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 29, 2016

The Wholeness Camino

On Sunday, Rev. Ed Bacon at All Saints Pasadena gave his valedictory Easter sermon, as he prepares next month to retire from our church and move closer to his family in the South. Before getting into the meat of his moving words, we already were prepared to deal with emotions of his impending departure.

Helping each other walk up the Camino towards O'Cebreiro Spain (September 2014)

And yet even with that preparation, he still rocked me. During that sermon, he brought up something that he's mentioned before: the word "healing" and "whole" come from the same root word in English. He gave examples of how one cannot move towards healing and new life, without moving towards wholeness. And one cannot move towards wholeness without healing.

I've been pondering why I was moved and it occurred to me that as my Camino pilgrimage approaches, I've been inadequate in describing the healing component of this walk. I've called it "My Healing Pilgrimage". I describe how during my first Camino de Santiago walk, I was in a deeply self-reflective, discerning mood. I just turned 50, just married, just committed to staying in bunk beds night after night for the first time in decades. And I was wondering my place in the world and what the Holy Spirit was guiding me to do.

So in describing this Healing pilgrimage, I talk about all the people I met who somehow felt the need - somewhere in their lives - for healing. So I wanted this walk to be about them instead of me. I came up with the idea of starting in Lourdes, France (adding an extra 100 miles or so) so that I could bring holy healing waters from the River Pau with me. I wanted to share the waters that Saint Bernadette drank, the waters that have been repeatedly described as miraculous and healing. I would bring and share the waters with those who believed, wanted healing, and welcomed the water.

And that's where I've realized I've been remiss.

I can't heal without working towards healing myself.

I can't help people find wholeness without seeking wholeness as well.

It's not that I did not feel this way. It's a matter of emphasis. It's a matter of intentionality. I just don't mention it enough.

I'm intending to land in Paris on May 13 and head immediately to Chartres. On Fridays, the labyrinth is available for us to walk. There isn't a better metaphor for a pilgrimage, to me, than the labyrinth and starting my journey on that cathedral floor will immediately frame my mind.

On Saturday May 14, I will spend the day in Giverny, where Monet lived and painted his countless waterlilies. Monet is renowned for his use of light to portray nature in all her glory. I will take the train to the nearest town and walk over an hour each way to his home. The house is now a museum but visitors can walk parts of the garden around the pond.

Why Giverny? Many people like me find calm and the healing love of God when looking at art. His waterlilies and gardens have for decades stilled my busy mind. Visiting Chartres and Giverny will, I hope, reset my pace and heart and soul for this pilgrimage.

On Sunday, I will visit the American Cathedral in Paris, the seat of the European diocese of the Episcopal Church. I'll wrap up the day at the Cathedral de Notre Dame. In between, I hope to visit the Père Lachaise cemetery and the Catacombs of Paris. Strange itinerary? Perhaps. What I hope to do is first of all start of my pilgrimage with traditional church services. I include the cemetery and catacombs in between these two liturgical services in order to remind myself of life's one certainty. Death of these mortal bodies is inevitable. Any amount of pilgrimage and healing is meant for the living. We are mandated by Christ to love each other while we still have each other. Death will inevitably bring our earthly journeys to a close so it's imperative that we, while remembering this, make every moment worthy of cherishing.

And then...

I head to Lourdes. I head to Lourdes not to just grab a bottle of waters from the stream.

I spend a couple of nights in Lourdes so that I start my pilgrimage with deep, personal healing. The journey must begin in community with others in need of healing, knowing that we are all there with the same aspirations and dreams and love and hope. Whether it's during the evening vigils, the morning vigils, or traditional services, I will be bathing in the waters of life that heal. And I will immerse myself literally in the waters that heal, in the formal baptistry area and in the stream.

The road to a healing camino can't be done any other way. I can share healing love and living water only as I am taking in that healing love and living water. It's in those relationships, with each other and with God, that find wholeness. It's in those relationships that we can bring wholeness. And, in the humility of seeking healing, we may be able to share healing with others.

