Tag Archive - Faith

Vincible: A Riff on Aging…

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

When the cardiologist’s office offered me an appointment on the same day I was seeing the dentist, I figured this was efficient. I would already be out — and showered (never a given).

I did not realize that these two were engaged in a secret conspiracy to steal my invincibility.

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Despite the fact that it has been five years since my last visit to the dentist, (Don’t judge, I have trauma issues.) I am praised for my hygiene. No cavities. Hardly any plaque.

“There is, however, the matter of these silver fillings. While they will last forever, they are much less flexible than your teeth and with the passage of time have begun to cause cracks. If left untreated, you will begin to have breakage. We need to replace them.”

“Wait, what?! Let me get this straight. Because I am old, I am going to need to come in once a year for the next four years to have silver fillings dug out of two teeth at a time, and those same two teeth fitted with crowns?!”

“Yep. That’s pretty much it.”

“Awesome.”

I walk out into the stifling heat feeling seriously deflated. And old. I think back to my check-up a couple of years ago where the answer to every question I asked was “Well, at a certain age…” I contemplate taking up day drinking. Then I remember the cardiologist and think better of it…

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I had my first episode of tachycardia when I was a teenager. My mom and I were sitting in the living room having a pleasant conversation when my heart abruptly went from beating 70 beats a minute to more like 180. As if someone had flipped a switch. It lasted about five minutes, then was over. It was weird, but I didn’t think a lot of it. I have continued to have these episodes randomly, and infrequently, ever since.

The impact on my life has been minimal for the most part. Only twice has it been problematic. The first time was when I was pregnant. A woman’s heart rate naturally accelerates because of pregnancy. In me, this translated to more frequent episodes that sometimes lasted an hour. I finally saw a doctor who diagnosed the problem and taught me ways to help restore my rhythm.

The other time it was a problem was when I had an issue with my thyroid. But that only lasted about three months. In the ten years since, I have been back to the old pattern of infrequent and short.

Until the morning of July 6th.

That morning, Kenz and I were on our way to explore the playhouses at Cheekwood when I had an episode while driving. It was so severe that I had to pull over til it stopped. Over the course of the morning, I had four more episodes, the last of which persisted almost two hours until, at my doctor’s direction, I went to the emergency room and had it corrected forcibly. (Mike had joined us by then and was driving, lest you fret.)

Because there was no obvious explanation for this sudden craziness, my doctor wanted me to see a cardiologist.

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Dr. Estrada is calm and laid back, and I think to myself that this is going to go well. He sketches an illustration of the heart and its valves and shows me how the several types of tachycardia work, including the one he believes I have. It is not as dangerous as some of the others which is good.

“However, with age, these random episodes like you had a couple of weeks ago are likely to become more frequent, and possibly more severe. At that point they can cause damage to the heart and you may find yourself in the emergency room more often. We don’t have to fix it now if you want to wait and see how it goes. But it is probably just a matter of time.”

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When friends and family have asked about, and even challenged, what they perceive as an overly rigorous commitment to eating healthy and to exercise, I have explained it like this: There are a lot of things about our health we can’t control. Mike and I both have strong family histories of diabetes and heart disease, for example. It seems to me that we have a responsibility to be wise about the things we can control.

That is what I have said.

But apparently, what I actually believed was this: If I do all the right things, I will be invincible. The ravages of age will have no authority over me.

I was wrong about that.

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Wise men and women in the Church have always urged us to be very aware of our mortality. It is a potent reminder to be fully present in the moment. For this reason, it has been common practice in many monasteries to keep the bones of those who have gone before on display. As I understand it, this awareness should be a voluntary practice. Failing that, I suppose some of us must have it thrust upon us.

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And so, I am working to come to terms with the fact that I am vincible. Yes, that is a word. I looked it up. I spent yesterday morning in the dentist chair getting thirty year old fillings ground out of two molars and am now sporting fine, fashionable new crowns. And while I still believe that we have a responsibility to steward well the bodies we have been given, I am being disabused of the illusion that this guarantees a life free of physical adversity.

