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

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Day 11, Stage 10: Arzua – O’Pedrouzo (20 km / 12.4 mi)

Today we expect to see many more pilgrims and services along our way, since many of the different Caminos to Santiago will begin to unite. Once again, our route takes us through meadows, forests, orchards and rural villages.

In Preguntono, we take the road leading to Cortobe, Pereiirina, and Calzada. In Saleda the Way approaches the main road leading to Santa Irene, where there is a small 18th century chapel and a covered fountain with the image of St. Irene. Legend says that those who wash their feet in this fountain get cured and released of blisters.

Today is October 18, 2018, the Feast of St. Luke. Thirty-two years ago, I was ordained priest at St. Ann’s Episcopal Church in Lowell, MA. Lowell is one of the old “mill cities” where English mill owners hired young women from England and then Ireland and then Portugal to work for room and board and a small stipend of about one dollar per month.

In Lowell, one of the mill owners decided to build an Episcopal Church in town. Since his wife’s name was Ann, he decided the church should be named after her. And, since church attendance would be required of his employees, he also required that they tithe 10% of their monthly wages to the church. They had no choice. It was required.

There was poetic justice in my ordination there.

I am the daughter and granddaughter and niece of “mill girls” who worked the mills in the nearby mill town of Fall River, MA.

I am also the daughter and granddaughter and niece of labor union organizers who fought for safe working conditions and fair wages and benefits.

My family became activists and organizers after a fire in one of the factories took the life of my grandparent’s firstborn son and namesake, August Lima Medeiros, Jr. 

I am quite certain that the owner of those mills in Lowell rolled over in his grave at the thought of a Portuguese-Azorean “greenhorn” – and, for goodness sake, a woman – being ordained in “his” church.

That is not exactly the vision he had for the future of that church. His wealth and privilege and sense of how the world is ordered would have prevented him from even imaging such a possibility.

Pity, eh?

Last night, I had a “memory-dream” – a dream that I first experienced the night of my ordination in my bed in the house in Lowell where we lived. It comes back to me every now and again.

I remember being awakened in the middle of the night by a light in the room. As I opened my eyes, the light grew bigger and brighter until it filled the entire room. The center of the light was a pinpoint of open space which beckoned me out of the bedroom. I got up slowly from the bed and softly tipped-toed out of the room to the hallway.

There, I saw the entire city of Lowell illuminated, shining beautifully like a brilliant gem in the velvety night sky. It was not at all the gritty, down-on-its luck city one saw in the harsh reality of the day, with mills long-abandoned and bordered up, waiting and hoping and praying for the next wave of immigrants to make them hum with activity again.

I don’t know why, but I heard myself ask the light, “Am I to stay here?”

And, from the middle of the middle of the light, a sound spoke to the middle of the middle of me: “You will travel far in my name.”

And then, that was it!  The light was gone and I was standing in the middle of the hallway, in the middle of the night, all by myself, in the dark.

I went back to bed and convinced myself that I was just sleepwalking – just a little over-exerted from all the excitement and emotion of the day.

But, that dream has returned and haunted me for years. Sometimes, it just appears. Other times, I invite it back so I can understand deeper layers of its meaning.

Thing of it is, that sound was right. I have traveled far and wide, doing this work of ministry.

I’ve worked in and either been canonically resident or licensed in six dioceses – Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maryland, Newark and Delaware. I’ve attended seven general conventions – three times a deputy – and two Lambeth Conferences.

The five years that I was Canon Missioner to The Oasis and worked for Jack Spong, I traveled all over The Episcopal Church, preaching, teaching, presiding and witnessing, mostly in church which claimed never to have met an LGBTQ person before, much less one who was ordained.  

I never would have even imagined, thirty-two years ago, that I would be walking the Camino on this anniversary. Or, as a matter of fact, ever.

I posted this poem on my FB page this morning. It is a poem by Antonio Machado that I discovered a few years ago and it has served to sum up my understanding of my vocation and ministry thus far. I have taken it with me these past 32 years of ordained ministry.

It is the second stanza which has really inspired my sense of ministry. I have come to know that the Bees of Heaven will gather my failures and take them to the Queen of Heaven to be blessed and will return to me as white combs to build new ministry and sweet honey to sustain me.
Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a spring was breaking
out in my heart.
I said: Along which secret aqueduct,
Oh water, are you coming to me,
water of a new life
that I have never drunk?
Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.
Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a fiery sun was giving
light inside my heart.
It was fiery because I felt
warmth as from a hearth,
and sun because it gave light
and brought tears to my eyes.
Last night as I slept,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that it was God I had
here inside my heart.
The Bees of Heaven have been with me on this Camino, taking all my failures up to the Creator who is blessing it and now, even now, is making of it white combs with which I will build the future of my vocation and ministry.

Tomorrow, we walk 20 km to Santiago.

