Days in a haze

We are now in Ponferrada after some long days traveling. We didn’t have any connection problems just some long hours underway. But, all in all, everything went well. The usual jet lag that has consigned us to a slightly altered universe for the last couple of days is starting to slacken its grip. We are now sleeping much better and enjoying some normal meals. We had a fun overnight in Bilbao enjoying some fine pintxos, vino, and a late stroll along the river up to the Guggenheim and back. A splendid welcome back to Spain.

The next morning we walked to the train station and caught the daily train to Ponferrada where we arrived 6.5 hours later. To our great surprise we were met at the station by an old friend from Portland, Kathy Kennerly. Kathy has been living in Spain (Ponferrada) for a few years now. We had planned to get together, but she had a little surprise ready for us and met us at the station to spring it on us. We taxied to our nearby hotel and upon checking in we were told by Kathy that she had the staff put some food and wine in our room. We all went up and sure enough a large salad with goat cheese, a platter of cured meat, and two bottles of wine sat there awaiting us. What a thoughtful gift, especially when you understand something of restaurant hours in Spain. So we all tucked in and enjoyed all that was set before us. What a fine meal it was. But, the day was not yet done. A Facebook friend of Robin’s, Lee Tolman, was just finishing up two weeks as hospitalera, at the San Nicolás de Flüe albergue, so we all went over and joined her and her co-worker, Javier, for more food and wine. It was a great party and it was nice to finally get to meet Lee.

We eventually made our goodbyes and set off uphill back to our hotel, but a copa de cava seemed in order before we called it a night. We huddled in the warmth of the hotel bar and enjoyed catching up with Kathy’s life in Spain. Yes, we did finally call it a night. Robin went up and I walked Kathy back to her apartment which is located just behind the hotel only a few minutes walk. So that was yesterday. Today, Tuesday, we ran a couple of errands which included shipping a suitcase to Santiago, and picking up a couple of SIM cards from the Vodafone store. It was in the upper 20’s (F) as we set out. I had on everything I will be wearing tomorrow when we set off on the Camino Invierno. I was okay, but just. With a backpack on and a few climbs thrown in my winter kit will be just fine. We are now back at the hotel getting our thoughts together for tomorrow’s walk. We will be meeting Kathy for lunch in about an hour. The feasting continues. What fun. Spain honestly feels like home to us.

Feb 2, 2015: Bujaraloz to Candasnos 20.6 K

Our stay at the Hostal El Español is drawing to an end. We have been here two nights and will spend one more. We have done a lot of shuttling around by taxi during our time here but it has all worked out, and El Español has been a good central location for us. But, today we start out on foot from our front door as we walk from Bujaraloz to Candasnos. 

Some light rain had fallen early last night, but there were no traces of it as we stepped out to cross the highway and find our way out of the village. The weather was fine. Temps were right at 40 F, with partly cloudy skies, and best of all, no wind (very little anyhow). Our first view this morning, as we headed out of town, was of a broad flat plain pierced by an arrow straight trail. The partly cloudy skies provided Much appreciated relief from the sun as it rose muted and indistinct behind a veil of clouds. Much better than having it burn through your eyeballs as you head right into it first thing in the morning. The plateau we are on, we discovered, has some interesting features. At low angles it appears dead flat, but once you gain some elevation (we had hills today) you can see it is actually a series of very large mesas separated by large arroyos or small valleys. We have been been following the N 11 highway for the past few days and today was no exception. One nice thing was that for a good part of our walk today we were separated from the actual highway, and that brought a different feeling of peace and quietude that you just can’t conjur as large trucks are racing past just on the other side of the guardrail. 

We remain alone in our small pilgrim universe. Even after acknowledging the occasional Santiago bound pilgrim passing through, and the increased Ignaciano traffic in warmer times of the year, pilgrims must still be a bit of an anomaly here. I feel the locals must struggle to understand exactly what it is that we are doing. Even the girl at the bar this morning gave me a ‘mucho frio’ gesture as I headed out the door as if to ask why would you want to out and walk in the cold. Fair question actually. But, out we went and made a good day of it. We enjoyed some of the varied terrain today, as we have seen scant few hills these past days. One section, at the bottom of a steep slope down from the highway was a muddy slog through stiff brush and tall grasses. But, apart from that it was quite a pleasant day. By early afternoon we had arrived at a point that gave us an unobstructed view down to Candasnos sitting alone out on, yet another, broad flat plain. 45 minutes later we had Carlos on his way to give us a ride back to Bujaraloz. Tomorrow morning Carlos will return us to Candasnos so we can walk on to Fraga our destination for tomorrow night. This will be the end of our taxi shuttling as we now have lodging at all places where we finish for the day. By Wednesday we will be entering Catalunya, our last province. Here we will start gaining elevation as we head towards Montserrat. We are now 8 days from Manresa (but who is counting). All is well here on Los Monegros.


