Blisters of privilege, prayers of choice

san-bol-feet

My blistered feet entering an allegedly healing pool.

They were sometimes like a hot knife plunged into my lower extremities, at other times, simply walking on broken glass. My blisters during the first two weeks of my Camino were horrible. One day, Sue and I entered the town of Villafranca Montes de Oca and I simply had to stop walking. It was too much, I could not take the pain. What happened next is a long story for another day, just let it suffice to say, my feet were wrecked. Would I be able to continue my Camino? (Spoiler alert for new readers, thanks be to God, I did.)

With nearly every blistered step I took, I was aware of how privileged I was to even be in this situation. All I could think about when my feet, my knees, or general tiredness bothered me was that I chose to be where I was. Not so far away from me, migrants were to be found all over Europe. The vast majority of them fled their homes, not by choice, not due to any luxury, but due to violence, hunger, the threat of war, and the ever-present reality of death. I tried to pray with and for them with every painful footfall, even after my blisters were overall healed.

Today is Continue reading

Lost in Logroño

google-maps-logoOne of the least faithful elements of my Camino was my reliance on Google maps. At the least provocation, I would grab my phone and start checking details, often when I was in a city. This happened in Logroño when we went in search of a Decathalon store. We did not get lost, but did we ever get misguided because we were sent very far out of our way. This not good for my already ailing feet, bringing new meaning to 10 steps forward, 5 steps back.  The problem was not that I used Google maps; the problem was my utter reliance on something external, and not trusting my instincts. Or God. All while on a… pilgrimage.

Lost is my overwhelming feeling as I begin Advent this year, and there is no Google map app to help me find my way. Thank God! It slowly begins to dawn on me, as I try to “wait in motion” that perhaps the lessons of Logroño offer me a clue.

The Camino was a seed in my heart, albeit a dormant one, for many years. My guess puts my first knowledge of it to around 1992, maybe even late 1991. Although dormant, the Camino was a form of waiting in motion in my heart. Two and half years ago the seed began to sprout when Sue and I began to plan our journey. #SquadGoals, right? And a personal goal as well. The focus became clearer and clearer, even when I felt fear, discouragement, or doubt. My sense of being lost right now has to do with the fact that my goal has been achieved. Veni, vidi, vici! Great. There goes over 20 years of longing… Now what?

Am I really lost? Do I simply need a new goal? What happens next?

img_4429-1Back to Logroño – maybe I am not so lost as I am misguided. Trusting a tiny piece of technology outside of me instead of trusting God within is a challenge. Yet that challenge provides me with some direction. If only I toss the phone of my heart,  take a look at what’s around me, ask for directions, and just walk.  This requires things like contemplation, action, patience, faith, courage – and the willingness to truly get lost in order to get found. Trust in God. Why didn’t I see those directions on my Google map?

Today’s Scriptures sent a glimmer of hope to me, helping to keep the momentum of my waiting in motion up. This is from the responsorial psalm…

It is better to take refuge in the LORD
than to trust in man.

It is also better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in Google maps. Don’t get me wrong, the maps – like humans – have their place in the greater scheme, but they are not the Christ I await this Advent. Again, the notion of a goal springs forth. There is but one goal and that goal is God. I’m not sure how to find my way to the Christ being born, but I do know this, I will not get there if I don’t put the phone away, and trust in God. I pray this day that I can do just that. Care to join me?

More waiting, more motion

wait-1As I mentioned the other day, Advent seems to be like waiting-in-motion to me this year. This is not unusual given that I have recently returned from walking along the Camino Francés route of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage. Pondering my waiting-in-motion, I read these words from today’s first reading:

Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
The calf and the young lion shall browse together,
with a little child to guide them.
The cow and the bear shall be neighbors,
together their young shall rest;
the lion shall eat hay like the ox.
The baby shall play by the cobra’s den,
and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair.
There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the LORD,
as water covers the sea.

Given the current social and political climate, I am frustrated by the wait for this great day when the wolf, lamb, leopard and others will be playing nicely together. How long must I wait, how long Lord?

