Thursday, June 15, 2017

June 14 and 15: Santiago & Fisterra

The last 2 days have been a real blessing.  We arrived and stayed in Santiago de Compostela yesterday and today, and visited Fisterra today.  At the same time, it has been an exhausting and physical 2 days.  We made the final walk on Wednesday from Hotel O’Pino to Santiago, roughly 13 miles, arriving in Santiago between 2 and 3 o’clock PM on Wednesday.  I cannot tell you the exact time, because the entire group was not focused on the time…..we all walked in together  and did not worry about much else.   

The exterior of the cathedral is how I remember it from my last visit.….beautiful, but under renovation.  In fact, it is something of a letdown after all those miles, to see scaffolding on this landmark cathedral.  But the truth is, the exterior renovation is necessary to preserve the building for future generations and in reality, the exterior’s condition does not matter… least not for us.  We were not on pilgrimage simply to see the exterior walls of a cathedral.

Our guide giving us final instructions
There were 23 of us on this pilgrimage, all searching for something.   What that “something” is depends on the pilgrim.  We each walked our own route when on the pilgrimage, on the interior, inside the heart and mind; and those routes still exist….where the true journeys take place.
Happy pilgrims!
On Wednesday, after we arrived in Santiago de Compostela and gathered at the square outside of the cathedral, the most prominent emotions were of joy, satisfaction, and relief.  More than once, I heard the words “We did it!”…. “We did it.”  That was a response to the physical challenge of walking the length we walked within the short amount of days we walked. 

But there is more to the statement “We did it!”.  It also means we did the spiritual work of pilgrimage.  We radically shifted our prayer daily routine and spiritual practices; we participated in multiple group reflections; we spent time engaging others in discussion from around the world.  It means, somewhere along the way, we changed our approach from “me” to “we”, paying attention to the needs of our fellow pilgrims more than our own needs.  It means we relied on the Holy Spirit for guidance, rather than our own “knowledge”.   It means we walked towards more than a specific destination…rather, we moved towards finding healing within, even while we were blistering without.

My hope is that the spiritual gifts we have received on this trip will become manifest in the way we live.  I am confident this will happen.  I am confident that our pilgrimage is not over, and we will continue to grow from our experiences in Spain and France…. that this is the beginning for many in our group, not the end.  I encourage you to ask each pilgrim about the details of the trip.  I am sure they will be happy to share.  But, 23 people are now different than they were 2 weeks ago….in some ways that are not yet known.  I pray you see those changes in how they live their lives, and you continue to cheer and encourage our pilgrims.
At Land's End



Tuesday, June 13, 2017

June 13: Every one of us has experienced a different Camino

We have just finished our fourth day of walking on the El Camino.  While all of us have followed the same path, we have all had different experiences.  Below are some of those experiences.

Pilgrims gathering for day 4 hike
Communal experiences of the Camino.

Friendships that will go with us into the rest of our lives.

The beauty of the trail – wild flowers, ferns and livestock.

The concern and caring of friends.

Apparently, it is important to file one's nails before hiking
The kindness of strangers and the ability to communicate when you don’t speak the same language.

The concern and caring of friends who are there for you when you need encouragement or bananas.

The companionship of being/working together on day 3.

After 4 days of walking with the group, I’m struck how we have learned the rhythm of each other’s pace.  We know where to look for each other.  Some are famous for being at the head of the group.  If they pass you late in the day, you wonder why.  Are they ok?  If someone is not within one or two others, who have their same pace, where are the others?  Is there trouble?  We can feel the coherence, we can see the organism we have become by walking the same path.

Fr. John from Nebraska and Fr. John from Georgia
Today as I walked, a woman offered me some cashews.  This is the spirit of the Camino community.

The universal spirit of comradeship and direction of the pilgrims.

El Camino has been a great time in touch with God, thru Creation; fire (sun), water (rain), air (wind) and Earth (soil); as well as thru the goodness of so many brothers and sisters that share, greet and accompany us, without divisions of nationality, race, creed or fear. Buen Camino!

How friendly everyone is from all countries in the world.

To have people of many different nations and varying ages come together on one path, one might think that we would not have anything in common.  On the Camino, there is one common thread… we are all of the same path, traveling the same journey.  Never have I talked to so many people where the topic of occupation or other specifics has not come up.  The conversation is always centered around the issues of the walk… we had a common interest, goal, path.  It was filled with warmth, compassion and care – no judgement, just well wishes.  I felt that I was prepared physically but I was unprepared for the kindness of strangers.  “Buen Camino” was spoken by everyone to everyone and we all understood the sentiment behind it – I wish you a good walk which could easily be translated into – I wish you a good life journey.
The wall of wisdom has many thought provoking quotes

There is everything: bagpipes, accordions, dogs, wagons, roosters, sheep, people walking at a fast pace or a slow pace, groups of young people, groups of old people, familiar faces, smiles and pain.

The power of words….they can dampen or lift spirits, hurt or heal, uncover the hidden pain or joy within, & alter the course of the day for the pilgrim.

