WHO WALKS WITH YOU ON THE CAMINO?

There’s a website with an accompanying Facebook page called “Sad Jesus”. Sad Jesus has a lot of followers on Facebook including many of my friends. Sad Jesus proclaims that…

Saddened by the ever encroaching darkness, Sad Jesus seeks to bring light, name darkness, comfort the broken, and afflict the comfortable who think they have all the answers!! I take for my name, the one I seek to emulate, though sadly, I will always fall short. I trust that Love and Grace will see me through

Who is sad in this statement?  This group (or these groups) names Jesus as “saddened by the ever encroaching darkness” and “I” as the sad one presumably because “I” is a sinner and will always fall short.

I (me), personally am sad. Sad because I don’t hear about Hopeful Jesus, Delighted Jesus, Amused Jesus and more. I believe that God’s Creation is good. Genesis tells us that each day of Creation by God is good and it culminates in Genesis 1:31. After God has created humanity, the text tells us “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.” NRSV

Is the world any darker today than it was when Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil or when Cain killed his brother Abel? It seems to me that the world only seems darker because there are more of us to sin, not that we are intrinsically more sinful.

But if we focus on Jesus’ sadness combined with humanity’s inherent sinfulness we are pretty much set up to fail. What is it exactly that we’re supposed to be doing in order not to fall short? Where is the Jesus of love and compassion who accepts us just as we are, warts and all”? Does Sad Jesus have a list of chores for us to do in order to be accepted? Or does Jesus simply yearn for us to be in relationship?

I have never felt closer to God than when I walked the Camino.  The footsteps of the pilgrims who had walked it for thousands of years before I got there (yes, the Camino pre-dates Christianity) carried me along.  And the other pilgrims I encountered along the way showed me what the love and grace of God looks like in human form. Some of those pilgrims are still part of my life today even though we are thousands of miles apart.

In 1994 I attended my first Five Day Academy for Spiritual Formation. I was truly a beginner on that journey — a journey that brought me into contact with some of the most inspiring, humble, and compassionate people I have ever met. It was a life-changing time.

In the lobby of the retreat house was a reproduction of a painting of Jesus. This picture of Jesus was unlike any I had ever seen. It was Jesus with his head thrown back laughing. Yes, Laughing Jesus! Jesus filled with joy and laughter, reveling in something beautiful, funny, delightful. I’ll take that Jesus any day over Sad Jesus.

Buen Camino

A FABULOUS RESTAURANT NEAR BY

Last night we ate at this fabulous little restaurant near by. We’ve actually eaten there quite a bit since this quarantine began. It’s called The Dining Room. The menu is limited but still very good. There are two chefs and they both do the serving. The lasagna and the fettuccine Alfredo are the best I’ve ever had and one of the chefs makes her own egg noodle pasta and homemade raviolis. And if you like risotto…well let me just say it’s yummy. They also make some wonderful French cuisine such as coq au vin.

One of the chefs has recently begun adding pastries to the menu…croissants, pain au chocolat, and almond croissants.The Dining Room features a different menu each night and once or twice a week they offer a buffet called Leftovers. Sometimes if the meal is a casual one they open up the media room so one can enjoy dinner while watching a movie. Music is also provided during the meals and the selection is unlimited. Everything from classical to jazz to Joni Mitchell to Imagine Dragons.

If you want to relax a little before dinner there is a small bar next door called The Family Room. The wine and cocktail list is small but it’s still a good selection along with some snacks. And if one chooses after dinner a little digestif can be had. And the very best part about The Dining Room is that like so many European restaurants and cafes you are welcome to bring your furry companions along for the meal.

QuaranCamino

I have been thinking of how the quarantine is like the camino. This is a journey. A journey like no other. An opportunity, a struggle, a seemingly impossible task. Sometimes you are alone on your walk. Sometimes you are with others. Always whether alone or not you are on this journey with a host of travelers…those who have gone before you, those on the path with you, and those who are yet to come.

