My cousin Charles died last Sunday. Charles was in his 80’s and had health issues so this was not a total surprise. He was in the hospital in December and came home on December 31st with hospice care. On the morning he died my cousin Janet came to take away his breakfast tray and Charles told her he loved her. When she returned a few minutes later he had passed. What a lovely and gentle way to exit this world and enter into the Kingdom.
At the funeral I learned a lot of things about Charles. You see even though I met him over 50 years ago when he and my cousin Janet got married and though we have seen each other many many times over the years, I never really knew Janet and Charles. They’re deaf. And I never learned sign language. It got a little better over the years as some of my second cousins learned to sign and could translate for us. I speak more French, Spanish, and Italian than I can sign. I can even passably ask for coffee with hot milk in German. The only sign language I know is I love you, thank you, and a curse word. I won’t say which one.
I’ve been thinking about Charles all week and every time he comes to mind I think of these three expressions and I feel ashamed for not trying harder to learn sign language. But a few days ago a new thought presented itself to me. If I could only learn 3 expressions in any language I’d be hard pressed to find three more useful phrases.
What if every conversation started with “I love you”? That would be amazing! I love you. I Love You! I LOVE YOU! Right away the conversation would affirm that each person is lovable and beloved. So many conversations would be more pleasant. It’s hard to be ugly and ill-mannered when someone says, “I love you” to you. It’s hard to mistake the meaning of I love you.
And what if every conversation ended with the words “thank you”? Thank you for talking with me. Thank you for hearing me. Thank you for spending this time with me.
And who among us has not found it useful from time to time to employ a curse word? Sometimes only an expletive can express a thought or feeling adequately. And for those who abhor the use of swear words I will quote one of my favorite philosophers, George Carlin, who said, “Shoot is just s**t with 2 O’s!”
So maybe I didn’t know that Charles loved to fish or that he was a diehard Bengals fan. I think at the least Charles and I expressed the most important things to each other.
Tonight over dinner we talked about the Camino. We played a game I call “Do you remember…?
Do you remember the town where we had dinner with Wynn & Roberta?
Do you remember the young man who fell and screamed a 4 letter word and how I ran to help him?
Do you remember the place we ate where I had that wonderful chorizo stew that the restaurant called “soup”?
Do you remember the blind Frenchman I walked with while you walked with the Australian mechanical engineer?
I have to tell you that I think about the camino every single day. I should thank the ladies I had lunch with at the Two Year Academy for Spiritual Formation who told me stories of the Camino and who suggested that I walk the camino as my second year “project”. I’ve never really thought of myself as being able to produce a document or “project” of any real substance. So I thought…all I have to do is walk. I can walk. Five hundred miles?! Ah, so I might not finish :-}. What the heck, I’ll do it. Easy peasy! Little did I know.
I remember a lot of hard days walking and I remember some easier days. I remember one day that my body was really in the zone and I was striding up hills. I remember some women calling out to me, “Hey you’re not supposed to walk that fast.” Another day I remember getting to the hotel before Glen and falling across the bed unable to move, but unable to sleep either. I was so tired. I did walk the Camino Frances. OK I did take a cab or bus 3 days of the walk. I had a rule of thumb that if my foot (I have a janky ankle, yes, “janky” is a medical term) kept me awake at night I would rest it the next day and catch a ride to the next town. All the rest of it I did walk. What I didn’t know is that the camino would tether itself to my heart in this way. I didn’t know the camino was calling me then, but I sure feel it calling me every day since.
When I wake up in the night and can’t sleep I often think about the camino and it hurts sometimes. I pray that I will again feel the wind on my face, the sun and rain on my back, and that I will walk a new walk with God by my side.
This question began its infestation in my brain shortly before Halloween. What I’m about to say is sacrilege but I don’t really like Halloween. I’m uncomfortable wearing costumes and while I love the little kids who come to trick or treat, the older ones…you know who I’m talking about…the teenagers dressed as a hobo or a dead cheerleader carrying a large pillow case begging for candy…not so much.
Our granddaughter Vivien was born on October 30th last year so for her first birthday party it was a costume party and I was told in no uncertain terms that I must be in costume. You can imagine how thrilled I was. So I spent a lot of time obsessing over this costume and then I had a brilliant idea…I would go to this party as a Pilgrim. What a great costume! I’ll find the hat, the cape, the boots, and the staff, even the little gourd to hold my vino tinto 🍷. So I went online and searched Pilgrim costume and what I found was not exactly what I was thinking of. You see the camino has come to be so much a part of me that when I think of pilgrims I think of St. James, not the Mayflower Pilgrims.