There is a price to be paid for the wisdom that hopefully comes with age. All that learning takes a toll on the body. And maybe the toll itself has a wisdom in it.

I’ll let you know.

The Halftime Report…

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As of today, I have breathed upon the earth for 50 years. Given that this birthday comes just five days short of my grandpa’s 100th, I am choosing to see this as roughly halfway. 🙂

For someone with my disposition, it is impossible to arrive at such an auspicious waymark without a fair amount of reflection and rumination. You might expect me to share with you some of the wisdom I have acquired over low these many years. And while I do pray that I am wiser than once I was, mostly I find myself overwhelmed with a profound sense of gratitude for the beautiful adventure that has been my life, thus far. So much more than I could ever have thought to ask for…

My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior…for He who is mighty has done great things for me, and Holy is His Name. ~Luke 1:46,49

For planting my roots in Appalachia…
For lightnin bugs and cold swimmin holes
and the Christmas trees we dragged from the woods
Bare feet in warm soil, scent of freshly turned earth
Wobbly-legged calves still glistening and new
For tender lettuce and onions in hot bacon grease
Wild muscadines eaten right off the vine,
I thank you

For a mama who read stories to me in that voice
that will always be my favorite
Who wakened in me a love for the piano and then
showed me how to make the magic
Who sewed my clothes and permed my hair
and dried a million tears,
I thank you

For a daddy who worked two jobs to make sure we had enough
and brought treats home in his lunchbox
Who taught me to be curious
and to work hard
and to sing
and to never stop learning,
I thank you

For my brothers and cousins
For painting with poke berries
and traipsing through wild places
For all the bicycle rides
across the honeysuckle bridge
through the woods
to the store on the highway
And for the rides home
eating candy necklaces
from our sweaty necks,
I thank you

For the church that smelled of cedar
and teaberry gum
tent revivals on summer nights
hymns and Hallelujahs sailing out into the dark
For foot washins and singins
and dinner on the ground
and all the people
and the way I first learned to love You there,
I thank you

For every teacher
every mentor
who saw something in me
that I could not see
and ruthlessly drew it out,
I thank you

For that adorable 22 year old boy
who scurried into my life on a Sunday morning
and stole my heart
and upset all my plans
and became God’s provision for me
Who has stood with me
in cathedrals and canyons
and emergency rooms
Who meant it when he said better OR worse
and has loved me more than I deserve,
I thank you

For a warm, sweet bundle of joy
who exploded all boundaries of love
when she made me a mommy
and who continues to teach me about love
daily
with her life,
I thank you

For the first boy child
grabbing life by the horns from the get go
For music and hikes and food
and long, deep talks into the night,
I thank you

For the baby boy
who is taller than us all
For the way he makes life a celebration
For his courage and curiosity
his talent and his zeal,
I thank you

For the wee one
For the way I am meeting the world
all over again
through her
For the way she teaches me to wake
each morning
eager and expectant,
I thank you

For all the beauty…
For the delicious agony of words
and the excruciating ecstasy of music
For the grandeur of mountains and vastness of the sea
For lavender, and butterflies, and red tailed hawks
For cardinals in winter and the first blossoms of spring
For the wildness of summer storms
and the silence of snow
For glaciers and rain forests
and the stark loveliness of the desert
For the extraordinary places all over the world
where it has been my privilege to stand,
I thank you

For found friends in far flung places
who have knit themselves into my heart
And for friends nearby
who love relentlessly
who see what could be
and make it so
who have made my life immeasurably rich,
I thank you

For faith
that has traveled long and endured much
and just when I least expected it
blossomed into something so rich and wide
that I will never come to the end of it
For all that is mystical and sacred
For the gift of Your Presence,
I thank you.

 

*And for you, dear reader, wherever you may be, for visiting these pages from time to time and sharing your life with me. Thank you.

To Wear Forgiveness…

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The triumph of sin, the main sign of its rule over the world is division, opposition , separation, hatred. Therefore, the first break through this fortress of sin is forgiveness.

