Final Thoughts on the Camino, part 2

This final Camino blog began in Santiago and reflected on after I returned to Ghana.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Toward the end of my time in Santiago, I began thinking about the transition back home, returning to Suzanne who I missed dearly, and to see if this journey has changed me.

  • To be true to what The Camino has taught me about myself so that I might experience ministry as meaningful.  Intellectually knowing what I do here has meaning and feeling that way can be two different things.
  • To help Suzanne seek the life she was created to live, to change our narrative to support that, escape the decaying orbit, and to seek rehabilitation over relief from the life she definitely was not created to live.
  • To be ever mindful of my intent.
  • To leave the rock I left at Cruz de Ferro, and be ever mindful what carrying that rock cost me.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

St. James above the main Altar

 

After receiving communion that last night, I felt a deep presence of God.  I was accepted, and God indeed loved me.  “But I didn’t do the Camino perfectly,” I found myself apologizing, and St. James came to mind. I looked up at his gold plated, jewel encrusted incarnation above the altar and saw Pilgrims wrapping their arms around him,  their face next to his.  It is a tradition that pilgrims may embrace the beloved saint, and during Mass there is an almost endless line to do so.

 

Around 40 AD the real St. James was praying when Mary appeared to him standing on a pillar.  He was discouraged, few Iberians had received the Gospel, and he felt a failure, which is not exactly how I feel much of the time, but close enough to make the story work for me.   I guess I too needed some reassurance that this walk, this offering had not been a long walk wasted, and the feeling I got was “You walked the one meant for you.”

 

 

Mary of the Pillar

Our Lady of the Pillar (see St. James kneeling on her left?)

 

It was just a feeling, not Mary standing on a pillar talking to me like when she assured the beloved Saint people would eventually accept the gospel, and their faith would become as strong as the pillar she stood on.  My offering was acceptable, I had not made this pilgrimage in vain, but I do wonder if something was lost in translation, because while the story of Santa Maria del Pilar has great meaning here in Spain (there is a whole Pineterest site devoted to this story), the statue of Our Lady standing on the pillar seems silly and a bit undignified to me.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Was I the only one I wondered?  Did other pilgrims struggle with their worthiness?  Does the need to make the right pilgrimage, or do it perfectly outweigh the sheer act of doing it?  “How quiet the sound of the forest would be,”  I heard a pilgrim say one morning,  “if only the best bird sang.”  The early morning’s mist of the Camino was accompanied by the sound of singing birds.

 

<> on August 25, 2014 in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel embraces the statue of Saint James in the cathedral at Santiago de Compostela on August 25, 2014. (credit:GettyImages)

 

Perfection is overrated when compared to intent, I decide but just be sure I stand in line to embrace the saint.  I had walked behind him once before, but this time I decided to give him a good hug from behind.  As I should have expected, St. James was cold and lifeless, and I felt nothing in doing this, but because so many had found meaning in his embrace, I thought, why not.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Long line of pilgrims applying for a Compostela.

 

Before leaving Santiago, I applied for a Compostela, or certificate showing I had walked The Way, in case anyone doubted.  This document, introduced in the 13c by the Roman Catholic Church, certifies that Pilgrims have paid their penance; repented of their sins, and would be received into Heaven by showing St. Peter their Compostela.  That is a lot of work for a single piece of paper.  There is a long line because the each Pilgrim’s credentials had to be checked before receiving their Compostela.  While waiting I ran into John, whom I had last seen on the long climb up to O Cebreiro.  When we had walked together when told me:

“Steve, the Camino is just a physical manifestation of your spiritual journey.”

I took what John said to mean this back pain was a physical manifestation of my spiritual pain, or my soul was expressing itself in a backache.  A few hours of meditating on his wisdom, and receiving some relief, I was not sure John had actually existed.  I convinced myself he has been a physical manifestation of The Camino, sent to help me.  But now, standing in line I hear someone behind me say “Hey there Ghana,” and notice John right behind (he is actually in the picture above, I just didn’t realize it when I took it).

 

Gary - is actually exists.

John exists.  I pinched his arm to make sure.

