November Altar

Once again, my November altar has been set and a candle has been lit. I bring myself to the presence of them as I light a candle. My eyes still cloudy from dreams of the night but my heart, as grateful as it can ever be for they have shared their wisdom of love with me.

My father, a gentlest soul I know; Janet, my mother-in-law who taught me to have some fun always though her life on earth was filled with sorrows and heartaches. She always knew the better part of herself; Kyungsook, my sister who left us when she was 39 but never stopped me from being so close to her; Fang, a funniest guy on earth; Teru who lovingly cared for me when I was young, alone and sick in a foreign land; Marcia, my neighbor who kept her grace and dignity throughout her struggle with cancer; Sr Peggy, I still remember catching her rolling eyes over a discussion of one of the Gospels, saying “booooring!”; Bruce, oh, the wildest man from New Zealand; Kathy who died in Assisi, Italy, after wanting to be there for all her life; Deacon John, a sweet, sweet soul; Cindy a hospice nurse, tough and unforgiving on careless mistakes made by those less than experienced staff members (including me!) but is first to lend her helping hands for any and everyone; Janet Perkins, though I didn’t know her in person I remember her beautiful presence when I visited her; Nicolas, a seminarian who’s life on earth was so short. We’d never know why; Cecilia, a fellow choir member who has dedicated her life to resettling of those immigrants; Fr George who never fails to make me smile, his wisdom, humor, incredible insights he carefully kept hidden behind his light but enormous heart!

So they will reside on my altar throughout this month. My heart trembles with joy for I know the warm greetings will be exchanged as I go about the day, conversations will flow as I retreat myself to their presence and oh my, all the blessings I can’t even begin to count as I blow out that candle as the night falls….

“Go forth with peace
for you have followed the good road
Go forth without fear
for God who created you has made you holy
has always protected you
and loves you like a mother.”
St Clare

Outward bound

Thank you Archbishop John Vlazny

It is our tradition to spend the month of November (from All Saints day) turned inward remembering those family members, and friends, who have left this life. It is a season that Robin and I find both healing, and spiritually nourishing, as we allow sadness and grieving the freedom to move to the joyful recognition of lives gifted to all, and cherished for their being. The Thanksgiving holiday is now just two days away, and shortly thereafter we will move into the advent season, and Christmas. A busy time of the year to be sure, and one that often conflicts with lessons learned from our time spent walking the Camino (got to work on that). The emotional path from All Saints Day to Christmas is always journey of discovery and joy. Beyond the usual call to table, and Christmas gifts, there stirs a quiet and joyful anticipation. We await a birth, a new hope, that will forever change those who choose to “harden not their hearts.” It is with this blessing of renewed faith that Robin and I will, once again, set out to walk the Camino. We will be leaving in early January, and will be walking, not towards Santiago, but towards Manresa (close to Barcelona) along the Camino Ignaciano.

Camino Ignaciano

The route we will be following is one that was walked by St. Ignatius of Loyola in 1522. Manresa is where St. Ignatius spent several months in a cave gathering his thoughts into what would later lead to the very well known, and still followed today, Spiritual Exercises. We will fly into Bilbao and then make our way into the mountains of the Basque Country and to the Sanctuary of Loyola (in the town of Azpeitia, where St. Ignatius was born). The 400 hundred mile journey will take us generally southward from the Basque mountains down into the vineyards of Rioja where we will swing slightly south of east to parallel the Pyrenees. On the way, after Rioja,  we will also pass through the provinces of Navarra, Aragón, and Catalunya. This is a challenging walk with varied terrain (mountains, hills, plains, desert). It is also a route that is not heavily traveled, especially in the winter. Robin and I do not expect to meet a single other pilgrim, but we will see. I hope to be pleasantly surprised. A little company would always be appreciated. Weather wise, the Basque mountains can be very wet in winter (or ladened with snow). We will have to see where we can pass through and where we might have to deviate (this is not a snowshoe trek). As we move further along the desert area east of Zaragoza can be very cold and windy. Overall, the weather in this part of Spain is probably best characterized as unpredictable. We will just have to take it as it comes. We will be carrying the bare minimum (12.5 pounds for me), but will still be well prepared for the wet and cold. As I recall St. Ignatius set out for Manresa at this same time of year (Jan-Feb). I sort of like that. My packing list is here. I’ll post Robin’s once she gets it fine tuned.

Pilgrimage is a call of the Spirit and I am always drawn to a scripture quote from the Book of John that just seems to capture what that means for me.

