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Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Creation Care: Fire

 

Note: The following was presented via webinar at the Advent Series "Creation in Crisis: Meditations on Earth, Water, Air, and Fire" at the Washington National Cathedral, Tuesday evening, 12/29/22. 

 

I am both delighted and daunted by our conversation this evening, so I want to begin with a disclaimer. I have absolutely no credentials which give me the right to speak to you tonight on either Creation Care or Fire. While I have a deep affection for St. Francis, I am not an environmentalist or scholarly theologian. My theological perspective does not come from the Academy; neither am I a fire fighter or a park ranger.

 

I know that fire burns and fire can destroy. One of the first things I learned as a toddler about cause and effect was for one of my parents to point to the stove and say, “Hot!” The frown on their faces while simultaneously pulling away their finger or hand from the stove led me to understand that “HOT” was not a good thing.

 

When I was old enough to hold more complex thoughts in my brain, I later learned is that ‘hot’ or ‘fire’ is not a good thing if used improperly. The stove was, in fact, “hot” because it was doing something good – cooking food, washing the dishes, making water a more comfortable temperature for bathing, boiling water to kill bacteria, warming the house.

 

When I was even older, I understood this idea of the holding of completely different facts as truth was called “paradox”.  Fire can hurt and fire can help. It’s but one of the many paradoxes which the earth holds deep in the mystery of its center. More on this later.

 

So, what I am – or like to think I am – is a good citizen of the universe, a comrade in the movement to take care of and tend to “this fragile earth, our island home”.

 

I speak to you in your home, listening in, hoping that you, too, came to this webinar because you also strive to be a good citizen  and comrade, and you, too, sense the urgency of this moment in our lives to do better and be a better child of God and tend to our creation. Advent seems a particularly good time to think about being pregnant with possibilities for a new creation.

 

So it is from that perspective that I come to you tonight, this first week in the Season of Advent, to talk about Creation Care and the element of fire. I’d like to start by first defining what I mean when I say, “Creation Care”. And then, I’ll turn my attention to the element of fire.

 

First, I believe strongly that care of God’s creation is a Gospel issue, in that I believe repentance and reconciliation are central to the message of the Gospel and the mission of the church. If you recall, our catechism (sometimes called “An Outline of Faith” BCP p. 855 ) tells us that the mission of the church is to “restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ”.

 

Repentance and reconciliation are central to restoration. We cannot ‘restore’ something – return it to its former owner, place or condition – without repenting and then reconciling the damage that was done that caused it to need restoration in the first place, even though we know that the actual thing that was taken or damaged or destroyed may not ever be able to be completely replaced.

 

So, then, repentance, reconciliation and restoration are essential ground work to fully receiving the gift of the resurrection of Jesus from the cross and empty tomb. And, the gift of that spirit of resurrection is grace – grace to see that out of death comes life; grace to know that the tomb that appeared empty is actually filled with hope and possibility; grace to know in the deepest places of our knowing that the passion of Jesus fires our imagination and creativity.

 

And, I must add, these two – imagination and creativity – are what I find most lacking among Christians in general and the institutional church in particular. In my view, it's part of the reason we are in this crisis. It's time to start thinking out of the box. More on this later.

 

The gift of the grace of the resurrection leads us to the transformation of our lives. We become newly born again in the spirit of reconciliation and restoration. Our lives are transformed as we strive to live in greater unity and harmony with ourselves, To love our neighbor as ourselves as the Great Commandment decrees, to love one another as Christ loves us, as Jesus asks in the New Commandment, with God and with each other in Christ Jesus, just as it says in the mission statement of the church in the Outline of Faith.

 

On these cornerstones, then – repentance, reconciliation, restoration, resurrection and transformation – rests my understanding of the work of Creation Care.

 

I hope you have some comments or concerns or questions or wonderments about what I’ve laid out as my understanding of the work of Creation Care. I understand that I’ll be able to take your questions and we can have a bit of a conversation – such as it is in this technological format – about this increasingly important issue in our common lives.

I want, now, to turn our attention to the element of fire.

 

In his fascinating and compelling book, Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari, reports that << some human species may have made occasional use of fire as early as 800,000 years ago. By about 300,000 years ago Homo erectus, Neanderthals and the forefathers of Homo sapiens were using fire on a daily basis. Humans now had a dependable source of light and warmth, and a deadly weapon against prowling lions.

 

Not long afterwards, humans may even have started deliberately to torch their neighborhoods. A carefully managed fire could turn impassable barren thickets into prime grasslands teaming with game. In addition, once the fire died down, Stone Age entrepreneurs could walk through the smoking remains and harvest charcoaled animals, nuts and tubers.

 

But the best thing fire did was cook. Foods that humans cannot digest in their natural forms – such as wheat, rice and potatoes – became stables of our diet thanks to cooking. Fire not only changed food’s chemistry it changed its biology as well.

Cooking killed germs and parasites that infested food. Humans also had a far easier time chewing and digesting old favorites such as fruits, nuts, insects and carrion if they were cooked. Whereas chimpanzees spend five hours a day chewing raw food, a single hour suffices for people eating cooked food.

 

The advent of cooking enabled humans to eat more kinds of food, to devote less time to eating, and to make do with smaller teeth and shorter intestines. Some scholars believe there is a direct link between the advent of cooking, the shortening of the human intestinal track, and the growth of the human brain.

Since long intestines and large brains are both massive energy consumers, it’s hard to have both. By shortening the intestines and decreasing their energy consumption, cooking inadvertently opened the way to the jumbo brains of Neanderthals and Sapiens.

 

Fire also opened the first significant gulf between man and the other animals. The power of almost all animals depends on their bodies: the strength of their muscles, the size of their teeth, the breadth of their wings. Though they may harness winds and currents, they are unable to control these natural forces, and are always constrained by their physical design.

