When we lived in Cambridge, MA where we were going to seminary (I say we intentionally because when you have a vocation to family, seminary is a family endeavor), there was a very odd but quite delightful little man who roamed the streets named Brother Blue.
Brother Blue was the street name for one Dr. Hugh Morgan Hill, a gangly Black man who was an ordained minister and graduate of Harvard, Yale, and Union Theological Seminary, who told parables, life stories, and idiosyncratic retellings of Shakespeare’s plays.
His voice was deep and resonant and he had a commanding stage presence. He was equal parts entertainer, shaman, motivational speaker, and, as he liked to say, “holy fool.” Some described him as “the John Coltrane of storytelling”.
Brother Blue dressed, as you might imagine, all in blue. He usually wore blue sweatpants but sometimes jeans, a blue turtleneck, blue shoes and socks, a blue beret, and a blue denim jacket. Pinned or sewn into the shoulder area of the jacket were pins or banners or, sometimes, long ribbons of all the colors of the rainbow.
Brother Blue’s mission and ministry was as a prison minister and an itinerant storyteller. When he wasn’t visiting the inmates in “The Boston Birdcage”(which is now, ironically a very posh hotel in Cambridge, just down from Mass General Hospital) he walk all around the busy, bustling Harvard Square area, sometimes stopping in a large area in between stores and shops but mostly gathering under the big oak tree in the cemetery of Christ Church at Zero Garden Street or in the yard in front of First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church on Mass Ave.
He would begin small conversations with small numbers of folks which soon began to become a small crowd. At some point, he would pull back from the crowd and close his eyes and become quiet.
At that point, a reverent but expectant hush would fall over the crowd as we waited for the story he was going to tell to connect with him from the universe.
We never had to wait too long but it always felt like an eternity when a broad smile would cross his lips and his eyes would pop open and he would begin:
“Hello! I’m Brother Blue,” he would begin, moving his hands in like a magician, first close to his heart and then out to the crowd which had just as magically become a congregation.
“I’m here to tell a story from the middle of the middle of me to the middle of the middle of you.”
I don’t remember many of the stories he told. That wasn’t the point of telling the story. The story was only told to make a connection, to find a home, a place to live for a while before moving on to the next person who needed that connection.
Brother Blue regarded storytelling as a sacred duty and a path to universal harmony. “When you tell a story, you tell it to all creation,” he once said. “It’s cosmic. It never goes away.”
The other night at dinner, one of the Peregrina who will begin her journey with the rest of us today asked me, “When people ask you to describe The Camino, what do you tell them?”
I’ve been struggling to answer that question and the one which often follows it, “Why are you doing The Camino again?”
I think I have an answer – not THE answer, but AN answer. Here’s the short version:
The Camino is a sacred pilgrimage which is best done in community.
Yes, the pilgrimage ends in Santiago, where legend has it that the remains of St. James (San Iago) were found, but in many ways, the end of The Camino is just the beginning.
That sacred pilgrimage isn’t so much a place but a way. The way. That’s what The Camino means. The way. It is not even THE way as A way to connect with a part of yourself that is longing to be un-covered or dis-covered or re-covered.
And, I think, the Camino presents you with a way to reconnect with that part of yourself through the sacred stories of your life which will return to you as parables.
That can happen anywhere, I think, when done with intentionality, but it has happened most profoundly for me when I have created a sacred space and walked a sacred path where other faithful pilgrims once traveled.
And that is where Brother Blue comes in.
I think I’m here on this pilgrimage – again, but on a different route, from literally a different angle – to allow those stories I have forgotten or pushed down or ignored to return.
Some of them are painful stories. Some may well be lost to me forever, lived during a time when I was mostly unconscious because if I had been fully aware of the daunting task before me I would have been paralyzed and frozen in fear.
Some of those stories are stories of pain inflicted on me. Other stories are stories of pain I inflicted on others. I’m here to invite them all back ‘home’ – from the middle of the middle of me to the middle of the middle of the cosmos.
I am relying on Brother Blue’s promise that not only are these stories a ‘pathway to universal harmony’ but that “When you tell a story, you tell it to all creation,” he once said. “It’s cosmic. It never goes away.”
I need to re-member, re-cover, and/or dis-cover these stories because, ultimately, this is a journey to forgiveness.
I need to ask for forgiveness for things some of the stories some remember but I don’t. I need to forgive myself not only for the things I’ve done and left undone but don’t even remember doing – or not doing. I need to forgive others for the resentment and hate they hold in their heart for me.
But, mostly I need to forgive myself not just for not living up to my own expectations of myself and those others have had of me – which really has less to do with any ‘sin’ I have committed – but primarily for the ways in which I have fallen short of the reasons God created me and gave me most this amazing life.
I’m here to ask forgiveness and be forgiven and forgive. I’m here to begin to let go of all that which has bound me to anything which is unnecessary to sustain life. I’m here to lighten my burden so that when the angels come for me with my wings, I’ll be able to take flight and return to The One who called me into this life.
So, I am here. I am saying to the Universe, “Here am I,” just as the first human said to God when God asked, “Where are you?” If prayer is a response to God, then that is my prayer. I am saying with the first human and all the humans who have walked The Camino: “Here am I.”
I’ve placed myself on the path. I am trying to perform a death-defying act of getting out of my own way. I am on The Way. I am traveling to the “middle of the middle of me”.
And so, once again, it begins.