October 2013

“Thin Places” on the Camino; a Reflection on Halloween, All Saints & All Souls

Grave along the Camino

Grave along the Camino

I love the convergence of Halloween, All Saints and All Souls this time of year, as summer moves into fall, and the days grow shorter.

Walking alone through ancient forests in Galicia

Walking alone through ancient forests in Galicia.

The Celtic tradition considers this sequence of days a “thin place” where the veil between our everyday world and the world of the divine becomes more permeable.

When I returned to the Camino in October of 2013, I found that much of my journey was a series of thin places. Over and over, I was touched by the beauty of nature, history, art, and fellow pilgrims.  And I had several mysterious encounters that brought me close to loved ones who had died.

Once when I was hanging out at the the Albergue in Astorga, I saw a Scandinavian man about my age check into the albergue.

He seemed familiar, but I knew I hadn’t met him before.  Then it dawned on me that he looked just like my Swedish cousin who had died in his thirties, many years ago.  If he had lived into his 50’s he would look a lot like my fellow pilgrim at the Albergue contemplating chess moves by himself at the large chessboard in the common room. It was as if a door opened in my heart that I had shut a long time ago. I realized that I had not thought of my him for many years.  Seeing his “double,” made me remember him with fondness, and say a prayer for him.

Another day I noticed that the pilgrim walking with me reminded me of someone but I couldn’t quite put my finger on who it was.  We were having so much fun walking and talking that I forgot about the hunch for the rest of the day.  She was funny, forthright, and down to earth. She made me laugh at myself in a “cut the bullshit” kind of way. Later on, I made the connection.  She reminded me of my in-law who was about my age when she passed away from a swift-moving cancer.

She and I had never made enough time to see each other.  I had regrets about that now.  But somehow spending the day with my new Camino friend was like having some of that unstructured time I’d missed with her. It was a healing experience.

In 1996 my brother, my only sibling, died at 35 under sad circumstances.  By the time he died, we had not seen each other for a long time, and I had many regrets about our estrangement.  Could I have been a better sister? Could we have helped him find his way through addiction and mental illness?

Tom Petty lyrics on the outskirts of Santiago

Tom Petty lyrics on the outskirts of Santiago

Along the second half of the Camino someone had written Tom Petty lyrics on the backs of traffic signs and mileage markers.  Every time I came upon one of these signs I laughed because it was so random:  Tom Petty on Spanish traffic signs! Then I remembered that my brother had been a big Tom Petty fan, and he would have laughed with me.

Seeing those Tom Petty lyrics gave me an unexpected positive memory of my brother as an adult.  We didn’t have many of them, and, I realized that some of that had been my fault.  I remembered him in a negative way.

As I  walked alone and laughed about the randomness of the Tom Petty lyrics, I felt a sense of comfort surround my troubled relationship with my brother.  We had a laugh together that seemed to heal a long held grudge against him that was so tough to live with.  I had wanted to let go of it, but I didn’t know how to.

This was one of the grace-filled moments of the Camino.  I felt like my brother was reaching out to me through those silly signs, making me laugh, and that he wanted me to know that he had forgiven me. It makes me cry to think about it again.

These experiences of “thin places” along the Camino were full of tears, and it felt good to cry.  I cried as I walked, and cried some more, and as the tears flowed, I felt lighter and freer. I sometimes wondered why I was crying: Perhaps I had not really grieved for these dear people in my life? I think that was part of it.  Our culture doesn’t honor grief; we just soldier on.

It’s funny, but The Camino requires soldiering on, too.  It’s hard to walk that far everyday and one of the mysteries of walking day after day is that hard physical work allowed some hard emotional and spiritual work to happen at the same time. Maybe my sedentary life had locked in those emotions?  The body must hold difficult memories and emotions.  I do believe that now.

The unexpected tears were also tears of joy and awe. I remembered each of these beautiful people as I walked the meditative rhythm of the Camino.  I felt tears of thankfulness and joy and felt the grace of forgiveness and God’s love surrounding us in beauty and mystery.

