Come in! Come in!

"If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a Hope-er, a Pray-er, a Magic Bean buyer; if you're a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!" -- Shel Silverstein

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Day 9, Stage 8: Altos de Mamoa to Sorado Dos Monxes (21 km/13 mi)

Today, The Camino in Galicia takes us to the highest point of the entire way – approximately 900 feet above sea level – across the boundary of Lugo, to enter the province of A Coruna, and continue towards Sobrado dos Monxes, where there is a monastery built in the 10th century, run by Cistercian monks. We’ll be spending the night in a lovely rural manor – a palace, formerly – in Arzua.

Today’s reflection is from The Sound of the Genuine by Howard Thurman
There is in every person something that waits and listens for the sound of genuine in herself. There is in you something that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself. Nobody like you has ever been born. And no one like you will ever be born again.

You are the only one.

If you cannot hear it, the sound of the genuine in you, you will never find whatever it is for which you’re searching. And if you hear it and then do not follow it, it were better that he had never been born. You are the only you that has ever lived. Your idiom is the only idiom of its kind in all the existences. And if you cannot hear the sound of the genuine in you, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls.”
Things happen to the body at this sea level. Especially a body under the stress of walking up hills. Especially a body which has been under stress, anyway, for a long time.

The simple truth is that I did not research well enough the different terrain of this land and therefore, did not prepare well for it. I thought we’d be walking, so I walked. I walked on pavement. I walked on dirt trails. I walked on flat surfaces. I walked in malls. I walked up slightly hilly surfaces. I sweated. I worked hard.

Nothing got me seriously out of breath or feeling dizzy or queasy so that my heart was pounding so fast and so hard I could hear it in my ears and feel it pounding through my entire body.

I was not prepared for the effect of walking up steep hills in high elevation. I take full responsibility for that. That's one thing I didn’t research. So, I didn’t prepare in the way I needed to in order to deal with these hills at this altitude.

But, I also know that I came here to do this walk because I knew, in that place of knowing, that I have been holding onto a lot of toxins. And, those toxins made it increasingly difficult for me to hear “the sound of the genuine” in me.

For me, there are two kinds of toxins. The first is chemical.

As a Hospice Chaplain, I work with people who have recently finished a course – sometimes several long courses – of chemotherapy. We are frequently advised to exercise and drink lots of fluid because our patients often perspire and/or exhale those chemicals as their body tries to get rid of them.

Sometimes, you can even smell it in the air in their room. When we touch them or lean in close to hear them, we can take small amounts of the by-products of the chemicals which, over time, can have an adverse effect on us, making us feel sluggish or out of sorts.

The other kind of toxin is from certain personalities and, especially, corporate systems. I suppose we ought not be surprised that the helping professions – medicine, nursing, psychiatry, social work, religious organizations, etc. – seem to attract toxic personalities, or that those toxic personalities might contribute to the toxicity levels in corporate systems.

It’s paradoxical, on one level, isn’t it? I mean, people ‘just’ want to help others. That’s pretty straightforward. They ‘just’ want to help, to ‘just’ be of service, to ‘just’ make a difference.

The question is “Why?” Why do you want to ‘just’ help?

Intention and motivation are important to examine. Let me give you an example.

There is an oncologist – a cancer specialist – who is described as “very aggressive” in his treatment plans. If you want to “fight cancer” if you want to “beat cancer”, he’s your guy. He will load you up with every cancer-fighting drug in his arsenal of cancer-fighting weapons and give you as many and as much as you can tolerate. And then some.

He doesn’t tell you how absolutely miserable it will make you feel, how it will compromise the quality of your life and only give you – maybe, maybe – a 30 or 40 percent chance of extending your life – maybe, maybe – another year, or two.

Then again, maybe you will “beat the odds” and live the rest of your life cancer-free.

It could happen.

The cost will be very high, but if you want to risk it, he’ll provide you with the means. The thing of it is, if you listen to him closely, he’s very clear to say, “I”. As in, “I can help you.” As in, “I can give you another day.” As in, “I can give you another year.”

So, if you start one of “his” medical treatment plans that “he” prescribes for you and the extra time “he” gives you, and you start to feel like, actually, you’d prefer quality of life over quantity of life, w.e.e.e.e . . .l.l.l.l.l.l., now you’ve got a problem, see? Now, you’ve insulted him. Now, you’re a quitter and he doesn’t work with quitters.

Now, you’ve made him angry and he will not shield you from his anger, not even in your weakened and miserable state. Not even if it makes you cry. Actually, that will just make him angrier, and he will storm out of the room.

And, no, he won’t refer you to Hospice. Never! You’re on your own, now.

So, I’m back to my question: Is that ‘help’?

One wonders about his motivation and his intention. Who is he ‘helping’, really?

That’s a fairly extreme example. There are others that are more subtle than that.

Like, the social worker who is just a great guy, you know, always asking team mates if he can help them in any way – change a tire, mow their lawn – what a guy! Then, one day, he says something inappropriate, something sexual, and he just doesn’t understand why you’re upset. I mean, he’s a great guy, isn’t he? You’re just being overly sensitive. And then, he gaslights you like a champ.

Lots of borderline personalities flock to the helping professions. Community-based helping organizations (including churches and temples and their affiliated organizations)  get more than their share of passive aggressive behavior, lots of projection, and tons of “dysfunctional behavior”.