Mai Mai completes day 4!
Every one of us has experienced a different Camino and we all look forward to walking into Santiago de Compostela tomorrow.

Monday, June 12, 2017

June 12: The Longest Day

The beginning of  today's trek
Part 1: 
Today was our longest walk of 20 miles from Palas de Rei to Arzua through varied terrain and scenery. There were plenty of rolling hills, beautiful fern floored forests, small bridges crossing streams and wide open farm land and dairy country with unrelenting sun rays bearing down. In the forests were surprise sounds of bagpipes being played. Languages from all over the world could be heard from other pilgrims. The common sharing in passing one another was, "Buen Camino."  It was a long day for all of us, beginning before daylight at 6 a.m.

Yesterday I met an English speaking woman. She told me where she was from but I could not hear her and after asking her twice I did not want to inquire again. This was her third time on the Camino. She mentioned the rubbage and pointed to a plastic bag she had attached to her back pack. She was carrying a long pole with a sharp point on the end that she used to stab garbage to pick it up and put it in her bag to discard. I spotted an empty cigarette pack on the ground so she handed me her stick and said, "You want to do it?" I gladly took the stick and stabbed the cigarette pack and put it in her garbage container. It was such a simple act and such a simple act of sharing, an ordinary exchange but somehow it became elevated on the Camino. She gave me an opportunity to leave the world a better place than I had found it in the same way she was doing. I found myself looking for her again today.

I have enjoyed walking alone. Alone for me is solitude. I walk and I listen to the sound of the rhythm of the hiking poles. Then I create a mantra. I started with verses from the 23rd Psalm, not necessarily in the correct order. "He maketh me lie down in green pastures. He restoreth my soul."  After a while I changed the gender to see if it felt differently to "She maketh me lie down in green pastures. She restoreth my soul." If I seemed to go numb with that I changed the words to various others "Come, Holy Spirit" or "My eyes are open, my ears are open, my heart is open." It was an interesting experiment. I don't know what tomorrow will hold but I am open to the surprise of the moment. On the first day here when we were at the birthplace of St. Ignatius I noticed all the different varieties of green vegetation; in the middle of a small garden area was a cactus. The cactus was so unexpected and it did not look like it would grow in the climate the plants surrounding it would thrive in. So I thought about how I hoped the Camino for me would be like the cactus, full of unexpected surprises and it has been!

D'Ann Downey

Part 2:
Today we walked from just outside of Palas de Rey all the way through Arzua, over 30 KM, which translates to roughly 20 miles.  It was a long day, that started before 6:00 AM for all and ended after 4:00 PM for many.  The day started as a normal hike, a gentle stroll through the NW Spanish countryside.  Most spent time spent time in Melide for lunch, where the specialty is Pulpo (boiled octopus with paprika).  For those who did not brave the Pulpo, there were other options, such as chorizo, or mixed salad.

The rest of the afternoon was a true slog.  Many hills were traversed, both in shade and sun.  After making what we thought was the final ascent, the end of the hike through Arzua seemed to be interminable;  and when we did think it was over, there was yet another hill to climb. In the end, all who dared to make the full hike were successful.....a special shout out goes to Charlie's Angels, otherwise known as Jan, Mai Mai, and Jacquelyn, three fantastic pilgrims who are always upbeat and never deterred.  
Yet another cow on the Camino

Gathering for reflection time after a long day
Many feet are blistered at this point, which is pretty normal on the Camino.  There seems to be an even split opinion about proper care.....some opt for Compeed and the others opt for duct tape....though I have no dog in the fight (no blisters yet), I think duct tape is the better play.  It is less expensive, equally effective, and one looks like a true Camino veteran when sporting duct tape on the toes, in my humble opinion.  

We continue to encounter people of all sorts of nationalities on the trail....Today, I personally encountered folks from Sweden, Korea, Germany, Denmark, Spain, Italy, France, England and the gold ole USA...Furthermore, much time on the Camino has been spent in quiet reflection and prayer. Even when travelling in groups, many manage to move forward or drop back in order to spend a little time in prayer.  The prayer I find most helpful during the moments of solitude on the Camino includes the following....

A reminder of God's love
I bow before the Father who made me,
I bow before the Son who saved me,
I bow before the Spirit who guides me,
In love and adoration.
I praise the Name of the one on high.
I bow before thee Sacred Three,
The ever One, the Trinity.

It is the perfect reminder that despite the obstacles that we encounter God was and is present in our lives, blessing us on each and every step of our pilgrimage, wherever and whatever the pilgrimage happens to be.

Buen Camino!

-Padre Juan

Sunday, June 11, 2017

June 11: Dateline Galicia; Palas de Rei

A pilgrimage is one more way in which we seek a joyous connection with the divine.  Usually we try to make that connection through prayer and worship, but once in a while a more unusual opportunity presents itself to walk part of the Camino de Santiago (or as the Verger puts it “paying to walk home”).  What possible spiritual connection can come from walking farther than you want?

