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, June 30, 2023

Let them beat as one - June 25

 I like to be in conversations with people. I enjoy the back and forth. And talking is a part of that dynamic. Sometimes in albergues, the dinners get pretty loud. It’s especially loud when people are communicating in second languages and everyone has to enunciate louder and clearer. Everyone ends up talking over the other rather than just with each other.

Which means if you are NEXT to such a table having an otherwise quiet conversation, it can get tough. This night, we enjoyed our dinner and conversation but much of our talk had to be repeated because of the loudness of the adjacent table. I’m happy that they speak with each other, but it did make it tough for me, with hearing issues, to focus. It seemed like a little quietness would have helped.

But I never want to suppress the conversation. Let it flow! If there were a choice between silence and overly loud talk, I’ll choose talk. We sit at tables with each other, some of whom we don’t know. We are at public dinners partly because we spend much of the day walking in silence. It’s nice to mix. It’s part of the Camino experience.

I have watched some members of my Camino group really getting into meaningful conversations with others. That’s a noise a celebrate. That’s no cymbal clanging loudly to no effect. It’s a sound of two heartbeats synchronizing. Let them beat as one.

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Choose slow - June 24

Slowing down was not a normal strategy for me on Camino . Blisters are the only guaranteed way to make me remember to slow down. Physical pain in other words. But I also recognize and advise people to slow down. You have more time to process, more ways to see things, more time to ingest all that you see. 
In some ways, we speed through the Camino in just the same way we go through life. We have limited time, we want to maximize material events, we try to acquire more activities. It’s the temporal equivalent to hoarding things or money. 
But you cannot hoard time. You just end up sitting and waiting. Or you stop taking input sooner, possibly reducing opportunities to learn more, feel more, experience more.
I met Daniel on this stretch 7 years ago. And I wanted to be with him. But he walked very slowly with his crutches. So it meant I had to slow down if I wanted to walk with him. 
I see now that this was a complete blessing for me. He helped me find joy in slowing down. He made it my choice and my choice was for joy.
If I could only remember this every moment of every day. But that’s a work in progress. With luck, I can recognize that with each step, I can choose joy.

Sunday, June 25, 2023

Fantabulous Fiesta de San Juan - June 23, 2023

We walked into Nájera fairly quickly and were able to rest before the Fiesta de San Juan. There were multiple meals beside the river and the festival atmosphere was obvious among the residents. We say people walking with kindling wood for the bonfire and colorful outfits. There seemed to be a color-code to the costumes but we couldn’t figure it out.

There’s an odd feeling watching people celebrating and having fun. First, there’s the intent on trying to connect with them. Why is a religious feast day so filled with alcohol and music and bonfires? Then it’s trying to understand just how they are having fun: what do the costumes mean? There’s also a question of why a one day religious observance gets stretched out over a week. 

We sort of felt happy that everyone was having fun but we were also sort of excluded. We walked around trying to enjoy bit it’s hard to emulate that feeling without the cultural context. And that’s ok. It’s not about us.

So here’s the twist. For me, this weekend is an important one for LGBTQ in the USA. This used to be when pride weekend was most commonly celebrated. People get upset about pride parade because they think it’s about bragging. Maybe it should be called “I don’t want to hate myself like you hate me” weekend or “no more lies” parade. The point is, if you’re not familiar with the context, you won’t easily feel the joy, the enthusiasm, and the relief of the celebration. It’s as foreign as a Fiesta de San Juan. It makes you feel left out.

And that’s ok. It’s not about you.

Saturday, June 24, 2023

Resty McResty - June 22, 2023

 I used to walk quickly and because of that would just keep walking on the Camino. I would chat with other fast walkers as we continued, pausing perhaps to take photos but not really resting much. I don’t think I judged others if they stopped to rest. I just knew that if I walked slower or slept in, I might be walking in the hot Spanish sun.

It’s different on this Camino. I’m walking slower because of physical necessity. I’m older, heavier, and am more willing if necessary to just grab a bus or taxi if my body gives out. And I pause in the shade to rest. I chat with those who rest by me but often it’s just me. So I hum a little song to myself as I rest, typically a hymn. Lately it’s been “Day by Day: day by day dear Lord of the I pray. To see thee more clearly, Love thee more dearly, follow thee more nearly, day by day”.

And when I do this, I find the rest to be more satisfying. It’s not just a physical rest. It’s also a mental and spiritual break. There’s a lot of processing while on Camino. Interacting with others, processing past relationships and events, exploring new thoughts. It’s wonderful and yet sometimes we need a momentary break. 

We stopped in a small but charming town Navarrete just 13km walk on this day. I had the best pintxo dinner so far here but the day was notable because we disconnected from the pod of people who were also walking the same distances we were. Two of our group continued with the group and are now a day ahead. And that’s awesome because they are deep in relationship with others and want to deepen them further.