The Camino was hard and long at times. I like to think about the good parts of each day. The company, the solitude, the sunshine, and at the end of the day…the glass of sangria 🍷😊 combined with good fellowship.

This is one of the most difficult things you will do in your life. But remember others have gone before you and others will come after. You walk in the company of a great many saints who will guide you, strengthen you, and love you.

Buen Camino my Friends

WHAT THE CAMINO TAUGHT ME ABOUT THE CORONAVIRUS

I know, you’re sick (no pun intended) of the coronavirus and I’m sick of it too. However I am choosing to try and maintain a positive attitude about it. The Camino was for me a very positive time. Even when it was tough to walk somehow it was better to choose to be happy because grumbling serves no purpose.

I’ve been in a sort of pseudo-quarantine for more than a month now. We are down to about 1 1/4 vehicles since my husband’s car leaks oil like a sieve. He bought a new car, but it’s on order until late May. I would prefer that he take my car and be safe which brings me to my first camino lesson.

I can walk. I have covered as much as 18 miles in one day with 15 pounds on my back. Most places are well within reach when one has to rely on a pair of 1958 feet to get there. These feet, this body transported me 500 miles over 40 days from the town of St.Jean Pied de Port in France over the Pyrenees, all the way to Santiago de Compostela, Spain. I can do it. Today they took me over 5 miles to the grocery store and back where I bought a dozen eggs so I can make egg noodles and a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon that was on sale. Life is good.

The second thing I learned is if the distance is too far or will take too long or if it’s on a dodgy road I must ask myself if this is truly something I need or just want. The answer is almost always it’s a “want”. I would have loved to have more clothes to wear on the camino but the reality is I only needed 2…the blue shirt and the orange shirt.

The third thing I learned is to indulge my creativity. That really translates into making the most of what I have. On the camino I had to figure out a lot of new things. One morning in our apartment we woke to find that the electricity had gone off in the night. No lights…and it was really dark! Glen said, “I guess we’ll have to wait until the sun comes up to pack our things.” I said, “Are you kidding? I’m going to use my headlamp and get ready to go.” After all we brought those headlamps to walk in the dark on early mornings. Dark is dark.

Sharing and kindness are essential always and everywhere. On the camino I saw a woman stumble with a knee injury. Within minutes an impromptu camino pharmacy cropped up with every sort of pain reliever, anti-inflammatory, and medical braces and bandages. People were offering to carry her backpack and lend an arm for support. Our little community made sure she made it to her destination and was comfortably installed in her hotel.

Don’t hoard. The camino will provide. I had heard and read that expression from many people and in many books. And it’s true. One day while crossing the Pyrenees I was running low on water and had no snacks with me. I was worried. Then I turned a corner and there on the path was a man with boxes of oranges and bananas and a cooler with cold water. You need to understand that there is no road for a vehicle to get here. He had to load all of that into a cart and pull it up the trail to get to that spot. I think that was the best tasting banana I’ve ever eaten.

So back to the coronavirus…I hate this virus. I worry about my granddaughter who has spinal muscular atrophy and uses a cough assist machine because her chest muscles are weak. I worry about my son in law who had a kidney transplant and is immuno-suppressed. I worry about my cousin who is elderly and has health issues. Yes I hate that this is happening in our country and around the world. And I’m going to do all I can to get through this…with a 😊 smile!

Buen Camino

MERRY CHRISTMAS

Hello Friends

I pray you are all having a blessed day.

I am having a wonderful and quiet day. Last night was filled with family, food, laughter, presents and just the right amount of wine. But there was one present today for me. No one else would call this a present, but I do 😉

As many of you know my daughter Melissa has been on a hiking adventure herself. She and a friend flew to Chile and hiked to Patagonia. The bottom of the world! 🌎 She is truly an adventurous woman and I am proud of her. Part of my support for her was to let her borrow as much of my Camino equipment so she could save money.

