Spiritual Growth

Signs of New Life

  

There were many reasons I wanted to walk the Camino this spring. To finish, of course, to fill in the missing piece of the Meseta that I’d bussed through in 2013.

There was also a desire to have some time to reflect and meditate. The Camino gives you many hours walking alone.

I felt like I needed some time to listen for what God wants me to do next in terms of ministry. What is life-giving? How can I offer my gifts?

Some of those questions got muffled by the meeting of people and the physical challenge–and fun–of walking again.

Then the day I left Sahugun I decided to carry everything that I usually shipped in my daypack, and I walked 20k to Burgo Ranero. It felt heavy, but I felt strong enough to carry it. Well, the extra weight really pressed on my weak point, my ankle tendons. My left foot was hurting the next day. One of the lessons of the Camino seems to be that I have to learn some things over and over again.

The next day I had to go slow, and there was grace in that. It was a contemplative day. I saw the beauty of the simple things: the trees planted along the senda pathway, and how they created a rhythm. You could interpret it as monotonous, but that day they were like prayer beads along a string, one after another, predictable, and pulling me along.   

  

Periodically, along the path,  there were monuments with the Cross of St. James on top. I sat down on one, and no one came by for a long time. I was alone. There were stones left on the ledge. 

  

and on top. I took my pack off and found a stone or two to add. It felt good to bless each one with a thing I wanted to leave behind.

The flowing streams reminded me of Psalm 42, “as the deer pants for the waterbrooks, so my soul thirsts for you, O Lord.”  

Then I noticed the freshly- plowed fields, and the red earth. 

  

The Camino was plowing my soul, getting it ready for the new thing that I hope God is planting in my life. There were lots of examples of new life along the Way. 

  

I spent some time reflecting on what it meant to walk in Eastertide. I was walking in the midst of a beautiful Spring–much more dramatic than at home in my drought-striken Bay Area. It was a long time since I’d experienced a real Spring. 

It made me think of the contrast with all the crucifixes in the churches I’d visited along the Camino, and the tradition of Semana Santa–Holy Week processions–in Spain. There was so much emphasis on Christ’s pain. 

Out here in the campo, the church of the Earth, I felt the overwhelming power of the Resurrection pushing up new life, renewing everything. I could feel the earth humming with energy. Christ was here, on the Camino, renewing us pilgrims, and the whole Earth, giving of himself.

Going slow was a good teacher. Once again, I said “gracias” for all that God, through the Camino, revealed to me, and would reveal to me in the future.

  

  

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Categories: April 2015, Santiago de Compostela, Spiritual Growth, Wisdom | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Post Camino thoughts: What a blessing!

Preaching on Pentecost 2013

Preaching on Pentecost 2013

Just over a year ago we celebrated the great feast of Pentecost at Trinity, Menlo Park.  After nearly seven years of serving in the parish, I was moving on, and I was moved by the experience of saying good-bye to a place and community that I loved.  At the same time, I was excited about going on vacation with my husband in France, and making our way to St. Jean Pied-de-Port, the jumping off point for my Pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago. It was a beautiful leave-taking.

In the Episcopal Church—and in other denominations, too, I’m sure— there’s a tradition of blessing members and clergy on their last Sunday at the parish.  As we were planning the Pentecost liturgy last spring, I found this Blessing of the Pilgrims online, and we personalized it for my last service:

Blessing of the Pilgrims

O God, who brought your servant Abraham out of the land of the Chaldeans, protecting him in his wanderings, who guided the Hebrew people across the desert, we ask that you watch over your servant Beth, who for the love of your name, walks to Santiago de Compostela.

Be her companion on the walk,

Her guide at the crossroads,

Her breath in her weariness,

Her protection in danger,

Her shelter on the Camino,

Her shade in the heat,

Her light in the darkness,

Her consolation in her discouragements,

And her strength in her intentions.

So that with your guidance she may arrive safe and sound at the end of the Road,

And, enriched with grace and virtue, return safely to her home, filled with joy.

In the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Near the end of the liturgy, the dear people of Trinity encircled me, and the whole community was connected by the laying on of hands as I received the blessing.  My heart was full, and overflowing with love. The Holy Spirit was there with us.

Community Blessing on my last Sunday at Trinity

Community Blessing on my last Sunday at Trinity

Two weeks later I walked the Camino over the Pyrennes to Roncevalles, the first stop in Spain. I went to the Pilgrim’s Mass at the 13th Century Royal Collegiate Church that night with several hundred of my new best Pilgrim friends from around the world.

At the end of the Pilgrim’s Mass, the priest blessed the gathered Pilgrims in Spanish—with the same blessing we’d used at Trinity on my last Sunday!

Pilgrim's Mass at Roncevalles

Pilgrim’s Mass at Roncevalles

It was my first experience on the Camino of bawling my eyes out because something had touched me so deeply and so unexpectedly. I came to recognize these surprising experiences of joy as Holy Spirit moments. There were more to come.