“The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from, or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:8

Be who you is

Columbia River 

Our departure for the Camino Ignaciano looms ever closer (Jan 10th) and muscles are calling for attention. Robin and I have been doing a lot of walking since we returned from Le Puy-Santiago, but still there is nothing that tells the truth like slinging your walking pack weight and setting out for at least a 16 km walk. It is uncanny how this discovers little spots that rub in your boots, or identify a set of muscles that need a little extra work. But it is all part of the getting ready. For some people that is the length and breadth of preparation. The body. As we will be following in the steps of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, I thought it would be appropriate to find out a bit more of Jesuit practices and see what we might incorporate into our pilgrimage. Robin and I are always looking inward beyond the physical skin that defines the body. The longer we live the more certain we are that life’s journey is only about finding the peace that we all seek, but oftentimes have trouble describing, that is found coming home to God. I know, I know…enough with the God stuff, but bear with me. I am not a preacher (or a teacher for that matter) just a pilgrim who finds himself on a wondrous, yet challenging, road.

Who are we to discount what we know almost nothing about. Faith is simply a willingness to believe in something that we cannot fully account for, or understand, yet we feel powerfully drawn to in a way that is indescribable, but compelling. Is this the path to peace for everyone? I honestly believe so. We can turn away from who we are, but we can’t change who we are. It is only with the acceptance that the road you find yourself on is your road, the one you are meant to walk, and if you embrace it, it will become the path to your peace. I am reading a book by a Jesuit, James Martin, SJ, entitled, The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything. I found this to be a very interesting read. Towards the end of the book he has a chapter entitled “Be Who You Is.” It stems from a homily the author heard that included a quote from a wise man from the deep south of the USA. who said, “You gotta be who you is and not who you ain’t! Because if you ain’t who you is, then you is who you ain’t. And that ain’t good.” As I read this I couldn’t help but feel the magnitude of what has been wasted, lost, or sacrificed as a result of not being willing to simply be who we are. For the record, I am not encouraging axe murderers or other deviant behaviors. But in the normal flow of life, too often, we tragically find ourselves swept away in a roiling current of false expectations and hopes (usually inspired by others) that do not reflect who we are or what brings us peace. We lose our footing and in a blink of the eye we are gone. But, take note, this is not a momentary misstep that brings us to death’s door and then through it. It is a lifetime of unhappiness, a lingering agony of promise unfulfilled.

But, there is hope. First it takes but a moment to contemplate how hollow our lives would be if they were just about accumulation of assets, and meeting other’s expectations. The shallowness of that scenario is quite clear. Yes, we all like stuff, but to what end? To what limit? Producing what lasting joy? Bringing us what peace? We seek what abounds in all of us and that is God’s love. Don’t get all weirded out. Hang on for a just a bit. In the still moments of our lives we sense the truth of the way we seek. We sense its rightness, despite what we might say in the company of others. The pilgrim roads we walk provide ample opportunity for us to reflect upon and develop practices that help us to both open our hearts to and embrace the rigors of the journey for we know that all roads lead home to the source of our peace, and that is to God. That’s why we do it. Peace be with you.

We are ready to go

Little warmth in the failing light

Yesterday was our last training walk (16 K). Robin and I have been carrying our camino packs for the past month and have enjoyed our times together walking along the Columbia River, but now it is definitely time to move on. We feel we are in a good spot both physically and spiritually. We had dinner recently with our former archbishop (now retired) +John Vlazny. He was kind enough to bestow on us the catholic blessing for departing pilgrims. Catholics have blessings for everything. It is a beautiful prayer that reminds us of the purpose of pilgrimage and how we should (and hope) to embrace it. An excerpt follows.

“All-powerful God, you always show mercy toward those who love you and you are never far away for those who seek you. Remain with your servants on this holy pilgrimage and guide their way in accord with your will. Shelter them with your protection by day, give them the light of your grace by night, and, as their companion on the journey, bring them to their destination in safety.” 

It is with these words close to our hearts that we shall set out to follow Saint Ignatius’ journey to Manresa, walking in faith not by sight (and a GPS track or two). We will also be carrying some articles that represent special intentions for some of our fellow parishioners at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Portland, OR. We are very pleased, and honored, to add this special purpose to our journey.