It’s important to remember that the “dys” in dysfunctional stands for “pain”.

Dysfunctional behavior is painful behavior. It is a person functioning out of a painful past that he or she is working out. I try to keep that in mind so that, first and foremost, I can be compassionate, but secondly, to keep a healthy distance.

Trying to ‘keep a healthy distance’ for a clergy-person, anyway, is a constant challenge. If you aren’t “all giving” and “always available” or provide the answer someone may want or need to hear, you are bound to hear a loud harrumph or soft weeping followed by, “And you call yourself a priest/minister/clergy person!”

It goes without saying that there are many priests/ministers/clergy people who are, themselves, dysfunctional. Oy, there are large, multiple minions of them! I have known clergy support groups that are comprised of dysfunctional clergy who support each other in their dysfunction.

I was part of one, briefly. It was awful. It would be hilarious if it weren’t tragic and sad. And, toxic.

In my experience, sooner or later, the dysfunctional person will attempt to re-create in you the turmoil and pain they are feeling. They don’t do this to be mean or cruel. They are doing it because it is the only way that they will know that you know how they feel.

Sometimes, the dysfunctional system will do the same thing. It’s called “corporate culture” and you either fit in, or you don’t.

One way of ‘survival’ in dysfunctional systems is to create ‘silos’ – parallel universes where one does one’s work alone, with concern for their project and then one “puts on a game face” to come out and interact with others.

In the corporate pecking order, the idea is everyone “below” is making the one “above” look good so you keep your nose to the grindstone and don’t make any waves so one day you, too, can move up the corporate ladder. You smile, you agree, you go along to get along and get along to get ahead.

The real mark of a dysfunctional system is poor communication. Everyone thinks the other person, the person lower than them, sent along the message. Another is that, when an “educational event” happens, the presenter cares less about whether or not the information was received and understood and more – much more – about whether or not everyone signed the attendance sheet.

One thing that over 30 years of working with church personalities has taught me:

Anyone who seems to work really hard at being nice is someone you absolutely ought not ever trust.

And, the amazing thing is that no one knows how transparent they are; how inauthentic they are.

I have long understood that, as a clergy person who works in hospice, I “live and move and have my being” in multiple sources and levels of toxicity. This is a core piece of why The Camino appealed to me as “good medicine” for me, giving me the opportunity to walk and sweat off the toxicity I’ve been holding onto and to drink lots of water to flush it out of my system.

‘Walking in Beauty’ is especially appealing to me for that reason. I think beauty is the strongest medicine to neutralize the ugliness of the evil that can build up in toxic people and toxic systems.

I have tested that theory and proven it correct. Indeed, I think I’m getting rid of lots of toxins on this walk. In fact, I know I am. All the toxins I’ve been holding in my gut are finding their way out. As they make their way out and make room, I am also releasing the toxins I’ve held in my mind and my heart.

It’s a long, terrible, awe-full, wonder-filled, process. I am blessed to have this time to do this important, transformative work.

The Camino is a wise teacher, knowing what each peregrino needs even before s/he knows what s/he wants or needs.

There’s a line in a Madonna song, “Beauty’s where you find it.”

Releasing long-held toxins to make room for more of the goodness and beauty of life is an amazing and healing thing.

It is helping me to rediscover the sound of the genuine in me.

Thank you, again, for making this journey with me. I'm so glad you're here.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Day 8:, Stage 7: Baamonde - Altos de Mamoa (18 km/11.2 mi)

Today began the last 100 kilometers necessary to obtain the Compostela certificate. The plan for today is to take The Camino towards La Coruna, passing through the bridge of San Alberte deep in the forests of Galicia. The way leads through a maze of local and traditional corredoiras roads, through the villages of Raposeira, Aldar and San Paio of Seixon.

In Seixon, we are to turn north through the town of Miraz, in the most secluded and remote territory inside Galicia, where the route climbs up to Altos de Mamoa. At the end, we will have climbed up 900 feet in altitude. 

Except, I didn't.

I had suited up, ready for another long day in the pouring down rain. I had on my pink "waterproof" jacket but I also put over it my yellow def-waterproof  poncho. I was wearing my waterproof pants over my hiking pants. And, of course, my amazing waterproof hiking boots.

I was ready to rock and roll on The Camino.

I made it less than the first kilometer when my stomach, which had been queasy since last night (I only ate 1/2 my dinner), started to rock and roll.

Apparently, I have been felled by some sort of stomach virus. Or, perhaps, the altitude.

Or, a comination of both. At least those are the three major theories. 

There was nausea and retching, dizziness and . . . um . . . gastric distress. With absolutely no bathrooms available along the route, it was considered the greater part of valor to take me back to the Parador where I was allowed to rest.

I just got up a bit ago and was fed tea and toast and jam by a dashingly handsome and most attentive member of the wait staff, who treated me like a princess. "Here, senora, let me help you to the chair."

"Here, senora, allow me to lightly butter your toast. Or, would senora prefer olive oil?"

"Ah, senora chose well. Green tea. Allow me to pour."