All along the Camino I saw my loved one’s reflection in my fellow pilgrims, and our common humanity.  I understood in an almost visceral way that, just beyond this “thin place,”our loved ones are alive in the Lord, and that we are all members of the “Communion of Saints.”

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Categories: Camino, Conversations on the Camino, October 2013, Reflections, Spirituality, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 7 Comments

Roof Tour photos

Here are more photos from the roof tour of the Cathedral in Santiago.

In the middle of the bell tower stands the figure of St. James as a pilgrim.

You can just make out another tour group behind us on the roof.

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20131031-220148.jpgAnd there’s the green cross that somehow made its way to the roof. There were many of them in Santiago during the medieval period. Pilgrims left their filthy clothes there to be burnt at the end of their pilgrimage.

Categories: Camino, Cathedral de Santiago de Compostella, October 2013, Santiago de Compostela | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Romanesque Art in the Museo de Cathedral de Santiago and within the Cathedral itself

The Museo, and the Cathedral itself have a wealth of Romanesque art from the 11th, 12th, and 13th Centuries. I love this really old style.

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Categories: Camino, Cathedral de Santiago de Compostella, October 2013, Santiago de Compostela, Uncategorized | Tags: , | Leave a comment

The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

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There are no stained glass windows in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostella. Well, there’s one, of St. James, over the Holy Door, which will be opened in 2021, the next Holy Year, when St. James’s day, July 25, falls on a Sunday.

The Cathedral is ancient, finished in the 1100’s, a solid Romanesque beauty.

It was built over an even older structure that sheltered the remains of St. James, which were discovered in 800. Pilgrims began arriving soon after that, and they’ve been coming ever since. And the spirit of the Camino permeates the place today.

I love Cathedrals: Chartres, Canterbury, and Grace are close to my heart. But I think Santiago takes the cake. It’s historic, ancient, and has a deep spirituality; it’s a place of living faith.

Along the Camino, there are numerous Cathedrals. Pamplona, Burgos and Astorga had beautifully artistic cathedrals, but they felt deflated and preserved. You needed a ticket to enter. In Santiago, the door was open to all from 7:00 am to 11:00 at night.

Santiago feels alive, busy with pilgrim traffic, and every Pilgrim mass was full to overflowing with Peregrinos in their hiking clothes, sandals and socks.

Most of all, it is the endpoint of the Camino, and the burial place of the Apostol, James.

In the movie, “the Way” The characters enter the Cathedral through the front door and encounter the Portico of Glory, carved by Maestro Mateo in the 12th Century. There, James greets the pilgrim atop a pilar carved into an exquisite Tree of Jesse, that links Christ back to Adam.

The traditional pilgrim ritual was: touch your hand to the Tree of Jesse, and then enter the cathedral, venerate the tomb of St. James, and climb the stairs behind the altar and hug the jewel-encrusted statue of the Saint. Quite a multi-sensory experience when you add in the flying of the Butafumiero!

These days, the front door is closed and the Portico of Glory is being restored. It’s behind a fence that requires a museum ticket.

About 5 years ago they stopped allowing pilgrims to touch their hands to the Tree of Jesse, to preserve it. The spot where pilgrims put their hands for 800 years wore 5 deep finger holes into the stone, like the grip in a bowling ball. Not being able to place my hand there was my only disappointment in Santiago.

But I completed the other rituals: hugging the statue of St. James, praying at his tomb, and attending the pilgrim mass and seeing the Butafumiero fly.

In the 17th and 18th centuries the Cathedral was remodeled in the Baroque style. A giant decorative structure, reminiscent of St. Peter’s in Rome, was erected over the altar. It’s upheld by a crew of massive baby angels with strong arms, one of my favorite features within the space. There’s an amazing amount of gold. Towers, and a new facade changed the outer profile in the 18th Century. Now it all looks unified by the overgrowth of lichen and ferns on the damp stone.

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Categories: Cathedral de Santiago de Compostella, October 2013, Santiago de Compostela, Spirituality | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Roof Tour

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On Friday evening I took the roof tour of the Cathedral with about 20 other English speakers, and led by a very knowledgeable Spanish guide.

There were lots of ancient locks, secret passageways, and stairways up towers. Loved it.