It’s only in retrospect that I can now appreciate the power of that Blessing by the Trinity Community on Pentecost.

When I read the Blessing now, a year later, each phrase calls to mind a specific experience on the Camino where I felt God’s presence.

It marked a transition in my ministry, and the beginning of my Camino. In that moment, I received the grace and courage to become a Pilgrim, and to walk with a wholehearted sense of purpose: to learn to live into a new sense of joy, and a deeper faith.

What a blessing!

As we approach Pentecost 2014, I give thanks for my time at Trinity, for my colleagues there, and for all the people of the Trinity community. I give thanks for my year of discovery, on the Camino, and afterwards, and for a renewed sense of call.

I give thanks, too, for the gift of the Holy Spirit. She continues to blow through our lives with unexpected joys, filling us with her power. She leads us ever onwards, to new experiences, new connections, new life.

My Camino begins

My Camino begins

Categories: Camino, Camino de Santiago, Pilgrim's Mass, Reflections, Spiritual Growth, Spirituality, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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

A Mindful and Blustery Day

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This morning in Castenada, it was pouring. At the bar where I had desayuno, the TV news showed flooded streets in Santiago. It’s supposed to be the first big storm of autumn. So I hung out for an extra hour at the bar in hopes that there would be a break in the storm.

Right then I saw on the Spanish news that there’d been another mass shooting at a school in Nevada. The bar person asked if I was American, and shook her head. It was one of those moments when you see your own country from an outside perspective.

That’s when Walter walked in. He sat down at my table and we began talking. He’s from Tasmania, and has traveled all over the world. He’s about my age. There were the usual questions, “when and where did you start the Camino?” and then he told me how his friend in Tasmania had just been diagnosed with cancer, and began to cry.

We bonded over how the Camino has made us cry every day, for seemingly no reason.

Sometimes at random moments it’s clear to me that we’re walking a path that people have walked for 1,000 years. People have suffered and loved and left something of themselves along the Way. And I can feel their vibrations sometimes, it’s a mysterious thing. And also, the Camino brings you to heartbreakingly beautiful places you would never see otherwise. And you meet people from all over the world.

I think all the exercise and the new people you meet break down your defences, too. The whole experience is cathartic.

The sun broke through briefly around 9:30, and we began to walk. He’d told me he had diabetes, and then said he also had cystic fibrosis, and was very long-lived for having the disease. He periodically had to stop and cough, which was difficult to witness.

We ended up walking most of the day together.

It was a mindful day for me, where I wanted to walk alone some of the time and process where I am at this point on the pilgrimage.

In many ways, he was just the right companion. The fact that he was walking the Camino was inspiring, and he had many life insights from his living with CF and doing amazing things like climbing mountains in Borneo, being a guide in Australia, long-distance biking.

Somehow there were enough periods of sun that I didn’t get too wet, and there also were times of blasting wind, thunder, and downpours. I put my rain gear on and off about 15 times during the day.

The Camino led us mostly through a canopy of ancient trees that met over the top of the trail, provided shelter. It was like a long, long nave in a way.

A couple of times we looked back and saw clusters of big box stores and the highway–but on the Camino we were in a protected, timeless tunnel of green.

Walter continued on past the Albergue I’d reserved. I hope to see him in Santiago.

Tonight I’m staying at an Albergue/hotel combination and I’m sharing a room with a Hungarian woman. It reminds me of my week sharing rooms with Monika.

My hair is like a fright wig, I’m sick of my clothes, and I’m treasuring this night of sitting in the bar trading pilgrim tales with Irish folk, and South Africans.

A good day. I’m glad I have one more day to walk slowly and take my time. I’m not quite ready for this epic journey by foot to end.

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Categories: Camino, Conversations on the Camino, October 2013, Spiritual Growth, Spirituality, Wisdom | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Ponferrada on the Day of Discovery

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Last night I stayed at another nice Albergue, in Molinaseca, Albergue Santa Marina. It was very new, spacious, and comfortable. 7E for a bed, 8E for 3 course pilgrim dinner, 3E for breakfast.

We had a snore-free night in our room of 15 pilgrims in our IKEA bunk beds. But at breakfast I heard from a German man how a female snorer in the other room kept everyone awake. He described how at another Albergue he tapped a particularly bad snorer repeatedly on the head with the tip of his trekking pole in the middle of the night to get them to stop. Remind me never to sleep in the same room with that guy!

It really is unheard of in the USA to sleep in the same room in bunk beds with 15 male and female strangers, let alone dress and undress together. You quickly learn to avert your eyes early in the morning and before bedtime. And to think about how modest you need to be.

In the middle of the night I find it unusually comforting to wake up and hear my fellow bunk mates breathing. My fellow human beings. It’s primal in a way, sleeping in one big room, something we share with the medieval pilgrim’s experience. We’re all in this journey to Santiago on our own, and together. We give up an element of our privacy to belong to the community of pilgrims along the Camino.