We who took the short day now are among a new batch of people. Some we met before. Catherine of Ohio took a rest day in Estella so we got to break bread with her. We found Chrissy of Downey again. But most are new folks to us. We no longer see Timo of Netherlands, Arron of Hungary, Pastor Stewart of Canada, or Shannon of Florida. Maybe we will see then again when they next take a rest day. Maybe not.

Rest can be disruptive and break rhythms. But that’s what it’s supposed to do. Sabbath was given to us and was meant to recognize that rest is needed. I am learning to embrace this and hope to enjoy my rest on this Camino. 

Thursday, June 22, 2023

Not enough - June 21, 2023

Walking from Los Arcos to Logroño, I found myself talking with a young man traveling with his family. They are spending a week in Spain walking the Camino before continuing elsewhere. He just graduated from uni and in a couple weeks would start a new job in a new city.

He has dealt with therapists and depression for years. He looks at his life as flawed and that he isn’t doing enough. Isn’t being enough. Isn’t anything enough. He holds himself to a measure that he finds impossible.

I prayed for him. He was enough. He was just walking his family’s Camino and not his own, literally and metaphorically. He did enough, had enough, and was enough for his journey. He and I were on journeys with others, but in the end we walk beside them in our own shoes. I pray for him because his anxieties sustain his depression. And I will pray for him and those who look in the mirror and see the creation of others rather than the creation of God.

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Food truck in the middle of nowhere - June 20, 2023

 I love the food truck in the middle of nowhere. It’s about 90 minutes before you reach Los Arcos. The hills are gently rolling by and the crops are amazing. One farm area has now switched to lavender and the scents were divine. 

But this food truck is a true oasis. It offers food and shade and water when you didn’t realize how parched you were. I couldn’t wait to reconnect with this spot. But the truck seemed to be under new management. It was now operated by American and Canadian young women from a Christian non-profit. I wondered if it would be less of an oasis now.

But the food remained. The ice cream was there. The soda was abundant. And most of all, the pilgrims were there. And we laughed. We shared stories during our brief stay. Was it still an oasis in the middle of nowhere?

Yes, and it offered more than water and snacks. It refreshed us with people.

Peter? - June 19, 2023

 The walk out of Puenta La Reina was misty at first. Lovely agricultural land before we hit the steep hill.

But until the rains came, I walked the morning with Will. He had so much going on that he was processing. He’s on his fourth Camino and he talks with everyone. And despite or maybe because of his mindfulness practices, he remembers so much about us.

For example, in the middle of a field, we are walking side by side when another man with a huge backpack walks towards us with a couple dogs. Will watches him and when he gets to us says “Peter?” The man is stunned. He became guarded and said he was but didn’t know Will. As it turns out they were both at a campsite in 2017 on a prior Camino. Peter was on a prolonged Camino after having left Kyiv because of the war.

This ability to remember stories was powerful to me. When we meet people deeply, we get to know them. And they touch us. Will heard Peter. And Peter denied Will. As Simon Peter realized in denying Christ in fear, we too can deny those who touch us or whom we touch.

My walk in the rain for the rest of the day swirled around the ways we recognize each other. I would rather be recognized by my stories than my looks. I’d rather recognize someone else by the way they embrace their own stories rather than what they own or what they wear. And I pray that I never deny the face of God when they come to me in a lonely field.

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Magically alive - June 18, 2023

 Pamplona at dawn is like NYC at dawn. Asleep and quiet yet still magically alive.

I fell again, this time hurting my other foot. So I took this frailty to heart. The walk up to Alto del Perdón would be steep so I walked with Deb whose pace complimented my own. So we walked. We talked. We shared stories. The best part was that she too knows how to get you to open up. I could already tell that she was meeting many people and touching hearts.

We reached the top eventually. It’s a forlorn ridge with windmills all along. She and Paula stayed behind for a taxi while Bill, Stephen, and I continued on. To our surprise, we had walked 2.5 hours before a taxi arrived. But they had great talking time and greeted all who arrived at the peak.

After the rainy dinner apart from each other, we met in the library of my albergue Jakue. Eileen, who is a priest, presided over communion. As a fresh new deacon, I served my second Eucharist. In Spain. On the Camino. 

It occurred to me that a deacon’s role is to listen and speak out in the silence of injustice. And that was what the day felt like. A day of walking with people, listening, and if needed, speaking. From the silent streets of Pamplona to the silent trudge up a peak, sharing joys, tears, and troubles in a faithful, holy way- I was alive in the quiet wind. It was dawn in my ministry and all was magically alive.

Falling with the bulls - June 17, 2023

There was beauty and there was beauty. After passing the hydroelectric plant, the river and forest from Zubiri became magical. This is what I remember and loved about this section of the Camino. A swimming hole in particular was enchanting. We waded into the water and gave thanks.

