Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Through consciousness, our minds have the power to change our planet and ourselves. It is time we heed the wisdom of the ancient indigenous people and channel our consciousness and spirit to tend the garden and not destroy it. -- Bruce Lipton

Note: This is the text of the sermon I preached on August 13, 2017, following the devastating events in Charlottesville that weekend. You can find the audio of my sermon here.

So today is World Indigenous People’s Day, and I have at least two former pastors in the room today. I don’t know if there’s more , nut I know there’s at least two, and so I hope I don’t speak out of school, but typically the way I prepare a sermon is to, throughout the week, just kind of think on it, and then write down notes. And then, typically, Saturday at 10 PM I begin to write.
Fortunately, this week I started earlier; I started Friday at 10 PM because I knew I had a busy Saturday. And so really, by Saturday morning, the sermon was almost done.

And then, yesterday happened and I felt like I needed to make a change.

So I began, yesterday, to scribble down some more notes, some sermon notes as I like to call them, on what I would preach about. But what happened is that I had so long a time of writing notes, that I never actually got to write a sermon; so I’m just going to share my notes with you today.

This is World Indigenous Peoples Day, but this sermon must put Charlottesville and white supremacy at the center.

This sermon must juxtapose the wisdom and beauty ff indigenous culture with the violence and bigotry of white supremacy that quashed indigenous folks always.

This sermon must reflect on the indigenous natural methods ff healing disease without harming the environment, and how white supremacy seeks to control drugs and medical access to fill their pockets with money.

This sermon must be an angry sermon.

This sermon must denounce the emboldened Neo-Nazi/white supremacist movement.

This sermon must draw a line, must show how the thread of white privilege-that was first sewn into this land’s quilt over 600 years ago-has been the constant thread that has led to the horrific acts of violence, terrorism , and hatred that we saw unfold on our television, our laptop, our ipad, our smartphone’s screens.

This sermon must dare to connect the dots of the election of a man who openly spewed racist, misogynistic, homophobic screeds, whose campaign speeches could be classified as hate speech, whose utter disregard for the planet that indigenous people consider kin, whose complete lack of empathy for those who don’t fit into his narrow vision of what constitutes someone of worth and dignity--which, by the way, doesn’t include me, as a queer  person--or anyone else who is queer, or a person of color, or a woman, or an immigrant, or refugee, or trans, or poor---

this sermon must connect the dots from this man’s election to yesterday’s carnage, as heard in the remarks of former Grand Imperial Wizard Of the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke, who said in an interview yesterday, with the Indianapolis Star, “This represents a turning point for the people of this country. We are determined to take our country back. We are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believed in, that’s why we voted for Donald Trump, because he said he’s going to take our country back and that’s what we’re going to do."

That connect-the-dots-image reveals a gross perversion of justice, of democracy, of what has really made America great in the past.

Those dots connect to a flashing neon sign that says Make America Hate Again.

And too many are too willing to comply. Not just in Charlottesville, VA, but in Bloomington, MN, where the Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center was bombed on August 5,  and in our own town, where the “n” word was spray-painted onto cars in the neighborhood next to mine, and where the Jewish synagogue was defaced with swastikas and Nazi statements.

This sermon that I’m going to write must, of course, show how those dots go all the way back to the genocide of the native folks, the indigenous folks of this land, carried out by white people far from here, who already had firmly embraced the idea that their way was the best way; that their desire for land, for power, for wealth superseded the indigenous folks right to simply dwell in peace on the only land they had known for generations.

This sermon must point out we lost so much when we destroyed entire nations of peoples, even while we engaged in human trafficking, bringing over and enslaving other nations of people,  other peoples of color; as is white was the only true humanity, as if white really did make might.

But this sermon must also speak about hope.

This sermon cannot end with despair, with an overwhelming feeling of hopeless.

No, this sermon must also speak of the pockets of beauty that are waiting to be picked by our seeking hands:

The Love Lives Here rally that was held in Bonforte Park last Sunday in response to the vandalism in the North End where so many people of so many faiths gathered together; where Muslims mingled with Jews, and the neighbors of the Old North End joined the liberals of downtown.

This sermon must remember the tear-inducing video ff clergy of many faiths standing arm in arm
in Charlottesville yesterday, facing the armed domestic terrorists who swaggered down the streets in the combat fatigues, and overly compensating semi-automatic weapons.

This sermon must speak about the bold words of Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, who said what the president did not; who clearly said to the white supremacists and the Neo-Nazis:
Go home. You are not welcome here. You are not welcome in America.

This sermon must also tell how Minnesota governor, Mark Dayton, unflinchingly called the bombing of the mosque an act of terrorism, and said, Let’s face it, if it had been the other way around, we would have already been calling it that, if Muslims had bombed a Christian church.
This sermon must talk about how already, by Monday morning, just two days after the attack, over 900 people had contributed over $36,000 to help with the repair of the Mosque.