Eagles, for example identify thermal columns rising from the ground, spread their giant wings and allow the hot air to lift them upwards. Yet eagles cannot control the location of the columns, and their maximum carrying capacity is strictly proportional to their wingspan.

 

When humans domesticated fire, they gained control of an obedient and potentially limitless force. Unlike eagles, humans could choose when and where to ignite a flame, and they were able to exploit fire for any number of tasks.

Most importantly, the power of fire was not limited by the form, structure or strength of the human body. A single woman or a small child with a flint or fire stick could burn down an entire forest in a matter of hours. The domestication of fire was a sign of things to come.
>>

 

That sign of things to come has arrived.

 

As I was writing this, I checked the web page “Fire, Weather & Avalanche” which tracks natural catastrophes. Right now – as I am speaking to you – the United States is on fire:

In the state of Washington: 16 fires, 26,505 acres

In Kentucky: 8 fires, 480 acres

In Montana: 46 fires, 21,322 acres

In Texas: 16 fires, 622 acres (a total of 382 fires this year, destroying 54,463 acres, to date)

In Missouri: 11 fires, 136 acres

In Oklahoma: 10 fires, 29 acres

In California: 85 fires, 5 acres (an 8-fold increase in the areas burned by wildfire since 1972)

There are several other, smaller fires in Oregon, Idaho, Nevada and Arizona but these are the major ones right now. It’s important to know that several of these fires have been burning for months.

Drastic climatic and ecological conditions, including climate change and long-term drought, led to the anticipation of a potentially above-average wildfire season on the heels of two previous such seasons in 2020 and 2021.

 

Our country ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, is on fire!

 

What can we do? What are we supposed to do? I mean, I consider the images of the destruction brought on by climate change and pray about them as I dutifully rinse out the jar of mayonnaise or pull apart a cardboard box before placing them in the recycling bin.

I take my cloth bags to the grocery store instead of plastic or paper bags and even have mesh bags for my fruits and vegetables instead of using the thin plastic ones at the market.

I’m careful about using my AC in the summer and heat in the winter. I try to live simply so others can simply live. And yet, despite my best efforts, things seem to be getting worse.

 

Is there anything else that can be done? What am I supposed to be doing?

Here’s a hint: Theologian J├╝rgen Moltmann notes,

“It was modern industrial society which for the first time viewed the earth simply as matter, and no longer as holy. It is time for us to respect the holiness of God’s earth once more”.

With my particular perspective of Creation Care – repentance, reconciliation, restoration, resurrection and transformation – what might happen, what might change, how might we be transformed if we reconcile ourselves to the restoration of the holiness of God’s earth once more?

 

I want to turn now to the particular perspective of the Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, who is the Missioner for Creation Care in the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts & Southern New England Conference, United Church of Christ, as well as the Creation Care Advisor for the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts.


Margaret points to a puzzle that consists of nine dots on a page, lined up in rows of three.

The goal is to connect the dots by making four straight lines without once lifting your pencil from the page or retracing the same line.

The only way to connect all nine dots with just four straight lines is to go outside the borders of the box


Solving this puzzle is an example of “thinking outside the box,” of moving beyond a given paradigm in order to perceive or
accomplish something that otherwise couldn’t be perceived or accomplished.

 


Margaret writes: "That’s what religious and spiritual traditions are meant to do: to help confused, isolated, and fearful human beings to think, feel, and understand outside the box of our little ego-selves so that we can experience our connections to each other and to a sacred Reality greater than “I,” “me,” and “mine.” 

Imagine, Margaret asks, that we live in a world in which everything feels fragmented, divided, and falling apart, a world in which a beloved landscape can go up in flames, a flash flood can drown people in a subway, a mass shooting can take place in your local grocery store, and starving birds can fall dead from the sky.

Imagine a world in which people feel helpless, frightened, and alone, more tethered to their cell phones and social media than to each other, more ready to arm themselves and stock food in their basement than to reach out to help a neighbor, and perfectly willing to douse their lawns with herbicides and to eat cheap beef from a factory farm because the fate of other creatures is of no concern.  Imagine isolated dots, trapped in an increasingly hot, harsh, and violent world that could well tumble into social and ecological collapse.

 

I repeat: The only way to solve the puzzle is to go outside the box. Can the church help people find a way to do that?

 

I would like to ask you to just take a moment here to pause and consider these two images. As you look at the image of nine unconnected dots, I invite you to consider the problem of fire, the paradox of fire with its potential to help and change and transform as well as the potential to do great damage, to hurt and to hinder. 


 

I invite you to consider the unintended consequences of thinking we might “domesticate” fire and, instead, find a force of nature that is wild and, if not respected or well-tended to, can devastate.

And now, I invite you to consider the solution – going outside the box. Notice, please, that in order to connect the dots in four straight lines without raising one’s pen off the paper, the solution is to not just once, not twice, but to three times to move outside the box.

Also notice, please, that the solution, as a whole, forms the shape of a bow and arrow.




Margaret asks: “Imagine now that we find four lines of thought or four arrows of prayerful intention that disclose an underlying wholeness and unity. What if those isolated dots – what if all of us – discovered that we were held together in a sacred reality, that we were embraced by a love that created all things, connects all things, and sustains all things?”  

 

“On the surface, in the realm of our senses, we might notice only differences, what divides us from each other, but in the deep center of reality we would sense common ground that holds everything together, drawing us into community with each other and drawing us into communion with the sacred Mystery that some of us call “God.”  Now we would be living outside the box.  And from this place we could begin to heal ourselves and an ailing world.”

 

I want to be bold and suggest to you that the way of Creation Care is the way of the Gospel. I want to be bold enough to suggest to you that the model of Creation Care – repentance, reconciliation, restoration, resurrection and transformation is nothing other than the Way of Jesus, a path of Christian life which Jesus has set out for us.