"Ah, senora, sip, sip, sip the tea. Sip, sip, sip. Like so. Yes! Good!" Take your time. Relax. No worries, now. You are here. You are safe. Okay? You are pale but you gonna be okay, yes? You let me know if I should call the doctor, yes?  Okay. Remember: sip, sip, sip. Relax. No worries. Okay?"

No worries.

Except, I fretted about lots of things: Not being with my fellow peregrinos, for one. I fretted about what I might have eaten that caused this wretched condition. Or, what "unseen baggage" I was carrying that caused my body to respond in this way.

It's all metaphor, you know. 

But mostly, I fretted about not qualifying for the Compostella certificate.

I have finally settled on the fact that I did not dream and plan and prepare and walk this much of The Camino for a piece of paper.

I am doing The Camino not to prove anything or to accomplish anything.
I am doing The Camino for my self.

I am doing The Camino for my soul.

I am doing The Camino so that one day, perhaps, my grandchildren or great grandchildren will look back through their family tree as I have, attempting to discover, perhaps, why it is they have this yearning to discover - or uncover - or recover something about themselves and their lives.

Someone suggested that my Camino passport could be taken along and stamped for me so that I could still receive the Compostella certificate.

Someone else responded, appropriately, "But, that would be dishonest."

Someone else - someone with a Roman Catholic childhood - added, "Yes, she will not have deserved the certificate."

Even in my haze of dizziness and temporary misery, I found myself inwardly chuckling.

Dishonest? Yes, of course. But, I appreciate the sentiment.

Deserving? As a former RC, I recognized the concept immediately.

Worthy is its second cousin, twice removed by Guilt.

I have always loved that line in the Eucharistic Prayer, ".... we are made worthy to stand before you."

Indeed. No groveling. No bowing and scraping. No fawning. No sniveling.

Yes, "deserving" applies to the Certificate of Accomplishments. Of course.

I will still receive a Certificate of Distance. That will be sufficient for itself.

I am a peregrina. That will not change. Ever.

Sort of like being in the Olympics. Winning a medal is great, but the thing is being an Olympian.

I remembered that wonderful poem, Wild Geese, by Mary Oliver:
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
I am here. I am on The Camino which has taught me that I will always be a peregrino.

I still have my place in the family of things. The world has not stopped. My vocation has not ceased to call to me.

I am walking. Not physically, today. But the pilgrimage has not stopped because I was unable to physically walk today.

God willing, I will pick up my walking sticks and walk tomorrow.

I just set out my clothing and rain gear for the morning. My walking sticks are set at their appropriate height. My boots and socks are in their proper place.

I am recovering. I am ready.

I may have room service tonight - just a simple broth and, perhaps some tea and toast. I think I'd like to be pampered again by that dashingly handsome waiter who treats his guests like royalty in a Parador which used to be the castle of Fernan Perez de Andrade.

Tonight, I am a 'princess peregrino'. I will feast on tea and jam and bread and, perhaps, some broth for strength.

Muchas gracias, amigo/a. I am so deeply grateful for your company on this journey.

I hear you, fellow wild geese, honking to let me know you're right behind me in formation.

Thank you.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Day 7, Stage 6: Pontevella to Villalba (11.5 km/7.1 mi)

Now, The Way begins to turn south and west, leaving the ocean and traveling through grassy meadows populated by picturesque farming villages and beautiful farmer groves with willows, birches and oaks.

We have moved through the principality of Asturias and into the principality of Galatia, where evidences of Celtic influences abound. I passed a Neo-Gothic town cemetery – I’ll try to add the picture – which has stone niches where caskets are laid to rest, stacked up four niches high, with large spires on top.

Some of the spires have simple crosses, others more ornate and still others have Celtic crosses, with an open circle in the middle of the cross, representing the sun – its dawning and setting, or incarnation and resurrection – all enclosed in the circle representing the earth.

It is said that, because of the Celtic influence, the Galatians are “superstitious” people. The spires on the top of the cemetery are meant to dissuade the dead souls from returning to their caskets, hoping to “pinch their toes” if they try to walk along the top.

It is said that there are also many “witches” here who practice “earth medicine”. They are said to help lost souls find their way back to Paradise, something which the Catholic Church here has long quietly – some say silently – supported. 

Anything to avoid the “mischief” that can happen when a soul is not where it should be or doing what it is meant to do.

It is pouring down rain here today, with thunder and lightening punctuating the drama of walking in the rain. I’m so very glad my Columbia hiking boots are waterproof, but the rain slicker I got is less than advertised. I didn’t get soaking wet but let’s just say that my body was not as dry as my feet.

There is something about walking in the rain that is magical all in and of itself. The occasional bursts of fog add an ethereal quality to it that has a sense of the Holy about it.

The brim of my hat covered my eyes nicely and the hood from my jacket kept everything in place. The rain stayed off my glasses, allowing me to see. I kept my head down, mostly, but reminded myself every now and again to look up and around.

My path was mostly through back roads and farmland. Cows bellowed and geese honked, donkeys brayed and dogs barked. I saw a man out in his side yard chopping wood, his German shepherd sitting nearby, neither of them seemed to mind the rain.

I did get lost. Once. The Camino markers are pretty clear here in Galatia, but, well, I missed one. I was only about ¼ of a mile off the track, however, when our driver Jose Marie and guide Ignazio came by in the van and got me back on the right track.

