Endless mercy

EDIT CalzadillaThe day we walked to #calzadilladeloshermanillos was one of the toughest in #spain🇪🇸 The #challenge of walking the #meseta got me, more mentally than physically. The #caminodesantiago was no game. God have mercy, I cried! How #bleak things seemed. Today’s 1st reading from #daniel expresses my #prayer that day, & my prayer today. The #gospel from #matthew reminds us however that the #mercy of #god is present. There is a price… we are to offer our mercy to others, full stop. There’s the toughest #camino challenge- how to do this. The road may seem barren, bleak, endless, but is not. Refreshment is ours when we open ourselves to receive the #love of #christ and then lavish it upon others. Especially to those who are the hardest to #forgive . Do that however and the #fountains of mercy that #jesus offers flow perpetually. #lessons of #lent

(This is a copy of today’s version of my daily Instagram posts of Lent.  I’m enjoying doing this, and I’m grateful for the good feedback that I have received. Today please be merciful to someone you would prefer not to show mercy to. This is what is asked from us, and it is so challenging to respond to God in this way.)

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?

Bread line, Lent 1 short

bread-spain-bw

Seen in Spain, during Camino.

“I gotta put bread on the table!” How often has that line, or something like it been used to justify doing things? Doing things that go against what we know is right. Whether it is not honoring the Sabbath, completing a work assignment that has moral implications, missing time spent with family or loved one… you fill in the blank. We’ve all done it. We all do it.

Today’s Gospel is from Matthew show us Jesus is in the desert being tempted. It has to be hot, challenging, and lonely. He must be exhausted, hungry and thirsty. It would be easy to give in, it would be reasonable even. Right?

But is anything about a life of faith, a life following Christ, ever reasonable in the material sense? Think about that and you have your answer. This does not mean some intense over-scrupulosity that turns self-induced sacrifice into some kind of holy-making exercise. Instead, we are asked to keep God first in our sights and choose accordingly. It means trusting God when the last shred is about to tear away. It is that simple, which indeed that difficult. And it does not always work out in the way we wish for. There’s the rub.

How often do we do what we should not? What else can we do…  we don’t want to end up on the breadline, do we?

(I’m off of social media for Lent. What I am doing is posting a photo a day on Instagram, with a short reflection. Each one posts to Facebook automatically. If you are on Instagram, check it out.)

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

Camino Stories – Coincidence?

camino-mapMany of you know that I went on Camino Santiago in the fall. It has been difficult to write about my experiences there. Why? I am not sure! Maybe it is because of the extraordinary nature of such a trip, a journey traveled in the world and also in the soul. Words do not come easily! In any case, I will start sharing some Camino Stories. Today I begin with one about coincidences occurring on the beginning and the end of the trip.

My camino compañera Sue and I flew from Montreal to Paris to begin our journey. As she had never been to Paris, we made a plan to stay overnight and have a one day whirlwind around this remarkable city. God was good and I found us a cheap hotel in a great location. It was a LOVELY hotel. We arrived at the crack o’ dawn and they let us check into our room. We changed and washed up, took off, and spent the day sightseeing.

Late in the afternoon found us near the Eiffel Tower at last. Sue was thrilled to be there. Honestly, having done it before, I was not so interested in going up, but once we got there, Sue’s excitement was contagious. Like all the other tourists, we waited in a long line and finally got to the elevator, which brings you to the first viewing level.

It was super crowded – crazy crowded. Sue and I were 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.