We fly out this coming Saturday for Bilbao, and plan to start walking the Camino Ignaciano on January 14th. We have allowed 27 walking days to complete this 400 mile (640 K) pilgrimage. It is a route that is not heavily traveled as it is still in its relative infancy as a marked camino route. This means fewer services, inconsistent or missing way marks, and fewer pilgrims. Recent interest not withstanding, I would guess this route has been pretty quiet since February of 1522 when Ignatius set out. But, as they say, we shall see. The most important element of any journey is not to get bound up in expectations. Robin and I have been particularly mindful of this as we have prepared for this trip. The number of uncertainties that attend this walk are a bit out of our comfort zone, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. We will have to adjust, as all pilgrims do, according to what befalls us. The trick is to do it joyfully. This pilgrimage (a true gift) should not be burdened with a foul mood because of some loopy unmet expectation. Smiling through adversity does not come easily. Many of us can handle adversity well enough, but it is the smiling part that takes a bit of work (at least for me). Just another thing to practice as we inch along the map. I’ll leave it there for now and pick it up again on the other side of the pond. Thanks for sharing the journey. This should be interesting.

Almost home

Companions on our walk

What a difference a day makes


Robin and I arrived yesterday afternoon in Bilbao after a tiring but uneventful trip from Portland. Even the box with our hiking poles appeared on the baggage carrousel (surprise…surprise). It seems the fatigue of long distance travel just grows as we grow older. By the time we found our hotel I was ready to crash, but roused by a need to eat something Robin and I ventured out to a neighborhood Japanese restaurant and enjoyed a small dinner. Shortly thereafter we were both in bed and catatonic. Ten hours of sleep followed by a hearty breakfast brought us both back to life. This pilgrimage might have a chance after all. For awhile I was wondering what I had gotten us into, but that was yesterday, and those demons have now departed. We have done everything today at a leisurely pace. We have purchased our Orange SIM cards, purchased some vitamins I left at home, and sorted out the way to the Sanctuario Loiola. We will head that way first thing tomorrow morning. The balance of today will be spent enjoying an afternoon walk, nibbling on pintxos and sipping some vino. It is an absolutely glorious day here weather wise. The sun is out, it’s calm and the temperature is close to 60 F. We are blessed.



Jan 13, 2015, Azpeitia: Staging for departure

The Basilica

Balmy weather continued to please us as we took leave of Bilbao for Azpeitia around 10:20 this morning. We ended up just going to the nearest taxi rank and found someone willing to drive us to the Loyola Sanctuary in Azpeitia. We arrived in just under an hour and booked into the Hotel Loiola. The Sanctuario Loiola is just a 5 minute walk from our hotel. It is an impressive structure that dominates the small town that hosts it. We walked up and entered the well marked information office which is just to the left of the main entrance to the Basilica. What struck Robin and as we approached the Sanctuary grounds was the lack of any signage indicating anything about the Camino Ignaciano which starts here. Once inside the information office a kind Basque lady, who also spoke quite good English, was manning the desk. We inquired about getting a credential for the Camino Ignaciano and out came a box of them. A payment of one euro closed the deal on two credentials. She stamped them both and wished us luck. Apparently, the buen camino, thing hasn’t found its way here. When I asked if there was any additional information on this camino she referred me to the camino website, The website is pretty good, and I am thinking that the best of it could be the maps, and especially the gps tracks, as way marking already appears to be a bit thin. But, it is early days so I will stand corrected if a quiver full of arrows suddenly appears. Here’s hoping!

St. Ignatius of Loyola

There was a small gift shop attached and Robin picked up a couple of Ignatius medallions for our backpacks. After all no shells this trip as we are not bound for Santiago. The next step was to purchase two tickets to tour St. Ignatius’ family home, which is right next to the basilica. Three euros apiece was a bargain to slip back into the home where Ignatius grew up and found his vocation. Very interesting indeed. Part of the home/museum tour contained a diorama depicting many key moments in Ignatius’ life. One scene depicted him being carried home (by four men) from his battle injury in Pamplona on a litter. This apparently was a two week journey. I can only imagine the suffering he must have endured with his shattered leg. A final piece of information that caused my eyebrow to raise was a scene showing Ignatius leaving home for Manresa. He was standing next to a saddled horse. Why did I think he walked all the way (my kingdom for a horse). We finished our tour and just had time to step into the Basilica before it closed at 1:00 pm for the afternoon. It is a beautiful church as one would expect. We are heading back at 6:00 pm for mass. We did prowl around a bit looking for the camino path, but couldn’t find any markings so I pulled up the gps track for the first stage and bingo it all made sense. In truth the written descriptions of each stage seem to be pretty detailed, but comments on the website do indicate there are places where it is easy to get lost. I hope Orange has good coverage in the hills of the Basque Country as it is their SIM cards we purchased.