One peregrino said to me, “There is no shame in getting lost in the rain. It happened to me on a sunny day. Twice in one day on another summer day. You are doing well. This is your Camino. There is no right way. There is no wrong way. There is just your way. You do your Camino your way and let others worry about what it means to be lost – or found.”

Tomorrow, we begin the last 100 km of The Camino and prepare our hearts and minds to enter the great city of Santiago on Saturday, the 20th. This city has been the destination of peregrino for a thousand years.

I’ve been thinking about “lost souls” and destinations and being where you are supposed to be when you are supposed to be there. 

I am taking inspiration from this poem by Jan Richardson:
This is not

any map you know.

Forget longitude

Forget latitude.

Do not think

of distances

or of plotting

the most direct route.

Astrolabe, sextant, compass:

these will not help you here.

This is the map

That begins with a star.

This is the chart

that starts with fire,

with blazing,

with an ancient light

that has outlasted

generations, empires,

cultures, wars.

You cannot see it all,

cannot divine the way

it will turn and spiral,

cannot perceive how

the road you walk

will lead you finally inside,

through the labyrinth

of your own heart

and belly

and lungs.
But step out
and you will know
what the wise who traveled this path before you
the treasure in this map
is buried
          not at journey's end
          but at the beginning.  

I am filled with gratitude that you have stayed with me this far, encouraging and supporting me and praying for me.

Thank you.

Day 6: Soto del Barco to El Pito (10 KM / 6.2 miles)

We began today’s pilgrimage in Soto del Barco, towards the towns of Era and Muros de Nalon. Outside the town of Muros, we were able to view Aguilar Beach – a gift from Costa Verde and a feast for the eyes and emotions.

We continued up to the village of El Pito where we rested before driving to the village of Cudillero, a lovely fishing village where we had lunch. Then, we went to the Figueras to reach Ribadeo by boat – the traditional route of the peregrino and will spend the night at the Parador of Ribadeo, right in front of the sea.

I don’t think I’ve yet had enough time to process all of what happened today. Earlier this morning, I learned of the death of the Rev’d Dr. Charles Rice, Episcopal priest, theologian and brilliant homiletics professor at the Theological School at Drew University in Madison, NJ.

Charles was the quintessential Southern gentleman, emphasis on gentle. He had a very quiet voice and a quiet laugh, but you never forgot when he spoke and when he laughed. I especially loved how his eyes focused or danced as he listened deeply to you.

I’ll miss him. I found myself praying for him but what came up was a memory of the Portuguese version of The Hail Mary. I remembered it in the youthful singsong way we said it as kids when I said the rosary with mia Voa (my grandmother) every morning at six. That would be A.M.

I found myself getting lost in that prayer, keeping rhythm with my steps and the click-clack sound of my walking stick. There, out in the forest path, all alone.

Except, of course, I wasn’t. It felt like a mighty cloud of witnesses joined me as I prayed and stepped and moved my walking sticks. All the saints were chanting it with me.

Suddenly, from out of nowhere, I opened my mouth and found that I had started singing that wonderful South African hymn, “We Are Walking In the Light of God.” I felt suddenly lighter and freer, like the whole 6 mile walk that I had fretted over would be a piece of cake. And, it was.

When I finished my walk and came to the checkpoint, I heard one of the peregrino ask another, “Did you hear that choir singing? Wasn’t it wonderful? I wonder where the church is. Oh, it must be that church over there. What a great choir!”

I walked over to them to inquire what song they heard the choir singing. “I don’t know,” answered one as the two looked at each other quizzically. “It was something about walking in the light of God.”

I know you think I’m crazy, but somehow, I wasn’t at all surprised.

Then, we traveled to Fingueras where we were boarded a boat for Ribadeo, a beautiful seacoast town with magnificent views of the ocean and lovely homes that are part of this fishing village.

This is the traditional route of The Camino. Pilgrims take the boat across the way and continue on the route to Santiago.

This is the last of the coastal route, the last time we will have such amazing views of the ocean. The rest of The Camino is inland until we get to Santiago and continue to Finesterra.

And, it promises to rain all day tomorrow, Sunday, and into Monday.

Never mind. Today was more than sufficient for the day. Let me tell you what happened.

Once we landed, the van met us to take us for a special treat to see The Natural Cathedral. Unbeknownst to us, our guides had planned the trip carefully so we could be there at low tide, the only time the beach and Cathedral are available to walk along.

I’m hoping I can upload the pictures and video so you can get an idea of what it is like. If I can’t, please wait a few days and return to check it out. I’ll try to add them when the WiFi is better. It will totally be worth it. Promise.

So, what I saw was the kind of Cathedral only God could create. There are HUGE rock formations with caves that were created from before time.

I went in one of them with a small group of other pilgrims but suddenly, I turned around and I was all alone. I had been studying some carving in the side of the rocks. I don’t know where everyone went but I was quite alone.

I felt a small wave of anxiety and looked at my watch. Our guides had been pretty emphatic – the tide would start to come in at 2:30, and, when the tide came in, it would come in quickly. It could be dangerous, they said. So, start to leave at 2:15.

My watch said 1:50 pm. Plenty of time. And, I could see the exit. So, I relaxed and, in fact, started to giggle a bit. I felt like a little kid left alone in a cathedral. Any minute, I expected the Dean to walk in and shoo me away.