 

I want to point to you that Jesus was always pushing the envelope, blurring the boundaries, going outside the box in order to begin to help us turn on the light, wake up from our stupor of sleep and heal ourselves and this old, dark, broken world.

 

It is here, I think, that the mystics can help us, as they often do when it comes to learning to live outside the box. I want to close with a story from one of the great mystics of our time.

This is called The Seed of the Jack Pine, from “Meditations of the Heart”  by Howard Thurman

In response to a letter of inquiry addressed to a Canadian forester concerning the jack pine which abounds in British Columbia, the following statement was received:

“Essentially, you are correct when you say that jack pine cones require artificial heat to release the seed from the cone. The cones often remain closed for years, the seeds retaining their viability. In the interior of the province, the cones which have dropped to the ground will open at least partly with the help of the sun’s reflected heat. However, the establishment of the majority of our jack pine stands has undoubtedly been established following forest fires. Seldom do the cones release their seed while on the tree.”

The seed of the jack pine will not be given up by the cone unless the cone itself is subjected to sustained and concentrated heat. The forest fire sweeps all before it and there remain but the charred reminders of a former growth and a former beauty.

It is then in the midst of the ashes that the secret of the cone is exposed. The tender seed finds the stirring of life deep within itself – and what is deepest in the seed reaches out to what is deepest in life – the result? A tender shoot, gentle roots, until, at last, there stands straight against the sky the majestic glory of the jack pine.

It is not too far afield to suggest that there are things deep within the human spirit that are firmly imbedded, dormant, latent and inactive. These things are always positive, even though they may be destructive rather than creative.

But there they remain until our lives are swept by the forest fire: It may be some mindless tragedy, some violent disclosure of human depravity or some moment of agony in which the whole country or nation may be involved. The experience releases something that has been locked up within all through the years.

If it be something that calls to the deepest things in life, we may, like the jack pine, grow tall and straight against the sky.

 

It is my fervent prayer that the fiery crisis in which we presently find ourselves which melts the snow in Alaska and scorches the plains in California, polluting the air we breathe and the water we drink, threatening every element of fire, air, earth and water that are holy gifts from God – that this very “climate crisis” provides the release of something that has been locked up within us, as individuals and as a people, through the years.

 

It is my deepest hope that that which has been locked up within ourselves is nothing less that love – the love that Jesus exhorted us to have for one another. The love that was incarnate in Him.

The sacrificial love that was born in a humble cave in Bethlehem, died on the cross on a hill called Calvary and was reborn in the empty tomb in Palestine. The love that lives in us all when we discover the Christ in me and seek and serve the Christ in all creatures and creation.

 

I hold fast to the promise of which French Jesuit priest, scientist, paleontologist, theologian, philosopher and teacher, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin once wrote, 

“The day will come when, after harnessing space, the winds, the tides, and gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, we shall have discovered fire.”

Thank you for your patient listening. I now invite your questions and comments, your curiosities and wonderments.

 

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Prepare ye the way!


 
Make way! Make way! Make way!

This day is already unfolding very rapidly and looks to be jam-packed with eventful and meaning-making possibilities.

The husband of a dear friend died this morning at 4:30 AM, with his devoted spouse by his side. This day will proceed predictably in a slo-mo haze of grief, with voices that sound as if they are being spoken through a filter of thick mashed potatoes. While this date will remain etched on the memory of the soul, mercifully and over time, the specific memories of this day will dim through the haze of time, and the exact details will become difficult to recall.

The daughter of another dear friend has gone into labor and a new being - a first grandchild - is about to make a debut into a world of unimaginable pain and exquisite beauty, both are enough to make a soul weep at the possibilities. This may be precisely why we come into the world wailing at the top of our voices. The unknown potentials of life deserve nothing less.

The sister of yet another dear friend lies on her bed, waiting for her battle with cancer to end while her spouse and siblings whirl and twirl in their well-scripted dialogue and precisely acted dysfunctional roles - their director, long dead but offstage and silent - trying to make sense of that which is illogical and unreasonable and, in the main, cruel and yet stunningly normal and inexplicably beautiful.  

And yet the seconds and minutes tick away with abandon and terrifying freedom, out of anyone's control and yet perfectly ordered, transforming themselves, without permission, into a day in the life, which will soon become a week, a month, and eventually another year.

In the midst of it all, I offer my humble prayer to let it be for the grieving as it is for the joyous; let it be for those who sit and wait as for those whose time has come and passed; let it be for those who regret as for those who anticipate.

Let it be.

It is the only honest prayer I know.

Except to say: Make way! Make way! Make way for another day!

Sunday, November 20, 2022

When We All Get to Heaven

 

"When we All Get to Heaven"
A Sermon preached for the Feast of Christ the King
St. Peter's, Lewes, DE at 5 PM 11/19/22
St. Martha's, Bethany Beach, DE at 9 AM 11/20/22
(the Rev Dr) Elizabeth Kaeton

 

Please pray with me (sung)
"When we all get to heaven,
what a day of rejoicing there will be.
When we all see Jesus,
we’ll sing and shout the victory.”

In the name of God, Amen.

 

Today, besides being Sunday and the day after Diocesan Convention and the day of Annual Meeting, is the Feast of Christ the King. On the liturgical calendar, this marks the end of the liturgical year. Next week, the first Sunday of Advent, begins the new church year.

 

Once again, we will follow the life of Christ set out for us in the seasons of the year: Advent (pregnant with anticipation), Christmas (the joyous celebration of the birth of Jesus), Epiphany (celebrating Christ the Light of the World), Lent (His adult life, suffering, and crucifixion), Easter (his resurrection), Pentecost (the gift of the spirit of his resurrection and birth of the church), All Saints (evidence of Life eternal), concluding with Christ the King.

