Mel's Healing Pilgrimage 2016

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Thursday, June 23, 2016

Camino 2016 06/23 - for this most amazing day

This is my last blog post before arriving in Santiago de Compostela. I will not post anything on 06/24, as the day will be full of emotions and celebrations. I shall post once again on either Saturday or Sunday, June 25 or 26. I return to regular Facebook on Friday after arriving at the Cathedral.

We woke up an hour late but since it was a short day, that wasn't a problem. Our last two days are shorter, about 12-13 miles each day, so we weren't rushed. We strolled through forests with numerous pilgrims. We chatted perhaps one last time with Dennis and found the men walking their Camino with a donkey (who I last saw before Atapuerca).

Yesterday, I was wondering if any of my "class" was still around me. As it turns out, I ran across Thore for the first time since Astorga. Today, we ran into him and walked for a while before he continued on. We promised to meet once again at the cathedral.

We chatted briefly with Grant and Astrida, Marilyn, Rob and Joey, and Caitlin. It wasn't really a time to chat with new folks, though since Sarria there were certainly many with whom we could chat. It is a time of connecting the dots in our heads. So it was fitting that I got to walk with Thore, the first pilgrim I met from Ssint Jean, and walked a few kilometers in closing conversation.

At tonight's blessing after the mass, the last church service before arriving in Santiago, several of us who have walked a difficult long Camino had tears flowing. During the pilgrim's blessing, we were asked by the priest for a word that comes from our heart about our pilgrimage... "Graçias", I said.

Thank you God for giving me the chance to make this pilgrimage of healing and reconciliation, in safety and in peace. Thank you Holy Spirit for inspiring me to open the journey to a group who would and could appreciate the opportunity to pray and walk together... Miles away from each other and me... Miles and miles from beginning to end. Thank you Christ for showing me that in your wounds, I can touch and discover that life can surprise and let me touch God without any doubts. 

Thank you Stephen (pictured here with his rarely worn glasses and two days of stubble) for being my intellectual and emotional counterpart, whether on the phone or here by my side as I write this.

And thank you. All of you. Thank you for joining me, inspiring me, crying with me, walking with me, comforting me, provoking me, praying with me, leaning on me, laughing with me, holding me up when I limped and froze and melted and screamed in pain. 

It is now 6:30 am on Friday morning. I will leave in a few minutes for the final 20km of my 920km pilgrimage. According to my walking app, with all the extra walking one does on Camino, I've already walked 1070 km since I stepped walked out my front door in California on May 12. So I close with a "graçias" in the ffrom of an e. e. cummings prayer: 

i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any—lifted from the no
of all nothing—human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

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Camino 2016 06/22 - For the Beauty of the Earth

Our albergue in Ribadiso was a delight. It's right after the town and overlooks the valley. You feel like you're at some fancy Napa Valley winery. And to top it off, there's a foot bath fountain where you can cool your toes while sipping your drinks. Peregrino luxury at its best for 10euro per bunk bed.

I got to chat at length with Grant and his wife from Winnepeg. They lived in Dominique for 5 years and are part of the Dutch Reformed Church. Then for dinner, we spent time with Aubrey and her mom from Victoria Canada and with Caitlyn from Perth Australia. We were having such a good time that Stephen even had a glass of wine.

Other than those bonding hours, the walk was quiet. There was a bit of a hill that I had forgotten about, 7 km after Melide. Just a quiet walk filled with fog, then hot sun, but always abundant life.

And it was in life's abundance that I drew much gratitude. Stephen said that this Camino walk was so beautiful and he totally "gets it" when he thinks of my affection for the path. It's that 360 degree view of the world that shows us all the plenty, all the life force, all the spirit that's there for us if we look. Some of it comes from God, some from mankind, and it's so vibrant and alive.

Pilgrimage and the Camino aren't creative forces. They don't generate new vistas, new worlds, new horizons, new life. I'm feeling these things all around me and what arises that feels new is the awareness, the recognition, the epiphany. When one goes on Camino, when we walk together, we roll back the stone of a cave, we pull the log out of our eye, we share in our common humanity, and we see what we should have seen all along.

From the hymn "For the Beauty of the Earth"
For the beauty of the earth, sing, oh sing today
Of the skies and of our birth, sing, oh sing, always.
Nature human and divine, all around us lies.
Lord of all to Thee we raise grateful hymns of praise.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Camino 2016 06/21 - Counting

It's Tuesday night. I have this blog post, tomorrow, Thursday, and a Saturday/Sunday post left as part of this Camino. I won't be posting one on Friday itself (the day we walk into Santiago de Compostela) because I'll be taking in and absorbing what happened for the past two months of my life.

