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.   

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Confessions of a "True" Pilgrim

Camino Day 32
Today there was a marked change in how I experienced the Camino. I knew it was coming and tried to prepare myself as best as possible. This morning I left from Sarria, which is the port of entry for folks wanting to earn a Compostela—or certificate of completion—for the Camino by traveling the shortest distance possible. In order to get a Compostela, you need to show you have walked at least the last 100 km to Santiago de Compostela. Sarria, at a distance of 112km away is perfect for that and the town has clearly made that a successful tourist industry. Consequently, whereas heretofore I had enjoyed long stretches of solitary walking, interspersed with short pleasant periods of conversations with other pilgrims, today I would find myself swamped on all sides with fresh pilgrims, many of them young and traveling in groups, as well as couples and friends of all ages and from all around the world.

My trusty guidebook had tried to prepare for this inevitability. In fact, it had even shared this sage bit of wisdom with me: 
"Note to 'seasoned' pilgrims: Beware of signs of irritation at the intrusion on 'my' Camino--remember that many of the new arrivals may be nervous starting out and the last thing they need is aloofness built on a false sense of superiority. A loving pilgrim welcomes all they meet along the path with an open mind and an open heart... Without judgment." 

So this morning, as I arose and did my morning preparations (which consists of taping the balls of my feet with paper medical tape and using KT tape on my heels, as well as the normal morning ablutions I do, regardless of where I am) I tried to mentally picture the difference and imagine what it would feel like. Perhaps a little nervous of what this day might bring, I scarfed down a breakfast of bread and ham, with a side of mixed fruit (in another blog, I’ll talk about the food on the Camino) and hit the road at 815—which is early for me.
Sure enough, I had barely stepped into the street when I was joined by throngs of fresh-faced, energetic, noisy pilgrims. 

Almost instantly I forgot my best intentions but I soldiered on, actually churning along at a pretty good clip, hopeful that I could soon outdistance the new pack and find some peace. This plan was hampered by a) having to start by going up a really steep hill, and b) no matter how far ahead I got of one group, there was another still in front of me to surpass.

It wasn’t even 9 AM and sweat was pouring off my head and down my face and neck. Making matters worse, it seemed as if a lot of the new peregrin@s were American, which meant I could understand what they were saying and, inadvertently and unwillingly eavesdrop on what I can only classify as insipid conversation. I mean, seriously--- did they have to come on this sacred path for this?

Yes, yes, I prayed this morning, as I do each day, that I would see what I need to see, hear what I need to hear, know what I need to know, and say what I need to say. But did I really need to hear the latest about the mutual friend of the two young college students behind me? And seriously, there was a man my age wearing black slacks and a clergy collar! I mean, really! Why on earth would you feel the need to identify as clergy while walking the Camino? Time and again, I had to reign in my judgement, my resentment, my irritability at “my” Camino being taken over by these upstarts who clearly didn’t have the stamina to go the whole distance and therefore had no idea what a Camino really was.
Then, thankfully, the better angels of my nature took over, and reminded me to feel compassion for those just starting out, to remember that there were a lot of reasons they were starting in Sarria rather than at St. Jean Pied-de-Port. I was older than many of them and I had more resources and help in getting to the starting point at SJPP than they did. Maybe they took all the time off they had to do these next five or six days. And for them, this was everything.

I began to feel compassion rather than criticism toward the newcomers. And I realized it reminded me of something else I am currently experiencing on Facebook.

We’ve had some tragic times in the United States over this summer, most recently the completely unjustified shooting deaths of two Black men by white police officers, followed by the shooting deaths of five white police officers in Dallas, TX by a Black man who had access (as do we all, tragically, in the USofA) to weapons of mass destruction and who took out his rage and helplessness equally violently by gunning down a dozen police officers, killing five, and wounding 7, including two civilians.

All of this happening so suddenly, one after another, barely gave any of us time to breathe, to mourn, to question, to seek comfort, to seek change.  In the wake of the Dallas shootings, a number of people began to post a well known quote from civil rights prophet and activist, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in which he said, 
“Darkness cannot  drive out darkness;
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate;
only love can do that.”
That was the basic quote that people, including myself, shared.

I thought as I shared it from a friend who had posted it that this quote summed up such a key root of the violence and destruction that has been so much a part of the fabric of America. I wasn’t thinking only of the white Dallas police officers but of all who have been killed as a result of hate and violence—the African American men and women gunned down or otherwise killed by officers of the law because of a deeply embedded hatred and distrust of the “other,” the horrific shooting at The Pulse night club, all of the acts of violence that seem to be hand stitched into this crazy quilt of our nation.

I saw it, I shared it; I was not alone. And then, just hours later, I saw a reaction from my liberal friends—many, but not all, who have been on the road to racial justice and equality for a long time; many—but not all, who have stood arm in arm with our black brothers and sisters to proclaim boldly that #blacklivesmatter; many—but not all, who, like me, have stood on the front lines of this battle for the lives and wellbeing of our kin of color.

I read one friend’s post that said if you haven’t spoken up about black lives matter you don’t get to quote MLK. Others chimed in similarly saying things such as “just because you quote a black man doesn’t make you not a racist,” and I saw one meme that condescendingly said something to the effect of, “I see you’re taking a MLK quote out of context. Need some help with that?”
I confess, it had me wondering, were my credentials as a white ally and long time activist for racial justice and equality enough to give me a “pass” to quote MLK? And who should I get vetted by? And what if this was my first step into the conversation? Did it make it wrong if I quoted MLK after the shooting deaths of the white police officers? Would it have been okay if I had managed to squeeze it in between the shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile?

And who gets control over the words of Dr. King? Or Jesus? Or Gandhi or the Dalai Lama? Who gets to decide who can “legitimately” use them and who gets excoriated if they try?

