Staying camino ready

Once we return from a camino there is always that period where we just don’t want to do anything other than rest. A little recovery is fine and well earned, but as the days slip by it is all too easy to shift more into city life and lose the conditioning that you worked so hard to acquire. Yes, a trip or two to the gym helps and there are always neighborhood walks that get you out of the house and back on your feet. All these are things that have become more or less routine. However, as we are blessed to live in the Pacific Northwest with an abundance of nearby hiking trails it seems a shame not to make use of them.

On our last pilgrimage we met a Basque fellow who exemplifies this kind of commitment to local hiking trails. He walks almost every day along one trail or another just to be out and enjoying the beautiful countryside. I thought this is something that I should also do. We live nearby the Columbia River Gorge which is replete with trails both on the Washington and Oregon side of the river. There is plenty of opportunity for elevation gain (strengthen those legs), and grin spreading vistas. So I have resolved to do more training in the nearby mountains and enjoy the view as well. One thing I have discovered is that there are numerous hiking trail websites that list all the details of hikes in the Gorge. Armed with a senior discount access pass (one time 20 USD charge) I now have lifetime free entry into all federally managed lands. So now I have no excuses for not “hitting the trail.” A popular hike on the Washington side is Dog Mountain. This a short (7 miles roundtrip), but steep climb that reminded me of the Hospitales route on the Camino Primitivo. This is a perfect camino training hike.




Near the summit looking westward at the Columbia River







Another less strenuous but still a great day hike is the hike up along Eagle Creek to the High Bridge Falls. There are many options with regard to trails in the Gorge as several trails interconnect so one can add more distance or elevation as time, strength and desire permit. More to come…


Mind your step










The challenge of being

Today I am blessed with a quiet morning. Our back garden has awakened with birdsong and a scrub jay energetically splashing in a hollowed out rock (our birdbath). Not much else, just the stillness. This moment of quietude has brought me back to one of my favorite books, Thomas Merton’s, No Man is an Island. This small book is packed with with great wisdom for the seeker. It never fails to reorient my wayward spirit. Today as I leafed lazily through the pages something caught my eye.

He states, “It is useless to try and make peace with ourselves by being pleased with everything that we have done. In order to settle down in the quiet our own being we must learn to be detached from the results of our own activity….We must be content to live without watching ourselves live, to work without expecting an immediate reward, to love without an instantaneous satisfaction, and to exist without any special recognition. It is only when we are detached from ourselves that we can be at peace with ourselves.”

We seem to strive too hard to be special, to be unique as if being ordinary is a curse to be avoided, even a failure. Yet, it is in our ordinariness that grace is found. Just imagine what stress we create when we can only define ourselves, and our reason for being, through our accomplishments and our experiences. We create an insatiable hunger, a need for ever grander adventures, ever more distant pursuits. This spawns a restlessness that in the end steals our peace instead of granting it. I have to be careful here because walking various camino paths could also be construed as far flung grand adventures. However, in my mind, it is the intention that defines the journey. If I were to surrender to a need for recognition as a driving force behind going on pilgrimage, then I guess it would not be much of a pilgrimage. It would simply be an experience, an event, something to be checked off on a never ending to do list. But, that is not what brings Robin and I back to the Camino time and time again. It is the faith journey and all that it entails that allows us to accept, even desire, the challenges of the pilgrim road. As we move along these paths we are discovering ever more the joy of the journey Home. No one is so blessed that faith simply cleaves to their souls, like a barnacle to a rock. It requires uncharacteristic humility, and a willingness to let go of what we have been conditioned to pursue, that finally creates the smallest fissures through which God’s light can finally shine.

Merton continues, “It takes more than an occasional act of faith to have such pure intentions. It takes a whole life of faith, a total consecration to hidden values. It takes sustained moral courage and heroic confidence in the help of divine grace. But above all it takes the humility and spiritual poverty to travel in darkness and uncertainty, where so often we have no light and see no sign at all.”