And this got me to thinking, “Why do we call them ‘pilgrims’?”
I did a little research and this is what I found…
Roman Catholicism was the official religion until Henry VIII wanted to divorce his wife who couldn’t manage to provide a male heir. So he wanted a divorce in order to try his luck with another woman, but the Pope said that was a no no. So Henry declared The Church of England to be the official religion instead of Roman Catholicism and the king, Henry himself, would be the head of the church. Easy peasy, declare yourself the head of the church, give yourself a her-fault divorce and move on to the runner-up. The Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church were essentially the same in theology and worship except for that whole Pope thing. Over time though small changes began to creep in. A group tried to separate themselves from the Church of England to worship in their own fashion but that was illegal. This group eventually split into 2 factions. One group, known as Puritans because they wanted to “purify” the Church of England stayed in England to work on reformation. The other group went to Holland where they thought it would be easier to worship the way they wanted to.
Eventually the group in Holland became dissatisfied. They were discriminated against economically as the best work went to the local protestant Hollanders. There were signs that the Jamestown Colony in America was more open to allowing people to worship as they wished. So the Holland group went back to England and made arrangements to sail for Jamestown. The Puritans heard about this and some of them decided to join the party and make way for the new world.
Here’s where I’m getting to the “pilgrim” part. According to Wikipedia (that endless depository of digital information)…
“A pilgrim (from the Latin peregrinus) is a traveler (literally one who has come from afar) who is on a journey to a holy place. Typically, this is a physical journey (often on foot) to some place of special significance to the adherent of a particular religious belief system. In the spiritual literature of Christianity, the concept of pilgrim and pilgrimage may refer to the experience of life in the world (considered as a period of exile) or to the inner path of the spiritual aspirant from a state of wretchedness to a state of beatitude.”
So with their pilgrim passports in their hearts they left their homes (In England and Holland) and got on the Mayflower and headed for Jamestown. Along the way they veered a bit to the right and ended up at Plymouth Rock and decided to go ahead and settle there. William Bradford documented the journey and was the first to ascribe the name “pilgrim” to them. They left Leiden, he said,…
“that goodly & pleasante citie which had been their resting place for near 12 years; but they knew they were pilgrimes, & looked not much on those things, but lift up their eyes to ye heavens, their dearest cuntrie, and quieted their spirits.”
And to put a biblical seal on the claim of being pilgrims…
All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners (KJV calls these pilgrims) on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.
And that is how these puritans and reformers came to be known as pilgrims. And to seal the deal William and Susannah White gave birth to the first child from this group, a boy, and they named him Peregrine which means one who comes from afar and also Pilgrim.
Lately I’ve been reading about how rock stacking or stone stacking is becoming more prevalent and how it is damaging to the environment. I’ve included a link to an article in The New Yorker which appeared in December 2018 on how our national parks are being harmed by this practice.
I must confess that I have in some ways contributed to this practice. In 1982 I filled a baby food jar with dirt from a small town in the southwest of France called Besseges. It’s the town where my grandmother was born and raised and most of her family is buried. When I gave it to her she made a face and said there wasn’t even enough dirt to plant a bean. I also took a small bucket of rocks from beside a river in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to bring home to polish. In Italy I took three stones from the beach at Cinque Terres on the west coast just because they were pretty, small, and smooth, and I wanted something tangible to remind me of the wonderful day I spent there. However I’ve never tried stone stacking.
I’ve seen several of these stacked stones over the years. I think of them as the altar from the story of Jacob in Genesis 28:10-22. The crux of the story is that Jacob is on the lam because his father Isaac blessed him instead of his older brother Esau. It’s actually worse than just receiving the blessing meant for Esau. Rebekah, Isaac’s wife, conspired with Jacob to fool Isaac into giving him the blessing. Esau is pissed about having his blessing stolen and he’s planning a smack down where Esau does the smacking and Jacob does the downing. Jacob runs off and using a stone for a pillow falls asleep and dreams of angels ascending and descending a ladder to heaven. Then God speaks to Jacob in this dream promising to him the land upon which he is sleeping and that his descendants will be numerous and all families will be blessed by Jacob and his offspring. When Jacob awakens he declares that this spot is the Gate of Heaven and the stone he slept upon is God’s House.