How long do you have to have been on this pilgrimage toward justice before you can be considered a “true” pilgrim?

I realized today that my resentment and criticism of the new peregrin@s left no room for compassion for how they came to be a part of the Way. When I respond with bitterness there is no openness that allows for the fact that people can step onto the path at many points different from my own, but no less valid, and that my judgment doesn't help propell them closer to the Compostela—the certificate of completion—but rather, puts up stumbling blocks to them getting there at all.

Actually, that quote from Dr. King comes from his 1963 book, Strength to Love, in which his essays point to the need for all of us to undergo a transformation of love. In a review of this book, Coretta Scott King is quoted as saying, "If there is one book Martin Luther King, Jr. has written that people consistently tell me has changed their lives, it is Strength to Love. I believe it is because this book best explains the central element of Martin Luther King, Jr.' s philosophy of nonviolence: His belief in a divine, loving presence that binds all life.”
Frankly, I think those folks who posted this on Facebook in the wake of the Dallas shootings (and we’ll never know if they meant if for all of the violence we see here in the US, but why not believe they did?) is not out of context at all. It speaks exactly to the point Dr. King tried to make, not only in this book, but in his life. The rest of the quote, equally profound, goes on to say:
Hate multiplies hate,
violence multiplies violence,
and toughness multiplies toughness
in a descending spiral of destruction....
The chain reaction of evil --
hate begetting hate,
wars producing more wars --
must be broken,
or we shall be plunged
into the dark abyss of annihilation.

For me, I see this as a cautionary note for those of us who have been on this road for a very long time. I don’t want to be bitter or resentful or critical of those who are just now finding their way onto the path. I want to make room for them. I want to give them course corrections, when they get off base (as in the whole all lives matter movement) but when they quote one of the heroes of my faith and activism, I want to applaud them and show them even more, reveal even more signs of justice that they can follow.
A few days ago, I arrived in the tiny (wifi-free) hamlet of O’Cebriero.  The church here, Santa Maria la Real, dates from the 9th century and is the oldest extant church directly related to the Camino. In this sacred place is the final resting place of Don Elias Valina Sampredo (1929-1989) the parish priest who dedicated his life to restore and preserve the integrity of the Camino, to encourage people to walk this holy way; it was his idea to mark the entire route with the ubiquitous yellow arrow showing the way to all of us pilgrims, guiding us from wherever and whenever we embark upon this path.
It was powerful and gratifying for me to see his tomb, to offer a silent word of thanks for providing signs to show us the way, and for encouraging all of us to walk this way, that it’s never too late to join in, that if (when) we make missteps, there will be other pilgrims to catch us and encourage us, not jeer at our lack of experience, and to set signs to help us remember that, at the end of the day—each and every day, as Ram Dass said, we are all just walking each other home. I guess that’s what makes a true pilgrim, after all.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

America the Beautiful

Camino Day 30
Today began what is to be my last week walking. On Saturday, I will make my way into Compostela de Santiago. In some ways, it seems surreal, not the least because it will mean I will re-enter the “real world;” you know, the one fraught with violence and pain and uncertainty and chaos.
Yesterday I had no internet access, and the day before, the sign proclaiming free wi-if in rooms neglected to mention that it only worked if I stood on one foot in the bathtub. Facing south.
So my access to the news unfolding in the wake of both the two police shooting deaths of black men—Alton Sterling and Philando Castile—and then the shooting deaths of five white Dallas police at an otherwise peaceful protest has been limited.
Truthfully, I was rendered speechless after the video of Sterling’s death appeared, and then Castile’s dying moments, video-taped by his girlfriend who, along with her young daughter, witnessed the entire event. I felt as if I just needed to make a generic statement about how #blacklivesmatter and how we need to do something about the rampant use of force against black men by police officers—you know, something undated, with no names mentioned, that I could just trot out again and again in the wake of each new tragedy.
And then Dallas happened. A mass shooting by a black man who said he wanted to kill as many white police officers as possible. A mass shooting by someone who had access-- once again, as is true of virtually all the mass shootings we’ve experienced in this year alone—to weapons of war, designed to kill as many humans as possible, as quickly as possible.
Clearly, the actions of the shooter were not reflective of the #blacklivesmatter movement. Clearly, he acted from his own private personal sense of rage, outrage, and inability to focus that in healing, empowering ways. Yet, now this tragedy is added to the already overloaded docket of death and despair on our nation’s books.
A friend wrote, after Dallas, that it felt like 1968. I had thought that, too, although I was too young at the time to understand the impact of all the violence that year held. It seems as if today, like then, the pressure cooker of race, power, despair, and pornographic access to guns  has exploded in unspeakable violence that seems to come at us with the staccato burst of an AR15.
So these two trajectories—the killing of black men and the use of weapons of war against anyone who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time—have collided in our nation.
Seven more lives senselessly taken, seven more families left grieving an inconsolable loss. Our nation, once again, ripped apart needlessly.
As I was sitting in my hotel dining room on Friday night, in Villafranca de Bierzo, virtually shut off from Internet access, thinking of all this violence, all this blood spilled in our streets, I slowly became aware of the song that was playing in the small room where I sat alone. It was Frank Sinatra singing  “America the Beautiful.”
Ironically, that song had been on my mind while I was still crossing the great Mesete—the vast, unending acres of amber waves of grain.  I had thought then how much easier life could be if we each looked past the boundaries we draw—making some “other” and instead saw the places of connection, of commonality—how we each grow crops of wheat or barley or rice to feed our families, how we each long for peace, for happiness, for love, for safety.
The experience of sitting in a small village in Spain, listening to Sinatra sing this singular song, written by lesbian, Katharine Lee Bates (who was teaching at Colorado College that summer of 1893), after she had visited Pikes Peak, the mountain in my backyard, while grieving over what is happening in America now, was a truly transcendent experience.
I know: that was a convoluted sentence; just imagine what it felt like to me—like a kaleidoscope with all these images swirling around, trying in vain to make sense of it all.