This sermon must mention the 3 plus hour meeting I attended yesterday, along with  Isabel, and Charles, and Jan, and Rick; how we gathered with members of the Colorado Springs Sanctuary Coalition, as well as members of the Metro Denver Sanctuary Coalition; how we talked with those who fear being ripped away from the lives they’ve made for themselves here, from the families they created here; how we know that today, Foothills UU Church in Fort Collins is on the cusp of a vote to become a sanctuary church, as well.

And how--even though we were talking about such dire things as men and women in fear for their freedom, in fear of what will happen to their families, should they be snatched up off the streets and deported--how I felt suddenly, in the midst of that dire conversation, a small spark of hope, of comfort, a certain joy that I was not alone, that these men and women were not alone, that our small, intrepid coalition of a rag tag band of folks from different organizations and faith communities were not alone, that the counter-protestors in Charlottesville, VA, and the Love Lives Here rally last week were not alone.

We are, none of us alone. We have others who are showing up with us, showing up for justice, for peace, for equity in human relationships.

We have an entire seminar coming up in Boulder, an entire seminar on Dirt. There’s a youtube video that shows how simply composting, creating dirt, can save our planet, even if our government will not; that she is not alone, that we have not forgotten all the wisdom of the ancestors of the indigenous folks who once lived, and who still live among us, ready to share their wisdom, ready to introduce us to our mother, Earth, whenever we are ready to truly meet her.

This sermon needs to call us back to a simpler understanding of the interdependent web of existence of which we are a part.

But not is some schmaltzy, kum-by-yah way that attempts to sugar coat the ways that we have been complicit in the system of white supremacy, that allowed nations of indigenous folks to be murdered, or forced off their land, or forced to adopt a culture that wasn’t theirs, that profited from the selling of humans in the most inhumane chapter of our history, that allows us to turn away from the rhetoric coming from the White House, or the violence spilling over in the streets of not just Charlottesville, but every city in our nation, with a simple click of a button.

This sermon needs to be a clarion call to action! To rise up! To speak up!

But also to shut up! And to sit down! And to listen, listen deeply. Listen deeply to the voices of the indigenous people of all cultures, to the voices of the marginalized peoples in our own town, to the voices of hope and peace, and a way out of the shadows of bigotry, and hate, and oppression, and hopelessness.

This sermon needs to remind folks that there is a way. It is the way of love, of never-ending love, of love which never gives up, or gives in, of love which is embodied in our words and actions, in how we protect one another, and learn from one another.

 Of love that recognizes we are , each of us, indigenous citizens of this planet earth and we cannot survive, until and unless, we embrace our diversity, and embrace our Mother, and channel our consciousness and spirit  to tend the garden and not destroy it.

That’s what this sermon needs to say.

Now, if I can only find the words to say it.

Now, if I can only find the way to live it.

Friday, August 11, 2017

My heart is moved by all I cannot save: so much has been destroyed I have to cast my lot with those who age after age, perversely, with no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world. --- Adrienne Rich

Earlier this week, I was reading one of my favorite poems to my girlfriend. The poem, Phantasia for Elvira Shatayev by Adrienne Rich speaks in the voice of Elvira who perished, along with all the members of a women’s climbing team while attempting Lenin’s Peak in August, 1974.
Adrienne writes with such simple beauty:

If in this sleep I speak
it's with a voice no longer personal
(I want to say with voices)
When the wind tore our breath from us at last
we had no need of words
For months for years each one of us
had felt her own yes growing in her
slowly forming as she stood at windows waited
for trains mended her rucksack combed her hair
What we were to learn was simply what we had
up here as out of all words that yes gathered
its forces fused itself and only just in time
to meet a No of no degrees
the black hole sucking the world in 