 

Did you notice that our celebration is called the Feast of Christ the King? It’s not Jesus the King, but Christ the King. I have two stories for you that happened just this week that I think will help you understand why Christ – and not Jesus – is the Sovereign of our lives of faith.  

 

Some of you know that I’m a Hospice Chaplain. Besides activism, Hospice is my real passion. I feel like I’m finally old enough, and after 36 years of ordained ministry, have enough experience to know some stuff that, more often than not and to my surprise, actually does some good.

Mostly, I've learned that it's often best to just shut my mouth and open my ears. It's been a hard lesson to learn, but I'm getting there.

 

This past Thursday I got a chance to work with one of our Hospice docs who works in our inpatient unit in Milford. His specialty is symptom management and he’s especially good at it – especially pain management as well as respiratory ailments. It’s a real gift which he shares lavishly with our patients. 

 

When he calls the team together around a particular case, he always begins by saying this (my best impersonation of Dr. D: “Okay, so we’ve got one shot to make this right.” And, someone will always mutter, “But, no pressure, right doc?” And we all giggle softly.

 

He’s right of course. In this life, in that situation, the pressure is on. Odds are good that this patient will die before we will. So, the clock is ticking on how quickly and well we can make this patient pain-free and at peace before s/he takes their leave. We want to make sure that the patient knows that he is loved and cherished, and that they face death with dignity and respect.

As a pastor and a theologian, here’s what I see: The Jesus in the doctor is face to face with the Jesus in the patient and the time is now – today, right now, this now, now now – for a little modern miracle to manage the pain or the breathing or the restlessness or whatever the symptom so this person will be able to leave this world in peace.

 

In that situation, Jesus is Sovereign. It is the teaching of Jesus which leads us to walking the way of sacrificial love. It is the teaching of Jesus which guides that Hospice doctor and the Hospice team to lay down everything we’ve ever learned or experienced in service of that patient, so that their life will come to its end knowing that their life was so valued that it was worth every effort to make certain that they received the best care possible.

 

It’s a beautiful, spiritual thing, which may give you a bit of an inkling as to why I’m so passionate about Hospice Chaplaincy.

 

So, here is the story of why Christ is not the surname of Jesus but Christ is the sovereign of our lives.

My spouse has been in contact with one of her cousins – it’s one of the positive aspects of Social Media – which has been especially comforting since her mother, my spouse’s aunt, recently died.

 

Her cousin – I’ll call her Jane – just sent a note which told a fascinating story that left us all slack-jawed. As Jane was cleaning out her mother’s home, she found a cookie tin which her mother had conspicuously left on her perfectly made bed. She thought it probably contained all of her bills and other financial information. Clearly, this cookie tin was meant to be found.

 

Turns out, it was not filled with bills. Rather, it was filled with love letters from the man who was obviously the love of her life. And, that man was not her husband; it was not Jane’s father.

 

As Jane read the love letters – which her mother obviously meant for her to find and read – she began to piece together the stories she recalled her mother told her about a former boyfriend, “her first love,” as she called him, whom she didn’t marry because he was from a foreign country and she didn’t want to leave her mother and move so far away from her family.

 

So, she married – “settled” as Jane called it – for another man and “settled down” and made her life and her family here. Jane said that as she looked over the pictures of her mother and “her first love” she compared them with the pictures of her mother and her father and there was no matching the different smiles on her face.

“My mother beamed when she was with her first love,” she said. “I never saw her smile like that. She was obviously so happy with him – that man she called her first love – but I realize now was the love of her life.”

 

Jane’s grief was filled with regret. “I wish I had asked my mother more about him. About them. I wish I could let her know how much I loved her for what she did and how much I wish she didn’t have to make that sacrifice. Today, that wouldn’t be an issue. But then, it was the only choice she felt she had to make.”

 

Then she said something quite remarkable. She wrote, “My hope now is that these two will find each other in heaven and finally celebrate in heaven the love they couldn’t have on earth.”

 

And that, my friends, is the power of Christ the King.

The word Christ comes from the Greek word Christos meaning ‘the anointed one’. The Hebrew word meaning the same thing is Mashiach, or as we know it—Messiah. We know without a scintilla of a doubt that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the one anointed by God because of the miracle and gift of His resurrection.

 

So, when Jesus says to the criminal hanging next to him on the cross, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise,” he was saying that because he knew that in three days there would be absolutely no doubt in anyone’s mind that he was The Christ.

 

And, because Jesus is The Christ – because of his resurrection – we, too, will be with Him and with each other in Paradise. Jesus could promise life eternal because he is the Christ.

 

When Jesus is Christ the King in our lives, we, too know that we don’t have just “one shot to get this right”. We know that we have the gift of today – this day, this one precious moment in our lives – but because the Christ is Sovereign in our lives, we also have the gift of the resurrection.

We, too, will be able to leave behind all of our regrets, all of our memories written down on yellowing paper and left in a tin with old, fading pictures. We know that we will not count the cost of the sacrifices we make for love in this life because we will have life eternal with all the saints who dwell in Light Eternal.

 

So as we end this year in the church with all of the seasons of the life of Jesus, we end it celebrating that Christ, the anointed one, the Messiah, the resurrected Jesus, and we can sing with confidence that old, old hymn:

“When we all get to heaven,
what a day of rejoicing there will be.

When we all see Jesus,
we’ll sing and shout the victory.” 


Amen.


Saturday, November 12, 2022

Camino: Coming Home Again


 

Coming home after Camino. From pilgrim to citizen again (and back)


 

The realization hit me full force as I walked into the Cathedral piazza in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, for the first time in 2018: I am a pilgrim.