How can America be beautiful when it's streets are filled with the blood of innocent black men and women? How can America be beautiful when we continue to allow weapons of war to be sold to our citizens who then use them to spill even more innocent blood?

Can America be beautiful? And how? And how can we help in the reclamation process?
I  posted this poem on Facebook in the wake of the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando last month. I was reminded of it again, in the wake of these latest tragedies, in listening to Sinatra sing:
Good Bones, by Maggie Smith
Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

Today I am in Triacastela, Spain. I have six more days of walking before I reach the end of this pilgrimage. And I will soak in each of these moments with gratitude and awe. I will listen fully to the birdsong that is purer and more melodic than even a Gay Men’s Chorus. I will stop again and again to admire the wildflowers that still greet me and give spontaneous praise to the Universe for the rolling hills covered in green that meet me now at every turn. I will stand in silent, holy awe in cathedrals and churches built over 1000 years ago and I will remind myself of the good bones of our human existence—the ones that reach back before myth and religion, before the constructs of race and privilege, of inclusion and exclusion. I will see beyond the blood stained headlines to what could be.
And when I return, I will join, once more, with others who see those good bones, who believe in them with every beat of their heart. And together, we will find the ways to make this place beautiful once again. 

Frank Sinatra singing  “America the Beautiful.”“America the Beautiful.”

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Confidence in Me

Camino Day 27
I awoke this morning feeling the importance of the day. It was going to be a momentous day because a) it would be the longest distance I’ve walked in a day (32 km) b) I would reach the highest point on the Camino (1515m) c)I would have the opportunity to leave stones at La Cruz de Ferro—the Iron Cross. The Iron Cross is a touchstone, a highlight of the Camino. There for who knows how many years people have left stones that they have carried with them on the Camino.
Perhaps, early on, these stones represented “sins” (based on the pilgrims’ faith tradition) that they wanted to lay down. Nowadays, however, people lay down stones for things they want to release, things they want to receive, healing for themselves or others. And not only stones—people also leave objects like teddy bears, notes or prayers. Today, I saw a perfectly good pair of running shoes.
So, it was to be a momentous day. And I awoke early, wanting to get a head start on what would be a very long day, no matter when I began. I hurriedly ate my breakfast, washed it down with café con leche and set out from the charming village of Rabanal del Camino.
As I left, I said my usual morning prayers to the Universe, and put forth my usual intentions, as well, that I would greet the day with awe and wonder, that I would welcome each experience with a holy curiosity, that I would be in sync with the walk, with the weather, with whatever the day brought me. But of course, this was also a most auspicious day. I would be laying down these three rocks, releasing all those intentions into the Universe. One of them was specifically for my sister, Lori, who had asked me to place a stone at the cross for her. 
I knew the Iron Cross lay on the ascent and so I wanted to be in a place of focused prayer, meditation, intention-releasing, for that. My idea was that I would walk contemplatively, reflectivity to the La Cruz de Ferro, feeling the weight of the three stones in my backpack, feeling the weight of the journey I’ve carried them on, bringing them with me from Colorado Springs.
But that was not to be. As I left Rabanal del Camino, the path narrowed to a single track, choked with plants and flowers on either side, threatening to completely block the path. But that was ok. That made it easier to give high fives to the flowers and other plants that I passed by. What was not ok was the swarms of flies or gnats or whatever the hell those buzzing, flying insects are that seemed to want to fly around my face, with their sawing voice going on and on. They were like the worst of playground bullies--always in my space and when I asked them to leave, they only laughed at me and continued to jeer at me and taunt me, “make me!”
I wondered if it was just me, so I was relieved when a younger couple passed me, both waving their trekking poles in the air to try to dissuade the flies. 
I tried to ignore them, myself, in total zen fashion, tried to make friends with them, even and welcome them into my experience. Of course, then I remembered last week’s blog by my sister, Kari, in which she recalled in horrifying detail, the experience of having a fly fly into her ear as a young girl. That was it. I began waving my hanky in the air above my head like a true believer at a tent revival. I was not, however, saying pious prayers or giving praise, what I was saying went something more like, “Get the fuck aWAY from me!!”
While this frenetic gyration seemed to keep the insects somewhat at bay, every time I stopped to take a picture, they’d instantly go into formation and surround my entire head like a living beekeeper head gear meant for protection. It was horrifying!
Fortunately, a village soon appeared on the horizon and, while it was early in the day to actually stop for a break, I was desperate! I needed to ditch the bugs. So I went inside, had a Coke, and rested (my nerves) for a bit.
