The Month of Remembrance

It is in the Catholic tradition to view the month of November from the Feast of All Saints until the beginning of Advent as a month of remembrance for all the departed souls. I find this to be a particularly healing season as we reflect and offer our prayers for all those family members and friends who have left this world. As I was driving home last Sunday, across the Columbia River, I was flippng through the radio channels and I heard this song, The Last Port of Call. It just seemed to speak to this season and I guess to me. It is now particularly moving for me as I have learned just this week of the loss of a good friend and shipmate, from Tasmania, to cancer. So, for Nick…

…Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell;
When I embark:

For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my pilot face to face
When I have crossed the bar.

From Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s Crossing the Bar

Suffering is Optional

Toenails courtesy of the Parador (not Camino standard)

Looking back at Robin’s bout of tendinitis (ankle), which halted our Camino in Leon for a few days, I continue to be amazed at her approach to dealing with it. Prior to walking the Camino, in various conversations, Robin would say that pain might be there, but suffering is optional. I listened, but did not truly understand what she was telling me. How can one not “suffer” under the burden of pain? I just couldn’t work that out. People who deal with chronic pain must live in a world defaulted to suffering (just my assumption). So, how does one counter that assumption if suffering is not acceptable? How does the physicality of pain coexist within a mind/body that has other plans? This is where Robin enters. She had all the physical symptoms of classic tendinitis (confirmed by an ER doctor in Leon). She was told to rest and not to walk for 5-7 days. She had her ankle taped up and we slogged and hobbled, through a downpour, back to the Parador (our albergue in Leon). We settled in with a bottle of wine, lost in our own thoughts, our moods as somber as the blanket of nimbus hanging low over Leon. As we gazed unfocused on the rain slanting across the garden below, we basically wondered if our Camino had just come to a screeching halt (at least that is what was going through my mind). Robin’s mind was working differently (no surprise if you know her). While I was conjuring up schemes involving taxis, and buses to somehow get us to Santiago, Robin was girding herself with a quiet determination to carry on. We spent three nights in Leon. As our stay drew to its end Robin announced she would continue walking. I offered her all the assurances I could that we could break the journey, and come back again, but no, we were bound for Santiago, and would leave the following morning.

Daylight came, we shouldered our packs and walked out onto a Camino freshly scrubbed, glistening with sunlight, and brimming with promise. Robin had removed the tape from her ankle before we left, and walked without any visible limp. In two days time we walked, seemingly without incident, into Astorga. I was simply in awe of how Robin did not seem to be affected by her tendinitis. We walked at our normal pace, and she made no mention of the pain she surely must have been feeling. The next day, as we walked out of Astorga, I could see she was struggling a bit. We paused for her to take some Ibuprofen. After that she closed her eyes and just rolled her bad ankle around a bit as if trying to realign something. In a few brief moments she said she was ready to go on, and so we did eventually arriving in Foncebadon late that afternoon. That evening she shared with me that she had posed a question to herself, “What would happen if I just melted into the pain?” I wasn’t quite sure what that meant, but it became evident that Robin had decided that although she was experiencing pain, she was not going to allow that pain to become suffering. Without the limitations of a mindset geared to suffering she was free to reach an accommodation with her pain (Ibuprofen helped), and continue her Camino. The astonishing part is that she never mentioned it again. She walked with me stride for stride, not limping, not stopping early, not asking for any help at all. Of course I was asking her all the time if she wanted me to help, but no she was fine. This, it is important to note, was not her playing the martyr so I could continue my Camino. She honestly was fine, not pain free by any means, but fine. I still don’t understand it, but that is what it was. We continued walking to Santiago without any problems and then, still feeling fine, continued further on to Finisterre and Muxia. Many weeks later, sharing a glass of wine at home, she confided to me that her bout with tendinitis had been a great learning experience for her, a much cherished Camino moment. She discovered (these are my words) some elemental connection between mind and body, a pathway mostly left obscured, had revealed itself to her, for whatever reason, just when she needed it most. I called it a Camino miracle (thank you Holy Spirit), but Robin just smiled.

A Change of Latitude… A Change of Attitude?

A friend sent me an email not too long ago and this picture of Fanning Island came with it. This is not Camino related per se, but please indulge me an occasional digression. I had visited this island (actually more of an atoll) back in the mid 70’s aboard Kialoa as we made our way back to the States from racing in Australia and New Zealand. This picture seems a perfect antidote to the gloom of a Pacific Northwest winter, which I am about to step out into for a 16 km walk (Camino related after all…well sort of). So close your eyes, let your minds wander to warmer climes, and see if you too can hear the surf breaking on the reef, and smell the tang of salt air. I have a feeling I will be revisiting this post from time to time in the months ahead. Enjoy, and don’t forget the sunblock!