~Alexander Schmemann

Slanting rays of late afternoon sunlight fall on the solea as the priest bows before the first deacon and says these words, “Forgive me, a sinner.” The deacon replies, “God forgives, and I forgive.” The deacon bows before the priest and says the same. They repeat this ritual with the second deacon, and the third. Then, one by one, we add ourselves to a line that eventually snakes around the whole church, bowing to one another, “Forgive me…” til each person in the temple has bowed before the other, asking for, and receiving forgiveness.

There are tears. And hugs. Some of us barely know one another, others have complicated histories. We do not take time to enumerate the many ways we might have hurt one another. God knows. But by our words and the humbling of ourselves, we say we would like it to be other. That we want to be made right.

With this, we begin our Lenten effort.

And because, in her ancient wisdom, the Church understands that we need lots of practice, she gives us the whole of this week to contemplate repentance and forgiveness. The services are filled with a great many prostrations, mingled with reminders of my propensity to seek my own way. But this is not punitive. This is liberation. I speak to my friend Jack one night after praying the penitential Canon of St. Andrew and ask him if he is tired after chanting so many long services this week. “Not at all. I love this service! It’s invigorating.”

Invigorating? A service whose primary focus is repentance?

In the long and difficult effort of spiritual recovery, the Church does not separate the soul from the body. The whole man has fallen away from God; the whole man is to be restored…Salvation and repentance then are not contempt for the body or neglect of it, but restoration of the body to its real function as the expression and life of spirit, as the temple of the priceless human soul.

~Alexander Schmemann

I have discoloured Thine image and broken Thy commandment. All my beauty is destroyed and my lamp is quenched by the passions, O Saviour. But take pity on me, as David sings, and ‘restore to me Thy joy’.

~The Lenten Triodian, Canon of St. Andrew

It just so happens that a couple of days before Lent began, I had an encounter with a dark cloud from my past. A reminder of a difficult season in which I made choices I am not proud of. And I allowed that cloud to rain all over me and put me in a terrible funk.

Perhaps this is why I need this week so much. I need to physically stand inside forgiveness. I need to look into the eyes of another who will say to me, “You are forgiven. By God, and by me.” I need to know hunger in my belly. I need the opportunity to touch my face to the floor, not as a grovelling worm, but as one who recognizes my vulnerability. I need to wear forgiveness in my body so that the next time accusation visits, it finds no harbor in me.

It is only when we have lost all love of ourselves for our own sakes that our past sins cease to give us any cause for suffering or for the anguish of shame. For the saints, when they remember their sins, do not remember the sins but the mercy of God, and therefore even past evil is turned by them into a present cause of joy and serves to glorify God.

~Thomas Merton

May it be so.

Forgive me.

*A parenthetical word on dates: The Orthodox and western dates for Pascha (Easter) frequently differ, usually by just a bit, but occasionally (as this year) by more than a month. You can read about why that occurs HERE and HERE. Hence, as our western brothers and sisters are ramping up for Palm Sunday, we have only just begun the Lenten season.

 

A Pilgrim Tale: day thirty-three

I don’t remember rolling up my sleeping bag or packing away my gear for the last time. I don’t remember walking down the hall to brush my teeth, or lacing up my boots. But I am sure I did all these things.

I do remember that the sky was the color of rose petals. And the air was cool, but soft. And we walked mostly downhill, til we were in the city. There was a monument. Then the city was like any other.

And not like…

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We breakfast at a cafe where we see the familiar tortilla. And the very unfamiliar rose tea. And all the tables are indoors and everything is clean and bright and the owner moves about calmly and easily and some people look like they are dressed for the office. And I wish we were bumping into one another and sitting out on the sidewalk and the owner was bustling and something about the place was a little run down, and friendly.

Jan, David, Mike and I stop at the inn where we will share a room tonight and drop off our backpacks. It feels wonderful to be walking without them. It feels strange to be walking without them.

We decide to head to the pilgrim office straightaway before the line gets too long. This turns out to be a good idea. But we almost miss Jorge, Kelly, Otto, Jose, and gang. Almost. We had walked with Otto for a while earlier this morning, but he and Jose went on while we were leaving bags. And yet, like iron filings to a magnet, we seem to be drawn to one another.