It seems like a long wait right now. Awakened early this morning by who knows what, I experienced my thoughts slamming into the walls of my brain, like untethered objects in an attic during an earthquake. In the dark of night it dawned on me that part of the problem was that my waiting was in fact, the problem. In my mind I could see  tears roll down the red-hot cheeck of a petulant child with fists balled up, screaming “WANT! NOW!”  Of course, the child is me. Lion, lamb, Christmas, nice, NOW!

Which brings me right back to waiting-in-motion and pilgrimage. Right now I feel as if I am stuck in a linear spiritual ditch. I long to head straight to my destination, Advent. Oh come on, who am I kidding? My desired spot is hardly Advent, despite my protestations that I love this season. If I am honest, I want to get to Jesus who will take care of everything. The reality is that I am not in a ditch, and the journey of Advent, like all journeys of the spirit, is not at all linear. And Jesus? I think he means for all of us to do the work with him, and not standly idly by as he whips up a dose of world peace.

When I was near the end of the Camino, the pilgrim path wound itself up and down mountains, and through green forests. Some days it felt like passing through a magical woodland, awash in mystical mists or luminous light. The path was worn down in so many places, and I was reminded me that many people had walked here for a long, long time. Waiting-in-motion, co-conspirators with the mission, whether they realized that or not.

on-the-way-to-sarriaToday that thought brings forth an element of the journey of Advent that is not at all linear, considering I make this journey each year. And it is certainly not one that I make alone. Pressing on with common purpose with others, I do go forward, a trip that is well-intended but meaningless if I do not go deeper as well.

One of the things that shaped me most powerfully on Camino was the slow and plodding nature of the thing. It demanded a presence of the moment the likes of which I had never experienced. I wish that I could tell you that I always liked it, but I cannot tell you that. Sometimes I hated it. It made me go… yes, you might have guessed it – deeper.

santiago-directIn the slow motion of a biped inching along, I was being reformed. As in re-formed, not fixed or corrected!  This would not have happened if I had driven from St. Jean Pied de Port to Santiago, a ride of  8 hours, give or take. Instead, I walked, often up to 8 hours a day… for about 35 days. Would it have been the same? I think we all know the answer to that question!

This long ramble redirects me to the pilgrim path of Advent. If I want lions and lambs to get along, I must make the effort to walk there with them. If I want to “get to” the God-with-us of the Incarnate Christ, my presence is required, step by step. It is not a straight line, and it is not on the surface, and it is most certainly not passive!

In the foreward to the book, Traveling Souls, Contemporary Pilgrimage Stories (edited by Brian Bouldrey) Pico Iyer writes:

“A pilgrim’s journey, unlike a traveler’s, never ends, only deepens.”

The power of that pilgrim journey has me back on my feet, even if only the feet of my heart. Step by step they make their Advent way, going deeper with every footfall. It may be more waiting, but it is also more motion. It is the only way.

Waiting-in-motion

waitThe season of waiting and watching is upon us. Days grow shorter, nights grow longer as we anticipate Christmas. For those of us who celebrate Advent, it is a time of anticipation, a time to pause, a time to observe.

One of the things on my mind this Advent is how I waited so long for my Camino. It was not sitting still in the darkness waiting, it was more the anticipation of what was to come, and my waiting consisted of doing a lot of walking and hiking! Other anticipatory acts were to consider what equipment and gear I might need, and then acquiring said objects. The Camino took over a huge space in my mind, my heart, and my body.

The Camino itself was a form of active waiting. Each day included a great deal of physical activity, as we covered an average of 15 miles per day. Think about how long it takes to drive 15 miles. Well, walking – often up and down hills and rocks – takes about five to eight hours, depending on conditions. When we were walking on La Meseta, long, hot, dry, dusty stretches of flatness, we could not wait to find a tree for shade and rest, or for the next town – which might be 17 kilometers ahead. And no, there would be nothing in between. That is very active waiting, acute awareness waiting!

meseta-after-castrojeriz

Waiting in motion, meseta style!

We walked as a form of waiting as we arrived at the next town, and we were also walking as was waiting to arrive in Santiago de Compostela, our goal. Some might argue that all that forward movement was not really waiting, but now that I look back, it was waiting. I see it as waiting-in-motion.