But there was also humility. It reached 91 and the heat winded us. And at one point, I missed a step and fell . Thankfully it was just a messy fall with no broken bones or bleeding. But Julz and Stephen had to help me up because of the angle of the hill. It made me feel frail, as did the heat.

I don’t walk the Camino in a triumphal March. I note that I’m of much of an athlete. You’re reading the words of a nerd. I go on Camino because of the spiritual and personal growth I witness. But still, I wasn’t prepared for saying to myself “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.”

We ended the day in a pod albergue then met up with the group for drinks, pintxos, and then churros at Cafe Iruña. We didn’t run with the bulls, but we walked beside all who run out of fear.

Friday, June 16, 2023

It’s not my Camino - June 16, 2023

 We got a little fragmented today. Eileen had to walk to the next town for a place to stay while the rest of us stopped in the village of Zubiri. Jenny and Julz stayed in different spots while the rest of us stayed in Segundo Etapa albergue. But Deb and her broken rib took a taxi from Viskarret which was for the best given the tough rocky trails so day.

I wished we could have enjoyed the forest together more, but that’s the way we are doing this pilgrimage. We each have our own caminos. So it’s not about my preferences but the needs and wants of the others. I want to accompany them as wanted. It’s about trusting their Camino to unfold before them. In the meantime, I just need to be there when called.

Back to the walk.

Lots of cows and streams until we reached some uphill climbs after Espinal. The star of the show though is the fiendish trek down into Zubiri. Over 300m descent via tons of broken rocks. But the bridge into town is as charming as ever. The area transitions from mountain to foothills . Soon we will be in Pamplona and the pintxos beckon . What better way to describe today actually. Bite size morsels where everyone can get exactly what they want. We aren’t here to make them eat one dish but to sample all that we can offer. 

Thursday, June 15, 2023

Trust in Breathing

 It was a challenging day. Not just because physically the walk over a mountain range like the Pyrenees can beat up the body. Everyone in this group was grateful that we won’t have another day on Camino as challenging as today. But also because of my emotional struggle with my experiences seven years ago. The cliffs were there but not really as close as I imagined. I wasn’t in imminent risk in those hours where the fog basically blinded me with less than 20ft visibility. There were in fact very few places where you could fall off easily. 

But when you cannot see, when fear grips you, icy peril is all you can sense. It fills your lungs till you cannot breathe. But breathe we must. And if we want to allay those fears, we must trust and breathe in the Holy Spirit, the breathe of life, the rouach. Only when we do so will we find Shalom.
The group of pilgrims met tonight for snacks. I came back from the Roncesvalles mass and found them deep in stories of their lives, their day, the people they encountered. There was a thread about grief. But what I noticed most was a sense of trust. The Camino provides. God provides. If we truly believe that Christ walks beside us, we must trust the shepherd to guide us out of times of anxiety. The group filled my lungs with the warm air of love and trust .

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

The Camino Provides : June 14, 2023 in Saint Jean Pied-de-Port

The group met in Saint Jean Pied-de-Port last night. What a joy! Have not seen Julz since she stayed over at our home in 2018. We met on the Portuguese Camino.

Today Eileen, Deb, Paula, and Bill head up to Orisson. I pray them safety. And May God open their hearts as they open their eyes to the splendor of the Pyrenees.

Jenny arrived and we four had crepes. Did shopping for tomorrow’s food needs by visiting the Carrefour just a km out of town. Also explored the city walls, the citadel which is now a school, the river walk, snd napped often.

Most importantly, I examined my anxiety. If you recall, my prior walk over the Pyrenees was traumatic. I thought I would die because I could not see the trail through the fog and hail. The weather plunged from 80F in Saint Jean Pied-de-Port to rain and hail above Orisson. I had not noticed the trauma I felt. As we approached tomorrow, I felt increasingly wary.

I didn’t notice that i was still dealing with that trauma. When I didn’t hear from the four who went ahead of us to spend the night in Orisson, I became quite anxious. Thankfully, I was texted as three approached Orisson but had not heard from Eileen since she left Saint Jean Pied-de-Port . 

Trauma does that. It takes your joy and bleeds it from you. You may not know that it’s happening. But the anxiety is real, and it messes with your brain. Especially a brain that’s jet lagged.

So I turn to the song “Nada the turbe” (let nothing bother you) which comes from words of St. Teresa of Ávila. Put your trust in the Camino and in God. The Camino provides, we say. God guides us so that we will always be accompanied.

Eileen didn’t find a room in Orisson but she did get the last bed in the very next place just one Km past that village. The Camino provided and she enjoyed a delicious Basque pilgrim’s menu.

The Camino provides.