Not a hiker. Not a tourist. Not a visitor to holy places. A pilgrim.  

I have traveled with a sense of openness and adventure and curiosity. I have traveled, not just with my body but with my mind and heart, my soul and my spirit.

I have been part of a ‘moveable community’ of fellow pilgrims who bear witness to each other’s journeys. I recognize in the faces of other pilgrims the state of my own soul: I know, deep in the deepest place of knowing that, even though I still am who I am, I have been changed and transformed and will never again be the same. 

 

After I finished the Coastal Camino Portuguese in 2022, I was glad I planned to have a few days to decompress and rest after that great spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical high of having completed this amazing journey.

Soon enough – too soon – it was time to travel back home. That had been an aspect of the pilgrimage I hadn’t adequately planned for after my first El Norte Camino in 2018.  This time, I was better prepared to make the journey from pilgrim to citizen again.

 

I’d like to share with you what worked for me.

 

First, it’s important to practice being gentle with and kind to yourself. Re-entry is a very tender time. The excitement of returning home combined with the sadness of leaving can create what the Celts call “a thin space” – a spiritual time when heaven and earth come very close. Your heart has been wide open. This is a time to learn to put a protective fence around it. Not a wall, but a fence. With open spaces. And a gate. With a lock. On the inside, so you control what or who goes in and what or who goes out.

 

Be gentle and kind to yourself so you can be gentle and kind with others and be patient when yet another person says, “So . . . tell me about your hike!” and your impulse is to raise your voice and say in a tone and volume you didn’t intend, “It wasn’t a HIKE, it was a pilgrimage!”

Breathe. Deeply. And say, simply, “My pilgrimage was really incredible. Let me gather my thoughts a bit more before I share them with you.”

 

Which leads me to the second thought: Share your experience appropriately. Try to resist giving a PowerPoint Presentation to a large group of interested folk. Not for awhile, at least. Begin slowly, perhaps over a cup of tea or glass of Port Wine, with a trusted family member or friend or colleague. This is where keeping a daily journal on Camino can come in handy, but looking over your photo collection will also prompt memories.

As you look over your notes and/or your photos, you might want to explore something your wrote, some observation you made, some insight you had, some brief encounter with another pilgrim that feels right to share at that time.

 

It's more important to stay connected with the things you experienced on Camino than to try to share them with others. Practice awareness. Practice curiosity. Practice a sense of adventure. Practice keeping your body in tune with your mind and your emotions and your spirit. With that practice will come an awareness of when and with whom to share your experience.

 

Third, practice gratitude. This discipline is at the heart of every major religion and spirituality. The verse in that old song “Count your blessings, name them one by one,” is a good mantra to take into daily life.

 

The Buddha taught that gratitude is a reflection of someone's integrity and civility. Gratitude is the confidence in life itself. In it, we feel how the same force that pushes grass through cracks in the sidewalk invigorates our own life.

Three easy, practical ways to practice gratitude include to intentionally notice good things, look for them, appreciate them. Second, savor, absorb and pay attention to those good things. Finally, express your gratitude to yourself or someone else, or write it down.

 

Fourth, practice generosity. This is easier to do the better you get at practicing gratitude. Many people think first of financial generosity but that’s not the only expression of what is, essentially, a spiritual discipline. It may be going out of your way to smile and say hello to a person who seems down, or send a card or email or make a phone call to someone you haven’t heard from in a while.

It may mean holding back criticism – even if it is, in your estimation, deserved – and finding a way to frame your remarks in a more positive, productive manner. Or, it may mean committing yourself to contributing toward a scholarship fund so that someone who otherwise couldn’t afford to go on Camino.

 

For Christians, practicing generosity means to love without condition, lavishly, even as wastefully as the woman who anointed the head and feet of Jesus with expensive perfume. Sometimes, the greatest and most generous gift you can give in this busy, noisy, chaotic world is silence. Practice trusting silence to hold the potential for insights and healing

 

Fifth, practice curiosity. Quaker author and educator Parker Palmer has developed “Touchstones of Group Dynamics”; one of them is “When the going gets rough, turn to wonder”. Turn from reaction and judgment to wonder and compassionate inquiry. Ask yourself, “I wonder why they feel/think this way?” or “I wonder what my reaction teaches me about myself?” Set aside judgment to listen to others—and to yourself—more deeply. Ask yourself, “I wonder if what disturbs me most about this person is a quality I know to have in myself?”

 

Reflect on some of the conversations you had with other pilgrims. Practice asking the same questions of old friends as you did with Camino friends and ask yourself how you might listen more wholeheartedly.

Recall a steep hill you climbed or descended and ask yourself what you learned from that experience which might be applicable to the challenges and down times of your life. Where in your life might you slow down or soften? Where do you find laughter and joy? From the wisdom of the Dine or Navajo Nation chant, Walk in Beauty, what beauty is before, behind, above or below where you are right now?

 

These five are suggestions based on what I learned after both my Caminos. Try them on, one at a time, and see how they might work for you.

 

I am learning that “once a pilgrim, always a pilgrim”. I am a citizen of the world and a pilgrim of The Way. 

 

Buen Camino!

Ultreia et suseia!

 

 

 Camino.  

Camino: Home

 

Home.

Home.

It's something I've thought a lot about while I was on Camino. I didn't intend to. I was pretty focused on forgiveness. That was my intended work.

But the Camino knows better what the pilgrim needs.

I did a great deal of work on forgiveness, as a matter of fact. I even entered into the process of "The Camino Holy Year Plenary Indulgence" not because I care about or believe in purgatory much less the institutional church's claim and promise to keep you out of that alleged place of punishment.

Please note: I mean no disrespect to those who do believe in Purgatory and/or Plenary Indulgences. I entered into the process as a form of spiritual discipline that might be good for my soul no matter the intended outcome of the institutional church.