As I read these words to my girlfriend, tears streamed down my face. At first I tried to stop and regain my composure but then I thought, what the hell, and just cried.
This isn’t the first time in recent months that I’ve openly wept at beauty. Last month my gf and I were in Northern California, a birthday trip from her to me. We were driving up 101 to Redwood country. Although I’d lived in central California for four years and Southern California for five years, I’d never made it up north and this was my first time seeing the ancient sentinels. We were in a borrowed convertible, the top down, and when we entered the first grove of Redwoods, I felt my heart swell in amazement, their beauty was breath-taking; I wept.
This is a new development in my life, to be so openly moved by beauty—whether in written word, nature, or acts of kindness that I read about in my newsfeed—that my only reaction is to shed tears. I know that part of this is a consequence of becoming more open with my heart as I’ve gotten older. I remember my younger years---holding my feelings close to my chest, trying for a bluff rather than showing my ace of hearts. I remember those days of yearning to be seen for who I am, yet so fearful of revealing myself. The need for approval has peeled back like so many layers of the proverbial onion as I’ve gotten older, becoming more boldly myself, replacing my tough persona with my tender heart. (“You need someone tender,” my gf said the first day we met and were talking about our lives, in a casual getting-to-know-you sort of way; she didn’t know I’d see the tenderness in her and decide the position was filled.)
But I think this latest iteration of being moved to tears has another element to it. The world we’re living in has become increasingly ugly in recent months—or rather, I should say the humans in this world have been covering up the beauty with the smog of bigotry and intolerance towards others and a cruel, dispassionate tossing away of our natural resources; like petty vandals so many are carving their names in ash and poison into the earth, toppling over the mountains with a concerted push, setting a match to our forests ‘til they burn like kindling.
The rhetoric coming out of our nation’s capital is that of stripping away protections from people and our planet in order to generate more wealth and power for a few; in our streets, people drive trucks proudly waving confederate flags or Nazi swastikas while others live in fear of being deported from the only home they know; in my own town, cars are vandalized with the “n” word, swastikas are smeared on a local Jewish synagogue.
So much ugliness in this world.
And so, beauty seen in nature or seen in loving acts of kindness from one human to another, from one human to the planet, or beauty felt in poetry or great literature now moves me ever deeper than before; it causes tears to well up and spill down my face. They are happy tears, of course, but also tears of relief that such beauty still exists if we know where to look for it, and that my heart, so embattled and scarred over these past months, can still dare to let it in , to let it all in, to allow myself to be touched by the wonders of this world.
It reminds me of poet Rainer Maris Rilke’s advice:

Let everything happen to you
Beauty and terror
Just keep going
No feeling is final

And it gives me strength to know that even though much has been lost that I couldn’t save, even in the midst of such ugly destruction of decency and concern for others and our planet, still I will cast my lot with those who age after age, perversely, with no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world. And I will do it from one moment of beauty to the next.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Truth Shall Set You Free

(This was originally published in the July 26, 2017 editions of the Cheyenne/Woodmen Gazette Community News, with the headline When Truth in Identity Sets You Free. I do a quarterly column for them.)

Loving-kindness toward ourselves doesn't mean getting rid of anything.... We can still be timid or jealous or full of feelings of unworthiness. The point is not to try to change ourselves. Meditation practice isn't about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better. It's about befriending who we are already. The ground of practice is whoever we are right now, just as we are. That's the ground, that's what we study, that's what we come to know with tremendous curiosity and interest. – Pema Chodron

Recently, while visiting mom in Austin, TX, I stayed on the comfy couch downstairs. My first morning, I was still sleeping soundly when around 630 AM I heard a repeated thwack coming from outside. Whatever was making the noise was determined to keep on making it, it seemed, until I got up.
In exasperation, I half rose and looked out the window to see if I could spy the culprit ad find a way to make it stop.
Imagine my surprise when I saw a small, red cardinal hurl itself at the window—thwack --- only to be bounced to the ground by the unyielding glass and then, once it got its bearings, launched himself at the window again.
When I told my mom what I had seen she said he does that every morning. My sister, Kari, shed some light on the reason. She had googled what causes that behavior; it seems the male cardinal mistakes his own reflection for another bird and aggressively attacks it.
Of course, the enemy turns out to be his reflection and all that he gets is a bump on the head.
The colorful, pint-sized Don Quixote continues his morning battle for the rest of my stay. I learned not to look; it was disturbing to see.
But it made me think of how often we humans engage in battles against imaginary enemies, only to find we are railing against our own hidden shadow side. If we aren’t fighting against it, we’re shamefully trying to hide it, not willing to acknowledge the darkness within us, as well as the light.
Buddhist teacher, Pema Chodron shows us another way: radical self-acceptance and self-love. This means embracing all of who we are, acknowledging all our flaws, our fears, our insecurities, our biases, our ignorance.
There’s a well-known Christian scripture in which Jesus says, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free. (John 8:32) Another meaning for the Greek word, know, is allow, be aware of. And doesn’t that make more sense? We do know the truth of who we are and we fight against it, hurling ourselves at its reflection in our lives over and over. It’s only when we allow the truth though, that we are set free to deal with it, study it, come to know, as Pema suggests with tremendous curiosity and interest.
Just think if those of us who are queer didn’t have to struggle with our truth, didn’t have to “come out” but rather welcome people into our deepest truths. Or if those who are in unhealthy relationships or miserable jobs didn’t have to put on a happy face or pretend everything is fine but rather allow the truth to set them free. Recovering addicts know all about allowing the truth of their addiction to be acknowledged and finding freedom.