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We find Jorge and Kelly, Kathy and Catherine in the square just as several others arrive. We hail Otto who is walking away and take a group photo. This picture will be one of the treasures of the Camino for me. Then we run into Nathadeo who we haven’t seen since we sang with the nuns in Carrion de los Condes.

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This is one of my favorite stories from the Camino. These two gentleman walked the whole 800 kilometers of the Camino Frances, from St. Jean Pied de Port to Santiago, just like we did. All the mountains and valleys, all the rocky terrain and narrow, briery paths, all the puddles and cow patties. Here is the difference: the fellow on the left, he’s blind. Watching them move in concert is like listening to a duo that has been singing into one another for so long that they breathe together. Some friendships are given to us as examples, to know just how far love can go. This is one of those.

The Cathedral is undergoing renovations which means that we cannot access the Portico of Glory. We walk round to the other side to enter. We queue up to “hug” the statue of St. James. Then, we walk down to the crypt to venerate the body of our Lord’s own apostle. This is a solemn moment.

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Coming out of the cathedral, we run into Paul and Lasse who we haven’t seen for days. Mike is not with them. He too will arrive on this day, but we will not see him. Jan and David will find him in Finisterre, though. AND we see Adam, our friend from Poland, with whom we also have lost contact for a bit. We have one last beer with the boys and share a few final tales of the road. Bittersweet.

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We choose from a dizzying array of tapas for lunch, pop our head into a few shops looking for gifts for our kids, our granddaughter and our godchildren, then go back to the inn for a little rest. We head over to the cathedral around 6:00 to snag a seat for the 7:30 pilgrim mass and who should we find resting just outside, but Damien, Psicobeta, Filipe and Claudia! They have walked 40 kilometers today to be here for the evening mass. It is SO GOOD to see them.

Shortly before the mass begins, a feisty little nun comes out to teach us a couple of responses we will need later in the service. Then the mass begins. Like all of the masses along the way, this one is in a combination of Spanish and Latin, so I understand little. But it is nice to know the responses.

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You may or may not have ever heard of the Botafumeiro. It is an inordinately large censor. Incense has been used in worship since the pre-temple days of the Old Testament. It is still essential in the practice of Orthodox and Catholic Christians today. But I’ll bet you’ve never seen a censor quite like this one. The story goes that part of the reason for its size was to help cover the stench of the pilgrims. This, I believe. (The above photo is its support structure.)

The Botafumeira is not used at every mass as the cost of the incense is prohibitive. But we have heard that it is commonly used on Friday night. So we are glad to be here on Friday. Still, it’s not a sure thing. Til we see the men in red cloaks, one of whom carries a shovel (as in a garden shovel, you understand) full of charcoal and incense. Then we know.

However extraordinary you imagine it would be to stand here, it is a thousand times more so. I have provided you with a taste. But only a taste. The music, our prayers arising as incense, the weary bodies so full of miles, the stories, the love that has knit so many of us into one another…

And then it’s over. Except it’s not. We walk out into the night to find our young friends again: the newlyweds, Damien and Psicobeta, and friends Claudia and Felipe. We talk about their long walk today and they ask us if we remember the spiritual Mike and Paul sang at Granon. “We have been changing it up a bit as we walked,” they say. And right there, in the gathering dark outside a cathedral in Spain, they sing…

I believe it too.

Go with God, dear friends!

I miss you already.

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Once the soul awakens, the search begins and you can never go back. From then on, you are inflamed with a special longing that will never again let you linger in the lowlands of complacency and partial fulfillment. The eternal makes you urgent. You are loath to let compromise or the threat of danger hold you back from striving toward the summit of fulfillment.

~John O’Donohue

A Pilgrim Tale: day twenty-four

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The morning comes clear and cool. And dry. We race the sun up the mountain. She reaches out rosy fingers, gently caressing everything we see, as though she is as glad to see the world again as we all are to see her.