We are at the point where we start to count down the kilometers left and the numbers are plunging rapidly. On my last Camino, I had a certain smugness about me, as I felt I had learned much and was about "done". It's a fool's game this countdown is, as marking of arbitrary delimiters does not automatically confer insight or brilliance, wealth or fame.

In Melide last time, I found myself realizing that I was erring and pushing away someone because I was afraid. I was evading confrontation rather than accepting that we will inevitably have differences on Camino and that a charitable heart does not discriminate without cause or consideration. (See ) So keeping those things in mind, I remain open to transformation, in myself and others.

And I've been blessed. Literally. On the walk to Palas de Rei today, Stephen and I were blessed. Near Lagonde, I had been walking for a bit with Rob and daughter Joey when a place to stop and rest came up. Stephen and I pulled over and all four of us were greeted at this house that served 7 beds to pilgrims. The volunteers came from various churches. This one was staffed for a couple weeks by a Baptist church from Nashville and the woman was totally welcoming us and showing us the 300 year old home.

Afterwards, as we were leaving, she asked me if she could bless me and my husband. I was surprised since I didn't mention our relationship. So she held our heads close, held our hands, and blessed us from head to foot on our life Camino and life journey together.

It's always wonderful to ask and receive a blessing and more so when it comes unbidden. That she blessed us as a couple did surprise me but only that Stephen said something. So I felt doubly blessed: by her, and by the amazing way the Holy Spirit gets my introverted husband to say things at just the right times, at just the right places. Once again an angel has come to me on this Camino and the message was to underline underline underline what I was to remember from last time.

We had lunch with Rob and Joey, having a marvelous time, as we waited for the albergue to open. Already checked in were Grant and his wife who we met last night. I found out that they were finishing up their third leg (Astorga to Santiago) in four years and were celebrating their 25th anniversary. After dinner, we met a young woman Caitlyn from Perth Australia and Aubrey from Victoria, Canada who is walking with her mom. Another family affair!

So the day went quickly, hotly, quietly. And on this balmy night, I look out at the setting sun and pray that I'm learning something, pray that I keep trying to open this heart of mine, and frankly pray that I can fall asleep in the heat. 

So, like counting sheep, like counting down the kilometers, like counting the blessings that I've had before and during this trip, I look back at what I've walked and for whom I've been praying for, and I just pray. Pray. Pray...

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Camino 2016 06/20 - Judgment Day

The Camino out of Sarria is fraught with peril, especially for the peregrino. It's a danger because this is a popular starting point for the Camino. You see, the minimum number of kilometers needed to get a certificate or conpostela from the cathedral of Santiago is 100 and the nearest larger city on the Camino Frances is Sarria. The number of pilgrims basically doubles at this city.

So all these new pilgrims come in, fresh, clean, no injuries, no blisters, no sunburn, many in your groups, many arriving in luxury cars or buses, no experience yet on what awaits them. What once were reasonably quiet paths suddenly because filled with noise, often times with mobile phone talking, cigarette smoking while walking, music playing out loud walkers. Danger lurks around every corner and someone might suddenly find themselves with a burning risk starting in Sarria.

And it's not the new pilgrims starting here at risk. Those who've been walking for greater distances are risking their Camino.


You see, it's so easy to mess up all those hard learned lessons on the Camino by reacting to all these newcomers. It's easy to resent them, to judge them, to judge their every action, to criticize their methods, to wail about what they're doing to "your Camino".

Yet it's their Camino, not yours, that they are walking. We must walk our own journeys while they walk theirs. We already had to process the difference between cyclists and walkers. It'd be a shame to forget those lessons and start all over again with those coming in at this point.

I fight this much on my Camino. It's tough to take in. I had to do it when I suddenly found hundreds joining me in Saint Jean Pied de Port because I started further away in Lourdes. It's not easy to set aside criticism.

But we must, if we are to allow them their chance for transformation. We don't have a monopoly on life changing journeys. And certainly not everybody has the luxury or privilege to go walking for weeks or months at a time. If they are to find their spiritual time meaningful, we must give them the space and time to do so.

"Do not judge others. Then you will not be judged. You will be judged in the same way you judge others. You will be measured in the same way you measure others. You look at the bit of sawdust in your friend's eye. But you pay no attention to the piece of wood in your own eye. How can you say to your friend, 'Let me take the bit of sawdust out of your eye'? How can you say this while there is a piece of wood in your own eye? You pretender! First take the piece of wood out of your own eye. Then you will be able to see clearly to take the bit of sawdust out of your friend's eye."
Matthew 7:1-5

We aren't asked to evade judgment outright but to judge carefully and with a full understanding and mercy that recognizes our own humanity and sinfulness. Without judgment, you technically cannot forgive. So we judge but with love and care not to do so with a log in our eye.