 

“John, you actually exist!” I said and told him the story of how helpful his words had been, and how later I wasn’t so sure he actually existed.  John had come and gone so fast.  He introduced me to his wife and family, and we talked for a few minutes before I was called in to examine my credentials.  “Wait a minute,” I said reaching over to pinch his arm.  “Ok, you really do exist.”  His family laughed because he was already too real to them.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Wildflowers, on the walk into Santiago

 

I spend 17 years thinking about, planning and packing for this Camino, and joined it without expectation, open to whatever The Camino wanted me to experience.   “Every moment is relative and a worthwhile one; just have faith it is enough,”  Simon told me channeling the saint.  It was something his mentor had instilled in him, and he had spoken to me in the same paragraph as the words Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).  Simon was telling me about his mentor who had come to evaluate the work of his former life with KPIs.  What was funny about Simon saying the word KPIs is I had been silently praying for some sign that this exchange was real and relevant, and then out of the blue Simon starts talking about KPIs, something our institution is big on and even I couldn’t miss that out of the blue reference.  It was like God’s Holy Spirit was saying “Listen up Steve…this is important.” KPIs – Ok God, you have my attention.

“Every moment is relative and a worthwhile one; just have faith that it is enough.”

I feel this is my final lesson of the Camino, to see ministry in Ghana as a function of presence, and to just to have faith that presence is enough.  I think Woody Allen said the same “90% of life is just showing up.” The trouble for me is just showing up is not quantifiable, that and me lacking, “to have faith that it is enough.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I’ve been back in Ghana now for almost three weeks and I’m happy to report that Suzanne and I are both in a much better place.  The Camino was good for us and both of us are making an effort to apply the lessons learned from Santiago.  As Sister Lois said in the benediction of the English Mass in the Cathedral,

“Now your real Camino begins,” (when you go home)

So on this now real Camino I return remembering:

  • the beauty of the Spanish landscape, churches, food, and people
  • the challenge of that journey, physically, mentally, and spiritually
  • the comradery of the Camino, the people I walked with for an hour or several days and the intimacy a shared in a journey of seekers.
  • the connection with The Camino (God) and the amazing things I came to witness
  • the dear friends who followed along with this Camino, praying for me, reading this blog, and encouraging me by leaving comments, sending emails, or checking in with Suzanne.  I thank you for joining me in this journey.

I know I didn’t do it perfectly and knowing that makes me want to have another go of it. Next time to be more intentional about the landscape I am passing through and capturing the contact details of those I was walking with.   But I don’t have to wait to start those practices, I can begin what I learned on The Way to Santiago.

“As you walked the Camino, so shall you walk in life.”

 

FIN

Fin.

 

 

 

 

Final thoughts on this Camino, part 1

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My first view of The 11c Cathedral

 

SANTIAGO – The foul mood that came over me after I arrived in Santiago began to dissipate over the next few days. It felt like my body was waiting for my spirit to catch up, and not happy about it.  I thought maybe I wasn’t ready for my Camino to end.

Santiago de Compostela turns out to a delightful reunion where by chance I ran into pilgrims I had walked with on the Camino, and we congratulated each other, celebrating our finish line. We made it! I wondered, was this what Heaven was like, a place we connect with all the souls who shared our journey? Today the feeling of celebration is genuine.

Gary & Helen from Australia

Gary and Helen from Australia

I run into Gary and Helen from Australia. Gary did the Camino last year and wouldn’t shut up about it, so Helen decided to do it with him this year (hint, hint Suzanne). We had cooked together a few nights before, and I learned that Helens Camino was more a move of desperation on her part just to get Gary would not shut up about, The Camino.

Hans, Jannette, & Steve waiting for Mass to start

Two-thirds of the “Swedish Mafia” and Steve” waiting for Mass to start.

Then there was Ellie from Minnesota, the Swedish Mafia, the Germans contingent, but no Tzika, and of course all the other faster walkers who are home by now, resuming their lives. I met up with so many who walked at my pace or slower and go to worship, or to eat, or to just exchange contact information.

 

Man who gave Jannette the walnut and rose

“Take this walnet and rose from my garden to St. James…for my wife”

A few days before Santiago, Jannette (ringleader of the Swedish Mafia) was stopped by an old man who pressed into her hands a rose and a walnut from his garden. He begged her to take them to Santiago for him and leave them with St. James since he could not make the journey himself. Jannette and I sat together with Hans before Mass, and she pulled them out asking “What do I do with these?”