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Foncebadon is like a little hill town that time forgot. Scattered between albergues and cafes are neglected relics of another age; lovely stone cottages that have no one to love them back into themselves. We stop in a general store/cafe that has the wonderful smell of old wood. With it’s glass canisters and suspended farm implements, it looks as though it would be at home in any small town of Appalachia. We share coffee and conversation with Otto and Jose before resuming our climb.

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On the way out of town we pass a remnant of what I imagine was once a church. One impossibly slender fin with a perfect arched window stands sentinel in a walled yard. We first see it bathed in warm, early sunlight, then silhouetted against the same. It is a striking figure, and it begins to prepare our hearts for the weighty encounter just ahead of us.

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The Cruz de Ferro

Here each pilgrim leaves something that no longer serves her. A burden, a sadness, or perhaps a token of gratitude. It is a very personal thing. And yet, it is made even more beautiful for us because we arrive with a great many friends who have become dear to us on this journey. When we first see it out ahead of us, we fall silent. The deep significance of being here settles on us like a mantle. Holy Ground, Otto calls it.

Each of us stands in respectful silence as the others take their own walk to the cross. There is a holy hush over the mountain that all of us are reluctant to break. We carry this with us for a space, unwilling to intrude upon the sacred.

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Somewhere we know that without a lonely place our lives are in danger. Somewhere we know that without silence words lose their meaning, that without listening speaking no longer heals, without distance closeness cannot cure. Somewhere we know that without a lonely place our actions quickly become empty gestures…
~Henri Nouwen

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The afternoon is a succession of mountain towns under a cerulean sky where contrails form giant fans, followed by long, deep, cerveza lubricated conversations with our fellow pilgrims on the porch of Albergue Santa Marina in Molinaseca. Our home. For tonight.

The road has been long. And good.

My heart is full.

 

A Pilgrim Tale: day twenty-three

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The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain.
~Dolly Parton

Thanks, Dolly.

Thanks a lot.

Tough day for me. Rain coming and going all day. Jacket and pack cover on…off…on…off…ad nauseum. And stuff hurts. The front of my calf. My knee. My shoulders. Tired. Plus I have a bad attitude. Mostly, I have a bad attitude

And yet…

The whole day is braided with luminous moments. The best one comes early in the day. We stop at Meson el Llar for a little second breakfast. There we run into our friend Josh who we met at the very start in St. Jean. He has become a pied piper of sorts, gathering a whole group of young people around him. Almost immediately, we are also joined by Otto and Jose, Jorge, Kelly, Kathy…SO. Many. Friends.

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The counter is lined with all sorts of delectable temptations: tall, luscious looking tortillas, French toast, meatballs, fancy teas, a whole jar of muesli… And the busy proprietress is laughing and bossing people around while golden oldies are cranking on the stereo. And then it happens. A spontaneous eruption. Like a single spirit moves us all at once.

It is one of the singularly most memorable moments in an ocean of memorable moments.

We finally tear ourselves away from this warm, friendly oasis and resume the walking. Despite my best efforts to be a total grump, God keeps pelting me with beauty until my resistance is finally spent.

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In Rabanal, we attend an evening candlelight service. Several pilgrims read passages in a variety of languages. Our friend Jorge reads here in Spanish. A mercy of peace at the end of what has been, in some ways, a turbulent day.

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The Most High has wounded me with His Spirit,
filled me with His love,
and His wounding has become my salvation…
All the earth is like a memorial to Thee,
a presencce of Thy works…
Glory to Thee, O God,
Thou Who are forever the delight of Paradise.
Alleluia!

~The Odes of Solomon

*Hat tip to Mike who captured our proprietress at Meson el Llar.

A Pilgrim Tale: day sixteen

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The waking dawn plays over the Canal de Castilla, and the canal catches her glorious colors and throws them back at her. Trees line the gravel path, and the crunch of our boots against the gravel is the only sound.

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In Villacazar de Sirga, we see our first Palomar. A dovecote. It is a circular whitewashed stone building with a conical roof made of wooden shingles. Inside, the walls are lined with recesses which serve as a sort of nesting box. Slender beams crisscross the upper portion of the building, reminding me of the drying racks in old tobacco barns at home. Perches. Historically, doves were kept for their eggs and flesh, as well as for their dung, an important fertilizer. We will pass a great many of these over the next few days. I’m not sure any of them are still in use.