This morning I walked with a young woman from Hong Kong. She happened to be in the bunk next to me last night and we struck up a conversation.

This morning was cold walking into Ponferrada, and we talked about our journeys on the Camino, and our life journeys. It was fascinating to hear her firsthand perspective on the Peoples Republic of China.

What we shared was a love for the Camino experience, and the spiritual healing that we’ve found along the Way.

We parted at the Templars Castle, where she met a friend from Germany. I hope we see each other further on.

Tomorrow is a long walk, and the day after, too. As much as I’ve enjoyed the Albergue experience this week, I’m also enjoying having my own wee hotel room here in Ponferrada, at a new place called Hostel Nirvana. There’s a hair dryer! Which comes in handy when you need to speed up the drying process for your hand washing.

The Templar Castle in Ponferrada is a dead ringer for the Fisher Price toy castle our son played with endlessly. Fun to see the real thing.

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Categories: Camino, Conversations on the Camino, Favorite Albergues, October 2013, Spiritual Growth, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Signage on the Camino and in Life

yellow arrow, Najera

yellow arrow, Najera

The Camino is very well-marked. Much of it, in fact, is an exclusive use path through the countryside, and all along the entirety of Camino, yellow arrows and the familiar blue and yellow shell signs point Pilgrims ever forward towards Santiago.

But sometimes the Way plays Peekaboo with its Peregrinos.

Descending through the forest to Roncevalles early on, the path dwindles into a muddy clearing. Passing through the city of Logrono, the Camino appears to stop at a busy roundabout. Sometimes even out in the open countryside when the Camino is an actual path, a fork appears that looks just like the path you’re on.

Camino shell in pavement, Burgos

Camino shell in pavement, Burgos

"fork" in the Camino

“fork” in the Camino

“Where is the Camino? Or better, in Spanish:

“Donde esta el Camino?”

That question made me stop, and look with fresh eyes at the scene around me, and comb the environment for clues. Invariably, something would pop out of the landscape, like seeing Waldo in a “Where’s Waldo?” picture book.

There! I see a yellow arrow on a tree, or on a curb a block ahead. There! I see a bronze shell imbedded in the pavement. There! I see a blue and yellow Camino symbol up on the side of a building.

For a few days I took photos of yellow arrows, shells, and signage in general, which changed with each town and region. Some villages even painted a yellow stripe on the pavement through town to make it abundantly clear where the Camino was.

The Camino made me understand that I like knowing where I’m going. I already knew this, but the Camino made me understand it in a kinesthetic way. (I also learned, late in life, that I’m more of a kinesthetic learner than I realized.)

The Camino also taught me some valuable skills about finding my way forward when life brings you to a crossroads, or when the path you’re on forks, becomes muddled, muddy, or leads you to what seems like a never-ending roundabout you can’t seem to exit.

roundabout in Logrono

roundabout in Logrono

Here’s what I learned:

Stop. Take a sip of water. Pray. Consult the literature. Talk to your fellow pilgrims. Look up. Scan the landscape for markers, arrows, street signs, graffiti or kairns of stones left by others. If necessary, remove your boots and socks, and sit down. Push away the desire to know right away. Pray. Have a snack. Ask the locals. Pray some more. Then look again. The Camino is there. Walk.

Bridal Shoot and yellow arrows

Camino arrows leading Pilgrims out of Leon from the Parador and Bridal photo shoot

Camino sign in Leon

Inconspicuous Camino sign in center of Leon

Categories: Camino, Reflections, Spiritual Growth, Spirituality | Tags: , , | 7 Comments

I am the Vine, you are the branches.

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I’ve seen grapevines all my life in Wine Country of Napa and Sonoma Counties.  But walking through the Wine Region of Rioja in Spain was a different experience.  We were not whizzing by in a car.  I could reach out and touch those vines, feel the texture of the leaves. I stepped on the same soil they were growing in.  It was much more real.

We often saw workers in the vineyards trimming and pruning the vines by hand.  It reminded me of this passage in John’s Gospel.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed[ by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.  John 15: 1-6

Entering into the rhythm of the Camino, “abiding” in it,  brought me joy and meaning. As I walked, I felt an unspoken connection with other Pilgrims walking with me towards a common goal. I also walked in the joy of the present moment.  With each step, I felt very much like a branch connected to the Vine of life, being nourished and encouraged to grow spiritually and physically.

I walked by ancient grapevines, twisted and rough. Bright green, pliant vines were bursting out of their knarled fists of bark.

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One day we passed a pile of grapevines that had been pulled out, and stacked by the side of the Camino.  Their fruitful life had ended.  New grapevines were being planted in their place.  That, too, was a symbol of Resurrection, and gave me new insight into Jesus’ words in the Gospel of John.

Categories: Camino, Gospel of John, Reflections, Spiritual Growth, Spirituality | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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