Jannette, with walnut and rose

“What should I do with these now?” Jannette asks.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I had seen the bones of St. James earlier, and saw people were leaving bits and pieces with the beloved saint. So, while waiting for Mass to start, we slipped downstairs and tossed the walnut and rose, toward the bones of St. James. Crack, rattle, rattle, the walnut rolled across the floor.

Items left near the bones of St. James

Behind these bars rest the bones of St. James, and people leave stuff near them.

And then there was Karen, from Canada but who lives in Hong Kong and another legend of this slice of the walk. She was trying to lose her sock tan from doing the full Camino in just 17 days, “walking” about 50km (30mi)/day. I get the feeling she didn’t sleep in Alburgues with the snoring pilgrims, nor carry her pack, or wrestle with the demons as I did. We all walk our own Camino; she just walked hers faster.

 

Restoration efforts to the Cathedral of Santiago

Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

Reaching the 11c Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela has been many a pilgrim’s motivation along the journey, imagining what it would feel like when they arrived. On years when St. James Day falls on a Sunday, the gate of forgiveness is open, and since the 14c, indulgences were granted for pilgrims who passed through the gate. Today the heavy brass door is securely locked (I’m told in years past they bricked it up). The next time it will open is 2021, and to prepare for it, the Cathedral is being restored and covered with blue netting. The sound of hammers and power saws is the background noise of the Temple.

Gate of Forgiveness

No forgiveness for me today as the Gate of it is closed until 2021

Mass in the Cathedral is held morning, noon and night, and always full. There is something special about worshipping in a packed house, and a service that took 8-12 clergy, including a Roman Catholic cardinal one night.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There is something very special about a packed house for worship, even if half of them have their cell phones out recording it.

 

I think about my father-in-law Charlie, who used to go on about how beautiful the pre-Vatican II Latin Mass was, I feel that same sort of mystical quality in the Spanish Mass. Yes, I have almost no idea what they are saying, but how they are saying it sounds beautifully mystical. I’ve been attending Mass every few days now for a month, and all but two were completely in Spanish, (exception German:1, English:1). The Cathedral is no different except the part where they tell us not to come forward for communion unless we are a Catholic. The “husher” (what I called the head usher who spoke to us) they did that in English. I mostly obeyed. Actually at the last Mass before I flew out, the husher told us communion was only for baptized believers in Christ who were in good standing with the Church, but this time he said nothing about which church…so forward I went.

Butafumerio at rest.

The butafumerio at rest (before Mass)

I had seen the butafumerio (meaning smoke expeller in Galician) in the movie The Way, and read about this large incense ball sometimes swung at the conclusion of Mass. The Cathedral began using the butafumerio in the 14c to mask the smell of the stinky, unwashed pilgrims. These same pilgrims were given new clothes once they burned their smelly pilgrim ones on the roof of the Cathedral. My guidebook said the butafumerio only swung on Friday evenings, and holy days.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The eight men in red robes who swing the butafumerio are called tiraboleiros. (Galician for “turifer”, or “incense carrier”)

When I arrived in Pamplona, I toyed with the herculean effort of reaching Santiago on a Friday just to see it swing. Turns out, each of the five Mass’ I attended (Mon-Wed), the butafumerio swung and each time it made me laugh in delight, and wonder in awe. What must it have been like 600 years ago for the simple true pilgrims? I loved going to worship, altogether going seven times over my three nights there. It was a bit of a busman’s holiday, but in worship, I felt at home, and there was nowhere else I wanted to be.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The butafumerio begins to swing after being lit and let go

The first few times, I took a lot of pictures of the butafumerio, I didn’t know when I would see it swing again, but by the last time I just watched its mighty swing and saw so much more of its beauty.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

at the top of its arc, it is a foot or so from the ceiling

I wondered about the tension between watching life unencumbered, and viewing it through the lens of a cell phone or camera. See more; remember less. But its those pictures that trigger the stories, but at what cost?

 

 

The butafumerio is well documented

Each swing of the butafumerio is well documented.

 

Days 32 and 33 – Santiago Arrival 

LA CORUÑA / SANTA IRENE – On this last day I leave early (5am) from the beautiful Alburgue I slept in last night in Santa Irene.  I had planned to walk 3km more yesterday, but found this place offered a communal meal, and it would be my last chance to gather around a common table; my last supper if you will.

