Keep walking

Today is the Feast of St. James, patron of pilgrims. The Camino Santiago is named for him – Saint James translates to Santiago. Two years ago on this day, I dreamed of what it might feel like to go on the Camino de Santiago, to leave St. Jean Pied de Port, France on foot end up in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Like millions of other pilgrims over the past 1200 years or so, I found out.

Saint James Pilgrim Apostle

Santiago, Patron of PIlgrims. Photo taken at the Museo das Peregrinacións e de Santiago.

To walk the Camino is a real gift; it will change your life in every possible way. I know that it did mine! How grateful I am that I was able to be a pilgrim, in great part because of so many of you and your generosity. Your material support and prayers carried me along The Way.  Aches, pains, blisters, frustration were all part of the mix. However, what is enduring is the pure joy of awaking each day, lifting up your pack, and walking. And walking. And walking. The walking is often alone, quiet, peaceful. There is also communal time, shared with joy with friends from around the world.

Leaving CastrojerizAll along the path one is reminded of St. James, Santiago, el apóstol, the patron of pilgrims. On the Camino or in daily life, we are all pilgrims. Today and every day, may your steps be blessed. St James, patron of pilgrims, watch over us all.

Ultreia! Keep Walking! Buen camino! Siempre camino!

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Looking at Lent, continuing the Camino

First Yellow Arrow St Jean.jpgLent begins this week. Each year many of us make an effort to begin Lent and to stick with whatever we have chosen to give up or take on.

Perhaps last year was too close to the completion of my Camino for me to see this as clearly, but this year I am profoundly aware of the magnetic pull of my Camino as I pray about entering Lent. The two journeys parallel paths are ever closer together, one journey completed, another about to begin. That Camino and Lent are related is not unusual; what is different is how I am experiencing it this year. It is more of an invitation or call, it is less of an idea. It is from deep within, thus so much harder to ignore.

All is know as I prepare to depart is this… my expectations for what will happen and what will happen are likely to be markedly different. This year, may I surrender ever more easily to where theflechas amarillas (or yellow arrow way markers of camino) lead me to, rather than my own dogged persistence about where I “think” or “feel” I should go. Head and heart are required during any spiritual sojourn, but trusting God to lead is the challenge.

How do you imagine your Lenten journey as it approaches?

Wait – what?

photoHot, huffing, and puffing, I was four days into my camino. Strangely enough, my knees were not bothering me nearly as much as I imagined they would, nor were my legs too sore, but I was dogged by blisters. And by the overstimulated exhaustion that can come about in the pursuit of a dream. Four days in, I was still a Camino Santiago neophyte without a clue.

Making it to the top of Alto del Perdon was no joke. It was not as steep as it was to get from St. Jean Pied de Port to Orisson, nor was as long and hard as it was to keep going uphill from there on the way to Roncesvalles. It was however hot! And again, those blisters. Ouchie. Anyway, making it to the top of Alto del Perdon was also a glorious moment – what a famous spot for those who know the Way of St. James! It is the place where the “the path of the wind meets the path of the stars.” In a word – magical.

Alto Sue Fran DeeanneLike most matters of faith, the high is often followed by a challenge. So consumed was I with getting up Alto del Perdon, I gave little thought to getting down. An essential camino lesson for me was this – going down is often far worse than going up. As we began our descent, my weariness gave way to an overwhelming anxiety with each footfall on the steep and rocky path. In fact, I felt certain that I might not be able to get down. I simply believed that I could not do it. And you know where that kind of thinking gets you.

nicodemus nightIn today’s Gospel from John, Nicodemus pays a visit to Jesus. At night. I love this imagery, poor old Nicodemus sneaking into see Jesus under the cover of darkness. It is a real struggle for Nicodemus to understand what it means to be “born again” and to be “born of the Spirit.” Here he is wrestling, like anyone who is inclined to being too literal, wondering how a “man once grown old” gets back into the womb to be born again. As usual, Jesus is trying to tell him. Jesus speaks to us in ways that leave us no place to go but deep into our hearts. Our literal and practical heads won’t allow us to understand, although our literal, practical – you know, our “realistic” heads – the ones that we value in the material world. Overvalue, it would seem.  Nicodemus is basically saying, “Wait – what?” Continue reading

Personal desert

EDIT Somewhere between Logrono and Najera Sep 2016I’m enjoying being off of Facebook for Lent, and spending my time on Instagram with one post per day; a photo and a mini-reflection. You will have to head over to my Instagram feed, or to my Facebook page (where my Instagram auto posts) to read my reflection for today. Essentially, I am thinking about Jesus instructing us to love our enemies.

Hardest. Thing. Ever.

I’ll gladly take a long walk with a heavy cross on my back than to do this. Yet, I try to constantly push myself to do so. I suck at it, by the way. Big time.

It occurs to me that part of the problem is my own lack of willingness to look at the enemy within. Of course I am well aware of that enemy, but my inner looking often results in things like my own defensiveness about myself, my shame, and my superhuman strength at avoiding and denial. I’m great at that stuff. Big time.

All of this is an invitation to me, a good deal of which is more clear this Lent because I am spending less time “talking” via Facebook. Painful is my awareness this Lent that the driest and most arid desert is often found deep within my own heart. Thus, the gifts of death and new life are made clear, but only if I am willing to keep going.

What does your inner search Please be assured of my prayers as we ply our way through deserts of our own making. God offers us so much more, but even for those of us who say we will follow, do we really?

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

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.