And now for the weather…..a cold front is approaching bringing rain and very strong winds. This front will dominate the local weather for the next couple of days. Tomorrow, our departure day, should be okay, but the second, and third stages, both still in the hills, could be hard walking. On the plus side the temperatures have been well above freezing so no snow should be on the ground as we climb up on day two. More on all that as we get into it. Almost time to leave for mass so I will close for now. Tomorrow we start walking….but Ignatius might just have been onto something with that horse.

Good night from Azpeitia,

John and Robin

Main alter in Basilica
Nearby hills
Just gauging the elevation change
She is ready to go


Jan 14, 2015: Azpeitia to Zumarraga 17.0 K

Azpeitia in the early morning light

Day began clear, cold and calm. Last night had been a restless one for me, but Robin slept like a baby. The weather was perfect with 40 F temps and no wind. We were anxious to get underway. But, an interesting thing happened as we were settling the bill. Our host at the Hotel Loiola, insisted we take a nice bottle Basque white wine as a gift. This man seemed a bit reserved as we checked in but, for whatever reason (perhaps the backpacks) he treated us most kindly. He actually paid for two rounds of drinks the night before and then, this morning, a goodbye gift. We were very touched by his kindness, and as my pack only weighed around 13 pounds, it carried quite well all the way to Zumarraga. It is chilling in an ice bucket as I write this. Two thumbs up for Basque hospitality. We set out from the hotel shortly after 9:00 and by 9:15 we were moving along the garden wall of the Basilica inching our way out of town. It was here that we saw our first orange arrow (this way to Manresa). We didn’t see many more for the next several kilometers. My observation is that if you walk this route make sure you have a smart phone with gps or a stand alone gps receiver. It just makes it so much easier to determine where the trail is. In truth today’s walk was pretty straightforward. You jump on this wonderful footpath at the Sanctuary, and then you basically follow that to an abandoned rail roadbed (now a beautiful paved path) all the way to Zumarraga. The “rail” path has many arrows, but most of them were unnecessary as they were at the entrances to tunnels where there were no other options, save free climbing the tunnel face. And remember the “rail” path takes you straight to Zumarraga without any exit options. A perfect solution for a path.

Off to church with a bottle of wine

I read the trail descriptions before departing but tried to navigate by “arrow alone” and found that at times this was not enough. Too few arrows. Switch on the gps and problem solved. Once the foot path transitions onto the “railroad” you just enjoy the sights. You cannot get lost. Much of today’s walk reminded me of the Valcarlos valley on the Camino Frances. This first stage is about as perfect a start to any pilgrimage that I could hope for. First, it is short at 17 K. It is scenic. The grade is gentle. It is quiet. It is clean. And you walk through a bunch of cool train tunnels with motion activated lights. It was just a gorgeous, wonderful day. Not surprisingly, we saw no other pilgrims, but there were lots of locals out jogging, cycling, walking, and simply enjoying this beautiful day. Another plus was the hotel we booked into in Zumarraga. It is the Hotel Etxeberri, and it is wonderful. It is 50 meters off the path right at the entrance to town. However it is easy to miss as the sign isn’t facing the path. It took an extra 2 K tour of Zumarraga before a kind fellow pointed us right back they we had come. We arrived (the second time) around 2:00, and walked into a bustling lunch crowd filling a beautiful dining room. As many know lunch is a serious event in this part of the world, and so it was here. There was a team of very kind, efficient ladies taking charge, and ensuring that all went well in a courteous, pleasant manner. It was a sort of Downton Abbey meets the Basque Country kind of moment. They were most kind to us and even asked if we had come from Loiola. Perhaps the pilgrim attire tipped them off (but at least they were aware that pilgrims could be in the neighborhood). Shortly after checking in we returned to the dining room for a wonderful lunch (no dinner tonight). What a glorious day. Tomorrow, will ask a bit more from us as we head into the woods and then over the hill into Arantzazu. This second stage has some steep climbs at the end followed by some steep descents. More on that as it plays out. I must admit it did feel great to be out walking again. Both Robin and I enjoy pilgrimage. There is something about moving slowly along a map towards some compelling destination that fills our hearts with joy. Today did not disappoint. What a gift. What a blessing.

Saludos a todos

Our first orange arrow
The path out of Azpeitia
One of the few villages
Mural providing a clue to the origins of the tunnels
Hotel Etxeberri