International Communal meal: Irish, Russian, French, English, Texas, Japan, and German.

Usually the communal meals are some sort of broiled chicken and fried potatoes.  One pilgrim joked it was like all the Alburgues got together and decided what the Pilgrim Menu was going to be and this year it’s chicken.  But this last supper was a roasted Hake, a popular whitefish here. It is the best I have had. It’s the pilgrims at the table that make it a communal meal, not the food, and this place has both.

Hake Dinner and boiled potatoes instead of fried.

Each region seems to have something that makes it unique.  For Galacia it is “horreos,” long narrow mostly empty grain storage buildings next to the road.  They are everywhere, but don’t look out of place, more a product of it; like they grew naturally out of the landscape.  The oldest I see is from 1914, before World War I, and the youngest of the historic horreos (there are new ones too) is dated 1944 (right after the Spanish Civil War, and during WWII, in which Spain did not participate).

A newer horreo

They are uniform in size and construction but not materials.  Wooden, brick, and mix of all materials.  Most have crosses on their uprights.  I found one with field corn drying inside, but most were storing tools or empty.  I thought they would be fun to sleep in, like a very sturdy tent.

 

One of the new Pilgrims I met a few days ago is from Germany.   Anya is an international economic lawyer and very well traveled.  She climbed Mt. Fuji, explored Machu Picchu, walked to Base Camp at Mt. Everest and plans on seeing the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro in the fall.  Perfect, I think.  I had been carrying meds for malaria and parasites for a month, and a few days ago I tried to toss them.  Santiago told me not to.   Anya asks about diseases African, and I share a few of my own experiences.   But not to worry, I tell Anya, I have the cures, and if she would like, I would like her to have them. The Camino provides, even if it is for her next adventure, and for me, a transfer of 6oz of backpack weight.

Anya on the bridge

Walking alone in the afternoons I realize I like the story of Suzanne and I moving to Ghana better than I like living it.  I don’t feel the blistering unseasonably hot afternoons when I’m listening to podcasts. Today it’s a PlanetMoney investigation on why the crime rate in the States suddenly decreased in the 1990s.  Over the years I’ve read about several theories:   Malcolm Gladwell attributed it to Broken Window’s Theory, but the podcast disproves that.  The FreakEconomics guys said it had to do with Roe v Wade, but the podcast doesn’t unpack that, nor do they talk about the Denver pastor who was credited for that community’s dramatic reduction in violent crime by his driveby praying ministry. This podcast concludes it was reversion to the mean.

This young couple had walked together for months, and still liked holding hands. True Love.

“Reversion to the mean,” the folks at MathWorld write, “is the statistical phenomenon stating that the greater the deviation of a random variate from its mean (the average), the greater the probability that the next measured variate will deviate less far.” In other words, the more things get out of whack, the more likely it is for them to move toward normal.  The podcast claims crime had gotten really bad in the late 80s, and in the 90s it went down, or as they claimed, reverted to its mean.

For my sister Sheron – knitted tree coverings.

I kept hoping Suzanne and my mean would revert to our mean, but I’m realizing there is a new mean in town.  The sad thing is, if things suddenly got better, the getting better would be a deviation, not a reverting.

We walk through Eucalyptus forests.  I know I’m not supposed to like them as they are a fast growing, invasive, trash tree, but the shade they provide gives a nice break from the sun. Eucalyptus is grown for wood pulp.

Into the Woods we Go

 Our story grew out of a previous mean, and while it makes for a good story, it didn’t jump “the pond” well, and I’m not a big fan of its current narrative.

The narrative of a good story has three elements:

  • An Introduction (once upon a time there was a…);
  • The Trouble (and then suddenly something happened…);
  • The Resolution or struggle (So the hero… makes the story interesting)

A long time ago in a land far away a family moved to Africa for a year of adventure.  One year turned into two, and then they returned to Texas to resume their lives, except they didn’t.  Five years later the parents moved back to Africa and at first everything was wonderful.  But then suddenly she began working longer and then longer hours.  He noticed this and tried to woo her back but she was caught in the gravitational force of the institution. Like those before her who’s orbits had failed and burned out, he saw her lacking the will or escape velocity to save herself; her orbit was decaying.