Yesterday Melissa and her husband arrived in the afternoon to begin the holiday festivities. I’m not going to lie I have been anxiously awaiting the return of my backpack and when I saw it in the trunk I had to restrain myself from grabbing it and hugging it. Really! I had an internal reaction like being reunited with an old friend. Her husband insisted on carrying in all the luggage (including my backpack) and he put everything in their bedroom. My daughter Danielle and her family arrived then so I didn’t have a chance to ask for my backpack back…pack back? You know what I’m saying.

This morning we got up and had some coffee before Melissa and her husband took off to spend the day visiting his family. I went upstairs and their door was open just a bit so I went in and there in the corner my backpack was propped up. Honestly I couldn’t help myself; I picked it up and gave it a hug. I felt so happy holding it in my arms. I thought, “Now I can go back to the Camino.” Then I unpacked all my equipment and greeted each piece like the friend that it is. All of these items were with me for the entire walk and helped me to make it to Santiago.

Me and my friend

It was a very good reunion 😊

Buen Camino

Ultreia

Merry Christmas

POST CAMINO REFLECTION #7

Today I am out of the house and “working” at the library. It’s all fine and well to cocoon at home, but the time has come for me to emerge and return to the world. I can still bring the camino with me.

It’s also time for me to stop avoiding this blog community, all of you who have journeyed with me, kept me company, prayed for me, lifted my spirits, and encouraged me. I wasn’t sure where this blog was going to go after I left Santiago. Where does Michelle go after Michelle Walks The Camino? I’ve been very reluctant to face that question. But now I know.

You can take the woman off of the Camino, but you can’t take the Camino out of the woman. At least not this woman. Every day is filled with memories of people, places, impressions, tastes, smells, and the way my heart is stirred by the Camino. The Camino is in me and it has shaped me in to a new person. So the only place to go is back to the Camino.

This time I will walk the Camino Frances alone. I don’t know if I will carry my backpack all the way again. There’s no pressure to adhere to the dictates of the Camino to receive a Compostela. I will give myself a longer time to walk this camino so I can stop and soak in more of the sights along the way. Walking every day, even if it was only 6 miles took a lot out of me and more than anything at the end of the day I just wanted to be clean, get something to eat, and go to bed. If I’m tired or in too much pain I will try to adjust in order to take time to rest and heal.

I hope you will continue with me as this camino ain’t over yet.

Post Camino reflection #6

Today I am out of the house, in my workout clothes (including my Camino trail runners), and am about to begin walking the track.

This is a big deal for me. For so long I have sequestered myself in the house venturing out only when absolutely necessary. It’s not as though I have become an agoraphobic. Rather it is that I have immersed myself in the small domesticities of tidying and cooking. Don’t worry it’s not as though I’ve become maniacal in cleaning. 😉

On the Camino my world was large but very slow and deliberate. Now my world seems large and fast paced. There are so many people at the grocery and so many things to choose from.

At home I feel very Benedictine as I fold the laundry or stir a white wine sauce to serve over homemade pasta. It has become my sanctuary with candles burning. My music is my hymnal…sometimes modern, sometimes country, sometimes taize.

And I think about my life.

I’ve been re-reading Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor’s book, Traveling with Pomegranates. I read this about 6 years ago and I was so taken by this memoir written by a mother and daughter that I bought copies for my own daughters. I know my oldest read it but I doubt the other two did since the oldest described it as a “cry-fest”. Nonetheless I still find words to cling to that sadden me and yet illuminate the possibility for hope.

It almost bereaves me to think of unrealized potentials dying inside, the small miscarriages of self.

Sue Monk Kidd, Traveling with Pomegranates. Page 100

POST CAMINO REFLECTION #5

Tomorrow will be the one month anniversary of my return to my home. I’m in much the same spot I was one month before I left for the Camino. I rarely leave the house unless there is a really compelling reason like seeing our new granddaughter or going to the grocery because cereal for dinner is not a good option.

Meet Miss Vivien Grace

A Camino friend recommended a book, RETURNING FROM CAMINO by Alexander John Shaia. I thought this would be of tremendous help to me in understanding what is going on inside of me.