So I apologize if I wasn't clear before. This healing pilgrimage is for me as well as for those I love and meet. This pilgrimage is for us.

May your camino and my camino intertwine on the road to wholeness and healing.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Silence Between the Notes - A Lenten Meditation

Claude Debussy wrote that "music is the silence between the notes".
Sunset silhouette in Altadena

This statement points out that for beauty to be recognized, it needs a certain amount of space, of emptiness, to be complete. The space between the high notes and the low notes, the long and the staccato notes, allows us to hear the breadth of complexity in the music.

The long notes can resonate and reverberate, falling into the hum of the ether around us. The short staccato notes, so piercing and quick, would be a blur if notes melded into each other. Repeated notes would not exist if there was no space in between each note. Without this space, random notes show up and fade away but would likely be more of a texture, a backdrop, an oozing of sound.

A gorgeous impressionist painting can provide smooth colours that ease into other colours, without specificity. Sometimes, like in the photo above, spaces are in the silhouettes, and we only see a shimmer of a sunset with drifting colours in the distance. Other paintings, say by Rothko, have just vague colours. Without detracting from that beauty, it's tough to say what a painting without edges represents or means. It's a representation of emotion in some ways, shifting and drifting.

I sometimes think of heaven as that contourless nirvana where no lines separate one from the other.

And yet we don't live in a world like that. No matter what we try, there will be spaces between the notes and edges to colours. Pointilism in painting (think G Serat) is the use of thousands of tiny dots that from a distance show lovely edgeless fuzziness, but upon closer inspection still shows separate distinct dots. Minimalist music (think P Glass) may repeat and flow, but each note is still separated from the other notes because musicians must breathe and fingers must press, release, or strike an instrument key or string.

Our lives have spaces all around us. We define ourselves from our parents and loved ones by the differences and similarities between us. We are not clones. The space in between brings our separateness alive and makes our lives beautiful.

Likewise, people come into the orchestration of our lives here and there, filling the spaces and gracing us with whatever unique qualities and gifts were given to them.

And, eventually, someone leaves us, leaving only silence and emptiness.

Like some of my friends, I'm grieving over the loss of a dear soul, a loving woman who struck a melodic note in our lives. With her departure, we feel a silence in the music.

And as I'm sure you will understand, though I lament and am yearning for the note to return, I accept and appreciate that our notes, our lives, our loves, our friendships, would not stand out if we didn't have the silence in between. I pray that those who are listening to this silence will appreciate the beauty of both the notes and the rests, the tones and the silences, as we listen and compose the symphony of our lives.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Walking through the Valley of Death - A Lenten Meditation

I felt called to walk, take a detour back from my parents' home near Las Vegas towards my home in Los Angeles county. Instead of the direct route, I drove through and hiked around in Death Valley.

Normally, Death Valley is a vast expanse of desolation. The name is appropriate. The lowest point in the US can be found in Death Valley, in a spot aptly called Badwater. There, the ground is so parched that the runoff water flows in loaded with minerals and evaporates into an expanse of almost pure salt. It looks like snow.  And unlike snow, it doesn't quench or nourish. It might trick you into thinking so, but it does quite the opposite.

The salt poisons and dries you out even further.

We humans have used salts for thousands of years to preserve foods and as part of our burial functions. It flavors our food, but its functional usefulness has mostly been for keeping dead things in a useful state of prolonged death. Yet, it's not about preserving life. Nor is it about expediting death. It's about making the process of death interminably prolonged and unnatural.

I pondered these thoughts during my sojourn because my dear friend Carol was in the Intensive Care Unit here in Los Angeles County. Her health had been deteriorating and many of her functions were grinding to a halt. In fact, while I was away in Vegas, she lost consciousness and had been sleeping for several days.

