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, September 30, 2016

Different, Yet the Same

Now that I'm in Sarria, I've spent a day dining and traveling to our Camino starting point with the All Saints Pasadena Transformational Journeys group. It's my first time leading a pilgrimage group rather than walking the Camino independently. I've had an inkling that it would feel different than my other Caminos and it's true, it does. 

To a point.

I'm preoccupied with the itineraries and luggage needs of others. I'm making sure their concerns are allayed and that we minimize situations where a member of the flock wanders away. And instead of my own personal prayer sessions, I'm inviting us all into my ritual of morning and afternoon prayer, going from an informal conversation with God to one based on the Morning Office of the Book of Common Prayer.

We didn't start those prayers Thursday or Friday. I figured we would do so on days we walked, the other days focused on jet lag, eating, and worldly needs. Three of us had dinner in Madrid Thursday night and our first group meal was here in Sarria for lunch. We attended the evening mass and blessing at Santa MariƱa, the large church at the top of the stairs in Sarria, and then proceeded to beer, wine, tortillas (egg omelet), and cheese for a light dinner.

The differences:
• checking us as a group into an hostal (inn) and paying for it

Uhhh, in truth that's it.

The similarities:
• great laughs while simultaneously eating and sharing personal stories of our lives, loves, and Journey
• chatting with random pilgrims 
• wandering and seeking of beauty and the new
• discovering that Spanish mass is the same yet different
• sensing rain and cold and yet valuing the present company and relationships
• laughing at our encounters with languages
• pointing out landmarks and buildings to each other
• walking separately and yet together

I'm excited about what will happen in the next few hours as we breakfast, do morning prayers, and commence our walk. I can't make someone's Camino the spiritual journey of their lifetime. That's up to them and the Holy Spirit. But I can be there to assist.

Somehow that's the most similar to my most recent Camino, the one focused on healing. Recognition that I can help and guide in the spiritual journey, but cannot control it. Being both helper and helped. Finding in our humanness, the divine. And trusting that the Holy Spirit will provide, guide, and feed each of us.

I'm feeling really blessed right now because of this opportunity, yes, but mostly that others are there to help me and praying for me.

For Thursday started with a predawn visit to Urgencias. I had a jaw pain that turned out to be a cheek abscess likely brought on by an accidental bite. And it got infected and made it painful to talk and eat. Yet everyone here and at home via Facebook has poured out prayers for me.

That's a continuation of my Camino of healing. That's Love embodied in the family and friends in our lives, in the strangers who help us at the hospital and  train stations.

I close this blog post with a photo from my hotel room in Madrid. Four skyscrapers that are instantly recognizable as financial centers in Madrid outside my window. And just below are the tents of the homeless. And I think to myself, what journey are they on and how do our journeys interact? What have we done to accidentally guide them there and what can we do to lead them to a better place? Is there Hope in their lives? I know there's Hope all around us. I'm just asked to help remind others when fear and new situations frighten. To be there for others as they are for me. To love and be loved.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Even When Alone, We Walk Together

I leave on Tuesday for Madrid. Yes, I'm returning to the Camino de Santiago. Unlike the 2014 and 2016 walks, I'm doing this differently.

In 2014, I walked 270 miles from after Burgos to Santiago de Compostela. In 2015, I walked short segments as I drove my parents along the entire route from Lourdes to the end. And earlier this year, I walked the 600 miles from Lourdes to Santiago de Compostela. For the most part, these were by myself or with people I met along the way. This spring, my husband Stephen joined me for the final 200 miles. So I had a little practice walking and guiding someone, but it was just one individual, someone I knew quite well.

Now, I'm leading a few people from my church. All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena has a Transformational Journeys ministry, and though I've taken a trip with them to China before, this is the first time I'm leading a group. We range in age from 31 to 67 and will be walking 117km from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela.

And yes, once again, I'll be blogging every day on this journey.

I've spent some time preparing us and the itinerary for group, but this week I had an opportunity to synthesize and reflect on this coming walk. First, it was brought to my attention that like many things in life, pilgrimages and retreats come in three phases: awareness, destabilization, and reconstruction.

First, we become aware of our surroundings, our bodies, our challenges. We identify and feel everything. We absorb and let our senses take it all in. Then we move to a period of destabilization, where we recognize that the information our senses are collecting is not what we expected, or wanted, or aspire, or accept. It's destabilizing to realize this knowledge, for we spent so much of our normal days avoiding the awareness.

To coincide with this stage, let me bring up a quote from Father Henri Nouwen. This week, we recognized the 20th anniversary of his passing. He wrote in "Making All Things New":
As soon as we are alone...inner chaos opens up in us. This chaos can be so disturbing and so confusing that we can hardly wait to get busy again. Entering a private room and shutting the door, therefore, does not mean that we immediately shut out all our inner doubts, anxieties, fears, bad memories, unresolved conflicts, angry feelings and impulsive desires. On the contrary, when we have removed our outer distraction, we often find that our inner distractions manifest themselves to us in full force. We often use the outer distractions to shield ourselves from the interior noises. This makes the discipline of solitude all the more important.
The last phase of a journey is reconstruction. You've felt, you've seen things torn apart by true awareness, and now it's time to rebuild yourself and find a new understanding. It's what we think pilgrimage is about, and yet to get there, we must first go through the other two phases. I feel that some who don't get to this part of their journeys, who feel that the Camino did not yield to them new insights, may not have allowed themselves to go through the first two phases fully and deeply.

I had a deepening of this last phase of my last Camino this week. Daniel from the UK was visiting California. If you followed my Camino, you would have seen my post "The Healing Water of Lourdes" where we walked together for the day. We spent breakfast together the next day ("Empty Nests"). And he figured prominently in my synthesis of my journey, as one of my angels who guided me ("Walking in the Kingdom of Heaven").

We met for dinner and while he stopped by Los Angeles. Two other friends of his were with us there at that restaurant in Silverlake. One of them, Sandy, seemed to walk around the same time as me. In fact, after hours of chatting, we realized that we knew many of the same people and had interactions with the Texas A&M students on the same day in Carrion de las Condes. And yet we never met until Wednesday night. And we didn't know how our lives were connected, even though they were. Even though they are.

So much of the Camino and life can be like that, I realized. We are interacting with people we never meet, their influence on us slight and indirect, our influence on them similarly subtle.

You may walk alone, but you're walking with the person in front of you, walking with the person behind you, with the person passing you on the left, with the person, you're passing on the right.

I may not know what I'm seeking on this pilgrimage. But I approach it with an open heart, and an open mind. I appreciate your prayers for our safety, for the health and well-being of those who I walk with, and for all of us reading this. We are all bound together in ways we cannot recognize, destabilizing and reconstructing each other whether we know it or not.

But first we have to feel it.
To sense it.
To become aware of what we have in front of us.

And though it can be frightening, we can move on in prayer with each other and for each other and for ourselves.

And for those who are Christian and spiritually inclined, I want to bring up that not only are we connected to each other, we are connected to the divine. Whether we know it or not, we are affected and informed by this relationship, seen or unseen. I'll close with a portion of a prayer attributed to Saint Patrick.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me. 

Buen camino fellow pilgrims. Buen camino.