Before I left on Camino in 2019 I wrote about some stones I found stacked by the dam at the metro park. It touched my heart and reminded me of other stacked stones I had encountered. While some may see them as a threat to the environment to me they are an artistic rendering of something meditative. The artist may not think of his/her stones as the Gate to Heaven, but there is certainly a spiritual aura for me the visitor to this delicate structure.
This year has been tough for me since I have had to cancel my 2020 camino and even as I make plans for 2021 there seem to be so many barriers. But even with this frustration I found a small spark of joy. Unbeknownst to me my little girls gathered up the Ohio flint that I had to decorate my fireplace and made an altar. So when I feel sad or frustrated or just missing the Camino I have my own little gate to Heaven.
Ok, it’s really only 5 days to the one year anniversary of my arrival in Santiago de Compostela. I had the idea to write this post yesterday and I liked the title and thought that it fit the topic. OK and I‘m a big fan of alliteration.
It’s hard to explain how much the Camino de Santiago has changed me. I view almost everything through the lenses of Camino. There is the fear and anxiety of beginning, the difficulty in starting the uphill climb, the smell of accomplishment when the summit is reached, the unique friends met along the way, the new way of thinking and feeling, the camaraderie, the loneliness, the questioning, the joy, the doubts, and always the walking and walking and walking. And then…
Several things have happened to me over the last couple of weeks and those things have come together to form a bittersweet cloud that is with me wherever I go. I started listening to The Camino Podcast, from there I learned about a new book called Into the Thin by Stephen Drew which I am currently reading. Then I came across a blog written by a young Canadian woman who is currently on the camino and writes the details of her days. Finally my friend Viv from the camino has been sharing her memories of the camino.
SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA…I arrived!
I feel as though I am remembering the Camino, on the Camino, and anticipating the Camino simultaneously. Hermoine Granger is giving me a big thumbs up because I have more emotional depth than a teaspoon.
The book and the stories all remind me of my travels through Irache, Viana, Molinaseca, and more as I made my way to Santiago. I often think about Bertrand the blind Frenchman that I walked with for a short time and wonder if he made it to Santiago. I think a lot about the cafe we had breakfast in and how we totally forgot to pay and just walked out. Three miles later (at second breakfast) we discovered what we did and that night I wrote a postcard and sent 20 €. I am anxious to return and see if they got the money. And then I recall the feeling of standing atop a mountain seeing the valleys laid out before me and hearing the clanging of the cow and sheep bells.
I am on a pilgrimage that seems to transcend time and space. It is as though the camino is not bound by yesterday, today, and tomorrow, rather camino exists here, now, and always. Camino lives in a spiritual realm and I carry it with me constantly.
So in 5 days I will be celebrating the anniversary of my physical arrival in Santiago de Compostela. I will also (hopefully) learn the sex of our new grandchild who is, but has not yet arrived. Perhaps we will even learn if our granddaughter Lissa will receive a new treatment for her Spinal Muscular Atrophy, one that will be a daily oral dose rather than an invasive spinal infusion every 4 months. I will hold all those things together on my camino.
There’s a little back spot on the sun today. It’s the same old thing as yesterday. The Police 1983
Now that I’ve let go of my camino this year and mourned it for the last month I am ready to re-enter life as a Pilgrim. Now I can begin to look to the future and plan my camino for 2021.
In many ways this is a good thing. 2021 is a holy year on the camino. What this means is that the Feast of St. James, July 25th, falls on a Sunday. So roughly every 7 years is a holy year for pilgrims. My own feast day is September 29th for Saint Michel or Saint Michael whose holy year will next fall in 2024. Plenty of time for me to plan the party right?!
A lot of pilgrims are very excited to walking during a holy year. On my first camino in 2019 I didn’t even think about whether or not it was a holy year. In fact it didn’t even bother me too much that I would not have a chance to attend the pilgrims’ mass in the Cathedral of Santiago because they were doing interior renovations. When I planned my now postponed 2020 camino I realized I had scheduled myself to arrive in Santiago on a Sunday well after the noon time of the mass. I was only moderately disappointed, but since I had already made all my reservations what else could I do? Cancelling the camino opened up the possibility of doing things differently in 2021.