Instead, I think God showed up. Suddenly, there was this great light, streaming down from an opening way, way, way above my head. I was absolutely awestruck. The light was very bright but not blinding. There was this absolute stillness in the cave that was so filled with peace and love it made me weep.

I looked up and a few of the peregrino were looking into the cave with absolute amazement and awe. We looked at each other across this shaft of light and then, just as suddenly as it arrived, it made its departure.

None of us really knew what we had experienced but we knew it was Holy. It was not something that words – in any language – could contain. So we nodded and bowed to each other and left silently, reverently, forever changed.

I’m sure you’re thinking, “Okay, she’s lost it. She’s taken one too many Aleve. Or, maybe the air is thin at that altitude.”

I’m speaking the truth to you. And, I know this much to be true: my hands are trembling as I tell you what happened to me today.

I know there are more amazing things to come over the next five days, but you know, if The Camino ended right here, right now, I would be deeply grateful and richly satisfied.

It’s raining now, softly and gently on the ocean. It had been thundering and lightening as I was writing this.

I don’t know what that was, actually.

I just know there are no coincidences.

I can’t express my gratitude that you are willing to experience this with me. So, I’ll just say what the Spanish people say: Gracias a la vida!


Saturday, October 13, 2018

Day 5, Stage 4: La Isla-Priesca (13 km/8 miles)

The Way leaves La Isla by dirt road leading to the villages of Bueno and Colvian to Colunga, up the hill to Cabonota to our final destination of Priesca where we visit the church of San Salvador, in the Principality of Asturia, a10th century chapel buil by Alfonso III.

We started the day inspired by some words from Parker J. Palmer, in his book, “Let Your Life Speak.”
“Most of us arrive at a sense of self and vocation only after a long journey through alien lands. But this journey bears no resemblance to the trouble-free “travel packages” sold by the tourism industry. It is more akin to the ancient tradition of pilgrimage – “a transformative journey to a sacred center” full of hardships, darkness and peril.

In the tradition of pilgrimage, those hardships seem not as accidental but as integral to the journey itself. Treacherous terrain, bad weather, taking a fall, getting lost – challenges of that sort, largely beyond our control, can strip the ego of the illusion that it is in charge and make space for the true self to emerge. If that happens, the pilgrim has a better chance to find the sacred center he or she seeks. Disabused of our illusions by much travel and travail, we awaken one day to find that the sacred center is here and now – in every moment of the journey, everywhere in the world around us, and deep within our our hearts.”
I elected today to opt out of the “cliff hanger” segment of The Camino. It is a steep climb up a cliff which follows the ocean. The path is reportedly only approximately 12-15 feet wide in places, only 2-3 feet wide in others, with no fence or guide rope between you and the cliff and the ocean. 

Oh, and there are people on bikes who claim first right to the path, so you have to step back and cling to the cliff as they go by.

Sure. Like that would really happen for me.

So, I decided that I have been on lots of cliffs in my life – both physical and metaphorical – and I will most likely be on another one before I take my leave, but not today.

No, not today.

So, I walked around the little village of Bueno, standing eye-to-eye with cows and horses, talking with people who lived there, me in my broken Spanglish and they in there’s.

I met a wonderful old man who simply assumed that I understood him – and I did, mostly – who wanted to tell me about this shrine in the middle of two trees.

He said that the chestnut tree was many, many centuries old but, after the Spanish Revolutionary War, it had been hit by mortar and began to die. Someone in the village decided to take a piece of wood from it and helped it begin to root. The miracle is that, in the midst of the war, the shoot did take root and another tree began to grow next to the old dying tree.

Another miracle happened when the original tree, from which the shoot had been taken, saw the new tree growing, it, too, began to get healthy. And now, there are two beautiful chestnut trees in the center of town, with a wee little stone shrine to San Sebastian in the middle of them.

As near as I could understand the old man, who had a delightful way of winking at me as he tapped his forearm against my forearm for emphasis, said that it was “the blood of the martyrs that watered that tree, giving it life and hope for the future.”

I did get the punctuation to his story when he said, “There will always be Spain! Always. Always. Always.”

And, he blessed himself three times, the way Spanish people do, even if they are not Catholic. First, a cross on the forehead. Then, a cross on the lips. Then, a cross over the heart, And, finally – big finish – a Big Cross, sweeping broadly from head to navel and then, shoulder to shoulder.

“Buen Camino!” he said, “Your path is this way, but all the roads to the Camino lead to your soul,” he said.

“ . . . . the sacred center is here and now – in every moment of the journey, everywhere in the world around us, and deep within our our hearts.” (Parker Palmer)


Thank you all for joining me on this Camino.

I feel your presence and your prayers and your support.

It means the world to me. 


Thursday, October 11, 2018

Day 4: Early lessons from The Camino

Today, we walked a total of 7 miles, the last four of which were on the magnificent Oyambre Beach. As I walked and the ocean roared, I began to have some thoughts about what The Camino has taught me thus far.

The WiFi here is simply terrible so I can't upload the pictures I want to show you but I'll just let these  things speak for themselves.

Walk with your eyes wide open. Open your heart even wider.

Expect beauty and you will find it.

Expect kindness and the cosmos will provide it for you.