But I couldn’t stay there all day, there was still 17 miles to go, so I gamely put on my backpack and went back outside. Fortunately, the flies did seem to subside then, seeming more like a pack of children chattering about me, asking me for change, rather than a defcon 1 assault on my sanity, so I was able to get to a meditative state of mind after all. I thought about the rocks in my back pack and all they represented-both known and unknown to me. I thought about how I have carried them with me for so long and how it was time to let them go. 
When I reached La Cruz de Ferro I was surprised by how small the iron cross actually was. It was maybe a foot or so high, but it was placed on top of a long pole that reached into the sky.  At its base there was a mound of rocks at least the height of two humans at the very foot of the pole, then gradually cascading down to the ground. Folks were walking on the mound, placing rocks, saying prayers, and I made my way up to the top of the mound as well, where I placed my three stones near the foot of the pole. I stayed there for a few minutes, saying my prayers, setting my intentions, releasing what needed to be released, embracing what needed to be embraced, and sending the lot of it off into the universe. I was surprised at how moved I was by this simple site, and this simple act of letting go. Finally, I continued on the Way.
As I continued up the steep path, I realized the terrain was changing from the hard-packed dirt with the overgrown flowers to the big stones in the path that I remembered from the first few days on the Way. There was no way to get an actual stride going so I stepped nimbly and paid attention as best I could. I was eager to make it to the top, the highest point of the Camino and I took pictures of fellow peregin@s ahead me as they began the ascent to the point, or at least I thought.
But I when I reached that same place, there wasn’t any sign there telling me this was the highest place so I trudged on. I quickly came upon a small mobile café that sold everything from café con leche to bocadillos but I kept going. I was focused on reaching the top.
It soon became apparent to me,however, that I was clearly on a downward trajectory; I had missed the highest point, although I walked right over it.
Soon, all I could do was to keep my eyes focused on the descent. Those damn big stones were everywhere! Sometimes, despite my eagle eyes, I would trip over one, or feel the roll of stones underneath my step. When this happened, I corrected as best I could and went on. I had wondered how I would do without trekking poles and it turned out I did just fine. I basically plunged down the path, trusting my feet to find solid footing. Sometimes, I held my arms out at my side, balancing myself, as if I were walking the tracks on the abandoned railroad line near my home.
These big stones seemed to occupy most of the path going down. Exhausted, I stopped in a small village for a bocadillo and Coke and then, somewhat fortified resumed my trek.
The stony path continued until it was replaced by a narrow path that seemed to be made of either petrified wood or some prehistoric lava sludge—bluish in color and undulating down the path. It was smooth and slipper and extremely difficult to walk upon. 
This was followed by washed out parts of the trail, requiring me to hopscotch over water by means of stones to get to drier land.
Finally, I made the city of Molinaseca. From there it would be only 3.8 miles to go. I did those miles after another brief stop to guzzle down some ice cold water. This trail led me along a busy road, with cars whizzing by, into a moderately wealthy suburb that lead to an industrial part of town before, finally, leading to my hotel.
As I reviewed the day, while walking the last couple of miles, it occurred to me that today had, in some ways, been a test. It was as if I faced, in a single day, the hardest challenges of the Camino thus far.
Those steep ascents and descents with those damn stony paths hadn’t been seen since my earliest days walking. The weather was hot and muggy, also not felt in a few days. The busy traffic and urban sprawl was like right out of the walk into and out of Leon. 
I remembered when my sister, Katy, and I were in the USAF Basic Training. One of the things we had to complete (Attempt, anyway) was the Confidence Course. This was a race through different challenges—crawling in the mud under barbed wire placed a foot off the ground, climbing over walls, and several water challenges, such as swinging from a rope over water to walking on a rope over water. 
I remember our TI (Technical Instructor) mentioned that the course used to be called the Obstacle Course and there were a lot of failures. But when they did nothing more than change the name to Confidence Course, the failure rate dropped! Although Katy and I both failed on different water challenges, the power of the name stuck with me through the years.
When I first started the Camino, it felt more like an obstacle course. The steep inclines and descents, those damnable rocky paths, all felt like something set up to defeat me; they were tasks I felt unequal to. 
But today felt like a Confidence Course! I knew I could handle the terrain, even without trekking poles, and I embraced the opportunity to try. 
When I arrived at my hotel, my watch told me that I had done 46, 326 steps for a total of 20.17 miles. I had started at 7:42 this morning and arrived at 4:50 this afternoon. Just over nine hours from start to finish with three breaks—and my feet were fine!!. It was a long day, a challenging day, a good day. I had passed the test and I knew that, even though I still have nine days left to walk, that I will be just fine. I’ve no doubt there are still things I will learn on this Camino but I feel like the biggest lesson I learned today: that I can do it, if I just have confidence in myself.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Blessings from Poverty. Blessings from Power.

