Camino, beginnings, endings, ongoing…

The Camino de Santiago was pretty quiet during Covid, just like everything else. This year, several of my friends have made the pilgrimage and it reawakened my own memories – and reminded me of the on-going gifts of the journey.

It was so interesting for me to see people posting photos and reflections – almost simultaneously, they were about a day or two apart from one another – of pathways I had trod six years earlier. Although many of my friends went after I did, I don’t recall feeling as passionately as I did this year. Not sure what that’s about, but I’ll stick with reawakening.

Some whereon the camino.

So much time and effort went into preparing for pilgrimage. Physically preparing myself to walk 500 miles, practically preparing in various ways from travel plans to what to bring. With so many books, films, websites, and more, there is almost too much information about how to “do” the Camino. Of course, the minute one sets foot on the path in St. Jean Pied de Port, the preparing and the doing becomes something else – it is about fully being. You can kind of prepare for that, but honestly – the Holy Spirit is pretty clear about making stuff very real at that point.

In any case, I have relived many of my memories, and I am drawn more deeply into what I am called to do as a result of my journey. That’s the thing about the Camino, it never really ends. Once you go, nothing in your life is the same after it, and one must open to what comes next.

If you think you have to go go France and Spain, or anywhere for that matter, to “get” to this, I offer you perhaps the most important element of Camino… While being outside of your normal circumstances is a big game changer, and one I highly recommend, it does not have to be afar. Immediately I think of the 2016 film, Phil’s Camino. It was made by the indomitable Annie O’Neill, about someone perhaps even more indomitable, Phil Volker, now of blessed memory. Having Stage 4 cancer, Phil could not leave Vashon Island, Washington, so he made his camino right where he was. Fate intervened and he did end up in Spain and in many other places, but the point is, he made his camino where he was. (Note: Annie became my hero when I saw her in Six Ways to Santiago, another wonderful documentary film. That I get to know and interact with her online is a gift.)

That is where any transformational journey will begin. You don’t need to go anywhere special or buy anything particular, but an open heart, a willing heart, and a mind to match are helpful. If you lack those things as I did, the old fake it until you make it rule can apply. Resistance can, like an ugly old bulb thrown in the ground to freeze in the dark of winter, can become a most beautiful flower. So push on, because if you cannot do it in place, going to Spain ain’t gonna help!

The camino is an ongoing journey within. If you are fortunate enough to go, as I was, go. If you can go on any kind of life-changing pilgrimage, go. Whether it is in your backyard, at a retreat house, in the labyrinth at your parish or somewhere local, or just in your heart – begin. The first steps are the toughest.

And know this – once you set forth you can count on one thing for certain, the journey is never ending, infinite and full of all the grace and glory that we are willing to accept. Six years on, I am opening up to a new level of this. Let’s pray for one another that we begin and that we keep on going.

Leap!

It has been a very long time since I posted anything, but I’m still here. For some reason I am reminded of the maxim, “Leap, and the net will appear.”

Dawn in Orisson, France, September 19, 2016.

So no, I’m not planning on going anywhere, but I’m praying with the notion of what a leap might look like. What parts of my life, both practical and spiritual, might need changing up?

I’m not sure, but I am trying to listen deeply and then act in faith. It is hard to believe that 6 years ago at this time I was preparing for my Camino Santiago. Talk about a leap! With the help of God and so many others, it happened.

A poem is also on my mind, so I will share that here as well. Just in case any of us, like me, need to be reminded.

“Come to the edge,” he said.
“We can’t, we’re afraid!” they responded.
“Come to the edge,” he said.
“We can’t, We will fall!” they responded.
“Come to the edge,” he said.
And so they came.
And he pushed them.
And they flew.”

― Guillaume Apollinaire

Be Still, Cease Striving

This past weekend I was on retreat at Pyramid Life Center in Paradox, NY. Tucked into the Adirondacks, this “thin place” is a source of restoration of my soul. I took this photo when I arrived.

Our retreat director was Mary DeTurris Poust, who is many things – the Director of Communications for the Diocese of Albany, a skilled and prolific writer, a gifted yoga teacher, and more. Her website is Not Strictly Spiritual. Early in the retreat we were talking about the Psalm verse 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God. It is a favorite for many of us.