I bought a new map of 🇪🇸 Spain and made myself some “dots” to mark my path and stuck the first dot on Santiago de Compostela. Then I got my calendar and decided to arrive on Saturday, October 9th. Coincidently I arrived in Santiago on October 9th on my first camino. Serendipitous
I will arrive in plenty of time to attend mass on Sunday and with any luck I will also get to experience the botafumeiro, the incense burner used at the pilgrims’ mass. Botafumeiro is the Galician word for the incense expeller or for those of you with high church backgrounds, the thurible. Actually it’s more than just a thurible, it’s a thurible on steroids. A typical thurible is about 12 inches tall. The botafumeiro, in contrast, weighs 176 pounds and is 5.2 feet tall. Click here to see a video.
I am resolved that this will not just be a repeat of last year. This will be an opportunity to test my spirit as I travel by myself. I can return to favorite places and check out new points along the camino. I can take as long as I want to arrive in Santiago because last year I learned that Santiago will be waiting for me.
This weekend we had our two oldest granddaughters (ages 5 & 6) staying with us. The oldest drew a picture of all of us taking a nature walk. In the end I was tired after making ice cream with the girls and decided to stay home. So she…
Well she didn’t exactly tell me to post this in person. Or even by email or text. And she didn’t appear to me in a vision telling me to post this. I did, however, read her book Big Magic. Actually I read it three times 😮.
The topic of this book is living a creative life. As I read it I thought that one could almost substitute “spiritual” for “creative”, or even “creative spirituality”. In the book Elizabeth Gilbert talks about ideas as disembodied entities who’s sole desire is to be made manifest and humans are the conduit through which this happens. She says, The idea will organize coincidences and portents to tumble across your path, to keep your interest keen. You will start to notice all sorts of signs pointing you toward the idea. Everything you see and touch and do will remind you of the idea. The idea will wake you up in the middle of the night and distract you from your everyday routine. The idea will not leave you alone until it has your fullest attention. And then, in a quiet moment, it will ask, “Do you want to work with me?”
Does this sound familiar? Don’t we talk about God’s prevenient Grace as pursuing us? Seeking us out? Yearning for us?
This is the camino related part of this post. The remainder is something I wrote a few weeks ago. Is not great writing and certainly not an inspiring topic but I had fun writing it and even though I wanted to delete it, it has been in the recesses of my mind. So I’m going to put it out there. As Liz says, “Perfectionism stops people from completing their work, yes—but even worse, it often stops people from beginning their work.” Here it is. You can read it or not. Just remember that you are a creative/spiritual person and God’s Grace is continually seeking you out. And if that Grace gifts you with some idea, who are you to say no?
People have routines and it seems that one routine a lot of folks have is to check their emails and respond when they first arrive at work. I kind of like to take my little dog Pico out for a walk after breakfast because it’s a little cooler and since he’s a little dog he gets hot and tired later on the day.
As we go out for our morning constitutional Pico behaves in that way that all other dogs do. Our walk is a series of stops and starts. He sniffs and the inevitable leg stretch happens and the sniffed upon area is thusly watered. It dawned on me that he’s not just marking his territory, he’s checking and answering his “P” mail.
He’s not just marking his territory because his spots are so specific. Same area on the shrub in front of our house. Yes, he’s checking his “P” mail and leaving a reply.
He has a lot of friends so it can take quite a while to complete our walk.
Now if only those dogs could work out a way to have a chat room where they could all leave messages on a common thread. But wait! They do…
Not everyone walks the camino. Some ride the camino on bicycles and others ride on horseback. I encountered many cyclists during my pilgrimage and while I never saw anyone on horseback I did see the reminders that horses had passed by on the trail.
I can’t imagine riding my bicycle on the camino. The first day alone is completely uphill with an 8% grade. I was barely able to walk it in to Orisson. Now that I think of it I didn’t see too many cyclists those first few days climbing the Pyrenees. Once we began to descend the mountains get in to more hilly and flat terrains there were more of them. I remember early on some time in the first week I was ascending a rocky path and most bicyclists had to push their bikes. One woman was huffing and puffing her way and I simply took hold of the the handle bars and helped her push. We didn’t have a common language except the look of understanding that only two pilgrims can share.