Then we emerged on top of the granite (!) roof. Granite because the Cathedral was also a fortress in the medieval era.

The tour would never fly in the U.S. No hand rails, disclaimers or warnings except the guide saying, “keep up, we’re locking doors as we go.” Believe me, when she said, “shall we go?” in her Gallegan accent, we all said, “si!”

There was a green cross on the roof. No one knows how it got there. In the Medieval era there were many around town, places where pilgrims shed their filthy clothes to be burned. The church gave them new garments. It was symbol of new life after the Camino, and practical. After my month of a very limited (but laundered) wardrobe, I wish there were still green crosses around Santiago.

Categories: Cathedral de Santiago de Compostella, October 2013, Santiago de Compostela | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Landfall at the 12:00 Pilgrim’s Mass

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Friday morning I woke up in my “garret SRO” room and knew I had to move house. My pack and boots were still sopping wet and they told me at the reception desk that the heat was off until November 1st. OK.

I went on Booking.com, then went out in the neighborhood looking for the hotels on the site. I asked a jewelry store owner for directions and she suggested a hotel a little further on. They were super friendly when I arrived, more like my favorite albergues, and they have radiators that are in use!

After checking in with all my wet worldly goods, I headed back to the Cathedral where I planned to spend most of the day: the 12:00 mass, (the Butafumiero, the giant incense burner, was scheduled to swing) and then the museum and roof tour. I still felt keyed up.

At 11:30 I was fortunate to find a seat on the aisle in the transept, and waited for the 12:00 Pilgrim’s Mass to begin.

The Butafumiero is a giant incense burner made of silver that hangs from a rope attached to a pulley system above the altar. It takes a crew of men to make the Butafumiero fly. You can see the knot of ropes attached to a pillar at the crossing when it is set up for the Mass.

I felt regret that I had not arrived right then, before the Mass, like many people around sitting near me. One of my tasks of the journey is to let go of regrets, and be less hard on myself for things, for not doing things perfectly. I let it go. Like the rest of the journey, this was my Camino, with twists and particularity. It was ok.

A nun led us in singing the responses before the Mass began. There were announcements in multiple languages for silence, and that NO PHOTOS or MOBILE use during the service.

The Mass began, all in Spanish of course, but I found, through familiarity with the liturgy, and perhaps a new comprehension of Spanish that I understood a lot of it.

There was a familiar and touching moment when one of the priests moved into place to read the Gospel and he was pulled back by another priest to allow a Deacon to proclaim it. At that moment, I wanted to be with them, at the altar. But I let that thought go, too, because it felt like I was where I was supposed to be, receiving.

Then there was a Sermon. A real 20 minute sermon! And I swear I understood most of it. It was about the power of the Camino to transform us into the image of Christ. He is not an idea in our heads we’re supposed to “believe” in, but a person who is there with us. The trials and joys, the friendships of the Camino are a metaphor for life. Through them we can know Christ.

St. James knew Jesus and took the Gospel here to Galicia, and we are called to take the message back into our lives.

At the end of your Camino here in Santiago you may take home souvenirs, but the the most important one is being closer to Christ.

I looked around and noticed that I saw at least 6 or 7 people I’d walked with. Tears. People in flip flops and sandals with socks. Pilgrims. Were here together in Santiago. More tears.

At that moment, I arrived.

I felt such weepy joy shuffling shoulder to shoulder with the crowds of pilgrims to receive Communion.

I have never seen a church, let alone a cathedral, so full. It was standing room only. Like an unwashed Easter.

After the Blessing, the Butafumiero crew came out in their maroon cassocks and untied the massive ropes, and it was lowered so the incense and coals could go in. Then the “captain” of the crew signaled for it to go up above his head, he grasped the bottom of it and gave it a mighty swing towards us.

The men yanked the rope down and up, and it began to fly higher and higher over our heads and then back across the other side of the transept. Each time it swung away from us I could see the red hot coals glowing through the slots in its side. It almost touched the ceiling above my head!

Joy, pure joy, awe, amazement. So this is why I came. Not to see this spectacle, but to feel this warm opening in my heart, and the Spirit moving among the people, and within me, such love.