We walked from Sarria to Portomarin. We were almost run over by cyclists outside of Morgade cafe. We saw countless cattle, gorgeous foggy farms, and bountiful smiles. We watched people drinking wine and beer for breakfast and a number smoking while walking. We even got to the 100km marker, which to us long walkers was an emotional moment.

As we approached Portomarin, I realized that the route was changed. We were diverted. And good heavens, unlike my prior Camino, the reservoir was totally filled. You see the city was literally relocated up a hill stone by stone when they dammed the valley. Last time, I could see the original bridge and buildings. This time I just saw a boater's paradise.

After a walk around town, we ran into Rob and Joey once again. Then they introduced us to Grant and Etricia from Winnipeg. At mass, we ran into Peggy once last time before she plowed ahead to try to finish by Thursday night. Our meals were filling (though there were fried eggs on my spaghetti ). 

We ended the day watching high school girls playing red light green light in the plaza in front of the church.

And hope that we did so with heart as open as the skies and seas. I hopped over many a log today. I hope I didn't miss the one lodged in my eye.

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Monday, June 20, 2016

Camino 2016 06/19 - Every Step You Take

We took it easy out of Triacastela. Actually that was Stephen's first time to stay in the dormitory style albergue. It's a private one and cost 9e each and was completely worth the few extra euro. "It was nicer than he thought and fewer people." The municipal ones are much more crowded and he was thankful that the snoring wasn't as pronounced as it could have been.

Because we had such a short day, we took our time and left around 8:30, after breakfast. We had lovely walk up over Sanxil. The last time I did this, I left O Cebreiro and continued towards Sarria instead of breaking it into two days. I was more than a little thankful that the free range chickens and their droppings weren't around, as that made the prior walk messy and difficult.

I found the old vending machine that has a special place in my first Camino storyline. I chatted with Libby of Melbourne and met Jakob and Elias from Austria there. Conrad also of Austria was at the picnic table and saw me but I didn't get to talk with him until the next day. These three young men (who I think of as my Camino nephews) walked the final few days of the journey with me.

The machine however was covered up. So we continued on. We passed Dennis again. I chatted with Phil and Jane from New Zealand; Jane took our photo at the picnic table. They spoke of the wonders of nature and I sensed that the Camino was an opportunity to connect with nature as a couple.

Ran into Wesley again. We spoke more. He's trying to find a home church in Wheaton and discovered that he enjoyed the contemporary liturgical format at the Anglican (not Episcopal) Church "Church of the Transformation". I'm warmed that his spiritual journey has room for liturgy. We also chatted about the prominent Marianism in some of the churches.

I split with him as I got to the albergue an hour before Sarria. I wanted to walk into the facility with Stephen, as it was my favorite place last time and was a filming location for last year's documentary made in the USA. 

We got into Sarria and the first thing we noticed was our cab driver from yesterday honking at us - our third interaction with him. What a small world this is!

Next we noticed that an old bridge which I crossed last year was completely taken apart and getting refurbished. I also reconnected with two Dutch brothers whom I shared an albergue room in Belorada with Uli. 

We detoured and walked to our private hostal/bed and breakfast. Afterwards, we toured the town, enjoying the river, and grabbing some gelato (a nice complement to the panacotta I had at lunch). I couldn't be more grateful for the quiet contemplative walk by streams all week long and then in this small city.

Saw dozens of children playing in the streets. We ran into Molly and Abbey again. We became Facebook friends, which is a wonderful way to stay in touch with others on pilgrimage. We chatted some with Rob and his daughter Joey again. She has these hilarious tan lines from her walking sticks. All these re-meetings are an important part of the Camino. You learn to appreciate how we are all in this together and are thankful when your separate journey paths intersect once again.

We attended the church service at 7:30 and saw a few pilgrims. After the service, I spoke for a while with Sarah from Switzerland. She saw the Taizé cross I wear and we talked about her love for that form of worship. She was so excited about meeting another Taizé person. She gave me a surprising hug and said thank you for making her day.

At the end of the day, we spoke with Wilma from Holland and Anna and Franz also from Holland. The latter were celebrating their 50th anniversary with a two month Pamplona to Santiago walk. It was only planned a couple months ago. What I found most delightful was their wide eyed love of everyone and everything they are seeing. In fact, they talked about how everything about the trip is a wonderful thank you.

Wow. What a way to close the day. I pondered this into the night, as fireworks were shooting in the distance for some festival. Here they were, from Holland, talking about gratitude. Remember my encounter with Gies, also from Holland? He survived a health scare and now he's miraculously on Camino. And, in his words, every step was a way of saying thank you. ( )

What a blessing! I was already feeling gratitude today but the reminder by these angels couldn't be clearer. There's so much for which to be thankful and we just need to remember how much love is showered upon us. So thank you Lord and thank you my family and friends.

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