And so it began

Robin and I have been walking pilgrim roads for nearly seven years now. As I look back I can see more than just the length and breadth of these experiences. It has been a period of discovery that has often been confounding as well as awakening. When the pilgrim road first called I felt I was responding to a call to find more about my spiritual life. The pilgrim road with its long solitary days seemed perfectly suited to exploring my inner journey towards God. Back then I honestly thought that my relationship with God was sort of like sharing a seat with someone on a bus or train. You are in the same place at the same time, perhaps conversing, perhaps not. When the urge wells up to reach out in response to some inner motivation, then we speak trying to tease out some interesting thread that might be at best instructive (gaining wisdom) or more likely just trying to be present and pleasant. So there the stage is set. It is a belief system that places God somewhere where through prayer you can reach out for comfort, solace, and mercy. You are somewhere in your life and God is out there somewhere waiting for your call.

Today I feel quite differently. Perhaps the many long hours shuffling along the paths, hills and valleys of Spain, France, Portugal, and Italy have created in me a new space where I now believe God simply is. What of this then? How did I arrive here? In my experience, we all set out in life with some goals in mind. I suppose mine were typical. A happy marriage, a good job, able to pay the bills, and perhaps, even then, a sense that a spiritual relationship needed nurturing. So off we go into life following our hearts and most likely our best self interests. We move along discovering that some roads are better for us then others. Let’s say we give the good roads, the ones that affirm our beliefs and reinforce our goals, a bright yellow arrow. These are the paths always to be taken. At other moments we find ourselves on a diversion and quickly realize that we have made a mistake. We sense that we must turn around and recapture the way that we lost. These paths we will award a nice big black X. Do not go there, do not continue, turn back. So it was over the years that I unknowingly created a locus of experiences that shaped many aspects of my life, including my relationship with God. So to the point. It now strikes me that we do not coexist with God side by side, but that God is us. For most of my adult life, being raised Catholic, I had this tortuous belief system that put us as failed sinners in pursuit of a loving forgiving God who would heal us with his mercy. A kind of us and Him relationship. We are here begging for mercy and He is there wondering what we are up to. Over time this belief of an existing separation between God and us changed to a more profound belief in singularity. Meaning that God is us, not just within us like some pleasant passenger sharing a seat, but truly is us as we are Him.

Yes, all this faith stuff is by its very nature mystical. Some people can never get there. It is just too much of a leap, but whether we acknowledge it or not (I believe) God, is there, is us. It also makes sense that this mystical singularity then supports the outpouring of God’s love that is there to lead us beyond all the physical distractions and challenges of daily life. He would never just leave us adrift. He doesn’t have his hands on the wheel. We are still doing the driving and making decisions, but a map is there for us to follow, or not. We decide whether to choose the bright yellow arrow or continue beyond the danger mark of the black X. Just a bit more about God’s love. Remember this excerpt from scripture, “my ways are not your ways and my thoughts are not your thoughts.” How true it is that we are so different from God, and thus our understanding of His love is limited to the emotional or physical aspect That we as humans know it. But, God’s love is something totally different. Words are difficult to find to explain it. Again this is us, as humans, trying to figure out the nature of God’s unlimited love. I guess we have to allow ourselves some room for error here, but let’s just imagine a love that has no limits that starts from a place absent of self interest or self gratification. It starts from an totally empty space, pure humbleness, that then fills to overflowing with a boundless goodness that is offered to us if we are patient, still, searching, and receptive. We were created in God’s image and likeness as christian teaching tells us, and so therefore as He is, we are also. We just have to try and live a life that reflects His grace. Yes, admittedly that is the tricky bit. But, I believe it is our nature to try to be Christ like. Heady stuff. Keep in mind these are my thoughts on my journey and where it has led me to date in my understanding of my Catholic faith. Your journey may take you someplace totally different, and your peace might be found following some other path. All I know is what I have encountered and related in this post. So, the pilgrim road still beckons. The search for wisdom continues. Admittedly, my faith occasionally runs more on the cooler side than the warmer. But, I now sense a joy, previously unfelt, for this life journey, although difficult at times, is leading me to a place free of darkness, and for that I feel forever blessed.

In closing, I heard Robin practicing this song she will be singing at mass this evening, Two were Bound for Emmaus. This excerpt from that song always touches me as it speaks to the road we all travel, our weariness, and our humanness.

“When the road makes us weary, when our labor seems but loss, when the fire of faith weakens and too high seems the cost, let the Church turn to its risen Lord who for us bore the cross, and we’ll find our hearts burning at the sound of His voice.” The complete song is below. Enjoy.

Nada te turbe

I seem to be on a spiritual roll here so I will offer this powerful prayer from St. Theresa of Avila. I was listening to this at the Chrism mass as it was being sung by the choir from St. Mary’s Cathedral in Portland. I always find this beautiful prayer reassuring. The text follows.

Nada te turbe;
nada te espante.
Todo se pasa;
Dios no se muda.
La pacienca
todo lo alcanza.
Quien a Dios tiene,
nada le falta.
Solo Dios basta.

Let nothing trouble you;
nothing afright you.
All things are passing;
God never changes.
overcomes all things.
The one who has God
wants for nothing.
God alone is enough.

Below is the recording from the 2016 Chrism Mass at St. Mary’s in Portland. Robin, front row second from right, is singing as well. Beautiful prayer. Beautiful arrangement. Beautiful voices.