I normally take this detour once a year because in February, the flowers bloom in the desert. You see, it doesn't rain often in Southern California, much less in the deserts. So when winter rains come, it's an ideal time to head to the drylands and marinate in the glorious flowers that bloom ever so briefly in the wasteland.

For you see, Death Valley isn't actually dead. It's in a state of suspended animation. Like a body preserved in salt, it's in between that place of the living and the dead.

And this year, I was in for a treat. I didn't know it, but I was stepping into what is known as a Superbloom. Even though El Nino hasn't been as powerful in Southern California as expected, there were still greater rains than we've experienced in years. And, the melting snow runoff from the Sierra Nevada mountains help contribute to the meager waters of Death Valley.

So the flowers had not only returned, they were raging. Exploding. Shimmering. Blossoms spanned from the walls of the mountain cliffs to the very edge of the deadly salt basins. Yellow Evening Primrose flowers 1-3 feet in height made it look more like a field in France than a desert mortuary.

And in between the yellow flowers, there were delicate 6 inch tall purple Phacelias flowers. They hid carefully, almost shyly, under the larger, extroverted yellows. And quietly in between the purples, there were white flowers even more bashful than their purple sisters.

Then you kneel on the ground. You sit on the edge of a ravine to soak in nature. You bend over to take a photo. And you realize, there, in plain sight but not visible from normal human eye levels, were lovely delicate purple pink flowers known as purple mat.

The purple mat was everywhere and yet when you weren't looking, you could have passed by not noticing the vibrant life. You could have assumed that life stood still. Even while you're noticing the raging yellow primrose, you don't notice that there's so much more alive, so much more life, than meets the eye.

And, if you're lucky enough, brave enough, patient enough, you can stay into the night. This happened to be a full moon drive to start this trip so I got to see the desert in a peculiar moonlit coloration. If you get out of your car, walk a little, sit a little, you'll hear the sounds of animals scurrying around on the rocks and sand.

They hide during the painfully hot days and come out in the evening. Even in the winter, when it's necessary for the reptiles to come out and absorb some of the sun's warmth, they do most of their foraging or hunting at night.

Life rages on in the desert.

I visited Carol the day after my hikes and chatted with her husband. They're such a loving couple. Though she was still not conscious, I prayed with them, shared some healing waters I brought back from Lourdes, France, and shared in their pain. I missed my good friend Michael, Carol's cousin, as I left just before he got there.

And on Friday, during some meetings, I wept, when I heard that Carol's condition was taking a turn for the worst.

And yesterday, the family took her off life support.

And today, she moved on.

Carol always tells me that she loves watching my travel on Facebook. She and Jeff get to live out exciting trips vicariously whenever their families and friends post photos and thoughts online. She seems particularly excited during dinners together to discuss the trips as well.

I have no doubt that when I walked through Death Valley, I was walking among the flowers with Carol. That I was gazing in awe at the same moon. That we prayed for the same love eternal.

I have no doubt that Carol's organ donations will bring life anew to others in ways we can only imagine. Her eyes evidently will be a gift to someone shortly. Her sight, her vision, her way of seeing life in the stony rock wall.

I have no doubt that I was gazing at life made new in Death Valley. That life is there even when it looks like the land is barren. Here you stand in the middle of a salty wasteland as far as you can see, and yet on the edge of that wasteland, life encroaches, approaches, ventures to its very edge.

It's the tears falling from skies and from our hearts that waters the gritty sand, bringing those long forgotten seeds just enough love and attention to bring a torrent of life's energy anew.

And after the blooms fade, after the glories fall petal by petal back down to the earth, new seeds are strewn into the wind. We can't see them, but they're spreading, waiting for another opportunity to spring alive once again.

The salt may keep life in a state of prolonged preservation, in a condition of suspended animation. It's not death. It's not life.

But life ever beautiful, ever delicate, ever bold, ever precious, can lie beside the salty ground waiting to return.

Thank you for walking with me on every one of my journeys, Carol and for
calling me to see the lovely reminder to be loving, hopeful, and alive.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.