Camino Day 26

Wow, as I write that, I realize that I have only 10 more days of walking before I enter  Compostela de Santiago and complete this amazing pilgrimage. I have been on this Way almost a month and my guidebook tells me I have239.6 km (148.9 miles) to go. When I started in St. Jean Pied-de-Port, France, the full route of 776.2 km (482.3 miles) stretched before me—all uncharted terrain, each step a step outside of the well worn geography of my world. 
Today I continued the gradual incline that will lead me to the highest point on my journey,
Alto altar, at 1515 m or 4970.5 ft. The difference is that on the first day, I went from 656 to 4757 ft —and then down again to 2952 ft—in a single day. The journey to this peak will be the result of three days steadily climbing, gradually reaching the apex. I guess I could also say that reaching this peak has been the result of 26 days of steadily walking, continuing toward this unseen crest, having faith that each step will continue to bring me closer to this height.
After the vast, flat terrain of the Mesete, I don’t mind the additional challenge these rolling hills, and sustained uphill climbs are bringing and good thing; since then, the Camino is like a roller coaster for the faint of heart--- a steady incline followed by a steady decline but no heart-stopping descents into the pit of nothingness. 
Tomorrow’s  triumphant summiting, however,  will be followed by an almost 3200 ft descent into Ponferrada, a reminder to take care on the Way, to not get stuck in a rut of complacency so that attention and care is not given to the path.
This is a pilgrimage, after all, not a long circuitous walk around and around and around the 400 meter track outside the local high school.
And that’s been true throughout this pilgrimage: as soon as I thought the path would be one of unending pain and uneven footing on treacherous paths, the Way straightened into level, trails with white gravel or dirt that was kind to my feet, and easier to see where I was going. When I was immersed in the beauty and wonder of the wild flowers and mountains and rugged vistas on either side, the view gave way to the cereal crops of the Mesete with their own beauty, if also a sense of unending, unchanging views that could deaden the senses as well as delight.
And now, for these past few days, the road has been changing once again. The roller coaster has returned, though gently for the most part, and there are mountains again in the distance, and thick green forests of trees coating the landscape. The path is varied now: asphalt or gravel for one portion, hard-packed dirt for another, and then, today, a return to the long ascent up a path strewn with large rocks that made pacing challenging and paying attention a must.
Even the blessings have been different. In San Juan de Ortega I joined in a Pilgrim’s mass and blessing in the simple church built there by its namesake, solely as a place of sanctuary for the peregrin@s, a place of safe harbor against the bandits that roamed the area in ancient times, a place of healing. When San Juan de Ortega died, his body was kept in a simple stone crypt while a beautiful alabaster resting place in the center of the main sanctuary was made for him, but when it was completed, he made it clear—from beyond the grave—that he would prefer to stay in his humble stone coffin; he lived among the poor and the wandering and in his death, that’s how he wanted to be remembered.  The mass there was simple and there were programs printed in both Spanish and many other languages so that virtually anyone could follow along.
In that village of 20, the congregants were all pilgrims who were each given a blessing and a Saint James cross by the priest.
In Leon, I also attended a Pilgrim’s mass and blessing, on the eve of setting out for Villar de Mazarife. It was a very different experience. I got to the Santa Maria de Leon Cathedral about 30 minutes early. I had already gone on a tour through its private museum earlier in the day and, although the guide spoke only in Spanish, I didn’t need a translator to be in awe at the relics dating from the 12th c. The Cathedral itself was huge, in stark contrast to the smaller church in San Juan de Ortega, though it dated from the same period, and, also in contrast to San Juan—where the village existed much as it had been founded—to be a haven for pilgrims—Leon was built as a Roman military garrison and base for its VIIth Legion. The name, Leon, comes from the word Legion. It’s very genesis was as a place of power and wealth whose existence was predicated on serving the Rome and then the rulers who conquered throughout.
The Santa Maria cathedral, in the heart of the old part of the city was not just for pilgrims. In fact, you could say pilgrims were incidental to the reason it was built. Consequently, the Pilgrim’s Mass was not just for pilgrims, either. Most of the congregants were citizens of Leon, young families and elderly men and women. By the time the service started, over 100 people were in the pews. There was no helpful bilingual prayer book so I just took in the energy of the service while not understanding. Unlike in San Juan de Ortega, when the Eucharist was served, I did not go forward. But afterward, when the priest asked for the peregrin@s to come forward for a blessing, I did. There were more of us than I would have thought—maybe 25 or so, and the priest’s assistants handed out prayer cards which were in the language of your choice so that, although the blessing was spoken in Spanish, I could read along. 

Blessings from poverty. Blessings from power. 

How different and yet similar they were. The blessing in San Juan included scripture readings which the priest invited pilgrims to volunteer to read in their own language, the Leon blessing was more truncated. Both both invoked the name of Abraham and Moses, both asked for blessings and protection against harm and injury, and both ended with a hymn, one invoking Santa Maria, and the other, Santiago, himself.

Tonight, in the quaint village of Rabanal del Caminio, there is a Pilgrim’s Blessing, as well. It is to prepare us for La Cruz de Ferro—the Iron Cross, a mere 7.3 km into the day. This is a place where people place stones—stones for letting go, for acceptance, for healing. I have been carrying three stones, myself, and I will lay them down tomorrow morning. But I think I will miss tonight’s blessing, as it is at 9:30 PM. I would like to gather in this beautiful church and receive that blessing from the Benedictine monks who serve here, but seriously? 9:30 PM? On the eve of my longest day and a great climb? 
I think by now that I can bless myself, send blessings to my heart, my feet, my legs, my journey, my stones. Send blessings to those whose love and presence I have carried with me on this Way whose lives, at least one of these stones represent.
I have ten days left of walking. Ten days of seeking and giving blessings. Ten days of being open to all the blessings this Camino has for me. They will not be walked in vain.

Monday, July 4, 2016

The Summoning

May 22, 2016 sermon pre-sabbatical
Chalice Lighting: (anonymous poem in German on Camino)
Why do I deal with the dry dust in my mouth,
The mud on my aching feet,
The lashing rain and the glaring sun on my skin?
Because of the beautiful towns?
Because of the churches?
Because of the food?
Because of the wine?No. Because I was summoned!