Imagine if that cardinal just stopped for a moment to gaze at his reflection rather than fight it; just think what a beautiful creature he would see. And so would we, if we only do the same.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Morning After

I wasn’t in Colorado when Amendment 2 passed, though I remember hearing about it and watching with interest as the results rolled in on election night. I was positive it wouldn’t pass. Surely the good people of my home state would not vote to embed  homophobic bigotry and intolerance into the State Constitution.
The next morning I read with disbelief that, while Colorado had passed legislation protecting bears, that had also passed Amendment 2, taking protection away from their LGBTQ citizens.  Safe in the comfort of my apartment in Long Beach, CA, living, as I did, on the cusp of the Gay Corridor there, I was astounded.
Indeed, it was precisely because of the passage of Amendment 2 that I felt the strong call to go to the heart of the “hate state” as it was then known when the pulpit of Pikes Peak Metropolitan Community Church became open. As a queer minister in a queer denomination, I felt passionate about going to
my own marginalized people in Colorado Springs and being a voice of hope and justice and love and acceptance. A voice in the wilderness, calling, if you will, “prepare ye the way of Love.”
When folks asked me why I would want to go to a place where intolerance had been legalized, where tax-paying citizens were being denied their full and equal place at the table, I would always say two things. First, I would say, Dorothy Day said go where you’re least wanted because there you’re
most needed. Then I would add, and if I have to combat Nazi fundamentalism, at least it will be in a scenic place.
What struck me most was how demoralized the queer community was in Colorado Springs. New congregants and friends struggled to tell me about how it felt, the morning after the election, to wake up and realize that half of their neighbors thought they didn’t deserve equal rights; that half of their
state decided their rights didn’t matter. They told me how it impacted how they moved their days. Wondering did the nice clerk at the store vote to take away my rights? Did my co-worker? Some people they didn’t have to wonder about because they were actively, ardently vocal in the support of Amendment 2. Some of my friends, closeted at the time, had to endure conversations with not only co-workers, but with family members and friends who were also quite vocal in their support of Amendment 2. Some of my friends, loudly and proudly out also had to endure those conversations with families and friends.
It was a dark time in the history of Colorado, and of Colorado Springs. Ultimately the US Supreme Court overthrew Amendment 2, rightly calling it unconstitutional.
Many things have changed since then. I made the transition to being a Unitarian Universalist minister because my theology and ideology have changed to be more inclusive than believing true religion is one god, one savior. My son, who was born in the midst of Amendment 2’s  long weary journey to the SCOTUS is a grown man now, 21 years old, his own ideas and beliefs having been forged in the fire of this conservative town in which we live. And yet, today, I awoke feeling much the same as my friends did on that November morning in 1992.
With the election of Donald Trump as president, I feel that sense of demoralization, only on a national scale. Not only is Trump completely unqualified for the position of leader of the free world, not only has his campaign been littered with the victims of his hate speech—so many bodies that the New York Times devoted a full two page spread listing the groups of peoples and individuals he has insulted, demeaned, and just plain lied about, not only is his impulse control so poor that his own campaign had to take away hisTwitter account to stop him from those 3 AM tweets that said Saturday Night Live should be taken off the air because they made fun of him, not only did he dismiss his talk about sexually assaulting women as just "locker room talk"-- which caused he has made a mockery of this campaign process and faced the most qualified person to run for president and he still won.
Half the people of this nation said, essentially, “We’d rather have a man with no experience who blatantly lies about virtually everything than a woman with 30 years of experience in actually making a difference in people’s lives. We’d rather elect a man who has active criminal and civil cases pending than a woman who used a personal email server while serving as Secretary of State." It doesn’t matter that the Republicans spent millions of our dollars investigating her and found no wrong-doing; it doesn’t matter that Republicans serving in that position did the same thing; hell George W, Bush "lost" 22 million emails when he was president without any consequences--but that doesn't matter, either.
And worse, they say, we want a man who wants to build a wall on the border of our neighbors to south, who wants to deport all Muslims—or at the very least have them registered (how very Hitler-esque), he will overturn the marriage equality the SCOTUS gave us, and this isn’t mentioning the people he’s mocked—the disabled, the veterans, the poor saps who actually pay their federal income tax.
And this is why I spent the morning crying. Not because of Trump’s ineptitude but because half of my neighbors voted for him, knowing how racist and misogynist and xenophobic he is. Half of my neighbors—including family members and friends—voted for him knowing that he wants to take away my place at America’s table. People who I love, and people I don’t know said, essentially, “we don’t care about your rights or your safety, or the rights and safety of so many disenfranchised citizens. We’re going to vote for him because—“ well, frankly, I’m still trying to suss that one out. The only reason I can think of is that there was an "R" by his name on the ballot or that he pees standing up and Clinton does not, Certainly, research showed that hostility to women was linked most closely to those who chose to vote for Trump. Clearly, Clinton has been raked over the coals throughout her long history of public service for daring to think she could inhabit what had previously only been men-only space. Certainly, even when fact-checkers showed Clinton’s inherent trustworthiness while noting Trump’s consistent stream of lies, people adamantly refused to be moved. Their minds were made up; no need to confuse them with the truth.
At the end of day, yesterday, on, ironically, what would have been Dorothy Day’s 99th birthday, our nation decided to go with the candidate that rejects a significant portion of our population,myself
included. In fact, he only seems to embrace those who look just like him—white, straight, successful with a bland form of Christianity that bears no resemblance to Jesus.
I’m at a loss. My son, Sam, wisely counseled me and others with his early morning facebook video today. I’ve watched it twice; it’s a message I need to hear. And it’s a message I want to pass on to each of you: You are beautiful, you are worthy of love, and I am here for you. Tomorrow I will dry my eyes, gather with colleagues and friends and others who still believe we can change the world.
Tomorrow I will once again pick up the gauntlet of justice and equality and human dignity. On Sunday, I will preach a message of hope going forward in the wake of the election; it is a sermon I wrote on Monday, before knowing these results. Tomorrow I will recall again Dorothy Day's wise words and the wise words of Unitarian minister Theodore Parker from an 1853 sermon, quoted by both Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and President Barack Obama:  "I do not pretend to understand the moral universe. The arc is a long one. My eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by experience of sight. I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends toward justice."
I will do all that tomorrow; I promise.
Today, I grieve. I grieve for myself and for all of us whose lives have been discounted and devalued by this election; and I grieve for our nation that has shown us how deeply the divide of racism and sexism cuts.
Tomorrow, I will work to eradicate that. I hope you will join me.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Nori, At the End of the World