If you recall, in order to get this Plenary Indulgence in the Xaobeo Holy Year, one had to:

1. Complete the last 100 miles of The Camino.
2. Say the Apostle's Creed, the Our Father, and a Prayer of Intention for the Pope.
3. Receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation and Eucharist.
4. Enter the Holy Door (only open during the Xaobeo - Latin for James - Holy Year which falls every 5, 6, 5, and 11 years when the Feast of St. James - July 25th - falls on a Sunday) of The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostella within 15 days of having made a good confession, and having received absolution and communion.

I did all that plus all the internal spiritual work required and it was a good and a holy and an important thing.

But, this idea of 'home' kept visiting my thoughts.

Perhaps that is because that is one of the questions you ask and are likewise asked by fellow pilgrims on the Camino:

"And where is home for you?"

I admit that was a bit startled when two very different people at very different times answered, "Well, I'm from _____ (one was Australia, the other was France), but I feel most at home here, on El Camino."

I confess that I was startled because that sentiment resonated deeply with me. I have come to understand that I feel most at home while on the journey.

Perhaps that's why I've done The Camino twice. Both Coastal Routes: El Norte, and Coastal Portuguese.

Perhaps this is why of all the places I've lived in my life, here at Llangollen is where I've lived the longest but from which I've done the most traveling: Hawai'i. Thailand. Cambodia. Viet Nam. Scotland. Palestine. Egypt. Spain. Portugal.

Perhaps, here at Llangollen, I feel most secure so that I can be at home on the journey.

Perhaps I am more in touch now, especially with the work of Hospice, with the fragile, limited, transitory nature of our time here on what Eucharistic Prayer C in the '79 BCP calls "this fragile earth, our island home."

Perhaps 'home' and 'journey' are just metaphors for the spiritual life, the place of 'soul', and the place of 'work'. The place where our essence and purpose lie within us, and the place where we live out who we are and why we are here.

Here's the truth of it all: I am home. Now. I was home. Then. I am more at home now than I was before I left. And, I know I have many more miles to walk before I am finally home.

That's about as deep as I care to get this morning on Facebook.

Oh, except this: This artwork I've posted is a gift from Marley Camino to all of the Pilgrims who walk the Camino with her. The artist is Zamo Tamay, an Irish ink and paper artist from Belfast who has been commissioned to do this work.

At the base of the image of the Cathedral de Santiago de Compostella are these words: "Now everything is near. I have made wings for my feet."

I do not know the source - perhaps Zamo himself? - but they are said to be a spiritual reflection on Psalm 91, which some Rabbis teach that Moses composed while ascending into the cloud hovering over Mount Sinai, at which time he recited the psalm as protection from the angels of destruction.

Others say it is a reflection of the poem "Wasteland" by T.S. Elliott, which some say is a testimony to the enmeshed pattern of the human spirit and human culture - or the place we call our earthly "home".

Either way, the "wings for our feet" is a metaphor for faith. When we have faith, everything is near. The journey is our home - along with the place where we hang our hats.

So, well, there it is, then. Perhaps another cup of coffee is the most necessary thing now.

Off I go into a day where one does the things one does when one is "back home": Laundry. Relaxing. Reflecting. Coffee. And then, more laundry.

Ultreia et Suseia!

(Note: This is one of the more ancient greetings on The Camino, besides "Buen Camino". One pilgrim would greet another with "Ultreia " which means "Beyond!" The other pilgrim would respond, "Suseia" which means "And higher!" However, experts also say that the Calixtine (check it out) Code also used the word Ultreia to mean “Alleluia.” And so, for some "Ultreia et Suseia" was also an expression of hope that they would meet up again, here or perhaps one day in heaven. It is sometimes called "The Pilgrim's Flamenco Song.")

Camino: Back in Lisbon


 If you had said to me on the day of my priestly ordination, being the Feast of St. Luke, October 18, 1986, that I would be sitting in a cafe in Lisboa, Portugal, on my 36th Anniversary, enjoying a veloute of vegetable soup, some delicious bread with a choice of fig butter or amazing olive oil, and a glass of vinho verde, I would have laughed right in your face.

If you ask Ms. Conroy, she'd agree with me wholeheartedly.

We were so far in debt with student loans that if we thought about it for too long, one of us would break out in hives.

My salary as a University Chaplin at ULowell, MA was so low that, even with a part-time position of Priest In Charge at St. David's Episcopal Church, just over the border in Salem, NH, to supplement my income, we still qualified for food stamps.

And, the institutional church had not one scintilla of either concern or shame about that. The prevailing attitude was, hey, if you're a woman and you want to be ordained in The Episcopal Church, well, ya gets what ya gets and ya makes the best of what ya gets.

And, be grateful because, well, didn't we try to tell you?

We're all "independent contractors" in TEC, didn't you know? The IRS knows that. Clergy should, too. Better accept it and start acting like it.

Never mind.

There's a wonderful old gospel hymn that goes:

… Well, I wouldn't take nothin' for my journey now
Gotta make it to Heaven somehow
Though the devil tempt me and he tried to turn me around
He's offered everything that's got a name
All the wealth I want and worldly fame
If I could, still I wouldn't take nothin' for my journey now.

The process of discernment and the process of ordination were ones that were clarifying in more ways than the institution likes to define. I got very clear about who I am and who God made me and what God is calling me to be and do and, most often, that had little or nothing to do with the institutional church

There's a little exercise that the Church Deployment Office (CDO), now called the Office of Transitional Ministry (OTM), has clergy do. Well, at least, they used to. Heaven only knows what they do now.

The exercise was that you had to come up with a vision statement for your ordained ministry in one sentence.

