, I feel that my Lent, like my Camino, continues.

May your journey of faith this season bring you and take you to surprising new life.