Camino Day 38
Yesterday, I travelled to the end of the world. It was a short bus drive away. Who knew that it was so close?
Yesterday, I travelled the “rest” of the Camino, the part reserved for die-hard pilgrims for whom the majestic cathedral in Santiago was not enough. I travelled along the a costa da Morte, the Death Coast, so named for the multitudinous ship wrecks that have happened in these often stormy waters off the coast of Galicia.
The end of the world, the death coast, is, as it turns out, beautiful.
Most pilgrims end their journey at the Cathredral in Santiago de Compostela but a few hardy ones go an extra 89 km (55 miles) to Finisterre which does, indeed, mean the end of the world in Latin. It was so named because when the Romans reached this finger pointing out to the horizon of limitless water, and, believing that the world was flat, after all, they thought they had done it!! Reached the end of the world, beyond that vast expanse of blue, they figured, was a giant waterfall spilling endlessly into infinity.
Of course, now we know, as Cris,  the helpful tour guide to the end of the world, told us that directly across the water from where we stood was Boston, MA. Known to us Unitarian Universalist as the Alpha and Omega; the beginning and end of the world. 
It really was an amazing day, though, and I’m glad I took the time to do the tour. I often think of bus tours as cheesy for some reason. I do happen to live in a tourist attraction (Colorado Springs: home to Garden of the Gods, America’s Mountain, and, now, legal weed!) and so I’ve see tour buses go by, so that might be part of the reason for my bias, but really, I love doing tour buses. And every time I do I learn so much about the area through which I’m traveling and gain a deeper respect for the region, the terrain, the people that live there.
Yesterday was no different. We traveled first to Muxia,(Spain, not China, despite what Facebook might say) which is where the final scene of the Camino was shot in the movie, “The Way.” For those of you who haven’t seen it, “the Way” was written and directed by Emilio Estevez and starred his dad, Martin Sheen, playing, well, his dad. In the movie, Emilio dies on the first day of the Camino and his dad decides to walk it and spread his ashes along the way. It’s a great movie. Anyway, it ends in Muxia which is this tiny little village with a beautiful coast. The waves were crashing majestically (see pics from yesterday on fb) and I realized again how very much I miss ocean. There is something about the crashing waves, the roar of the surf, the hypnotic drawing in and out of the tide that I think must be very close to what we feel in utero, as we lie still and trusting in amniotic bliss. Maybe this is why the oceans always calls to me; it speaks of new beginnings, birth and rebirth, and the trust in the universe to care and nurture for me.
From there we went to Finisterre. I was pleased to find that some of my tiny Camino family were there, as well. Natalie and Laura, and Laura’s 22 year old son, Daniel. I felt such a sense of familiarity when I got on the bus and saw them. And it was nice for all of us, I’m sure, to be seen in mufti as opposed to our Camino gear, and not sweating (well, okay, I sweated. Even in shorts and a tank top with no back pack. I’m a sweater; it’s who I am. I own it.)
At Finisterre, we all had our pictures taken with the iconic Camino cement mile marker showing 0.0 as the official end of the Way. And as I stood out on the bluff overlooking the ocean, as near to the end of the world as I could get, I understood why the Romans felt that way. Looking out at the ocean and seeing only the deep, deep blue (and in Galicia, where I completely lucked out with very sunny weather, but whose normal weather is rain and storms) it would be easy to think you were at the end of the line. Where else would there be to go? And now what, once you’ve reached here?
We stopped at a couple of other places on the way back, including the only river in continental Europe who joins the ocean as a waterfall. And though it was not as far out as Finisterre, that had an end of the world feeling to it, as well. It pours forth over a cliff of rocks and enters the Atlantic Ocean gustily, with a certain sense of bravado.  (Again, see pics on fb yesterday) I stood where a finger of the river was pouring into the ocean, though not as forcefully as the main body of it. Enchanted, I dipped my hand into the water as it poured over the rocks, just before it joined the sea; it was fresh water, no salt. I was fascinated by that. By how once it joined the Atlantic, it’s whole DNA would be overwhelmed with the vast body of water it had been pledged to since its birth as a stream somewhere high above the sea. 
Fresh water, salt water, just a few rocks separating them.
As we drove back to Santiago, I thought about the river and the sea, the pilgrim and the Way; the way we our changed in our sojourn on this earth; none of can escape that fact.
Jamie, another pilgrim friend, reminded me that there is a saying that the Camino begins when it ends; the journey does go ever on. Once you think you’ve reached the end of the world, you find a new world, or a new path to walk upon. And so it goes.
Of course, there’s more to write about this Camino I’ve been on, more insights, miscellany about the mundane events of every day, but I will save that for another time.
It seems fitting that I should end this post from the end of the world with one of the first poems David Whyte shared in his workshop that led me here.