Mary then pointed us to a translation found in the NASB. That version says this, “Cease striving, and know that I am God.”

WHOA

That one really hit me hard. Cease striving? Sheesh, striving is the American way. In his first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul tells them to keep striving. What’s a person to do? Thankfully we can understand this in the truly Catholic and universal matter of both/and, not only either/or.

This reminder to cease striving and/or to be still is God’s way of saying that we must stop and let God be God. Easy to say and think, but so very hard to live – at least for me.

Today I want to remember – and share – this notion when I want to push harder, insist on more, when my frustration mounts and peaks. God is in it all with me, and only God is God. We all might go more deeply into our lives of faith by taking a deep breath and being quiet. In a world that gets louder by the second, in workplaces and homes full of stress, in a time of great division, there is only one way. Know that God is God. Forever.

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Primacy of conscience

It has been awhile, hasn’t it? No real reason, just time away! But I have returned, for today at least, so address an issue that is pressing heavily on many of us.

The election is about 54 days away at this point – it is close. Voting is important, it is an essential element of a democracy. I was raised in a household that held the right to vote high and it was impressed upon me at an early age that voting was a privilege – and not one to be squandered. Although a toddler at the time of his election, and one raised in a Republican family, I was often reminded that having a JFK as Catholic president was important. I’m pretty sure my parents voted for him because party politics were somewhat different at the time.

Anyway, here we are today during particularly fractious and divisive times. We are barraged with messages that tell us if we vote for this person, or do not vote for that person, terrible things will happen. Feelings and emotions run high, opinions are confused with facts, and we are faced with inordinate amounts of information.

As Catholics we may believe we must vote for one party over another, but that is simply not the case. We have a responsibility to vote for causes that support life, contribute to the common good, respect human dignity, and more. Beyond that we have a special call to not only help those less fortunate, but to be transformed by them. What one party can live up to that?

If you are struggling, I would simply like to share two links with you. One is to the USCCB website to help with voting called Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship. The other is to a very well written article about conscience, originally published in America Magazine in 2015. Both links will offer you guidance and resources, but in the end, we have to pray, discern, choose wisely, and vote according to our understanding of our faith and the importance of our own conscience.

Fast forward to today’s fractious and combative environment, one in which we are regularly threatened

I am not afraid and I may start blogging again…

Sure about not being afraid, not so sure about the blogging though; I am still discerning.  In the meantime, this is something I heartily agree with. Karl Barth apparently said this to his friend Eduard Thurneysen during a phone call in December 1968. Barth died later that same day.

This feels very true to me in a particular way right now.  I am not afraid.
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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?

Fear? Or faith?

popefrancis-fear-tyrannyOn Saturday I walked to church and listened to a podcast. The thing in the podcast that struck me the most was just how powerful a motivator fear can be. Having already read the mass readings, which address fear and other things, and I began to think about fear in our time. It is not all that different than fear in any other time; it just seems worse because we are bombarded with so much information.

So what are we afraid of? Continue reading

Believe

c63d87b84b0f6d444b27419971cceb5f“They should make a postage stamp with him on it,” one guy told us at his wake. “I owe him everything,” said another. “He believed in me. He changed my life.” This is from a column in the December 4, 2015 issue of Commonweal magazine, entitled “Keeping the Books, Owen McGowan, RIP” by regular contributor Jo McGowan. These are words that were said about her father Owen, who died in August, and they reveal a moving tribute to a great man. I was particularly struck by the sentence, “He believed in me. He changed my life.” It reminded me of Jesus, the one we await this and every Advent.

Not long after reading the column, I opened an email from a friend who does the work of the saints – she teaches at an inner city elementary school. The email contained a link to a video that I present in this link. By the way, I can only share the link, I can’t get the video to embed. It will give you a pop up saying that if you are not signed into your TWC account, you can only view a limited number of videos; just click watch video and it will bring you to the site.) In any case, if you did not or could not watch the video, the story is about an after school mentoring program at the school where my friend works. My friend is Christine Hannan, and she is in the video. The program pairs adults with kids for five years, helping them to learn how to read. The story blew me away. Five years is a long time for a person to give, but imagine what that may yield! Not only does the child have help with reading, but the child also forms a powerful and consistent bond with an adult who is focused on them. In the end, I was reminded of the power of what happens when people believe in us.

