Mel's Healing Pilgrimage 2016

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

Monday, August 24, 2015

We Wanderers, Given to the Wind, Are Scattered

Frightened and yet soon at peace while in the sky.
Cappadocia Turkey on our Honeymoon - June 2014

"We wanderers, ever seeking the lonelier way, begin no day where we have ended another day; and no sunrise finds us where sunset left us. Even while the earth sleeps we travel. We are the seeds of the tenacious plant, and it is in our ripeness and our fullness of heart that we are given to the wind and are scattered."

Kahlil Gibran - The Prophet

I don't think we're intentionally seeking the lonelier way. To me, it happens unexpectedly, naturally. What I seek, what I yearn for, is a closer relationship to Creation, a relationship that's both distant and deeply ingrained inside of me. It's that contradiction that makes it so hard sometimes to stay in touch with the divine. We teeter closer and then farther, ever nearer, ever further. By wandering, we need to leave our safe spaces and head towards areas that can be both exciting and unpredictable, and yet oddly expected. And that journey can feel inadvertently lonely.

The poem says that our wandering occurs even while the earth sleeps. Actually, it implies that our exploration occurs even while we sleep. I find this serenely true. I wake up at times with a peaceful "Aha". I never used to think of epiphanies as calm. But on this journey, I've started to wake up in more quiet states of awareness, of realization. Unlike the Archimedes "Eureka!" of excitement, these are the sort where you sit up and just nod your head in understanding.

So it seems that while the earth sleeps, while I sleep, we all indeed continue to travel. The scientist in me says, of course, we're traveling at a speed of 1,000 mph around the axis of the earth and 67,000 mph around the sun. That's a lot of space to cover and it'd be shame not to discover something after 8 hours of such speeds.

Most exciting to me about this poem is the final statement. We are seeds. When we are ripe, when we are ready, we go out, carried by the wind, held aloft to unknown destinations, and spread life.

Whether you are a young adult, whether you are a postulent, whether you are discovering life in Christ anew, you reach a new form of fullness. And in that fullness, we are released and sent out, by the wind, by the Holy Spirit, by the forces of the community around us, to be scattered.

The scattering is unpredictable.

The scattering can be frightening.

The scattering brings new life.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Preparing for the Camino de Santiago in 2016

Credentials from my 2014 Camino de Santiago pilgrimage

Once again, I'll be walking the Camino de Santiago, leaving Los Angeles on May 12, 2016.

Rather than starting in the traditional city of St Jean Pied-de-Port, France and following the Camino Frances, I will start in Lourdes, France. This small city sits at the foot of the French Pyrenees mountains. Starting there will add an additional 130 km (81 miles) or so, depending on the route I decide to take, on top of the typical 800 km (500 miles). Based on past experience, I will likely walk another 100 miles just wandering the villages sight-seeing churches and landmarks.

Why start in Lourdes?

My 2014 camino pilgrimage was pretty much about me. It was an opportunity to discover myself, to pursue some discernment about vocation, to explore my purpose. The pilgrimage was also an appropriate way for me personally to celebrate my 50th birthday year.

And as you may have read from my blog postings from the 2014 journey, I noticed that numerous people needed to be with other people, needed to share their lives and pains and joys, needed to find healing. It touched me that they would share this with me. I found it amazing that I could minister to their needs and offer an ear, a heart, a touch that could provide solace or healing. My 2014 blog postings are on the right side navigation: Preparing for the Camino de Santiago 2014 and my posts during and after at Camino de Santiago 2014.

So I'll start in Lourdes, France. Lourdes has been known for two centuries as a pilgrimage site of healing. Millions of people every year head to Lourdes to be blessed. By touching, tasting, and washing with the waters of that community, the pilgrims seek to move from a place of illness and hurt to one of reconciliation and well-being.

I will start out with my own efforts to find healing. As the phrase goes, "physician heal thyself". First, I want to have a couple days of reflection, self-care, and attention to physical and spiritual health. Then, taking some of the healing water with me in a container, I will carry the blessed waters from the Lourdes grotto and take it on the camino with me.

And all who wish to be anointed with the holy water, to be blessed in prayer, are welcome to that water. I will share the blessings with all who seek it, and pray that they be healed.

I've confided to some that my 2016 camino will be all about others. I amend and correct myself publicly now. One can never take a pilgrimage for others. One takes a pilgrimage for themselves. But, my camino will be a shared camino. In sharing the holy water, in sharing the healing, in allowing myself to be in communion with others, I will find myself fed and nourished, and share in the bountiful grace of God. That's my camino in 2016. That's why I will start in Lourdes.

I may be walking with friends from church along this trip. If schedules work out, I'll be meeting some at St. Jean-Pied-de-Port. Others might be joining us in other cities and villages. Because of this, I will walk on average 25 km (15 miles) each day instead of my normal 35-40 km (22-25 miles) . This is related to making my journey a part of others' lives and not about my own. My husband Stephen, after school lets out and he goes on his annual teaching vacation, will fly out and join me in Leon - a 300 km (200 mile) pilgrimage.

In the meantime, my camino walk continues. I'm rather surprised at my attraction to walking now. I used to walk around downtown Pasadena. Instead of driving to various places or to church, I would just walk. Now, I work from home. That actually began the month before my 2014 pilgrimage. And surprisingly, I walk everywhere now. I've walked to family gatherings in Glendora almost 40 km away.