 FINISTERRE by David Whyte
The road in the end taking the path the sun had taken,
into the western sea, and the moon rising behind you
as you stood where ground turned to ocean:
no way to your future now but the way your shadow could take,
walking before you across water, going where shadows go,
no way to make sense of a world that wouldn’t let you pass
except to call an end to the way you had come,
to take out each frayed letter you had brought
and light their illumined corners;
and to read them as they drifted on the late western light;
to empty your bags; to sort this and to leave that;
to promise what you needed to promise all along,
and to abandon the shoes that brought you here
right at the water’s edge, not because you had given up
but because now, you would find a different way to tread,
and because, through it all, part of you would still walk on,
no matter how, over the waves.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Journey of a Lifetime

Camino Day 37 

After 36 days of walking almost 800km of trails, roads, tracks, and stone, I walked into Santiago de Compostela late yesterday morning and made my way through the bustling modern city to the historic district where the vast Cathedral loomed. I found it ironic that I couldn’t see the cathedral from the hill overlooking the city; I actually had to walk almost all the way to its doors before it was even visible at all.
I was feeling a little rushed because I wanted to make the noon Pilgrim’s Mass and reminded myself to slow down and pay attention to this moment. I had started out in plenty of time for the final nine miles, leaving at 815 AM but soon after heading out, I ran into Laura, a woman from Florida who I met and walked with a few times in the final week. Although we had both travelled from St. Jean Pied-de-Port starting at about the same time, we never really ran into one another until after Sarria. 
At any rate, I felt it was good to chat with her for awhile as we made our final stage of the Camino. Natalie, another woman I had met, who was also part of Laura's "Camino family," also joined us. It was a good conversation, but I noticed that my pace had slowed considerably. Instead of arriving at a roomy 1115 am, I was now looking at an ETA of 1145. That was cutting it close so I said goodbye and picked up my pace, walking the rest of the way in solitude and silence.
As I have said, during the last few days of the Camino, I had been feeling nostalgic for the journey which was almost at an end. I had, it seemed, fallen in love with the Camino, with everything about it: the challenge, the beauty, the intimate connection with tree and stone and flower and wind, the flirtatious horizon that kept coyly beckoning me on. 

How was I to leave all this?

I had finally taken the time to get to know my body, as well: my feet and legs, where pain liked to dwell-- where it would be sharp and where it would be suffuse, the way my sweat pooled and rolled down my face and neck.

And so, I had, in some ways, been dreading this final day, this final homage to the Way. And yet, I found as I walked yesterday that I was content, at peace. It was right. It was the right time to end this pilgrimage. I knew that today I would be taking a bus tour of the coast of Spain, including Muxia, Ezaro, Carnota, and Finisterre: the End of the World. I found I was not at all disappointed to be taking a day long bus tour rather than taking four more days to walk!

So I felt that yesterday was a good ending, a completion. I got to the Cathedral with 10 minutes to spare, and, although there was standing room only, I didn’t mind. I stood for the hour long service, all in Spanish. A priest gave the homily in a gentle, kind voice. When it was time for communion, the only message given in several languages was given: You cannot receive the host unless you are a baptized Catholic. I wasn’t invited to the table, so I left at that point. It was a sweet service and though I did get misty-eyed a few times looking around at the ornate beauty of the church and realizing I had really made it here, I wasn't feeling particularly moved. 
There was one final thing I needed to do to officially complete the Camino. I had to find the Ofice de Peregrin@ and get my Compostela, my certificate of completion. In ancient times this was given for the pilgrim to take back to their local priest as proof of completion so that their penance or indulgence was noted. 
Adding just the perfect sense of rightness, as I rounded the corner to where the office was, there was Miriam, my Flemish friend and her group. They had just gotten their compostelas and even as we hugged and posed for one last picture, their bus arrived to take them to the airport. One more minute and I would have missed her.
While I had I stood in the long line of pilgrims awaiting their Compostela I got a lump in my throat, thinking of what an incredible journey this time had been, the experiences I have had. 