No, it is not an easy path, but it is an incredible journey. Peace be with you.

The incredible lightness of rightness

Our apartment

It has been just a week ago that Robin and I arrived here in Santiago to begin our volunteer work with the Camino Chaplaincy. This is an apostolate of volunteer priests, religious, and lay people who have come together to provide daily mass, confessions, and prayer services in English at the Cathedral of St. James in Santiago de Compostela. This outreach is available to anyone both pilgrims and visitors alike. In short it has been quite a week. Normally when one is transitioning to a new job, especially when it is an overseas post, there always seems to be a period of normal reflection on what one is getting into, was this really the right move, am I truly suited to the job, and so on. I am pleased to report that this experience has proven to be the best thing that Robin and I have ever done. This update will be so full of superlatives that one might question its authenticity. But, let’s assume the best and move on. First the organizer of the Chaplaincy, John Rafferty, and his tireless coworker, Stephen Shields have gone to every possible length to make our stay here in Santiago as memorable as possible. A fine apartment pre-stocked with food that is within a 10 minute walk to the cathedral has been provided. It is in a nice quiet neighborhood that includes a wonderful coffee bar, the Cafe Tertulia, just a stones throw away.

Cafe Tertulia

John and Stephen introduced us to all the cathedral staff so that we could access the sacristy without challenge. We met our presiding priest, Father Seosamh (Joe) O’ Cochlain, and have found him to be a joy to serve with. We have enjoyed meeting new friends and have had surprise encounters with others we knew from back home. This has led to some memorable communal meals and many fond memories, and it is still early days for us. Hard to imagine how this gets much better but we shall see. Stay tuned.

Our walk to “work”

Capilla de Nuestra Señora de la Soledad (our chapel)
Robin and Stephen cantoring at St. Augustines last Sunday
Robin and Fr. Joe at San Clemente after Sunday mass. A quiet little lunch for sixteen.

A community gathers

One of the great joys of this ministry is being witness to the ever changing pilgrim community. It is absolutely fascinating. Having walked a few caminos both Robin and I have an understanding of the closeness that is created amongst those traveling the road to Santiago together. The uniqueness of our present situation is that we get to spend time with an ongoing stream of camino families. I thought the pilgrim introductions at yesterday’s mass were pretty much spot on for understanding the breadth of interest in the camino and the diversity of the camino families. We had pilgrims from Malta, Beijing, Slovakia, Zimbabwe, Australia, England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Holland, Germany, Spain, USA, France, Faroe Islands, Canada, and Japan. The curious thing is how all these folks from different countries, cultures, and age groups mostly seem to subscribe to a sense of communal well being that transcends personal wants. Note, I say mostly for after all we are all still human, and the camino, while admittedly a transforming experience, occasionally meets its match with a few folks that just see things differently. So be it. Everyone just keeps inching along towards Santiago whether it’s a good day or a not so good day. The journey simply continues and things get sorted along the way. Actually that is a great part of the attraction to the camino for me. I am always amazed, and quite honestly encouraged, by how easily pilgrims can adapt to a changing situation and not seem to give it too much thought. Usually the scope of the issue at hand pales in comparison to the journey ahead and so there it lies, RIP.

Capilla de Nuestra Señora de la Soledad

So, once again, I fully admit this is the best “job” I have ever had, and Robin is right there with me on this. The opportunity to witness the transforming experience of the mass in so many people is a blessing in and of itself. We have received countless comments from pilgrims thanking the Camino Chaplaincy for providing this much needed, and appreciated, spiritual care in an English language setting. No one is proselytizing other than by living our faith in accordance with our beliefs, offering genuine hospitality to all, and showing compassion for those in need. The word is getting out and attendance at mass and evening prayer is growing. Our current team of volunteers including John R., Stephen S., Fr. Joe, Fr. Tony, Robin and myself have great chemistry and closely share the stewardship of this ministry. But, we are certainly not alone. Other terrific volunteers have preceded us and others are scheduled to follow us. I feel certain that the Camino Chaplaincy’s work with the pilgrim community here in Santiago (and now also in Moratinos, and Terredillos) will remain in good hands for a long time to come. The next time you are in Santiago please stop by the cathedral and say hello. We hold daily mass at 10:30 am Mon-Sat, evening prayer services at 6:00 pm Mon-Fri, and confessions. All are welcome. Buen camino.