Buen Camino, amigos. I am so blessed that you have come this far with me.,
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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Day 10, Stage 9: Sobrado Do Monxes - Arzua (21 km/13 mi)

And so it begins - moving closer and closer to Santiago. We are leaving the Upper Tambre basin and heading towards Carelle, a quiet livestock village with a parish dedicated to St. Lawrence.

We have been following the paved road through Bodelos, Corredoiras, Boimil and Boimorto in rural Galicia. The end of the stage is in Arzua where the North Way and the French Way meet. There is a natural bee production farm here which is quite lovely and famous. We are staying for a second night in the incredible 17th century manor house Pazo de Brandeso.

Today's poem for reflection is Finding What You Didn't Lose, by John Fox
When someone deeply listens to you
it is like holding out a dented cup
you've had since childhood
and watching it fill up with
cold fresh water.
When it balances on top of the brim,
you are understood.
When it overflows and touches your skin,
you are loved.

When someone deeply listens to you
the room where you stay
starts a new life
and the place where you wrote
your first poem
begins to glow in your mind's eye.
It is as if gold had been discovered!

When someone deeply listens to you
your bare feet are on the earth
and a beloved land that seemed distant
is now at home within you 
She came quickly around the corner, looking distracted, eyes down. She almost ran into me.

"Oh! Sorry," she said.  And then, she back up a half a step and looked at me. She moved her head back and forth, looking at me.

"Oh, my," she said. "You look different today. I mean, I almost didn't recognize you."

I smiled and then felt suddenly like a self-conscious teenager, and a bit embarrassed.

"You ARE feeling better, aren't you?" she asked.

"Yes, yes I am," I said.

"It shows," said she. "Welcome back.'

"Or, " she said with a smile, "perhaps I should say, welcome."

Several of my fellow pilgrims have smiled and asked, "Feeling better?" Others have just smiled a knowing smile.

Most of the toxins I had been carrying within my body are now gone. I am able to breathe more deeply than before. A full breath. In. And, out.

I'm sure I have not lost a pound. In fact, I'm sure I - we all - have gained weight. (How could we not?)

And yet, I feel so much lighter. Brighter.

I feel like I am more of who I am. More at home in my self. 

I was reflecting on this poem and realized that I have not said much of anything to my fellow pilgrims about my interior journey on this pilgrimage and yet, it seems, I have been deeply listened to and heard.

Anyway.

The particulars of the subject or issue matter not. My fellow pilgrims have been listening. They know. They see me. They hear me. They care.

And the truth of the matter is that I have been listening deeply to each one of them. I know. I see. I hear. I care.

I don't know how that has happened without speech or conversation. I only know it has.

I came to this Camino with a curiosity about many things but one of them was the personification of The Camino. People speak about The Camino as if it were a person.

Goodness knows, I've easily fallen into it.

"The Camino will teach you."

"The Camino will guide you."

"The Camino will provide."

I've thought it an interesting phenomenon - the way some people personify evil as Satan or good as an Angel. It makes it very convenient never to have to take responsibility for your own evil. Or, for that matter, to claim and own your own goodness.

While I still believe that's true, there is something . . . magical . . . or, mysterious . . . . or, at least, inexplicable . . . about the personal transformation that happens on The Camino.

I can't really explain it. I think it's one of those things you have to experience to know.

I have come to decide that that "something" that happens, happens because of deep listening. I suspect that deep listening can happen when one meditates or prays.

But, the walking  . . . .
Something happens in the walking.
Something happens in the walking in a different place.
Something happens in the walking in a different place where basic things are the same:
Earth
Rocks
Trees
Dogs
People
And yet, everything is different enough to have to pay attention.

Something happens in the walking
You walk and walk and walk, miles and miles and miles
And suddenly find yourself in a place deep inside you
Memories
Thoughts
Joy
Tears
People
And, you find yourself a stranger in a familiar land.

Something happens in the walking
When you listen more deeply to your surroundings
more deeply to yourself
more deeply to others
loving yourself more
being more gentle with yourself
so you can love
and be more gentle
with others.

Something happens in the walking.
You learn a new way to pray
that doesn't assume God is parent
but Creator
not as One who judges and condemns
but One who naturally gives and naturally takes
One who listens deeply
and inspires creation
and re-creation
in you.

Something happens in the walking.
In two days, we will be in Santiago, entering the city where for thousands of years millions of pilgrims have made this walking journey.

Something happens in the walking where millions of others have walked with intention.

There is something inexplicably marvelous and magical and mysterious about that.

We'll just call it "The Camino".

I know I am forever changed.

I am finding what I didn't lose.

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.
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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
knew:
the treasure in this map
is buried
          not at journey's end
          but at the beginning.  

Amen. 
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!

Amen.
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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)

Amen.

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. 


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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.


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