17024f000b86ca5dfce1b53cef5a6dd7istock_000011563599xsmallWaiting gets a bad rap in our culture. Waiting, in many of our cultural themes implies a kind of impervious impatience that translates into the notion that our time is too precious to waste. Aren’t we far too busy, far too important for that kind of nonsense?

Well, that might just be true depending on who or what we wait for, but it is not universal. It can be very challenging to see waiting as anything but torturous. Clearly, when we wait for justice – yes, that it torturous. But what about all the instances of waiting that bringforth gifts? If we skip past the wait, we miss the gifts? And how can we tell the difference?

This Advent, I hope to explore what it means to wait, and to wait-in-motion, as well as considering who or what we wait for. What are our priorities? Who will we sit in the stillness for, anticipating their arrival?

Just walk

my-boot-and-me-wordsToday is the feast day of Blessed Miguel Pro, SJ. It is not on the liturgical calendar because his canonization is not complete. One day, one day…

Ever since I returned from Camino Santiago on October 31, I have found myself at loose ends. First of all, the return from the pilgrim life and back into the quotidian routine is startling. I am reminded of cycles of birth and death – I imagine being birthed is a shock to our tiny bodies, but we adjust, and God willing, thrive. As we do not know of death until we get there, our faith informs us of another passage which may be shocking at first, but one that I believe will be… well, I have no words, but glorious comes to mind.

Anyway, I feel like I have either been born or died, I cannot figure out which one. Born in the sense that I feel ever more a child of God, totally dependent and unable to Continue reading

Timeless Surrender

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Like pretty much everyone else, I can’t wait for tomorrow to be over. When I was on Camino, I was marginally aware of what was going on, but I really tried to tune out. Not having TV, newspapers, or a lot of time to look at my phone was a great antidote to election-obsession. Well, now I am back. As I try not to be obsessed, I am more aware and more focused on the news.

A particular thought goes through my mind as I listen to the doomsday predictions of what will happen if Continue reading

Where it happens

meseta-after-castrojeriz

The Meseta, somewhere after Castrojeriz, but before Fromista

It is very hard to go on Camino Santiago. Physically, emotionally, spiritually. At the beginning – if you start in St Jean Pied de Port – you are faced with a strenuous climb on day one. That’s true even if you only go as far as Orisson on that day, like we did. On day two you continue to face a big climb, followed by a big descent. Then you arrive at Roncesvalles where arrival at the albergue is pretty much the opposite of the intimate and warm greeting at Orrison. Crowds, shouted orders, lines, food tickets and more.  It was disorienting to say the least, not to mention the exhaustion, the questions (why am I here?) and more.

Days follow, more trials and challenges. You come to find that everything in Spain in uphill. Well, almost everything it seems. Then you realize that uphill is difficult, but downhill – that stuff will mess you up! It is worse! Soon enough you believe you will be fine because you are on the Meseta. The thing is, it is not always flat, but it is hot, dry, dusty, and desolate, providing its own brand of challenge.

Now if I am making the Camino sound awful, slow down. It is amazing, but it is no stroll in the park. The point is, going on Camino is a gift and privilege, but it is also a big challenge. It is hard.

Yet, here is what may be even harder – returning home and re-entering the stream of life. That’s hard too, at least after 48 hours. I am so happy to be back home and with Mark. I loved taking my own shower in my own bathroom and sleeping in my own bed.

The Camino happens not only in Spain, but it happens in the “room” that is one’s heart. And I need to stay in the “room where it happens.” (Sorry, can’t resist a #Hamilton reference!)  So my question today is this… how will I do this?

The answer? So far, I do not know, but I know that my Camino heart-room is the anchor that must keep me from drifting. There’s no going back to either who I was before I left, and there’s no going back to Spain. At least not right now, regarding the latter.

Today my prayer is that I can stay in the room where it happens… no matter where I am. You cannot stay on the Camino for your entire life, but you can stay on pilgrimage in your heart.

Oh – one more thing. All that challenge and misery inducing climbing and descending and walking through the long, lonely flats? It is great and wonderful and powerful and beautiful! Why? Because that is how God invites you to the change of being physically, emotionally, and spiritually stronger. But only if you allow God to do so. And only if you allow yourself to stay put in the room of your heart with God. I’ll be working on that, as I worked on my lung capacity and leg strength at the beginning of my Camino, with every step a prayer.