Last spring, as I was preparing for this Camino, my girlfriend said, “I wonder how your brother will show up for you on this path.”
I wondered, too. My decision to go on this pilgrimage was directly related to Erik and to his suicide, and how that had shattered my world. I had gone to hear the poet David Whyte speak on the subject of Solace: Asking the Beautiful Questions in Life’s Dark Times, solely as a means of trying to make some sense of the unimaginable grief I felt, and when Whyte spoke of the Camino de Santiago, and grief as a sort of pilgrimage, I numbly wondered if that might be something I could do as well.
And truthfully, Erik has been with me every step of this Way. Some days I would feel his presence walking with me. I think walking this Camino is something he would have loved to have been able to do. Sometimes I could almost hear his wry voice and his deadpan  sense of humor. Sometimes, I just time-travelled to earlier, happier days, revisiting some of my favorite memories of him; often tears would well up in my eyes, though I laughed aloud, as well, at some of the memories.
I thought, as I shuffled along in the steady but slow moving line, about how delicate life is, how a single action in one moment can forever altar the history as yet unwritten, how the ringing of a phone can be a herald of devastation and yet, also, how we can find the beautiful questions in life’s darkest times, if we look. The Camino had certainly shown me that.
As I neared the Compostela office, I noticed a sign advertising an additional document that would state the number of kilometers walked and the start and end dates of the Camino for €3. 
Obviously, I would get that, too!
When it was my turn, I approached the agents behind the desk, gave them my pilgrim’s passport so they could verify I had, indeed, walked from SJPP to Saniago de Compostela. The agent, a young man, who seemed to be training an older woman, asked where I was from. I said the US and the woman said she was from Georgia. We smiled at that, and the man asked if I wanted the additional document. I said yes, and then added, “If I pay for two, can I have one in my brother’s name. I walked this partly because of him.”
The man explained that they could only issue the documents in the name of the person who actually walked, but they could write in memory of the person on it, if I wished. 

I nodded, suddenly unable to speak, because tears were pouring silently down my face. I was overcome with emotion at my pilgrimage and my brother’s own shortened journey and I.could.not.stop.crying. 
The agent gave me a piece of paper; I wrote down Erik’s name, and waited while he added that to the Compostela and then rolled both into a cardboard tube for safekeeping. The woman from Georgia reached out and grasped my hand. “It’s beautiful what you did,” she said, her US southern voice sounding both incongruous and comforting. 
I could only nod, as the tears were still streaming down my face. I took my tube of documents and went outside where I found a quiet place. It was a few minutes before I could pull myself together.
Finally, I walked back out into the sunshine, the heat of the day, and made my way down the crowded streets filled with vendors, peregrin@s, tourists, and townsfolk. 

I carried the Compostela of completion. This Camino is over but in my heart I carry the journey itself, and that will never end. Neither, I know, will my grief; that, too is a pilgrimage that will wind its way down whatever terrain my future takes. And that’s okay. That's how it should be. There will always be beautiful questions to ask of it. 

Suddenly, I smiled. So, that's it. I thought to myself. 
According to my Certificate of Completion, I had walked 775km. 480.5 miles. A seven hour drive. A 36 day walk. A journey of a lifetime. 

Friday, July 15, 2016

Somehow We Get There

Camino Day 35

I am experiencing one of those (not too) rare moments of cognitive dissonance when outside reality tells me something must be true but inside it feels completely impossible; tomorrow morning I will walk the final 8+ miles to Santiago. I will leave Amenal, my final stopping point on this pilgrimage, around 815 so that I can arrive in plenty of time to make the daily Pilgrim’s Mass at 12 noon.
I confess, I feel a certain sense of nostalgia, already, a poignant sense of loss. These past few days I have gotten very verklempt at the idea of this journey coming to an end; it has made me once again reconnect to the trees, the flowers, the fields that grow next to my Way, the rocks underfoot.  
In some regard, this is very similar to the way I felt when my son, Sam, turned 18. I was suddenly panicked as I realized he had, as they used to say, reached the age of majority. I realized my definition as mom was going to change. I frantically thought back over the first 18 years of his life: had I hugged him enough? Had I told him I loved him enough? Had I shown him I loved him enough? Did I do the best I could to prepare him for this next step for both of us? Wait! I wanted to shout out to the Universe, This has gone much faster than it should! I still need time to read to him before bed, to carry him sleeping from the car after a long day.