Thus far my Camino spiritual connection has been a rejoicing in closeness to God’s creation.  Walking and observing the flower and the butterfly is so much more rewarding than driving by them.  And then there are the cows.  I have a fondness for cows.  They are tremendously useful creatures having a major role in converting grass into cheese, and they have soulful eyes.  I am often troubled (until I have the next craving for a steak) that I eat them.  Galicia has the best looking cows I have ever seen.

It is not, nor can it be, just about God in nature, or we end up as animists rather than Christians.  This walk, this Camino experience, shines a light on how we are all sacramental vessels, showing and sharing God’s love each to the other.  I am coming to know people of St. Peter’s, who were before this just a “hello, how are you?”  There are those who have joined our journey who are from other churches, particularly the priests and pastor from other denominations who pray with us and lead us in worship and who love us and make us laugh.  Jesus calls us to be in community and for a few days we are creating a very special and very vital community, caring for each other, lifting one another up, praying, laughing, crying, walking together.

Then there is the wider community of the Camino.  The daily world diversion, difference, animosity is transformed by the common experience of having to struggle with walking too far, being too tired and being too hot.  The difference is, if I am walking in an isolated place in Rome, GA and someone comes up behind me I probably feel anxiety, a potential threat.  On the Camino, the same situation produces relief (I must be walking on the right path) and joy in the conversation that follows.  Yes, this is a place where God moves us into transformational experiences.

Then there are the endless personal moments:  The lady we met from California whose husband is from Rome, GA!  The first day:  14 miles, hot, Dawn with a major stomach upset, tired, limping in hours after everyone else, our Camino group standing on the far side of the long, high bridge across the Minho River cheering us.  Dawn and I confronted by a herd of long horned cattle coming the opposite way on a very narrow road, Dawn reciting her mantra for the Camino “We’re all gonna die!”
With that I bid you goodbye and Buen Camino.

-Brian Hampton

Saturday, June 10, 2017

June 10: Sarria to Portomarin

We were blessed with perfect weather for the 1st day of our 5 consecutive days of hiking.  Beginning in Sarria, we trekked 23 KM to Portomarin.  Along the way we encountered French, German, Spanish, English, and American pilgrims….all friendly and helpful….one of them even had a relative from Rome, GA!  Dogs, donkeys, and cattle were part of the scenery on the trail; there were albergues, caf├ęs, rustic houses, barns, small countryside chapels, graveyards, and mausoleums …… pavement, pebble and dirt trails.....uphill climbs, downhill glides and stretches of flat trail; we were under the canopy of trees and exposed to the sun.  

We all walked at different paces….some stopping to smell the roses, some praying as they walked, some moving at a brisk pace all the way to the destination. As we crossed over the long bridge spanning over the Minho river there was a sense of satisfaction and elation, but there was one more surprise…..a group of bagpipers, sounding out beautiful music as we entered into town.  This was my 3rd trek into the town of Portomarin, and I hope to have at least one more, but I will always remember the entry accompanied with bagpipes.  

The 1st of 5 straight hikes is under our belt. With all we saw today, no one knows what we will encounter tomorrow; but we are off to a great start.

-Padre Juan

Friday, June 9, 2017

June 9: The Day of Stones

The day of stones.  Our bus traveled across northern Spain for over 300 km.  We followed The Camino from Burgos to Sarria.  Watching the pilgrims along the way was difficult – I am ready to start this journey on foot. 

In Foncebaddon, we all climbed off the bus and walked approximately a mile to the highest point of the French route to the Cruz de Ferro.  This is a large mound with a tall cross in the center.  Pilgrims from all over the world place stones here to lay down grief, to celebrate life or to honor loved ones.  Words cannot describe how moving it was to climb to the top all the while looking down at stones.  The first one that caught my eye had an inscription that read “To my Soul Mate, I miss you!”  Piled all around were rocks of every shape and size, keys, a wedding band and colorful flags and scarfs tied to the cross.  I was blessed to be able to lay a stone for the pilgrim we are missing back home, our beloved Fran Bagley.  She sent a stone from a trip to Normandy where her father was in the Battle of the Bulge.  John looked down and saw a stone that read “GOD cured my cancer”.  We put the two together next to the cross and silently lifted our prayers.

Tomorrow we walk

-Nancy Knight


Thursday, June 8, 2017

June 8: We are all expectant

A break from the bus in Pamplona
Happy pilgrims
We are quickly learning that there are many smaller journeys within the larger pilgrimage.  So far we've  crossed the Atlantic, flown half-way across Spain, shuttled several times on the bus.  Nine of us, taking two routes, crossed the Pyrenees on the Camino.  Today we have been back on the bus, shuttling closer to the start of our 5 days on the Camino.  

Each part of the journey has its own lessons. Patience for traveling.   Endurance for walking.  Welcoming the stranger.  Openness to an unexpected hope. What else might the Spirit teach us?   It's hard to imagine when we still have one more day before our official start of the walk on the Camino.  

We are all expectant.  We all are all ready.  At least we think we are.  Perhaps in God's timing there is more yet to learn before God is ready for us to begin the next leg.  

Another break from the bus @ La Ermita Santa Maria de Eunate
Our destination today....Burgos.
We toured the cathedral.
Joel Snider