The Sacristan (me)
Yes, it is an old chapel
Robin reviewing the gospel acclamation

All is ready

Fr. Tony presiding this morning

A day in the life

John the owner of the Cafe Tertulia

Our lives here in Santiago have settled into a routine that is simple, pleasurable, and most rewarding. We awake at 7:00 am, wash up, grab a bite to eat (for me) in the apartment, and then head out the door to our neighborhood bar the Cafe Tertulia. Each morning John, the owner, knowing our preferences nods a greeting and then brings two cafe con leches and an order of churros to our table.  It is now around 8:25 and Robin and I are starting to sort out the needs of the day. We live a very simple, but joyful life. Once we are done with our coffees and are ready to leave we bid farewell to John, our most energetic and hospitable host and set out for the cathedral and our destination, the chapel of the Señora de la Soledad. It is a quiet uphill walk that allows Robin and I time to enjoy a few street views, take a photo or two and eventually arrive ten minutes later in the Plaza Inmaculada that leads us to the north entrance to the cathedral. There we enter the cathedral and absorb all that it presents to us that day. I head off to the sacristy to get the key to the chapel while Robin offers prayers in the crypt. As I move towards the sacristy I offer morning greetings to the security guards and the sisters as I reach the sacristy to pick up the chapel key. Once back at the chapel, I unlock the gate and push it open ( yes, it is heavy) and life begins again. The lights come on, the candles are lit, the music is played and slowly the faithful appear. The day has begun. This seems so routine that those immersed in the daily routines of modern life might see this as almost quaint. But, it is far from that. Each day we witness the arrival of our pilgrim family, and that family has stories to tell and wonders to share. It is never the same and is always a celebration. Robin and I are so blessed to be here to share in this. When Robin is not in the cathedral she is often singing with Stephen Shields (tenor) and John Rafferty (organist) at the neighborhood San Agustin’s Jesuit church.

Day begins

Robin on the way to “work”
A trip to the market after mass

Pulpo for lunch

A very hot day off

Robin in a quiet Praza de San Agostin

Sunday is our day off from the chapel in the cathedral. There are no English language services on Sunday. Day began with clear skies. The full sun, rising quickly, gave a clear sign that today would be a bit toasty (90 F). The one benefit of the heat would be that our laundry now swishing around in the machine would quickly dry on our pull line next to our sitting room window. At 10:00 Robin and I headed out to our corner coffee bar, the Cafe Tertulia, for a couple of cafe con leches. Our plan is to attend the noon mass at St. Augustine’s mass, and then look for a shady spot for lunch. We lingered over coffee and toast and eventually sought the retreating shadows for relief as we walked back to our apartment to hang out the laundry before setting out for mass. It was a pretty, quiet, and ordinary morning that simply said relax (tranquilo), and so we did. The streets around the cathedral were busy with tourists and arriving pilgrims, as we made our way up Rua de Xelmirez towards the market and the church of San Augustin. A sense of quiet returns as you separate from the few streets closest to the cathedral and its front door, the Praza de Obradoiro. The stone streets approaching the church were freshly scrubbed by a very compact cleaning machine that left the cobbles glistening in the morning sun.  Our footfalls echoed quietly in the narrow streets as we approached the Praza de Santo Agostino. In this part of town, and at this hour, the coffee bars were still very empty. We made our way past tables that would soon be filled. The church was just ahead and offered us cool repose as we stepped into the door and found our pew.