Today is my last Sunday before taking the second part of my sabbatical that I began last summer.  It is common for ministers to get a sabbatical every four to six years, earning a month a year until it’s taken. Since I waited til the outer edge of time to take mine and actually was a year past the six year mark, since I’ll be celebrating 8 years as your pastor this August, I decided to split the time I earned--take half last summer, and half this summer.
Sabbaticals are different for ministers than for those in the academic world. In that world, you have to have a project, apply for it, and show your work when you return, show how it benefits the university.
For ministers, sabbaticals really are about what the root word means: Sabbath. Rest. Renewal. A time for restoration; a time to cleanse the spiritual and mental palate so that new tastes might be experienced, new ideas might come to the forefront that I would never have the room for rent
up here, in my noggin, to entertain in the busyness of my ministry I came up with Tuesdays with Nori during the first part of my sabbatical last summer.
Sabbaticals are good for the minister and they’re equally good for the congregation It gives you an opportunity to hear new voices, to hear the wisdom from people among you--members and leaders of this congregation--and the wisdom of folks from the community who have an area of expertise they will share.
Last year, as part of my restoration and renewal, I decided to run four half marathons. One a month. And it was restorative. I was able to move some emotions through my body and soul--
grief from losses I have experienced,weariness from life.
I came back with a lightnesst hat I didn’t have when I left.
This summer I’m doing the Camino de Santiago. It’s more acceptable to some people as a spiritual journey, but last year was deeply spiritual, too.
The Camino is an ancient pilgrimage that begins in the French Pyrenees and crosses Northern Spain, ending up in Compostela de Santiago where the Cathedral of St. James is. It’s a five hundred mile journey, something I could easily drive in less than 8 hours, but will take me a total of 36 days to walk, including two rest days.
While it was originally a Catholic pilgrimage, done for indulgences or as penance, today the Camino is a multi-faith experience; people from all over the world will walk for their own very private reasons. Some religious or spiritual. Some not The saying goes that everyone has their own Camino. It’s different for everyone.
And so, of course, people have asked me why I’m choosing to walk my Camino. And the answer is as simple as the chalice lighting.
I was summoned.
That poem is  on a billboard, written in German, along the route. And it speaks to my own experience. I had gone to a weekend retreat in February, 2014 with the poet David Whyte.
His theme was on Solace: Asking the Beautiful Questions in Life’s Difficult Times.This was a few months after my brother killed himself and I was definitely seeking solace, and trying to frame the questions I had as beautiful.
In this retreat. David Whyte spoke of grief as a pilgrimage and he  spoke of the Camino de Santiago,  which I’d never heard of, and that was when the seeds of the summoning were planted.
A year later, David Whyte spoke at Colorado College on the subject of pilgrimage and then the deal was sealed.
So I was summoned, and over the past few months  I’ve been trying to build up my stamina, and break in my hiking shoes, and train with my pack, and I have read books and seen movies about the Camino, and I still have no idea what I’m doing, and what will occur, and how it will change me, and what I will learn.
But as I was thinking of this grand adventure, it occurred to me that last summer’s series of four races was also a pilgrimage,  and that actually my whole life is a pilgrimage. And so is yours.
Isn’t it? Don’t you feel it when you turn to look back at where you’ve been and realize you’ve learned valuable lessons along the way?
And don’t you sense the sacredness of this pilgrimage when you look ahead  and can see the bend in the road  and although you can’t see what’s beyond that curve in the road, you know you must keep journeying?
You are being summoned to this pilgrimage. As are we all. We just need to pay attention to the journey, to set down the remote control with its fast forward button, to stop the car before we get a speeding ticket, and get out  and feel the earth beneath our feet.
This summer, while I’m hobbling down the camino, you’ll each be on your own path, seeking your own truth and meaning, as our fourth principle reminds us.
And so when I came across this list from the abstract painter Richard Diebenkorn I thought this was the perfect reminder for how to walk the camino, yours and mine.
The first thing we need to do is to attempt something that isn’t certain. This takes us out of our comfort zone; it summons us to a path that we don’t know, we haven’t taken, and we’re not sure of the outcome.  If we only stay within the realms of what we know we can do, of places we have been and know, we will never learn what can only be learned in uncertainty.
In the ancient times, when cartographers were first making maps of the known world, when they reached the edge of their knowing they indicated the uncharted territory with the phrase, “Beyond here be dragons.”
It can be scary to go beyond the limits of our knowing, but when we let go of certainty we unlock something inside of us that yearns to be seen. 
Next, the pretty, initial position which falls short of completeness is not to be valued - except as a stimulus for further moves. I have accumulated all the right gear--and I do look pretty cute in my hiking clothes , with my boots and backpack --but it’s not about the look. All this gear is meant to help me move forward.  We’re supposed to do something with what we have, with what we have been given, and what we have learned.
Next: Do search. But in order to find other than what is searched for. I love this one. Sometimes we get so caught up in the certainty of rule number one that we think we know what we’ll experience, what we’ll see , and what we’ll find that we miss the unexpected treasures and insights, and relationship that weren’t in our line of vision.
When people ask me what I hope to gain from my camino, I say I don’t know. I want to be open. I am setting off on this journey To find that which I am not seeking.
Think about something you’re searching for. Now give up the object, but not the search. That’s a pilgrimage.
Next: Use and respond to the initial fresh qualities of the paint but consider them absolutely expendable and don’t “discover” a subject - of any kind.  Remember that every day is a new day.  Don’t hold on to the beauty of yesterday, the epiphanies on the miles behind you. Be open to companions that show up--the right subjects, the right people will cross your pathbright when they need to. As fellow pilgrims , tt’s only natural that our paths will cross and the journey will be shared--for a few miles or many.
Next: Somehow don’t be bored --but if you must,  use it in action. Use its destructive potential.
Remember saying that as a kid to your mom? I’m bored! Mistake. That’s when the chore list came out.
The first goal is to not be bored--there’s so much to see, to learn, to take in! But if you’re going to be bored, then do something useful.
Next: Mistakes can’t be erased, but they move you forward from your present position. We are often so afraid of making mistakes; in fact we can be paralyzed with fear, of making the wrong choice, going the wrong direction. Here’s a news flash: We will make mistakes. It’s one of the endearing qualities that make us human. If I were to have a tombstone, I’d want it to say, “ Mistakes were made.”  The point is to not make mistakes, but to use our mistakes to move forward. If we get a little lost on the camino, we can backtrack or find a shortcut from where we are.  But we can always move forward. Our mistakes will never have the last word, unless we let them.
I like this one: Keep thinking about Pollyanna. What must the artist have been thinking when he wrote this? Was he thinking about how annoying people can be when they’re unrelentingly cheerful? Or maybe it’s a reminder to be optimistic, to shine the light of hope--even in the darkest night, or the longest day, when your feet are covered in blisters, and you have shin splints, and there’s still so many more miles to go.
Next: Tolerate chaos. This is another good one. On a pilgrimage, sometimes the bed doesn’t’ get made, you spill coffee over your white shirt on the way to the office, unexpected road work puts you on a detour. Just go with the flow. Life happens. It’s almost always messy. It’s okay.
Finally be careful, only in a perverse way. Be careful in a wild way, in a way that ensures your safety, if not your sanity. Be careful to not be too careful.
Pilgrims walking the Camino de Santiago carry a scallop shell. Beyond being a part of the legend of St. James, it Identifies a person as a pilgrim, someone who is on a sacred journey--not a robber, lying in wait along the road. It’s also a sign to other pilgrims that we’re not alone, that this Camino is being shared with everyone who has ever been and ever will be.
It’s a sign of loyalty that we will walk this Way together. Even if our individual paths diverge.
During flower communion, please take a shell to carry with you this summer as a reminder that we are all pilgrims, walking each other home, as Ram Dass says, and that no matter how far apart we may be from one another over the coming months, we will return home changed, lighter in spirit, more connected to who we are, each of us with stories to tell.
May it be so.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Too Many Names