If there was any doubt of God’s belief in humanity, the incarnation of Christ, born as a vulnerable infant in challenging circumstances should have clarified the obvious. However, many still struggle – whether they don’t believe that God believes in them, and in daily life, that no one believes in them.

In Advent we are called to this quiet waiting, and every year it can become more challenging. For example, consider this:

Two things immediately spring to mind, well – immediately after I shake the creepy Orwellian doom feeling out of myself. One is that our capacity as humans for waiting is at this point grows ever more culturally eliminated. The second is that it is no wonder so few people believe in God. Why bother when if you are in a position to have all the economic wherewithal to access the mighty drone wonder, who needs to pray? Pfffft! Jesus may be shoved aside by the brilliance of Jeff Bezos and his never ending desire to reinvent the world. That is not always a bad thing… but, just think about how his ingenuity can steal our attention from others – and from God. People worry about our president making himself into some all powerful king? No worries there, Bezos seems to move forth with that with almost no scrutiny. But I digress! I am not here to pick on a rich and powerful man who can fulfill your every dream. He can spur on the economy and fulfill your dreams very well –  long as you can pay, that is.

Anyway, my point being – if we can have our material goods delivered by drone, who needs to pray, when one can simply pay? Why wait, when immediacy is a click or two away? And why bother waiting for God who will soon appear as a baby, when due to your frustration boils over not being able to afford the goods or the cost of the drone flight? There are many barriers to God in the material world, but the material world is where we are, as we watch and wait for the very incarnation who wishes to join us here. Jesus comes into the world, illuminating the darkness. He does not to eliminate our every problem or pain, but he is here be one with us in it.

Whether or not you believe in God, God believes in you. Whether or not you believe in Jesus, Jesus believes in you. The act of believing, having faith and hope in another is a vital step on the pilgrimage of Advent, as well as the pilgrimage of life. With faith and hope in Christ Jesus in his one of his least powerful looking forms, as a child, we see a new light that guides us on new paths. We must find ways to twin waiting and belief, fueled always by the One who believes in us, and who in great mercy – waits for us, as we wait for him.

As we go forth today, maybe we can bring a little light into the darkness by doing what we learned about Owen McGowan doing in the first paragraph – believing in someone. Today, may we come to know more deeply, that someone believes in us.

 

An invitation

act-in-faith-not-fear(This reflection is on the readings for the day before Advent begins, the very last day of the liturgical year, and appears in Give Us This Day. Please see the end of the post for further details.)

Our world seems to run on the fuel of fear. Simply watching or reading the news can fill our tanks with enough anxiety-provoking material to keep us running for days. Work and family concerns, fretfulness over jobs and money, disquiet about health, and apprehension over other things can turn us into nervous wrecks. Constant worry is exhausting, and that exhaustion typically leads to more angst.

Jesus offers a clear warning that might be easy for anxious people to miss. Do we think we’re off the hook because we are not out “carousing” or getting drunk? Not so fast. It seems that the “anxieties of daily life” are on the watch list as well, and that is a net likely to catch many.

It could be easy to take Jesus’ words Continue reading

Sprouting and blooming – some thoughts on Thomas Merton

e7881216984a7402ae7a60713960607eToday we celebrate the 100th anniversary of Thomas Merton’s birth.

Many years ago, when I first returned to church, I – like many others – read his landmark work, The Seven Storey Mountain.  This book moved me in many ways, including to being the catalyst to get me out of my “God’s-only-up-there” piety and into a faith where my feet were firmly planted on the ground.

There are many gifts that God has given to me through Merton and his work, but today, I am grateful that it was the beginnings of a more integrated life of faith that the book shaped in me. And trust me, that seed was planted in 1990, but has taken many years to start to sprout, and even more years to bloom.

And with feet on the ground, those seeds are still sprouting, still blooming.
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Thomas Merton, pray for us!