Mass, as always, is a special time for us. A young Jesuit priest presided, and seemed to have an energetic style of peaching. Our Spanish is way too basic for Robin and I to follow his homily, but his manner suggested that he was doing well and the congregation seemed to be paying attention. I did not see anybody nodding off. Always a good indication that something is being said that people want to hear. An hour later we were stepping back out into the heat. As predicted the bars and restaurants in the plaza were now doing a great business. Many cold beers were being consumed, and we would soon add to that number, but not just yet. We headed up a narrow alley to the Praza de Cervantes and then headed down towards the cathedral and turned right on Rua da Troia that took us to our lunch destination, the back garden at Casa Felisa, just a couple blocks further on. We had enjoyed a meal here once before an knew that today with all the heat the coolness of the shaded garden tables would be much sought after. We got there early to ensure premium seating, and to avoid pushing that cold beer back any further than necessary. Can’t be too safe about these things. We settled in and ordered the beer followed by roasted vegetables with goat cheese, and a platter of assorted ham and cured meats. A bottle of aqua frio was added just as a precaution (and we drank all of it, and the beer). The shade and quietude was absolutely perfect and the food did not disappoint. By 2:00 we were getting ready to move along home. So off we went retracing our steps until we found ourselves passing in front of the Parador Hotel and down into the Rua de Campos de Hortas our path back to the apartment. We will try a little siesta and then see what awaits once the day cools off a bit. Ciao for now.

Robin outside the church

A new week begins

Father Tony welcoming pilgrims to the mass

Today we woke to a beautiful cool breeze blowing through our apartment. This is just the kind of invigorating weather that one needs to launch into a new week. John and Stephen are off to walk the Camino Ingles this week so it is Robin, myself, Father Tony, and on Wednesday, Father Joe will be manning the chapel for mass and prayer services. It was a quiet start to the morning in the cathedral. I was tending to some logistical issues in the chapel with one of the sisters who is working there. Mainly some restocking of necessities and a bit of cleaning up. But, that all got sorted rather quickly and we were soon ready for the week ahead. The chapel was quiet up till 10:00 and then before we knew it it was standing room only. Father Tony presided at the mass and he was very welcoming, funny, and genuinely charming. Today we had many pilgrims from England, Ireland, South Africa, the USA, and two young ladies from Indonesia who did the mass readings.

Robin and FR. Tony exchanging suggestions for further study

After mass and after tidying up the chapel, Fr. Tony, Robin and i went for a coffee at a nearby bar at the top of the Plaza Quintana. It was a nice opportunity to talk with Tony about his call to faith and the priesthood. He walked the Camino Ignaciano way back in 1994. At the time he was a novitiate with a Jesuit seminary that thought some time on the camino might be helpful i his discernment to the priesthood. In 1994, there was no formal route mapped out for this camino so Tony and his walking partner made up their own route to Manresa. In addition they approached the camino as mendicants, seeking charitable donations of food and lodging. They both survived and learned much about themselves and the generosity of people astray walked along the camino. We started a conversation about Jesuit spirituality that whetted our appetite for a deeper discussion. Tony suggested we follow up with Father Joe once he returns from Ireland. Tony says he is very well versed in that subject. We are looking forward to that. Tony had to run off to print a boarding pass. He will be heading back to Ireland after tomorrow’s mass. Robin and I headed of to the outdoor market to pick up a few things before heading home. We had a nice lunch at home and now it is 3:45. We will set out again for the cathedral again at 4:20. Typically we stop at the Cafe Tertulia for a cortado (short coffee with a wee bit of milk) and then press on to the chapel for evening prayer which starts at 6:00. It is a simple life but great fun.