Unfortunately it isn’t as helpful as I had hoped. Shaia spends a lot of time talking about preparing for your return before you leave. Since I didn’t do any preparation for the return, I feel like I totally failed my Camino. I didn’t write myself a letter to my post-Camino self, nor did I find a mentor to pray for me during my Camino. Although I know I am truly blessed to be surrounded by such wonderful people who prayed me along the way without my even asking.

I have tickets to see Elton John tomorrow night in Pittsburgh and while I’m very excited about this, part of me says, “Eh, I could just stay home and listen to my old albums.”

So what is wrong with me?

I think I have an idea. I think when I leave the house the world is too fast for me. In the car things fly by so quickly that I can’t process what I’m seeing. If I go out for coffee with friends the conversation seems to spin so fast that I can’t keep up with what’s being said. And don’t even get me started on the grocery store. I had a mini meltdown because I couldn’t find the jars of olives. When I did find them it took me almost five minutes to decide which one I wanted.

And just to make things a little more weird…I want to walk, but I can’t seem to get myself out of the house. The world just seems too big and complicated to confront. Truth be told my house even seems too big and filled with too much stuff.

I have to learn how to function in this world, but I don’t want to lose the peace and simplicity I found on the Camino. So I will go to the concert tomorrow and it’ll be great. I hope I don’t get too overwhelmed in the crowd. I’m just going to have to take a deep breath, center my chi, and enjoy the show.

POST CAMINO REFLECTION #4

WHO AM I AGAIN?

Today I received an email from a dear college friend. He’s not just a college friend; we were part of a group that traveled to France to study at the Institut de Touraine in Tours, France. I remember this as a very happy time. We were Americans struggling to become French. Our love of the language, the country, the history, and yes…the wine bound us together in a way we could not on our college campus. My friend has diligently kept track of us. This is what he said…

I am writing you in celebration of the memory of our 40th Anniversary of studying abroad in France. Every year when the Feast of All Saints arrives (Nov. 1st), I think of that weekend in 1979 when we all got to take our first independent trip. In my case, I went to Paris for mass at Notre Dame. Maybe I’m getting old, but those are very happy memories for me, and I hope the same is true for you.

I too remember that weekend. I took the train to Paris to spend the weekend with my cousin Henriette. He then catches us up on his life and invites us to share and to invite others, whose addresses he may not have, into the group.

This feels less like “catch up” and more like a spiritual exercise. I suppose I could reply with what I’m “doing” but that seems trivial. And if I am to respond with who I am…am I version michelle1.0 or version michelle61.0? Am I the sum of the children I’ve produced coupled with their accomplishments and the children they’ve produced? Or maybe I could list the degrees and certificates I’ve attained.

I’m no longer employed since I left my job to train for the Camino. And while I’ve never had a high level job I’m sure that I use my business degree and seminary degree every day…mostly in conflict resolution, scheduling, and praying for Divine guidance.

I know the Camino changed my body. My clothes fit differently and I have planters fasciitis in both feet. And I have pushed my body to attain geographical heights and distances I did not think possible.

I know that my heart and soul have been changed but I cannot describe those changes in words.

Here’s what I do know…

I am not fully who I was and certainly not fully who I am becoming.

…and I learned to make a tasty Santiago cake 😉

DAY 3 POST CAMINO

Yesterday I drove to Pittsburgh to visit my daughter. She’s borrowing my backpack and in a couple of weeks she’s going to hike to Patagonia. It was exciting to talk with her about the Camino and her upcoming adventure.

Today driving home (4.5 hours) I was bombarded by the sight of so many trees along the highway and with the change of colors, bright copper, dark rhubarb, Pinot noir and marigold. But it was overwhelming. It was like a smorgasbord of food and I was going so fast grabbing everything and stuffing my mouth as quickly as possible until I felt sick. I wanted to stop and walk along the path and get close to the trees so I could trace the veins of the leaves. I thought of the buffet and savoring the taste, sight, texture, and smell of everything so that at the end I might be almost full and yet left wanting more.