We are developing a reputation for singing; Jan and David, Mike and me. Not so much for the quality of our singing, you understand, as for its frequency. 🙂 Jan and I share in common the disease of archiving the lyrics to pretty much any song we have ever heard. It is rare that we start up a golden oldy, but what one of us can come up with at least a verse or two. We sing everything from classic rock, to old spirituals, to children’s songs (Jan likes the Muffin Man for Mike because of his relentless search for another gooey, molten chocolate muffin). Paul jokes that we probably don’t know anything from this decade. But he is wrong.

Anyway, it is no surprise that we are drawn to the idea of lodging with the Augustinian sisters of the church of Santa Maria in Carrion de los Condes. They are a singing order. 🙂 Alas, by the time we arrive, they are already full. They direct us to Espiritu Santo where we happily share a bright, pretty room with Jorge, Kelly, and Cathy. In the afternoon, we run into Jan’s friend, Natthadeou from Majorca, who tells us we would be welcome to come sing with the nuns at 6:00, even if we are not staying at Santa Maria. Natthadeou is a Camino veteran. He has walked it several times. He knows stuff like this. So we go. (Natthadeou is in the red jacket on the right in the picture below.)

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We find a perch on the stairs and are handed a song sheet to share. The sisters choose a couple of songs from the sheets and invite us to sing along. Then, they ask each of us to introduce ourselves, tell why we are on camino, and, if we like, to share a song. So many beautiful, and difficult, stories in that room. This is the first time we see Otto and hear a bit of his story, but we do not know him. Yet.

When they come to a Japanese American woman sitting just below Otto, she says she would rather not sing. They ask her if they can sing a song for her. She nods, and they flip a few pages in their songbook, and begin singing a Japanese folk song. Tears stream down the woman’s face. And it is so good to be here.

I have noticed that two of the nuns are in black, not white. And that their habits appear to be Orthodox. When they introduce themselves, we learn that Orthodox Sisters Jacovi and Stephanie are here for just a few days to help minister to pilgrims. Sister Stephanie walked the camino several years ago and has asked to come back and volunteer. Sister Jacovi has been sent along as well because James is her saint. We speak to them after and find that we have friends in common. Sister Stavriani, whose family is part of our parish, belongs to their order. Truly, the world is smaller than we think.

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We piece together a supper in the kitchen of our Albergue, then go to the church of Santa Maria for the pilgrim blessing. We are given paper stars that the sisters have made for us, praying as they did for pilgrims they had not yet met. Then the priest, or one of the sisters, takes our head in their hands and prays for us. This is a beautiful, sacred moment.

A sacrament is when something holy happens. It is transparent time, time which you can see through to something deep inside time…you are apt to catch a glimpse of the almost unbearable preciousness and mystery of life.

~Frederich Buechner

*Hat tip to David who took the photo at bottom. Thanks, friend.

A Pilgrim Tale: day eleven

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The rising sun paints the landscape in a watercolor wash of rose as we leave behind the Rioja and enter the province of Castilla y Leon. In the growing light, true colors begin to emerge. Chartreuse sunflowers nod under a pastel sky. Blue green kale flourishes against the distant, copper colored meseta.

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In Belorado, we pass a church with one of the more striking accumulations of storks’ nests we’ve seen, yet.

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Our goal for today is Tosantos, an easy 20.5 kilometers. We have read that there is an albergue there with much the same ethos as the one in Grañon, and that it is rather small. So we set a relatively aggressive pace (for us) in the hopes that we make it in. Turns out, we are the first two pilgrims to arrive. 🙂

The Albergue San Francisco de Asis has received pilgrims for more than 300 years. We choose two mats near the window in the timbered attic. We shower and do laundry, then head to a nearby bar for a cold beverage and a smidge of internet. (The parochial hostels are not big on the interwebs.)

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We return to the hostel by 5:00 for a guided tour of the Ermita de la Virgen de la Pena. This unusual hermitage built into the side of a rock houses a precious 12th century image of the Christ child, and it is normally locked. We are blessed to have this opportunity to visit.