I worked a long time on that exercise and, last time I checked, it had not changed. It is this:

"I seek to serve God and the people of God through The Episcopal Church as one who serves as a leader in a community of faith."

That's it. That's been my vision of the gift of ordination into which God has called me.

It's all about service. It's about honoring the priesthood of all believers (the laity) by being part of a community of faith in the ministry of servant leadership.

And, it's about The Episcopal Church as the vehicle of that ministry - not the goal or the purpose or even the point.

Jesus is the point. The body of Christ is the point. Not the institutional church - that's just the vehicle.

That has never changed. Not for me. It's been challenged and tested. It's been questioned and rejected. It's been celebrated and honored. But, it's never changed.

This Camino has provided further clarification and affirmation of my vision statement.

This Camino has provided ample evidence and affirmation that now is the time to do other kinds of servant leadership in other communities of faith.

The universe is calling me to other challenges, other ways of edifying the faith journies of other seekers, Christian and non.

There has never been a more important time to encourage religious curiosity and imagination, a time to appreciate a Theology of the Abundance of God and God's creation, and to move away from the Theology of Scarcity that infects so many congregations and clergy, including (and especially) bishops.

It is a critically important time for intelligent religious discourse that questions assumptions and challenges carefully constructed premises.

I think the problem with the "vitality" of the church is that we don't have enough servant leaders who are willing to take risks for the gospel, because all of the issues with which the church dealt in the 70s - the issues on which I cut my theological teeth - continue to be red-hot items of concern in communities of faith.

And, not too many are willing to take them on.

I thank God for the gift of Hospice Chaplaincy. Every day. Where I get to talk about Really Big Issues of Faith with people who are staring into The Abyss.

I'm also deeply grateful for the gift of being able, now, to be a member of a vibrant community of faith that is not afraid to take some risks for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I'm deeply, richly blessed.

Mind you, I have no idea how I got to this place in my vocation. How I got to be so lucky. How I got to be so well-placed. How I have so many opportunities, now, to do good work for Jesus. How I'm more willing to take the risks of the Gospel because the price of not doing it is more than my soul can bear.

I am just so very, very grateful to be where I am at this time in my life and vocation.

So, I'm just going to sit here, at this table, at an outdoor cafe in City Center of Lisboa, Portugal, reflecting some more on the past 36 years and what the future might hold.

The Camino has prepared me well for this next time of discernment.

As one of the verses of that old gospel hymn goes:

… Oh, there's nothin' in this world that'll ever take the place of God's love
All the silver and gold wouldn't buy a touch from above
When the soul needs healin' and I begin to feelin' God's power
Then I can say, thank the Lord, I wouldn't take nothing for my journey now.

Ultreia et suseia!

Camino: Santiago




Camino: Santiago October 13, 2022

 As you can probably tell from the date stamp on these posts, I am posting these last few days on the Camino almost a month after I left Spain and Portugal. 

It just became all too overwhelming for me. I posted on Facebook but that was really about as far as I got until I was able to absorb that I had actually made it. 

 Oh, I'm not talking about the physical journey. That was never really a question for me. By hook or by crook - or, more exactly, by foot or by van - I knew that I would get to Santiago. 

 The spiritual and emotional journey were far more complicated, the landscape far more difficult and dangerous.  

 I have other reflections to post but the actual day of arrival? Well, that's going to take more unpacking.  Even now, a month later.

 All I can really say is "Ultreia!" and "et susia"

Camino Day 11


 Camino day 11 (October 13)
10th Stage: O Millandoiro – Santiago de Compostela (6.4 km / 4 mi)

And so the ending begins and something new is about to happen. Today we walk into Santiago. Together. As a group. A strong group. A group of pilgrims who have grown very close to one another because we have shared our stories and our hopes and our dreams as well as our disappointments and our fears.

We have broken bread together at table after limping along together out on the trail. We have shared tears of joy and sorrow in small groups. We have walked along together in complete silence that was filled with meaning.

We have gasped together at the beauty of a flower or the way the sun was situated in the sky at that particular moment or rejoiced to see a bathroom up ahead (or an area in the woods that could be used as a bathroom) where relief was just a few meters away.

It has been an amazing journey in which some of us sought love and others sought forgiveness; some chased the illusive answers to the questions that have haunted them for decades; still others weren't sure why they were here except that there was an unavoidable pull - or push - or call to be here, to do this - for whatever reason.

I wept for joy when I saw the twin spires of the Cathedral of Santiago in the distance. Tonight at 7:30 there will be a special pilgrim's mass. Marley has made certain that the botofumerio will be lit in thanksgiving for our safe journey.

I am overwhelmed with gratitude.

I will write more later. I hope to have a session of Facebook live when we walk into Santiago. If I'm not too overwhelmed.

Our journey together is not yet over. Thank you for coming all this way with me.

Buen Camino, my friends. Buen Camino.

PS: Here’s to a 46-year journey with my Ms Conroy. It has been a Multo Bom Camino, my beloved! I will say a special prayer of thanksgiving during tonight’s mass at the Cathedral de Santiago.

Camino Day 10


Day 10 October 12
9th Stage Padron - O Milladoiro (18 km / 11.2 miles)

We are beginning to make our approach to Santiago. Valerie has very sensibly broken up the trek from Padron to Santiago. I'm not certain but I think there are several reasons for this.

The first, of course, is to continue to Walk in Beauty. "Savor" is a word Valerie uses often. Savor the beauty. Savor the moment. Savor the smell of fresh rosemary or eucalyptus. Savor the ache in your leg/feet. All of these things are part of the beauty of being alive, of being human.

You can't do that when you're pushing through one more mile. The goal is not a marathon. The goal is to learn what Camino has to teach you. The destination is the journey within.