A few goodies from the market

Off to church again

The Archbishop of Santiago presiding at mass

Life volunteering in the Camino Chaplaincy continues to amaze me. Each day arriving pilgrims touch our hearts with their raw emotions and genuine thanks for our chapel just being there when it was needed. Yesterday evening John, Stephen, Robin and I set off by train to A Coruna to a Redemptorist church where John and Stephen have been volunteering their music. Last night was the final day of a special novena of masses and prayers as well as the vigil mass for the weekend. The Archbishop of Santiago, Julian Barrio Barrio, was the presider. John played the organ and Robin and Stephen added their wonderful voices. It was a standing room only mass. Afterwards John took us into the sacristy to meet the archbishop. He was most gracious and thankful for the addition of the beautiful music. After making our goodbyes we gathered at a local bar for drinks and a review of the night. By all accounts it was a great success. We lingered a bit just enjoying the moment and then walked in the gathering shadows, and the cool of the night to the bus station where we caught one of the last buses to Santiago. It was close to midnight when we arrived home, a bit weary, but so thankful for the opportunity to reach a bit further afield with this ministry. Lot’s of smiling faces all around. I am convinced, that good liturgical music makes all the difference. From what we heard after the mass many others share that viewpoint.

The Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in A Coruna

John R., Robin and the Archbishop

Stephen S., Archbishop and Robin

John R. and the Archbishop

Robin and I, and the Archbishop
Robin, John and Stephen in position (the dream team)

Finding friends

Emilene and Oscar front row to Fr. Tony’s right

I meant to post this a few days ago but never caught my breath until just now. I have a small but faithful group of folks who choose to follow this blog. One of my followers early on was a wonderful lady from Capetown, South Africa. Her name is Emilene. She was in Santiago to meet her husband, Oscar, who had just completed his first camino. They both attended the the English language 10:30 am mass, and Emilene recognized Robin from a post on Johnniewalkersantiago’s Facebook page. So after the mass was over they both started chatting and then Robin recognized Emilene’s name as follower on this blog. Robin then said she thought she was following a blog, agoodwalkunspoiled, and lo and behold Emilene started making the connection. Robin pointed to a man just outside the chapel (me) greeting arriving pilgrims and said to her it is his blog. That is my husband, John. It was one of those wonderful serendipitous moments where one can only surmise that it was time for us to meet. Mass was about to start and they had things to do, and were leaving that day to return home. So we just soaked up the joy of such a wonderful chance encounter. Eventually we had to go our separate ways, as is usually the case. I went through the gate into the chapel as Emilene and Oscar made their way out of the cathedral and into the radiant sunlight of a clear Santiago summer’s morning. Beautiful people met on the road to Santiago.

Emilene and Oscar

The chapel prayers

Our chapel provides multiple functions. Mass is said daily at 10:30 am Monday through Saturday. An evening prayer service is offered at 6:00 pm Monday through Friday. But it also serves as place where written petitions, remembrances and/or prayers that have been brought to the cathedral can be left behind to be included in the daily mass prayers throughout the six month period when the chapel is open (May-October). We have already collected several hundred of these and the number will continue to grow into the thousands as the pilgrim season moves forward. Initially, I thought that it would be only the English speakers, who knew of the chapel and its English language services, who would be the ones leaving petitions, but no. It seems that somehow the word has circulated and now people from many countries, who are not English speakers, want to leave intentions and petitions as well.

Of course all are welcome, and so they continue to arrive at the chapel, pick up the pencils and paper that are available, move to a chair and put down their thoughts. Perhaps it is a personal desire to leave something that will be blessed after their departure or it may be a promise fulfilled, but whatever the reason it is always humbling, and heart warming, to see this devotion. We all have people, who are close to us, who have experienced the worst that life can offer. As human beings our compassion and prayers flow out to them in their brokenness. However, it is also during this time of brokenness that small cracks can appear in the shell of our self reliance where God’s light can shine through pushing back the darkness and illuminating a path to healing, hope, and peace. It is with these thoughts in mind that we are happy to welcome whoever arrives at the chapel gate, with warm hospitality, and compassion, for the burdens they carry can be enormous.