It started gradually, with about 5-7 mile walks every other day. Now I find myself walking to downtown Pasadena from home, an almost 10 mile round trip, several times a week. Rather than driving to lunch, I just walk. As of this posting, I've walked 1360 miles since New Year's Day, about the distance from New York City past University of Nebraska in Lincoln. I don't even notice the physical part any more. It's part of my journey in mind, body, and spirit. I'm seeking more time away from busy interpersonal interactions to have time with myself, time to ponder and free associate, time to reflect and pray.

(Note: For 2015, I ended up walking 2100 miles. That's the distance from NY to Salt Lake City... Los Angeles to Pensecola Florida... Chicago to Mexico City... Manchester England to Istanbul Turkey...)

I hope you join me, online or even along the Camino Frances, walking beside me as I journey towards my journey of healing.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

This Thin Place in Life

I walk through doors into seemingly empty spaces, lobbies, hallways in homes, hotels, businesses. Usually, I pass through without thinking about these transition areas. They're not meant for you to stay in them. These passages allow us to get out of the sun, wipe our shoes, or prepare to leave the building.

They're areas that connect a more important place to another more important place. Those places typically are more important than these transition spaces. They're given room numbers or names. Hallways don't usually get names.

My office at home is overflowing with books and paperwork. Surprising isn't it? Here I am, this tech person who has always preferred electronic documents and works in an industry that ostensibly reduces the need for paperwork, and yet I am inundated with physical words and numbers.

The family room is likewise loaded with symbols of relaxation: tv, sofas, games, tables, current books, memorabilia, remote controls. It's a pleasurable den to have quality time with my husband and to let go of external concerns.

And in between the two rooms is a hallway. It's a rather simple passage, a couple frames hanging, a dark wooden floor in the shadows of a space that needs little illumination.

Yet I traverse that hallway many times each day. I cannot get to the other rooms without passing the hall. It's a transition space between one aspect of my life and another. The hallway has no mirrors, as some do, so it doesn't show me what I look like when I am in this place.

But it's a liminal place, a ritualistic moment between what was and what will be next. Some have compared liminal places to a space between rooms. I use the hallway often, and yet it has occurred to me that it is akin to my place in life right now.

To anthropologists, liminality is that middle time during a series of rituals, when you're not what you were but not yet what you will be. It can be unsettling, being neither in nor out. We don't often think about these transition times and places because we would rather define ourselves as sitting being in one place or another.

And yet on a spiritual pilgrimage, on our individual Caminos, during our discernment, in our grieving, in our growing, we are always reminding others and ourselves that it's not the destination that is our goal. Our destination is a guidepost, a beacon to focus on so that we don't get lost. But it's in this transitional journey that we reorder ourselves psychologically, spiritually, emotionally.

What makes this transitional place so exciting and so scary is that it's often a thin place, where one senses the divine. I'm not saying that I see God whenever I walk through my dark hallway. But in the corridors of life, we sometimes go down ways that aren't as predictable and automatic as usual. That's where I'm walking right now. There are untested doors and I feel as though I'm somehow not alone.

When I first started to attend All Saints Pasadena regularly, I was like others drawn to the phrase "Wherever you are in your journey of faith, you are welcome at this table." It's an invitation to meet at the table of Christ, regardless of our station, status, or strength. The phrase acknowledges that many of us are on a spiritual journey. It even hints that we all are on one.

Perhaps that's what struck me inside. I was on a spiritual journey and was only then, slowly, unwittingly discovering it. My walk was and has been about realizing that in the thin space that is in Christ, I am in a liminal place, straddling the world and the divine.

I'm not in one place or another, but I'm not alone, and I feel excited to be alive. I wander towards the other rooms in wonder and awe.

Monday, August 17, 2015

I Only Know What's Not Here

Rumi, the great 13th Century poet, scholar, mystic from Persia wrote

I start out on this road,
call it love or emptiness.
I only know what's not here. 
Resentment seeds, backscratching greed,
worrying about outcome, fear of people.
When a bird gets free,
it does not go back for remnants
left on the bottom of the cage.
Close by, I'm rain. Far off,
a cloud of fire. I seem restless,
but I am deeply at ease.
Branches tremble. The roots are still.
I am a universe in a handful of dirt,
whole when totally demolished.
Talk about choices does not apply to me.
While intelligence considers options,
I am somewhere lost in the wind.

Most of us have experienced the feeling of purpose, of what calls us into being, of what drives us forward. In many cases, this is intimately tied to job searches or career objectives. To some of us, it leads to perhaps an existential crisis or an exploration of spirituality.

I might not have understood this poem a decade ago. Perhaps after I separated from a partner of almost two decades, I might have understood the feeling of being lost in the wind. But what strikes me about this poem is that it finds meaning in nothing, in what's not here.

Only when demolished am I whole.

It's a reversal of conventional wisdom. How can you be whole when you've been destroyed? But that's what my journey is currently showing me. In breaking apart the edifice that I've built up about myself for the past several decades, in destroying the mirage of seeming successes, I'm discovering within the void is the road to love. Or emptiness.

I've included a photo of my visit to Yosemite Valley earlier this month. It's a gorgeous vista that was once at ground level. A river did not excavate this valley. Instead an enormous glacier once covered the land. As the glacier withdrew, it carved out the sheer, vertical cliff of El Capitan, the striking Half Dome, and numerous meandering valleys of drama. And what makes Yosemite so interesting? It's the void, the emptiness left by the once omnipresent and destructive glacier. From that destruction and withdrawal, a beauty arose.

Love and emptiness, wholeness and demolition. I allow myself to be lifted in the wind, seemingly lost in nothingness but always held aloft in love.