Of course, the crowd (me, too) whipped out their phones and took photos, but that seemed authentic to our time, as much as the extreme stinkiness (which was the origin of the Burafumiero) of our medieval friends must have been. Like them, we’re a little uncouth and worn around the edges. And that’s one of the fruits of the Camino. We’re more real.

The Butafumiero took its last pendulum swing and the “captain” caught it, and pivoted around with it on his heel, a fine Spanish flourish, like he was the Matador and the incense burner was the bull. Massive waves of applause!

As the baroque organ played, we began to move, waves of people, towards the opposite side door on the Plaza de Quintana.

Suddenly I saw Lisa and Harold, from Quebec! Lisa and fell into each other’s arms and sobbed. She was someone who I’d talked with for hours on the Camino, very quiet and unassuming, from a tiny town in Quebec.

She said, “so this is what it’s all about, at the end of our lives it’s going to be like this, it’s all going to make sense, our crazy lives, and it will be so beautiful!!”

Yes. It will.

We met Eric and Vi, from Bristol, Linda from Hong Kong, and her Austrian friend, on the Plaza, and found a “free buffet” of 9e for a spontaneous lunch. And there was a salad bar and broccoli!

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Categories: Camino, Cathedral de Santiago de Compostella, Conversations on the Camino, October 2013, Pilgrim's Mass, Santiago de Compostela, Spirituality, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Bagpipes in the passageway to the Cathedral plaza and end of the Camino

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Categories: Camino, Camino de Santiago, October 2013, Uncategorized | Tags: , | 1 Comment

The Journey towards Arriving

Wednesday night the Casa Rural served dinner at 8:00 and guests, pilgrims all, could barely stay awake, even though we knew that tomorrow was Santiago.

I sat with Jonathan and Colin, two brothers in their 60’s. They were from South Africa; Colin has lived in England for decades, and they walked the Camino to reconnect. There were other folks at the table I’d met the night before, a jolly bunch, younger women from Ireland.

Everyone revived when the food arrived. There was lots of vino tinto in jugs , but at this point in the journey, I’m now ordering the local, better wine by the glass. Colin is a wine importer and I enjoyed talking Spanish wine with him.

The conversation was still flowing at 10:00 when it hit me that tomorrow I’m really arriving in Santiago. I said goodbye, and went back to my room to do the pre-pack. Outside, it continued to rain and rain.

At 2:00 I was fully awake. I’d cranked up the radiators to dry my clothes and boots, and the room was stifling. Still raining. I got up and wrote on the blog, trying to unload the torrent of thoughts that was running through my mind.

In the morning I took my time, thinking the rain would follow the pattern of the last week and slow at 9:30. No dice. I watched everyone from the night before launch themselves into the rain.

So I took off with the fully-loaded pack. I did a better packing job, and it didn’t feel so heavy. I used one of the Hefty tall kitchen garbage bags that Jean gave me as an extra weather protection between the pack and the rain fly.

I walked an hour and stopped at the RV park (!) bar. Inside was a funny scene: about 6 Female German pilgrims seeking shelter sitting at tables, and 3 Spanish male taxi drivers hoping for business. They we’re bring complimentary and charming. But all of the pilgrims were determined to walk the last few kilometers into town, and they were a sorry group.

I needed two more stamps for the last day, so got one there and took off again. Pouring.

Water everywhere, burbling in streams along the road, streaming down the asphalt, moving, glowing in abundance. I may have received a new theology of baptism walking in the deluge.

Got to Monte de Goxo, or Mount of Joy, where pilgrims see their first glimpse of the cathedral. No glimpse today.

I was getting worried about my iPhone in my pocket. I’d bought a water-resistant Otter Box, but skipped the military grade one. My pocket was getting soaked. Not many photos of my trip into town.

I crossed over a 10 lane Autovia, and train tracks. Said a prayer for those killed in the terrible train crash.

It takes a long time to enter a city in foot. Finally I got to the medieval, human-sized streets. I kept following the shells in the pavement. There weren’t many other pilgrims.

