Resisting the speed of right

For the past three weeks Robin and I have immensely enjoyed our volunteer work at the English language masses in the Cathedral of St. James in Santiago de Compostela. This opportunity coupled with the other traveling and walking we have done on this trip has woven an unusually vibrant tapestry of experiences, surprises, and reflections that frequently amazes me with their complexity as well as their simplicity. How so one might ask? To begin, it is no surprise that Robin and I are seekers. We feel completely comfortable with our belief in a loving God. The struggle that many have with this premise is that so many religions have claimed a God of their own, and because it is their own, they have a firm belief their God is superior. Now if it was just left there one could say well so what, but more typically what happens is that along with a belief in their God comes a belief and a required conformance with all sorts of rituals and practices. Many people find this challenging as it seems religions try to imply that only through adherence to these rituals and practices can one find peace with, or even access to, God. Now that strikes me as crazy. Having been a practicing Catholic for almost all of my life I still struggle with why the Catholic Church feels so much of this ritual is vital to its existence. Yes it is important to be able to verbalized exactly what it is you believe in, but if your neighbor has a different opinion, does that make him a heretic. Why should that matter? After all are we not all God’s children. It is our own personal faith journeys that should capture our interest, and those of others should be left to them. Catholic teaching speaks frequently of the ability of good acts to bring God’s spirit to those who have not yet encountered it. It is clearly not preferred to wage a debate of the pros and cons of one religious belief over another. What is important is to be able to embrace in our own lives those moments of inexplicable joy that seem to arrive unbeckoned, and unexpectedly. When these moments arrive, it is almost like a navigator finding a break in the clouds to fix his position. We just seem to know that something unique has occurred, and it challenges us to engage in a deeper reflection to truly draw out its full promise. Others might find their strength in different ways, and we should have room in our hearts to both understand and tolerate that. And so it goes. Each “Holy Spirit” moment drops a point that adds to the locus of our faith journey. It is a journey that can lead us anywhere and everywhere, but in the end it is our hope that we arrive where we began, with God our father. Both Robin and I have witnessed many of these holy moments where God’s spirit just seems so close. These encounters warm our hearts, hopefully guide our ongoing behavior, and provide a course adjustment so that even when the journey seems fraught with peril and uncertainty, we feel comfortable we are heading Home, and being homeward bound is music to any voyager’s ears.

The boys in the boat

The boat

Santiago has witnessed many pilgrim arrivals but I dare say that the arrival of four Irish sailors who have rowed a traditional Irish currach from the west coast of Ireland to A Coruña in northwest Spain has to be one of the most memorable. They set out in May of 2014, wintered the boat over a couple of times and finally arrived in Santiago a couple of days ago. Now the Irish are known as a jovial people and these fellows did not disappoint. They have kept everyone smiling with their charm, good humor and the occasional dose of traditional music and song. One of the most challenging parts of their arrival was getting their boat overland to Santiago. Santiago’s own Mr. Fixit, John Rafferty, took up the challenge and with a variety of resources employed finally got the boat into the city and bedded down in the cloister at the Jesuit church of San Agostin. This was last Saturday. Come Sunday the boat was maneuvered by many hands out from the cloister and down along the Camino Frances path to the Plaza Obradoiro and then around and up to the Plaza Platerias. After a grand celebration at the Sunday pilgrim mass the boat, once again with many hands, found its way back to the cloister at San Agostin for another night’s rest. Today, Monday, the crew joined us for our English language mass in the cathedral but instead of the mass being said in English, Fr. Joe, said the mass in Irish. One of the boat crew, Brendan, brought along his accordion and along with his remarkable voice provided all the music for the mass. There wasn’t a dry eye in the chapel. It was a magical moment to be sure. But, there is more to the story. The crew wants to leave their boat in Santiago for the winter and return next year to carry on perhaps as far as Africa. Their enthusiasm is unbounded. Once again Mr. Fixit, came to the rescue and with the blessing and help of his landlord emptied out his garage to make room for the boat. That was the first part solved but now the boat had to be carried, once again, through the streets of Santiago and out along the route towards Finisterre where John’s house is located. Yes, many hands were once again found, and not long thereafter the boat had covered a kilometer to its winter berth in John’s garage. It has been a crazy few days as the boat and crew maneuvered throughout the city, but the gift of their spirit has lifted many hearts and has made this pilgrim city unique in yet another special way. Up the Irish and our best wishes for a safe journey home for this remarkable bunch. You simply cannot make this stuff up.


Mr. Fixit
Departing San Agostín


Fr. Joe directing traffic


The boat gets a pilgrim shell



Plaza Platerias
Today’s mass celebrated in the Irish language

Into the woods and then some

Mt. Hood greets us on the trail

One of the ongoing gifts of walking the camino is the joy one finds in simply being afoot in nature. Busy lives and bustling communities make modern day life stressful, but fortunately help is often nearby. Most of us can find a bit of solace and quietude in some nearby park or less traveled part of whatever town or city we live in. We who live in the Pacific Northwest are truly blessed to have an abundance of places of great natural beauty, close at hand, where our weary bodies can go to find peace and renewal. Yes, it takes a bit of effort and there is some physical challenge, but the feeling one finds after a day in the mountains is worth every calorie burned to get there.