Camino Day 23

I am sitting in Leon at the end of my second (and final) rest day. I was so eager to get here yesterday so that I would have more time to be, actually, here, that I left the earliest I have yet—754 AM. And, although I could have stopped at one of the few villages along the way, I didn’t; I simply strode on toward Leon, arriving before noon, with over 11 miles walked.
This past week was a big week, in many ways. I crossed the halfway point—both in miles covered and in days spent on the Camino. And I crossed some invisible boundary within me, too. 
Each day, I feel stronger-physically, emotionally, spiritually. Each day I feel more in tune with myself, my pace, my thoughts, my heart. I feel as if my experiences in the first traumatic, arduous days on the Camino were akin to Dorothy being tossed through the sky by the violent tornado and only being able to catch her breath when she landed with a thump in Munchkinland. I wonder if she felt like I feel now—as if those first moments of transformation were a blur, like a barely remembered dream, chaotic and fraught with anxiety and pain, but necessary to land her where she needed to be, to walk the road she needed to walk.
And I have been walking, the ground growing closer to me, somehow, every day. Not close in proximity but in relationship. My friend, Roger Butts, let me co-opt the five week sabbatical devotional he had made for Ahrianna Platten. Each week has a poem, some questions for reflection, and a prayer. Last week’s (week 3) included the poem, “Too Many Names  by Pablo Neruda. In this poem, Neruda speaks with a certain weariness of humankind’s propensity to want to name things and claim importance in doing so. It says, in part:
”Mondays are meshed with Tuesdays 
And the whole week with the whole year.
Time cannot be cut 
With your exhausted scissors,
And all the names of the day
Are washed out by the waters of night.

No one can claim the name of Pedro,
nobody is Rosa or Maria,
all of us are dust or sand,
all of us are rain under rain.
They have spoken to me of Venezuelas,
of Chiles and Paraguays;
I have no idea what they are saying.
I know only the skin of the earth
and I know it has no name.”

And, although Roger didn’t know I’d be using his devotional on my five week pilgrimage when he chose these poems and prayers and questions, this fits in so well with what I’m feeling now. I’m relieved to be away from the ceaseless, frenetic naming of things—of events, of behavior, of people, of groups of people, of nations of people. I no longer have any idea what they’re saying. What are these things called nations? I didn’t notice the change of boundary when I crossed from France into Spain, except for the human made sign naming it so. 
It is nice to not be concerned with the names, with the order of things, and the regimented lists of expectations all that naming brings forth. In these past three weeks I have come to know only—and intimately—the skin of the earth, which has no name.
I don’t know why this is so, but these past few days on the Mesete, with its long, vast, unending vista of cereal crops and a blue, blue sky seamlessly keeping the daylight in, there have been few pilgrims on the road with me.
Curiously, when I do stop for a bocadillo and coke, there are always a dozen, at least, also resting, eating, shoes off, hands curled around a cold glass of water, or a coke, or a beer. But when I’m actually walking, these fellow travelers are few and far between. One day(Thursday, I think) I tried to remember to keep count and by the time I reached my destination, I had tallied up seven other pilgrims walking, and six whizzing by on their bicycles.
I don’t mind; I’m not lonely. In fact, I am soaking in this solitude like a tonic, as if I were at an oxygen bar at the top of Pikes Peak. It brings me life, and strength, and contentment. This solitude gives me freedom to stop all the name-dropping that we humans do and just breathe in and out, repeating as necessary.
And if, in my first few days on the Way, I felt like an ant, crawling along unseen amongst the blades of grass and the gravel, I now feel like I’m Paul Bunyan—a giant striding over villages and towns, and canyons and mighty rivers, though from my great height they look like ant hills, tire tracks and run-off from a leaky sprinkler system. Yet, this great height doesn’t make me feel removed from the earth; as I said, it makes me feel more closely connected to it and the vast expanse of it that I can see and touch and hear, even—in the birds call and the croaking of frogs and even the traffic rushing by. And, in fact, the more I forget the names of things and just live among all things, the deeper I feel the skin of this earth and the more I know this earth is feeling the skin of me.
Tomorrow I start out again, with only 13 more days of walking before I reach Compostela de Santiago. That seems both an eternity and a heart beat away. But I won’t dwell on that future date. I will swing by backpack onto my shoulders and feel the strength in my legs and arms and back, feel the power in my feet—that still ache, though not nearly as much as before—to carry me places I never dreamed I’d be and like Neruda ends his poem, perhaps in these next two weeks I will confuse things, unite them, make them new-born, mix them up, undress them, until all light in the world has a oneness of the ocean, a generous, vast wholeness, a crackling, living fragrance.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Shortest Day, the Longest Walk

Camino Day 18 
Tuesday was the shortest day and yet the longest walk of the Camino, so far. It was only a 10ish mile gig, a cake walk, really, but there were two things that made it so long. First, there were no facilities along the entire route, by which I mean no café to stop and have a cup of café con leche or coke when my feet or legs got tired; this meant, by default, that there were no “servicios,” either. No el bano, no WC, no toilets. 
As a 54 year old woman, I think you’ll agree that I had every right to be concerned. I planned out my walk with grim determination, doing the only thing I could do to ensure a comfortable day’s walk: I decided to dehydrate myself. If I didn’t drink any water, chances are I wouldn’t need the use of any servicios. 