The other reason, I think, is that this saves a good part of Day 11 to have time to do our interior group work in the morning. And, then, a 2-hour walk into the city together. That night, at 7:30 PM, we will have a Pilgrims' Mass and Botafumeiro followed by a fabulous "Farewell Dinner and surprise".

On our final morning (Day 12, Oct 14), after breakfast, we have a guided visit in Santiago. We say farewell and adios at 1 PM. Some of us want to go on to spend the next day in Finisterra. We'll see what we can arrange.

But, I'm getting ahead of my skis. As always.

Today is today. Today is a gift. Today is the present. Today is one more day to walk and consider more aspects of the journey I have been called to take.

Today, I am considering the many conversations I have had with my fellow Peregrino who are "deeply spiritual but not at all religious," many of whom are former Roman Catholics. Their scars are deep. Some are still fresh.

I suspect God has mercy and compassion on each and every one of us as we struggle to get deeper into our own souls so that we might be closer to God.

Buen Camino.

Camino Day 9


Camino Day 9 October 11
Vilanova de Arousa - Padron (by boat 28 km/17.4 mi)

Today is an unusual day for Camino. Today, while the interior work continues, we have a more physically, restful, relaxed day here in Vilanova de Arousa.

I've just returned from our interior work session in which we read and reflected on These words of wisdom from Natalie Goldberg

"Whether we know it or not, we transmit the presence of everyone we have ever known, as though by being in each other's presence we exchange our cells, pass on some life force, and then we go on carrying that other person in our body, not unlike the springtime when certain plants in fields we walk through attach their seeds in the form of small burrs to our socks, our pants, our caps, as if to say, "Go on, take us with you, carry us to root in another place" . . . This is why it is important who we become - because we pass it on."

That last line hit me. Hard. It found some place in me that has been longing for forgiveness - seeking forgiveness - from myself and others I have hurt (intentionally and unintentionally, knowingly and unknowingly, some I remember and others I simply can't, no matter how hard I try) and broke it open.

"This is why it is important who we become - because we pass it on."

There is an awesome responsibility in the sometimes randomness of who we are and who we are becoming. It requires living with greater intentionality rather than "dancing through life" like Fiyero, the character in Wicked.

There have been times in my life - perhaps yours, as well - when my preferred mode of being was with "eyes wide shut". I know, that's the title of the Kubrick movie which generally came to mean not recognizing or accepting the fullness of a woman's sexuality. But, the term means so much more than the sensationalized, "erotic thriller" movie version.

Eyes wide shut in the more expansive application means that a person refuses to see something in plain view, because of preconceived notions of what this something should look like.

Sometimes, this is used to describe a person who is naive. And, that may be the case in some situations. At a certain point, I was quite naive. And then, I wasn't. And yet, I still refused to see what was in plain view because I had been carefully taught - and carelessly accepted - what things should look like or be or become.

In the process, people were hurt. I did great damage to my self. To my authentic self. To my integrity. To my own soul.

However, as I discovered, telling the truth about yourself - your authentic self - is very expensive. It can cost you your life. The life you had carefully planned out. The love you thought you had from others - family and friends.

There were several times when I was lost on this Camino - twice yesterday on the beautiful "Road of Water and Rocks". Both times, there was a fork in the road and no yellow arrow to show me the way.

The first time, I encountered a local woman who was crossing the bridge. "Camino aqui?" I asked. She smiled gently and said, in Spanish, pointing to both roads, "Yes, here. And, there."

I looked at here puzzled. I understood what she said but, despite all my work, all my preparation, I was still seeing The Camino with Eyes Wide Shut. I refused to see what was in plain view - that there can be may paths but one way to Camino.

She looked at me kindly, pointed to the bridge, and said, "Aqui. Aqui. Es mas facil asi." And, when I looked up, I saw that the road to the right was steeper and rockier. She was right. The road to the left, over the bridge, was much easier.

The second time was deep in the woods. Again, another crossroad. This time, it was through the ruin of a water house. The path to the left lead down and seemed to follow the river. The path to the right lead up and I could not see what was beyond. Again, there were no yellow arrows to help me decide.

I waited about 5 minutes, hoping for another Perigrino to walk by. No one came. I kept looking around for a sign but found none.

Finally, I called Marco, one of our guides. I tried to explain where I was but Marco wasn't getting the image. "Look up, Elisabeth. Look up. What do you see?"

I thought, "Look up? I want to look down for an arrow, don't I? I want to see what's in front of me, right? What's ahead?"

But, I looked up. And, there, on a tree to my left, high above my head, someone had removed part of the bark of the tree and spray-painted a yellow arrow, pointing to the right.

"I see it," I said, "there it is! Up there! On the tree! A yellow arrow."

"Ah," said Marco, "and now you see: When you are on Camino and you are lost or think you are lost, look up. When you are on Camino and you are lost, the answer will not come from below. When you are on Camino and you are lost, the answer will not always be right in front of you. When you are on Camino and you are lost, always look up. When you are on Camino, the answer will always come from above."

So, this Camino day is the day for me to look up. I'm about to wander around the town and maybe do some shopping. At three o'clock we meet in the lobby to take the ferry to Padron, the place where the disciples of St. James took his remains to be buried, eventually, in the place called Santiago de Compostella.

I recently learned from a casual conversation with a woman from Belgium in Pontevedra that, although people assume that Compostella refers to "The Way of the Stars" that guided so many Peregrino, it may actually mean a "garbage heap" - from "compost" - on which the stars shone. The disciples of St. James may have buried his remains in the town dump to ensure that they would never be found.

Eyes Wide Shut.

Off I go, then. I do have another insight about the relationship between forgiveness and love but I will save that for another time. This is enough for now. Now is for walking around town and down to the water.

Now is for continuing to pick up all the pieces of my life and becoming more of who I am. Because we pass it on.

Buen Camino.