Expect kindness and you, too, will become kind. You will have no choice in the presence of the kindness available to you in the Cosmos.

Rest. Frequently. This is not a race. It is a pilgrimage.

This is the way you will learn the truth of the saying, “Do not rush, pilgrim. Your destination is within you.”

Your mouth is at least ten times larger than both your nostrils. There is a reason for this. You will get more air in your mouth than through your nostrils. There is a down side to this. Several, in fact. Your mouth will get drier, faster. And, you may get too much air, causing your head to feel light. As much as you can, try to breathe through your nose.

Walking sticks are very helpful. I do not know the science of them and I am certainly no expert, but I have learned that walking sticks help me to balance the weight of my body. My knees, ankles and back do not hurt as much when I use walking sticks. Walking sticks also sing to me – “clip, clip, clip, clop, clip, clip, clop” – encouraging my next step if I want to hear the rest of the song.

You are never alone on The Camino. First, there are the friends you have never met. They will pass you and say “Ola” or “Buenos Dia,” just when you need to hear the sound of another human voice.  Or, they will wish you “Buen Camino” when you have become so absorbed in thought that you have forgotton why you are here.

There are also saints on The Camino – those who have gone before, those who are here, and those who are yet to come.  I have heard them whispering to me. Some have been yelling – just when I’ve needed it. Some bring me sweet memories that provide me with lessons I had learned but forgotten and needed to learn again. Some tell me of things they have seen, or I am about to see. Some encourage or warn me. No matter. They are here. Now, I invite them to make themselves known to me.    

One woman with a very thick German accent told me that the secret to walking the Camino i not to think of the road as an adversary but to embrace it as a lover. “You must, from time to time, make little noises in the back of your throat, the way a woman does to her lover so that he – or she,” she said, with one eyebrow raised, “- will know that they are getting you to the place you have not been, perhaps, but need to be.” Her eyes smiled at me and she continued, “And, when you finally arrive, you must praise the road and thank the road. For it has taken you more places than the limits of its path.”

The magic of The Camino is, in part, because it reconnects you to our Mother, the Earth. Your feet are on the ground. One foot. Then, the other. Again. You feel your own weight on it. You feel the support of Mother Earth, carrying you, once again, as the infant you are and will always be in her eyes. Thank her.

Silence can be icy cold. Silence can be warm and inviting. Silence can hold within in it the possibility of terror or the hope of healing. Silence can fill your heart with song or dread. Silence can be holy, even when you do not expect or invite The Holy.

Remember when your mother asked you to share? Perhaps it was not a request. Perhaps it was an expectation. It might have even been a demand. Sharing comes surprisingly easy to the peregrino. Someone can see you struggling to make a piece of moleskin fit over a blister than threatens on an odd place on your foot. Out of nowhere comes a pair of scissors small enough to make just the right cut so that it fits. The peregrino is surrounded by a free-flowing, easily accessible Spirit of Generosity. The peregrino wants to share.

Endurance is not a wall. It can be. It does not have to be. You can visualize it differently. I have visualized endurance as a picket fence with a gate, latched on my side. I can see what’s on the other side and I can choose to open it. Or not. Or, I can rest for a while at the gate before deciding whether or not I want to open it and continue. It is not my enemy or adversary. It is what it is. It is endurance. How I use it is my choice.

I am excited to learn and know and experience more lessons from The Camino.

I am so very grateful that you are walking along with me.

Day III: The City of Three Lies

Just before I woke up this morning I heard my mother’s voice. She was telling one of her favorite stories about me. I don’t remember it but she did. Apparently, in my semi-dream, she still does.

The story goes that the summer before I was to start my first day of school in the first grade, I was so excited it was all I talked about all summer long. I had to pick out a special “outfit” which my mother put on layaway at Arlan’s Department Store. I had a pair of blue – not, brown, not black, blue – Mary Jane Shoes. I had white anklet socks which my grandmother hand-trimmed with white lace. I even had the breakfast I wanted picked out for the morning, just to start the day off right.

My mother’s story has even more detail than that but the bottom line is that my first day of school was a great success. From all reports, I loved it – even the walk to and from school which was approximately a mile each way. I came home for lunch, gobbled it down and went straight back to school, skipping along the way.

The next morning, my mother reports she woke me up for the second day of school. “Get up, Elizabeth,” she called. “Time to get ready for school!”

“School?” moaned I as I rolled over, “I already went to school yesterday.”

Insert uproarious parental laughter here.

It was just about that time that I felt the first wave of queasiness in my stomach. “C’mon, get up!” I heard my mother’s voice say, “You have to go to school.”

I opened my eyes and thought, Right! It’s the second day of The Camino. Of course my subconscious brought up that story. But, boy, it sure felt like my mother was right here in the room with me in Bilbao.

Another roll of queasiness hit my stomach as I made my way into the shower. I chalked it up to anxiety about trying to walk up another hill.

I had a lovely breakfast out on the 7th floor Terrace of the hotel in Bilbao, which overlooked the roof of the Guggenheim Museum across the street. We gathered in the hotel lobby for our orientation session and body warm-up, stretching exercises.

The word of the day was “self-care” and the question of the day was, “What is my deepest calling?”

Interesting juxtaposition, I thought.