One Fine Day

Columbia River looking east to Mount Hood

We here in the Pacific Northwest have been enjoying unseasonably dry weather the last couple of weeks as you can see in the attached pictures. Our daily walks (5 to 10 miles) have been a delight as the pleasant sounds of skittering leaves have lingered on long after their usual expiration date. But, we know this clement interlude will surely pass. But, for now we are outside, enjoying life (waterproofs still hanging on the peg in the garage, yes!).

Same day, now almost home

From Here to Where?

St Mary’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Portland, Oregon

A year ago this past week Robin and I set out from St Mary’s on our first pilgrimage down the Camino de Santiago from St Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela, and then on to Finisterre, and Muxia. Much has transpired since that pilgrimage. It is hard to categorize all the changes, but there are plenty. On the strictly physical side we are now almost always walking. Daily walks of 5 to 10 miles are now the norm. On the spiritual side the benefit of the time spent in reflection and contemplation while walking the Camino cannot be overstated. It was a true blessing, and a gift from God to have that quiet time. Thoughts of our community of fellow pilgrims, and the many welcoming hospitaleros we encountered, continue to warm our hearts as we reflect on their kindness and generosity (not to mention their wisdom). Now at home we find ourselves probing more deeply the issues of faith, purpose, and spiritual direction. It is as though that part of our lives caught fire, and we are now always discussing some facet of that inquiry. With Christmas just around the corner, Robin and I fondly recall the joy of sharing last Christmas Eve with our fellow pilgrims in the upper rooms of the albergue in Santo Domingo de Calzada. Daniel, a Canadian friend from the Camino, texted us the other day to simply say hello on this very special anniversary. A simple kindness that was much appreciated.

Whether on the Camino or just living our lives at home, we continue to sense that we are all connected, and we are thankful for that. But, with this realization come new responsibilities. Understanding that what one does affects everyone else, shifts our thinking regarding all people and all things. We sell ourselves short, and diminish our lives, if we feel that we can get through life by simply doing no harm. Doing no harm is a start, but we are called to do something more, perhaps much more. In other words, we have to be active, even bold, in our faith or whatever you choose to call that inner yearning that causes us to seek the Oneness of our beginning. What that means for each of us is what I feel we are all trying to discover, and respond to. We do know that all human activity can be improved with love, charity and a joyful heart. These powerful virtues can, and should be, trusted to safely light the way for the inner journey that beckons all of us.

Reaching Santiago was, in a sense, both an end, and a beginning. The pilgrimage physically came to a close, but at the same time we sensed that in some way it hadn’t (the Holy Spirit is always at work). There was something yet to be done. Now far from the Camino our spiritual journey continues to lead us we know not where, but wherever that might be we are now anxious to follow. Perhaps, in the end, this will prove to be the greatest gift of our Camino.

Gracias a Dios

The Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela

Pilgrims in the neighborhood?

Robin and I were out for a walk the other day when to our surprise we saw this stack of stones at a street corner. How many times have we seen such things along the Camino. They are a ubiquitous part of the Way. Pilgrims have a fascination with stacking stone upon stone as a way to mark their passing by a particular place. The process is helped along if others have left something for you to add onto, which is usually the case. Nevertheless, the stone cairn was a totally unexpected and very pleasant reminder of our trip down the Camino Frances. We snapped this photo and couldn’t help but smile at how the Camino continues to remind us of the precious gift of those remarkable days walking across Spain.

A promise to keep

I discovered, while walking the Camino, that pilgrims are exposed to many heightened emotions. They swirl about us as we inch along, always our companions on the journey. Long days spent walking through field, forest, and even along roadways, offer unique opportunities for reflecting on the many moods of pilgrim life (or simply on life off the Camino), and also on the grace of simply being alive and walking the Way. On the days when life is a bit more challenging, and our peace is more elusive, perhaps that is the time to open up an interior dialogue, and allow that voice, that is always trying to be heard, to actually be heard. This invitation begins a seemingly simple, but actually complex, activity to identify the barriers to our peace. In these instances we should be determined seekers for this peace, our peace, is abundant and waiting. However, when answers are not easily found, and focus eludes us, impatience predictably sets in, and the opportunity for spiritual growth, once again, is subsumed in the clamor and gravitational pull of daily life wherever we happen to be.

Patience is not a pervasive human trait. We are so geared to being accomplishers, problem solvers, masters of our own destiny, that being still is almost anathema to us. Yet, the first step to finding our peace is stillness. Being able to push away distractions (at least for some small part of the day) is an essential competancy we must develop and embrace. The more we give ourselves over to the silence of our own reflections the more likely it is that we will hear the inner voice (Spirit) that is there to guide us. The difficult journey to our own individual peace starts with making room in our hearts for the reconciliation of God’s will with our own. Once this is done all is possible.