I’m not really the bicyclist in the family. That role falls mainly to my husband and two younger daughters. Nonetheless I have ridden in the hills around Lexington and the bigger hills in the Finger Lakes region in New York State. And to be honest I prefer the flat bike path near my home. About 5 years ago we rode a cycling vacation sponsored by Trek bicycles. We were told that while the region in Tuscany is hilly we wouldn’t be riding up hills as much as we would be riding “climbs”. A climb is a slow ascent that goes on for several kilometers. I didn’t really enjoy that ride so much as each day was either a long climb or a downhill slope so I was either struggling up or just coasting down. OTOH I really enjoyed the aperol spritzes at the end of the ride.
But back to the camino…organized rides in the United States mostly have a set of rules or expected behavior for the cyclists. It is a curtesy when passing to call out “on your left”. Because there is nothing “organized” about a pilgrimage and there are so many different languages spoken this curtesy is moot. Often times I could not even hear a cyclists until s/he was right behind me. The first time this happened I stepped to the right so the cyclist could pass on my left. Bad move (literally) as the cyclist had moved to the right also and almost ran over me. He rode past me and waved his hand calling out a hearty Buen Camino greeting.
I continued this maneuver with varying success. Then I realized that the cyclist can see me and knows exactly where I am. If I just stop then s/he can simply go around me. No more guessing which way to move. DON’T MOVE
We have been in quarantine since about the end of March. At first it was really hard to imagine not being able to be free to leave the house. I was OK with that though. I had things in my life coming up that I was looking forward to. Little did I know that COVID-19 would ravage through my world like a tornado. Some damage will be rebuilt, but some things and people are gone forever.
This pandemic has totally caught me off guard. I had plans, contingency plans, I was ready for whatever life was going to send my way. And now all those plans are gone. No wedding to go to. No birthday party for my granddaughter. No Lady Gaga concert. No visiting my cousins in Paris and when I do go, there is only one cousin left to visit now. The thing I still have hope for is my plan to return to the Camino Frances to walk it again.
Spain will be opening it’s borders to visitors again beginning July 1st, but only visitors from other EU countries. Every day I hang on hoping that Europe will begin allowing Americans and other foreigners in to the country. I hope to visit my cousin in Paris for a few days before I make my way to St. Jean Pied de Port to start walking to Santiago. She and I will go to the gravesite of her sister where we will say our farewells because none of that was allowed at the time of her death. All my hotel and albergue reservations are made. All I need is to reserve my airline ticket. I don’t even have to pay for my ticket as I have credit from two cancelled trips, Las Vegas and Paris.
And now even the camino is gone from me. I have delayed cancelling my reservations trying to be so hopeful that travel will suddenly open up. I know there is no point in holding on to that hope as I have begun to receive emails from the hotels I have booked. They say that since foreigners from out the European Union are not permitted to enter Spain they are supposing I need to cancel my reservations. And so three days ago I sat down and one by one cancelled all my bookings. I am sad
Nonetheless I may have found a small glimmer of hope. One of my reservations is non-refundable. They have offered my the opportunity to reschedule my booking but if I insist on cancelling I will lose about $80 for the room for two nights. Every time I communicate with them I point out that it is not my fault that I need to cancel. The Spanish government will not allow me to enter the country. With each email exchange they continue to point out that I can reschedule. Maybe this is a sign that even though the Camino Frances is out of my reach for now, it will still be there next year.
So here’s my plan. I’m going to start planning my camino for next year. 2021 is a jubilee year in celebration of St. James. By then all the internal and external reservations on the cathedral will be done. If I plan my camino backwards I can arrange to arrive in Santiago on a Saturday and be refreshed and ready to attend the Pilgrims’ Mass on Sunday in the Cathedral. I can even arrange for a little deviation from the Camino to visit Bilbao, a town in the Basque region of Spain known for its art, architecture, and amazing food. OK, I’m not gonna lie I fell in love with the idea of visiting Bilbao after reading Dan Brown’s thriller Origin.
Maybe I can even still have some sort of Camino here. I know all the places I will be staying. I know the distances from door to door. I have my backpack and all my gear. Could I somehow walk my own camino here? Sure my hotel room will look the same every night. In fact it’ll look exactly like my bedroom. It’s one thing to be in Spain and know that I must get to my destination because that’s the only place for me to stay. Sure it won’t be as difficult as climbing the Pyrenees. But do I have what it takes to stick to it? I’ll admit it’s been oppressively hot here and I have not gotten out to walk. Nor have I gone to the gym because that carries a high risk of contracting the virus. But for now I can hold on to this thought and I can still plan. Hope is not completely gone