As our guide leads us across the road and up the hilly path, she wisely appoints Damien translator. It is decided that, if he translates her Spanish into both English and French, everyone can more or less understand one of the three. Watching him easily move from one language to another is a wonder. (Oh, did I mention his wife’s native language is Portugese? These two are pretty amazing.) I should say that at one point he looks at us conspiratorially and says, “I don’t understand what she just said but apparently it’s funny so please laugh.” 🙂

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The church has an austere and awe inspiring effect. Once there was a school here. And hermits lived in solitary cells above the church. Inside, our guide chooses someone from our group to open the curtain which protects the image of Christ. The image is primitive, but lovely. Once each year, there is a solemn procession in which it is carried to the town below. It stays in the village church for a time before being processed back home.

Back at the Albergue, we assist with dinner preparations, then take a nap. At dinner, there are 19 people seated around the table representing 14 different countries. Our volunteer hospitalero loves music. He asks each of us to sing a song that is representative of our home. Most sing folk songs. The reluctant Hungarian twins, Judit and Rita, are finally coaxed into singing a children’s song with a great deal of laughter. Mike and I sing Rocky Top. The newlyweds add a dance to their number, of course. 🙂

Sitting across from us, beside the Hungarians, is Adam from Poland. This is our first time meeting him. But he will grow very dear to us between here and Santiago. And we will watch him take risks and be brave, and will get to know his humorous side. But on this night, he is relatively quiet. Still feeling his way.

After dinner, we gather in another attic room which has been made a chapel of sorts. Here we sing psalms and hymns in an assortment of languages. We read the prayer requests of pilgrims who have been here over the last month and offer them to God, and are invited to leave prayer requests of our own. It is a sweet and holy time. Like last night, and not like. So many ways of being with one another and with God.

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In each of us dwells a pilgrim. It is the part of us that longs to have direct contact with the sacred.
~Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage

A Pilgrim Tale: day nine

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We spend the whole of today walking with our camino niece, Rhys. (See if you can make her out along the wall.) She is still recovering from an ankle injury that required her to bus ahead a couple of days to Logrono, but she is being very brave. We talk about her many travels, including a season in Korea as an English teacher. We talk about the wild beauty of her home state of Oregon. We talk about the complexities of family and friendship. And we sing. Her library of classic rock, as well as Veggie Tales songs, is pretty impressive. 🙂

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All along the Way are impromptu altars: Sanctuaries of stacked stone. Crosses of sticks and grass and bits of fabric woven into chain link fences. Tokens of pilgrimage. Of making place for the sacred. Right here. Right now.

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There have been stories of a minstrel. This afternoon, we finally meet him. He is walking his camino in a suit and hat and carrying a guitar. We sit together on a scrap of broken wall while he rolls a cigarette and tells us a bit of his story. Tonight, we will hear his music spilling through the open windows of our albergue as he and his band of merry men sing us to sleep.

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When we arrive in Najera, we check into the association albergue. Ninety beds in one room! The hospitaleros are all vounteers who have walked the Way themselves. They are very friendly and helpful. They receive our donations and assign us beds. As Mike and I are married, we are given two of the bunks that sit side by side. This a nice surprise.

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We stash yogurt in the refrigerator for tomorrow’s breakfast, hand wash a few laundry items and hang them out to dry, then walk to a cafe along the river for lunch/dinner. Here we run into Jan and David, then Kendra and her new friend James who, as it turns out, lives in Brentwood, about 15 minutes from us.

Our sleeping quarters are close and hot, and one woman just across the aisle from Mike throws open her sleeping bag to reveal more than any of us really want to see. But, it is nice to be able to hold my husband’s hand as we fall asleep to the Celtic strains of the minstrel…

Letting Go

Imagine your departure as a metamorphosis. Through simple acts of intention and attention, you can transform even a sleepwalking trip into a soulful journey. The first step is to SLOW DOWN. The next one is to treat EVERYTHING that comes your way as part of the sacred time that envelops your pilgrimage.

~Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage

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It has been more difficult than I imagined: the weeks, days, now hours, leading up to our departure.

First, there was the injury. A stress fracture, diagnosed just 5 weeks out. Just like that, the marathon was gone. But the pilgrimage? Who could say?

Days before, I had read this admonition in the guidebook: “Remember, this is an inner as well as an outer journey. Be sure you spend at least as much time preparing your spiritual body as you do your physical body.”

Snap.

Immediately a film reel rolled before my eyes: hours spent researching lightweight sleeping bags and backpacks, reading pilgrim forums and attending presentations. And goodness know how many hours on the trail. Yet precious little time asking why I was doing this or seeking God’s design.

Until the doctor handed me the boot. Literally. “This is to protect the bone and make sure it heals straight. But mostly, it’s to slow you down. Stay off it as much as possible.”

So while I was “staying off it” and icing religiously, I decided to embrace this sudden “opportunity” to take a hard look inside. What if this was never meant to be a physical pilgrimage at all? What if there was as much for me to learn sitting here on the couch and letting go of my agenda as there was traipsing across Spain? Could I be ok with that?

I spent some time reading. The book referenced above, for starters. It made for a pretty great perspective shift. I had borrowed the book, so I filled my phone with some of the more radiant, and uncomfortable, phrases.

I pulled other books off the shelf that had been lifegiving to me and scribbled favorite passages into my pilgrim journal. I knew I would want them close to me on my journey. And even closer if the journey didn’t happen.

And I spent a good deal of time being still.

And slow.

I like to think I came to a place of being at peace with whatever God had for me in this. “Be flexible,” my friend Debra said to me on the morning of my doctor’s appointment. “Be willing to walk the path God gives you.”

Turns out the path involves starting, at least. I am cleared to go, thanks be to God. And am advised to take it slowly, a concept which is as foreign to me as the two languages I will be corrupting over the next few weeks. I know that if the pain returns, I have to stop.

Meanwhile, I find myself putting away laundry and fondly stroking the clothes I will not see for ages. In fact, all my worldly goods, at least all the ones going with me, are in that backpack you see up there. Except my sleeping bag, which I haven’t rolled up yet because I still have to treat it for bedbugs, 😳 and the one outfit that I will wear ever single solitary day from this Wednesday until October 21st. Oh, did I mention that all my worldly goods (including sleeping bag) weigh 14 pounds?

Last night, Mike innocently said to me, “Just three more nights to sleep in our own bed.” And I almost cried.

Apparently, part of what this sacred time means for me is to let go. To let go of my demands that this look the way I imagine it should. To let go of clothes, and make-up, and the flowers I had to cut down because they would become gangly and unkempt while I was gone. To let go of the house renovation project that began last week and must continue without me there to hover and get in the way. To let go of my children and the grand baby for a while and trust that they’ll be ok without me. And that I will be ok without them. To let go of friends who are hurting and trust that God will take better care of them than I ever could, and believe that my prayers might be a far better gift than my presence.

It is begun. We leave on Wednesday, God willing. And I will make every attempt to report here from time to time. As best I can. On my phone. Which will not really be functioning as a phone because that costs a million dollars, but as a wifi receptor/the world’s smallest computer. This is my first attempt at posting from my phone so the jury is still out on how that works.

But I am letting go of that.

By the way, I write as though you know what I am talking about, which might not be the case at all. So, if you are new round here: my hubby and I are off to walk an ancient pilgrimage route across Northern Spain. The Camino de Santiago. It culminates at the tomb of Saint James, Apostle of our Lord. 500 miles, give or take. God willing, we hope to commence on the Feast day of the Elevation of the Cross (Monday, 14 September). Two days before this, Mike will run the Marathon du Medoc in Pauillac, France. Alas, I will be cheering him on from the sidelines.

p.s. I corrected the photo on my computer, otherwise it would have appeared on your screen sideways. Incidentally, I didn’t even know it was sideways on my phone. So, be warned, you might have to stand on your head, or at least turn your computer sideways to see the photos I upload into these posts… 😜

 

 

 

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