… But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep. (Robert Frost)

To the Holy Land

Church of the Holy Sepulcher

There is not a day that goes by that Robin and I do not think of returning to the Camino, and to Santiago de Compostela. I feel our compass will always point to Spain, but there is one diversion that is also beckoning, and that leads to the Holy Land. As our pilgrim journey continues to unfold, Jerusalem and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher have captured us. So, this weekend we are heading off to Israel to find our way to that church, built over the tomb where Jesus was buried. This is our first visit to the Holy Land so we have a host of other things to see and do that will fill the next couple of weeks. Happily (and thankfully), we will once again be doing what we seem to enjoy doing most, and that is simply being pilgrims in an ancient land. We have no well defined expectations, much the same as when we walked the Camino. We just feel this is a pilgrimage we need to make, and so we are off on the morning tide, so to speak. Blog updates to follow.
Church of the Holy Sepulcher

Light in the darkness

Robin and I have recently returned from the Holy Land, a nice euphemism, but one that strikes wide of the mark for truth. I began composing a post on our travels and then realized I was growing angrier and angrier. Injustice strikes a resonating cord with me. Rather than continue I paused and retreated to a text that I often find comfort in, Thomas Merton’s Dialogues in Silence. Over the past few mornings as the rain and mists swirled about I huddled in front of the fire and with tea vapors rising aloft I opened this dog-eared tome and found the peace I hungered for. He writes.

“In one sense we are always traveling, and traveling as if we did not know where we were going. In another sense we have already arrived. We cannot arrive at the perfect possession of God in this life, and That is why we are traveling and in darkness. But we already possess Him by grace, and therefore, in that sense, we are dwelling in the light. But oh! How far have I to go to find You in whom I have already arrived!”

….only save me from myself. Save me from my own, private, poisonous urge to change everything, to act with out reason, to move for movement’s sake, to unsettle everything that You have ordained. Let me rest in Your will and be silent. Then the light of Your joy will warm my life. Its fire will burn in my heart and shine for your glory. This is what I live for. Amen, amen.”

“…What was delivered to Moses on tablets of stone, as fruit of lightning and thunder, is now more thoroughly born in our souls as quietly as the breath of our own being.”

” My hope is in what the eye has never seen. Therefore let me not trust in visible rewards. My hope is in what the human heart cannot feel. Therefore let me not trust in the feelings of my heart. My hope is in what the hand has never touched. Do not let me trust what I can can grasp between my fingers, because Death will loosen my grasp and my vain hope will be gone.”

” Father, I beg You to teach me to be a man of peace and to help bring peace to the world, to study here truth and non-violence, and to have the patience and courage to suffer for truth.”

Thomas Merton, Dialogues in Silence.

Peace be with you….

Where to begin

Haifa, first night in Israel

I have been trying to find the right starting point for my reflections on our recent trip to Israel. I have so many conflicting emotions that at once I want to rant and then just as quickly I want to rave. The Holy Land is simply that kind of place. At one moment you think you understand the way things work, and then you realize you don’t have a clue. It is this constant uncertainty of people and place that electrifies the air creating a crackle of tension that affects everyone. You can convince yourself that you are simply a tourist/pilgrim and all is well. No worries. The local “problems” are for some other unfortunate’s account. But, just as quickly that comfort evaporates when your bus is halted at a checkpoint and a young man/woman boards to check everyone out, clearly profiling according to some protocol. I guess it seems akin to any tension filled moment, anywhere in the world, when you sense trouble could suddenly erupt. That is as a close as I can get to what it feels like when traveling in Israel. The country is always on heightened alert. No attempt is made to hide it. In reality, this is probably exactly what the Israeli government wants to convey. I am not being critical of this, just noting it. The origins of the conflict and tension, are another matter. These subjects have and will continue to fill books long after we all are long gone.

But, shifting back to my pilgrim mode I have to confess that this trip was remarkable in what it accomplished. The ability to physically be present in the world Jesus knew, where his ministry unfolded, where Christianity was born was priceless. I find that the superficial impacts of visiting new places is always about the immediate experience. Understanding how that experience changes me comes later, oftentimes much later. There are generally just too many things going on during a trip to allow for any kind of meaningful thought processing. Navigating those deeper waters requires time, patience and quiet. Now that we are home I am starting to work through that, and am beginning to understand why this trip was so important. The rough edges are gradually being removed from so many thoughts. For a start, I am obviously reminded how truly thankful I am for the gift of freedom, the separation of church and state, and for the security of peace within our borders. But beyond the obvious, there, gratefully, and more importantly (to me), lies the story of the pilgrim road, our pilgrim road. Let me move onto that in my next post.