Today’s walk was a total of 9 km (a little less than 6 miles) through the beautiful towns of Otanes, Santullan, and Samano and ended in the Northern Seaport town of Castro Urdiales, on the Bay of Biscay.

There were three checkpoints along the way. The first segment was a gentle walk of a little over a mile through bucolic farmland. Cows and bulls with bells round their necks roamed the hillside without any visible fences – which made a few of us a bit nervous. Dogs barked behind fences as we approached. The last roses of the season were making their appearance along the road even as the leaves were beginning to turn color.

I’m not sure but I think it was the smell of manure that rolled my stomach the first time. I felt queasy and slightly nauseous, so I stopped to rest my body against a wall and take a sip of water.

That’s when it hit: Neptune’s Revenge.

I had thought twice about eating the ensalada with pickled stingray last night. I mean, are we really supposed to eat stingray? Is that why it is pickled?

I made it the rest of the way to the checkpoint but there was this really nasty hill waiting for me. The only reason I made it up that hill was sheer determination which was steeled by the sight of our transport/medical van.

I sat down on the bench at the bus station and broke out in a cold sweat. The next thing I knew, Jose, our driver, was walking me over to the van, clearing out a place for me to lie down in the back, instructing me to lift my feet, putting a cold compress on my forehead and fanning my face while saying, in Spanish, “Just breathe. Relax. You’ll be okay.”

And, I was. Of course. Just a little drama for the day. I was given AQUA-rius – the Spanish version of Gatorade to sip – and lots of TLC. Nunzio, our guide, said that AQUA-rius is “a miracle”. I said, well, maybe so, but the kindness and compassion in Jose’s eyes healed me completely.

Seriously. He was so concerned and so loving, it brings me to tears just remembering the look on his face or the gentle way he squeezed my hand when he came to check on me.

I stayed in the van with Jose and two other pelegrinos whose bodies were sore. We drove to the next checkpoint, skipping the two-mile walk in the middle. After a bit, I was able to walk across the street to a grocery store – right next to the MacDonald’s (no joke) –where I used the bathroom and bought a ginger ale.

As my fellow peregrinos returned from the second segment of their walk, I felt strong enough to join them. Off we went for the 2 mile walk into the charming seaside town of Castro Urdiales, making our way around the glorious vistas of the Biscayne Bay.

It simply took my breath away and began to heal my spirit and allow it to soar again.  

Most of my fellow peregrinos decided to have lunch at a very popular seafood restaurant. I decided to pass. Instead, I had a very simple lunch of a potato onion frittata and a small glass of white wine. It was absolutely perfect.

I passed on the chance to tour the Altamira Caves and came directly to our hotel in Santillana del Mar. It is known as “the city of three lies” since there is neither a saint (Santo) nor flat (llana) and has no sea (Mar). However, the town’s name comes from Santa Juliana (or, Santa Illana), whose remains are reportedly buried at Colegiata a former Benedictine monastery and now a church here in town. 

The town has cobblestone streets and all the buildings are made of stone. Only residents are allowed to drive in the town. Everyone else must walk.

It’s very quaint and lovely and pristine but I wonder what it must be like to actually live here, among the relics of saints, and all this stone. And, all these tourists.

I decided to go to dinner and ate a light but luscious meal. I’m feeling ever so much better. Tomorrow will be a bigger push: 12.4 km (7.7 miles).

I don’t think my mother will return to get me out of bed. After all, it will be my third day of walking The Camino.

Her work is done. Now she can go back to her rest.

On my second day of school, I became a life-long lover of learning and a perpetual student.

Today, I took care of myself and discovered my deepest calling.

I will learn how to become a life-long lover of Camino and a perpetual peregrina.

It is such a blessing that you are making this journey with me. Thank you.


Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Day One: Elegant

Hotel De Londres y Inglaterra

I just wanted to put a few pictures here in my journal.

This pilgrimage is called "Walk in Beauty" and is known as "the kinder, gentler Camino".

The Spanish seem to use this word a great deal " Elegant".

That's really how it has been so far. Elegant

This was my supper last evening. We ate at a five star Michelin restaurant. It was part of the package. Dinner is part of the package. Every night. And, we are eating like this.


Here's the menu from La Muralla - a five star Michelin eatery in San Sebastian

You'll be able to see it below, but I stated with the Ensalada de langostinos (shrimp) which was served in an emulsion of avacado and amazing spices and topped with fresh greens.

I didn't take a picture of the rice but it was just a wee small bowl, top with a clam and head of asparagus.

A "taco" is a "brick" of bacalao (cod) or deshusesada (pork).

I had the Cofit of Duck - picture below.

Then came a wee small glass of red juices which tasted like strawberries and raspberries and topped with a dollop of yougurt.

The wine flowed freely during all of this. I very much enjoyed the Blanco Castilo de Aza. It was light and crips with a slight aftertaste of swee fruit.

And, if you know anything about me you don't even have to guess that I had the Bizcocho fluida de chocolate with a small scoop of passion fruit sorbet.

They did make American decaf coffee for us, which was pretty strong and very black. I had it con leche because, well, Spain.

So, here's the feast:

Ensalada de langostinos    

Confit de pato asado

Bizcocho fluida de chocolate
Yes, this is a pilgrimage.

It's called Walk in Beauty.