Yesterday, was a perfect early fall day with clear skies over the Cascade Mountains in western Oregon. A friend of mine emailed me and suggested a trip up to Mt. Hood to hike the McNeil Point trail. I have never hiked this particular trail and with the weather being so perfect I quickly agreed to join him. We met up, I shifted my gear into Hal’s Suburu, and off we went. We chugged along freeways and then secondary roads and then after the little town of Zig Zag (Named after a local river), we turned onto Lolo Pass road and headed off to where we thought we would easily find the trailhead. We ambled along and as luck would have it we drove past our turn off and spent another 40 minutes or so probing the flanks of Mt. Hood looking for our destination. Eventually, we came to our senses when we chatted with two young ladies who were wandering around, as we were, looking for the same trailhead. They mentioned an unmarked road that they had briefly followed before abandoning it because it just didn’t seem like it was taking them where there wanted to go. They read off the road number from their GPS and we compared that to our very sparse notes and sure enough that was the road we were looking for. As it turns out it was just before where the Pacific Crest Trail crosses Lolo Pass road. We backtracked together and after a few miles we found ourselves snaking into a parking pass alongside a narrow road filled with many other cars. This had to be the place, and it was. A few minutes later, with backpacks snugged up, off we went into the woods and started climbing. This is what unfolded as we ascended the mountain. Quite a day.

The trail begins

Hal, my hiking partner

Mt. Adams to the North

Mt. Rainier with lenticular cloud over it

Mt. Hood

Mt. St. Helens missing its pointed top due to its major eruption in 1980

Lunch break

The Sandy River which originates at Mt. Hood

Raven looking for lunch as we ate ours

Ridges in the distance

That’s me
Hal at our lunch break

Mt. Adams again

Mt. Hood

Where we diverge from the Timberline trail that circles the mountain

Last view of Mt. Hood before descending into the forest

Finding our sea legs again

At the trailhead

It is always a challenge to try and stay camino ready. Life tends to get in the way of the best laid plans for  good nutrition and exercise. But, as always, the lure of another camino helps to recapture our resolve to get our minds and bodies ready for another walk. This coming January we will be returning to the Basque Country, Euskadi, to walk the Camino Vasco from Irun to Santo Domingo. This is a short camino of about 8 days. We then are hoping to move on to Porto and walk the Portuguese Camino as well. There are always many options but these two shorter routes seem right for us at this point. So, God willing, we will be getting underway mid January and should be away for about a month. Weather is always an issue when walking in the winter especially in the Basque mountains, but we will be cautious, and roads can be walked when passes are not open. So, now Robin and I must dust off our fitness goals and get ready to face the new year in fine camino trim. To that end we already have been doing some hiking in the local mountains. Today, was another exceptionally fine early fall day and we decided to challenge ourselves with a difficult hike in the Columbia River Gorge, Dog Mountain. This is a great training hike which we have done before. It is a steep climb all the way up to the summit at 2800 feet. What makes it particularly exhausting is that it is accomplished in 3.5 miles. It took us 2 hours to reach the summit, and then after a quick lunch break, another 1.5 hours to descend. We were pretty tired but the gorgeous weather and cool temperatures made for a perfect day in the Gorge. But, I’ll let you be the judge. Have a look.

The steeper trail is to the left. Guess where we went.

Looking back early on

The one reasonably flat spot on the whole mountain

Columbia River

Robin pushing towards the summit


Mt. Hood beyond the ridge

Summit lunch break spot

View from the top

Robin holding onto her hat (25 mph wind)

Call a taxi!

Trail heading down

Mind your step

Oh God, please heal me.

Robin and I were at mass the other day and the presiding priest made a point of leaving the congregation with a simple prayer for the week ahead. It was focused on the brokenness of humanity and how each of us has something that needs healing in our lives. It was short and focused and made good sense. It was simply this, “Oh God, please heal me.” So off we went with this bit of encouragement tucked away not knowing exactly how this healing would actually play out. How could we.

Port Angeles, WA

As it turns out we decided to visit one of America’s great National Parks, Olympic National Park. It is a remarkable place for its variety of climate zones, flora and fauna, and 600 miles of hiking trails. We drove 4.5 hours up to Port Angeles and set out the following morning to go up to Hurricane Ridge to see if we could find a suitable trail to hike. It is about a 45 minute drive to get to the visitor station. The day was brilliantly clear and cool. We decided to make the additional 8 mile drive out to Obstruction Point and then hike out along Elk Ridge and back. It was a wise choice. There were only a few other cars at the Obstruction Point parking area so this was not going to be a crowd scene by any stretch of the imagination. We laced up our hiking boots and set off. Now the healing part slowly started to happen. Our faith journey has seldom been punctuated by lightning strikes. More often it is like a mist burning off in the rising sun. A gradual clarity emerges and it becomes a form of guidance. Such was this day. Virtually alone, high upon this striking ridge, it started to dawn on us how much we depend on these moments alone in nature to sort things out and and give thanks for all God’s many gifts. We always seem to discover a better sense of who we are, and why we are, and how all things are connected, as we move through the natural beauty of this amazing planet Earth. At the turn around point as we looked down on the waters below and the mountain peaks in the distance we were sure that our simple prayer had been answered. What a day.

Departure from Obstruction Point

Up we go.

Mt. Baker in the foreground.

Port Angeles harbor way below.

Robin enjoying the glorious clear weather.

That’s me.

Heading back.

Yes, that is a trail.

The trailhead is just behind the ridge on the right.