Of course, the chance for that was gone. I had to content myself, to make peace with myself in accepting that it was what it was. 
And the same is true for this pilgrimage. I have had moments of panic as I realize it’s drawing to a close. Have I learned what I need to learn? Have I experienced what I need to experience. Again,I want to shout to the Universe, Wait! This has gone much faster than it should! I am not quite done experiencing all this.

And yet I must be, right? Because I have less than 15km to go. I was thinking yesterday about this long journey, this short experience and the lessons learned. I wryly remembered the ridiculous old joke: why did the chicken cross the road?
I thought, that’s what this can be classified as: why did the peregrina cross Northern Spain? To get to the other side.
And I knew in my bones it was as simple, and as complicated, as that.

To get to the other side not just geographically, but metaphysically as well. The terrain I’ve crossed, the blisters (three) I’ve gotten, the pain I’ve experienced and the strength I’ve gained, have not been experienced merely in the physical realm.  I have crossed a span of not just miles but milestones.

A few days ago I posted some pics that seemed to show dueling Camino yellow arrows. Some signs (official, concrete signs) seemed to point left and some seemed to point right. What was a peregrin@ to do? 
Luckily, a new friend I had met on the Camino, Masha, from Russia, had told me about this cool app called It is an amazingly accurate GPS app that doesn’t’ require cellular or wifi connections to work. I just have to type in the name of the hotel and specific walking and it not only shows me the route, but also gives an ETA. Hah! That is based on an 18 minute mile which I haven’t attained, even on a good day. My average is about 2.95 miles an hour—which does include photo stops. Still, it is useful when I come upon these mixed messages. 
After I saw the first one of these, the day before yesterday, I was musing on how this was Camino 2.0. Now that I had learned to follow the signs, I was being asked to interpret them. Would I go left or right? Would I trust the pilgrims I could see ahead of me on one path or take the other? 
Ultimately, honestly, I would look at and scale it so I could see the road to come not just right where I was, and follow that. I thought of the wisdom of spiritual leader Abaham. Hicks, who has said, any path is good.You cannot get it wrong, Abraham says, so just choose!
And that was a great metaphor for a few hours. Then I ran into a woman I had walked with several days earlier. Miriam, a Flemish woman from Belgium, and I had had a great conversation last Friday but then we parted ways and I hadn’t seen her since.
Suddenly, on Wednesday, there she was!! It was so great to see her. She told me she had gotten an infection in a toe nail and had had to take buses the past four days. She was traveling with a group and so couldn’t just stay on her own to heal. She was as excited to see me as I was to see. She said, “It gives me energy seeing you again!”
We walked along again. She was with a group of 13 Flemish peregrin@s who had begun in Astorga. At one point, she pointed to a man about my age—we had been crossing paths for several days—and said, “he is our group leader!.”
So then the three of us fell in together and the leader (whose name I didn’t get!) told me that the confusing signs were due to the fact that the Camino de Santiago had been given historical, cultural standing (much like my church, All Souls, in Colorado Springs, Co, has been given recognition as a State Historical Society) but in order to keep that recognition the province of Galicia had to restore the Camino to its original route. Evidently, over the past 1000+ years, there have been changes made; shortcuts, perhaps, or accommodations to modern life and the Way has subtly shifted. The tour leader said that they finished re-vamping the route just last year.
He also said that this added 8km to the Galician part of the Camino!! I knew it!!!! But, at any rate, it is true to its core now.
I thought, then, about how easy it is, through the years, to get slightly off center, to let the beliefs of others, or the things we tell ourselves, lead us, slowly, almost imperceptibly, away from the core of who we are. And how good it is to stop, every now and again, to get our bearings, to find our true north, to see where we need to make course corrections, to get back to the road that leads to our center, to our core.
This Camino has certainly been a way for me to do that. And to recognize, as well, that all roads will eventually get us there. Some may be longer, some may be more scenic.
Today, I came across a Spanish family at just such a crossroads. Here was an “official” sign pointing left and here was an equally official sign pointing right. There was much consternation in this family, as they tried to determine the right way. I showed them my page which said to go right. They were not convinced. I wished them Buen Camino and went to the right (one of the few times I will admit that!!!) Not far up the road, I saw where both options now converged. Both worked, it’s just that one was more true to the core. 

But somehow we get there, as Melissa Ferrick reminds us. We just have to get going, to keep forgiving ourselves for our missteps, to keep relying on grace—Grace given freely to us from ourselves, from others, from those who love us, and those who will never know us but wish us Buen Camino, Good Journey, blessings, blessings, love love, love, more love, Mas amor, por favor. And somehow, we get there, no matter how far—500 miles or 50 or the distance between a thought and a healing. 

And tomorrow: Santiago. And the next day? Well, we’ll see.