We are surrounded by beauty.

The meditative word for today was "Savor".

This was part of that meditation.

Buen Camino!

Monday, October 08, 2018

Day One: Madrid to San Sebastian

If I could sum up this first day in one image, it would be this glorious basket of bread.

Let me explain.

So, we set out at 8:30 AM from Madrid, all of us loaded up on a van bound for San Sebastian.

It was a very beautiful, leisurely ride. We stopped in Burgos for lunch at Don Nuno which was amazing. I had the soup and fish stew. The picture of the bread above is from that restaurant.

But first, we toured a bit of the city, especially the Cathedral.

Among it's many features, the tomb of El Cid is in the sanctuary there.

The bell tower is an imposing structure with gargoyles carved into the side. The folks in town call them "The Fly Catchers" because it is said that when the bell is rung, the tower shakes and the mouths of the gargoyles open and close.

Imaginations tend to run high during long siestas, especially on hot days.

I'm going to scatter some pictures of the day here and there, randomly, in no particular order. But what I really want to do is to tell you why that bread is the image of my first day, readying for the actual start of The Camino.

I'm about to tell you something that some of you will think I'm absolutely crazy. And, you know what? I don't care. It's my truth and this is my journal/blog, so here goes.

My father's spirit is here. I feel him more than I have at any other time in my life.

I'll feel a tap n my shoulder and I distinctly hear his voice saying, "Look! Look! Look at this!"

And there will be some amazing sight like a quaint villa, or a bucolic scene like sheep in a pasture, or suddenly, a small square church with a crucifix on the very top of its roof will appear, sitting in solitary vigilance on the top of a hill with absolutely nothing around it for miles and miles and miles.

And, I hear my father's voice say, "See? Didn't I tell you? Aren't you glad you didn't miss it?"

But, nowhere is my father more present than in baskets of bread.

Let me explain.

My father was a very simple man. He had no more than a 6th grade education. It was The Depression and his father pulled him out of school to help on the farm. His mother had died the year before, leaving his father with five kids, three boys - Antonio (Sonny), John and Daniel and two girls, Gilda and Angelina.

That first year was very hard on everyone.

By the end of that year, my grandfather married an "old spinster" who, my father said, was "meaner than a wet hen". I think he was trying to be kind.

She beat the children. Often. They went hungry. Often. She hated them. They hated her. The minute my father could leave the house, he did. He was 17, lied about his age, and signed up for the army to fight in WWII.

I remember his two younger sisters, Gilda and Angelina, were grown women with husbands and children of their own and, whenever they visited with their brother, at some point in the conversation one of them would say that they never forgave him for leaving them alone and unprotected with "that woman, Papa's wife."

It must have been really bad.

Between his childhood and what we now understand to be Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from his experiences in WWII, my father self-medicated with alcohol.

He was a mean drunk. Violent. I still carry some scars.

I forgave my father years ago and am at peace with my relationship with him.

He did the best he could. It fell far short of what I needed or wanted, but it was the best he could do, given all that he, himself, had been through.

I have a few wonderful stories which have served as instructive parables in my life.

But, today, I got in touch with what is perhaps his most precious gift. It is most precious because he didn't even realize he was giving it to me.

When I was a little girl, I used to love to sit on my father's lap and have him read to me. It didn't matter what the story was - and, there weren't many children's books then - but I loved that time with him.

I would press my ear against his chest and listen to his deep voice as it resonated against his lungs and ribs and chest wall.

In my youthful innocence, I imagined that this was what God's voice must sound like: Ethereal and yet human. Other-worldly and yet very present.  Strange, and yet very familiar. Capable of doing great harm in harsh judgment and terrible, thundering, angry words, but also capaable of being soft and tender and loving.

I also remember my father's voice at the dinner table. He would always say, "Eat bread. Come on, have a piece of bread. It will fill your tummy and you'll sleep better."

It wasn't until I was much older that I realized that this was probably the one loving thing his father might have said to them at their dinner table - when they had little else but bread and maybe some broth as a meal.

I was also much older when I realized why my father stopped reading books to me. I was very hurt when he did. I would bring home my books from school and he would insist I read them. He would read "the baby books" to the younger children and tell me that I was too old, now. Reading books was for babies and I was no longer a baby.

Well, one day, it finally occurred to me. He didn't read those books because he couldn't read those books. When I realized that my father was functionally illiterate, I broke down in inconsolable sobs that squeezed my chest until I couldn't breathe.

So, I found ways to read the newspaper to him. "Hey, Daddy," I'd say at the breakfast table. "Did you hear about this?"

"No, what?" he'd ask, even though he had long ago figured out my little game.

And, I'd read him the story from the Fall River Herald News, which, I leaned, was written at the time at a 6th grade level so that the people in that mill town, made up of so many men like my father, could read and understand.

That's the voice I heard in the van. I heard it again in the Cathedral. And, again in the restaurant, urging me to eat some bread.

His voice has been with me all day.

Today, in this amazing country which looks and feels so much like the Portugal of my grandfather's youth, I find myself deeply connected to my father.

My father's spirit is here in this place. It is as nourishing to my soul as a basket of fresh bread.

It is said that no peregrino is ever ready for The Camino but The Camino is always ready for the peregrino

I think I'm ready.

Thanks, Daddy.