Then all of a sudden I heard bagpipes, and saw the side of the Cathedral. The Camino goes through a charming tunnel, where street musicians play, and spits you out on the grand plaza in front of the Cathedral. I was there!

Hard to take a photo in the rain, but one of the German women I’d met earlier took my drenched iPhone a snapped a few.

I wandered my way over to the Pilgrim office and presented my credential, and received my Compostella. I felt dazed and all keyed up. I checked into the place I’d reserved, but it didn’t feel right. Too stark and one fluorescent tube light and hard surfaces.

It was only when I checked into the nice hotel the next day and went to the pilgrim Mass at 12:00 that I felt like I’d arrived.

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Categories: Camino, Camino de Santiago, October 2013, Santiago de Compostela, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Arrival on Thursday

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Last full day on the Camino

My thoughts throughout the day:

It began like all the other days this week, having coffee before the sun came up at 8:45 and waiting for a break in the rain; setting out, letting the feet and ankles warm up; leaving last night’s stop behind and moving forward towards the next one.

I realized once again how I would never go outside on a rainy day like today at home, let alone walk along a busy highway in the rain and then follow a path into dark woods.

But now it feels normal and I relish the sense of being out in the elements, and noticing how the weather changes from minute to minute.

I have a feeling I may be taking rainy day walks when I get home. Sadly, I would not feel safe walking by myself in the forests of the East Bay hills, which feel so much like these Eucalyptus woods.

I haven’t met many Bay Area pilgrims, but yesterday, I met women from Orinda, Redwood City, and San Francisco. Charlene, from the City, lives in the same apartment building as my cousin. We’re going to have dinner in Santiago.

Spent a fun couple of hours last night in the Albergue bar visiting with several nice guys from the U.K. and Ireland. One was in his late 60’s and had grown up in Liverpool. He saw the Stones and the Hollies at the Cavern club. Had fun talking about British Invasion musicians and sharing photos from the Camino.

One of the joys of the journey at this point is looking back and talking about specific places on the Way and comparing experiences. Did you stay at Orisson on the first night? What’s your pace been? Did you stay with the nuns in Carrion de Los Condes?

I decided to walk 18k today and then have a shorter 8k walk into Santiago tomorrow, and carry the full pack into Santiago instead of transporting the daypack like I have been for the last week.

Last night the rain was non-stop, and the gale force winds and rain lashing the stone house kept me awake. It was my only episode of insomnia on the Camino. I’ve usually been zonked out from all the exercise.

My mind was swirling with questions and uncertainties about what I should do after Santiago with my 5 free days before my flight home, and processing the fact that I’m nearing the end of the journey.

I will greatly miss the walking, and the combination of the meditative and the physical. I’ll miss the unfolding of the countryside, one village at a time, and so much more that can’t be immediately quantified.

The walk today brought me by the Santiago airport, and into the old suburbs on the hill above the city. Up, down, zigs and zags. I checked into a Casa Rural and met up with some of the same folks as the night before.

Today, as I walked, I wondered what does Santiago mean to me? I’m sure that was swirling around in the night of insomnia as well.

It’s an icon, and like the Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz, it’s glittered out in the distance for a long time.

I know I will enjoy it. I’ve loved Pamplona, Burgos, and Leon.

There’s more to it, of course. The mileage markers on the Camino have been counting down for days. It’s the end of the pilgrimage.

At the heart of what Santiago means to me as a Christian, and from the more Protestant angle, is the tradition that James, one of Jesus’ beloved disciples is buried there.

What does that mean? I’m still meditating on that. I don’t have the medieval belief in the cult of the saints, and the modern sense of the saints as intercessors isn’t part of my belief system. Certainly the mystery draws me. I want to experience the Holy. As a priest, there is a depth of
Church history, theology, and faith embedded in the city that I feel drawn to experience.

And the sense of being swept along in this river of pilgrims that’s flowed this direction for centuries has been inestimable.

Tomorrow I’m going to take my time and savor the experience of swimming in that river of pilgrims. And arriving. As my dear friend, a sailor, commented, it’s a major landfall.

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Categories: Camino, October 2013, Santiago de Compostela, Spiritual Growth, Spirituality, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 7 Comments

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