Also, I made sure I had some tissues, just in case I needed to respond to the call of the wild.

I was a little nervous, not just about the lack of facilities, but in the length of the walk. Sure, I could stop and rest along the road if I got too tired—and there were picnic areas with tables and benches (but no WC) set up for that, but let’s face it: that would just extend the amount of time I would be in between bathrooms.

So I set off, making the lone pit stop at a gas station on the way out of town, a mere five minutes after I left my hotel. This reminded me of how I would prepare for running races.. On the day of the race, I’d show up at least 30 minutes early to get my bib number and then I would take my place at the end of the (very long)  line for the porta potties. I would reach my destination and get rid of the few dribbles in my system, then I would take my place at the end of the (still very long) line to the porta potties and repeat until it was time to take my place at the starting line.

There are some instances in which you can’t be too careful.

So I set off with a jaunty air curious to see how the day would unfold.

I made it to my destination with no need for unintended pit stops for rest or… Release. Pice of cake. It was, after all, my shortest day, as I’ve said. And the longest I have walked without a break.
But it was also the longest walk, not just due to lack of services but also to the complete and utter lack of scenery. Once I left the city limits of Carrion de los Condes it was if all the vibrant colors of flowers and the jigsaw puzzles of different crops fitting together were left behind as well. There was, once again, no shade, and the air was still, with no breeze playfully tousling the hair of the wheat that grew silently next to me. 

Add to this the fact that the path I was on was level and stable and it never.varied. I was on a white gravel road in a straight line from point A to point B with no trees, no towns, no turns to “mar” the view. 
This made me realize how my body and mind had gotten used to the elegant diversity of the Camino, thus far. The wild flowers that bloomed along earlier paths were rowdy and singular, even if they shared the same ancestors, and the fields of wheat and oat and barley rippling in the breeze had made me feel as if I was a modern day itinerant Moses, walking through the waves of grain on dry land.
But on this day, I felt less like Moses and more like the anti—hero from the 1971 movie, “Vanishing Point.” I remember us five kids watching this movie with our Dad when it came out. All I can recall is an endless scene of Kowalski, played by Barry Newman, driving and driving and driving while radio DJ Super Soul (Cleavon Little) would sporadically encourage him through the radio: “Come on! We believe in you!” (I confess I had to google this to remind myself what the plot was, as immemorable as it was.) 

The only difference is, I had no one exhorting me to keep going; I had only the white, dusty road in a straight line ahead of me, with no sign of human civilization in sight.

I was okay with this for much of the day. With no exterior stimulation, my thoughts turned down the interior labyrinthine path that leads to my center and I spent much of the day in reflection about my life, things for which I’m grateful (these things are really relationships- my son, my family, my gf, my friends-and experiences over the years) and things I still want to accomplish. And it was a rich, interior route along a path much more varied than the one outside. 
But then, a shift occurred. According to my GPS, I was nearing my destination. I was a mile away, then .5, then .2 miles away. The flat landscape stretched on and on and still there was no sign of a village. It had been hours, it seemed, since the last tractor had passed me by, covering me in the dust from the road, which stuck to my sweat like dollar store glitter.  I sensed a low grade panic arising in me. 
Where was the town? It had been over 10 miles., there was nothing obstructing my view, and yet still I couldn’t see anything or anyone! I had primed my body to walk for 10 miles without stopping and without servicios but now I was ready to be done. 
Finally, so dim in the afternoon haze that it seemed to be a mirage, I glimpsed a simple structure with a smaller building attached to the right of the road.. The sight did little to inspire confidence.
That was it? No wonder I got to stay in such a nice place the night before, they were preparing me for this. 
But as I kept walking, that building stayed firmly to my right, at least a quarter mile from the road which, by the way, refused to bend toward that structure. I began this internal pleading with my environment, as if by reasoning with the road, I could make it see the error of its way, but to no avail.
I kept looking at my GPS as it counted down the distance to my hotel. It reached .10 of a mile and still nothing. I despaired of ever leaving that road. Like Newman, I would just walk and walk and walk in the arid landscape. It didn’t help that I had no idea how the movie ended; we left the theater long before that vanishing point.
Finally, just when all seemed lost I came to a sudden dip in the road; there in a hidden valley was the village of Calzadilla de la Cueza: my destination was at hand. And it was such a cheerful little village-- so much more than the structure I had been fixated on, so determined was I to be able to see where I was going. Gladly I jogged down that hill to the finish line. I don’t know about Kowalski, but I had arrived!

As I sat drinking a cerveza (after using the servicios, of course) I thought about how easy I had anticipated this day being. Ten miles? After what I’ve been through? Cake walk! But there is more than distance to journey and often what makes the shortest day the longest walk is a sense of desolation, an inability to see where we’re going, and no one-not wildflower or DJ—to cheer us on. Sometimes those benign pockets of white noise, white dust, contain more despair than the most challenging terrain. These are the times when hopelessness can creep in and giving up seem a viable option. These are the times we must have faith, faith in the journey, faith in the call that brought us here, faith in the village that awaits us, just beyond the bend.