So the hero…changes the narrative!

“The Moth” is another podcast I listen to about storytelling.  They say the most moving stories are rooted in vulnerability, but are not too emotionally raw. The really good stories come from the scars, not the wounds that caused them. Their narrative contains some element of the storyteller reflecting back on the experience, like a voice over at the end of a movie telling you how everything worked out.

Nice and Normal looking Mary

Around noon I stopped in an interesting but disturbing church building.  This 14c stone building is naturally cool, and it feels good to rest, pray, and admire the artwork.  I’m calling her “Our Lady of the Eyeballs,” because that is just what Mary is holding. Why is the question.

Wait a minute…what is on the platter?

Mary holds a platter tilted slightly toward her so that we can’t see what is on the platter, except I hold my camera above the platter to see what was on it.  Why I did that I don’t know, but the image clearly shows two eyeballs.  Seriously, two eyeballs, sitting in small pools of blood on the platter.  Mary, Mother of Jesus what have you done?  What is this deviation from Mary’s mean all about?

Mary Mother of Jesus…what have you done?!

The last three hours is a concrete slog of traffic-filled miles into Santiago.  It is awful and I’m already in a pretty dark place, and won’t talk to anyone.  It takes a lot to get me in a dark place, but if you’ve ever seen me there, well, I’m sorry for you.  Why did I do this stupid walk?  What was I thinking? I can’t solve these problems I’ve been thinking about this last month.  It is so hot.  My feet really hurt.  I’m hungry, dehydrated. How much further do we have to go?  Those  #$%^ bicycles.

From the same church as Our Lady of the Eyeballs. I think she is worried about Mary.

Arriving at the Cathedral–Peter’s description of it being a bit of a letdown is a typical British understatement–it is a circus. A festival is going on and there are busses of tourists everywhere.  I’m overwhelmed by the noise, the crowds, all the beggars, people selling trinkets, and a jazz band is setting up for an evening concert.  I let Suzanne know I made it, but don’t want to talk.  She understands, saint that she is.  I think about walking back out of town but instead I find a room for the night and take a long nap.

Arrived.

I decide my soul needs to catch up with its body. I had arrived physically, but the spirit was still several days away.

Tomorrow I may really arrive, or the day after.

Fin.

Days 31 – The End is Near 

More Pilgrims join The Way

PALAS DE REI – Now the Camino is really crowded with pilgrims, most who joined a few days ago for the last 100km.  They had been fresh and shiny but everyone is showing signs of weariness, and their clothes and equipment have that same dusty used look as mine.  We are all one family, now, or at least look that way.    The guidebooks had been clear to not allow a feeling of superiority, or a spirit of judgment about the fresh faces when they joined.  The Camino starts when you begin.

Yes, that is a donkey who’s owner is panhandling his way.

I am reminded of something Simon said a few days ago: “Judgment of others starts from within,”  I think he means that what we judge others on, is actually a self-critique.  Except for the increase of bicycles, the new pilgrims have been a welcome distraction to these last 60miles.  The bicycles are another matter.

Cross stone and bikes

The phrase “Buen Camino,” meaning Good Walk, is said it often.  Depending on context, it means hello, good-bye, good-luck, or in the case of bicycles, it means “get the heck out of my way, I’m coming through!”  A pilgrim response could be “use the darn road,” said like a cranky old man in black socks protecting his lawn (with stronger adjectives) but no real pilgrim would go there. I think the most aggravation I’ve felt on the Camino was when there was a paved road on either side, and still the bicycles in their tight pants raced down the path yelling “Buen Caminooooo…and I wanted to shout “use the #$%^ road.”   They are universally despised.

Time for a break

Bicycles could be a chance for me to practice Simon’s judgment wisdom, but I’m sure even as chill as he was, he would grant me a bicycle exception.  Simon says: “An awareness of judgment is the first step.”  But then to help the judgment pass, he says I must both accept it and even be thankful for it.   I’ve been getting a lot of practice.

How are you feeling today?

To make things more interesting it has been unseasonably hot, like 95 (37c) hot.  Today I walked until 6:30pm, walking only 16mi (26km) but that kind of heat did me in.

I swear I didn’t write this.

The Way is getting a little weird too, with all sorts of trinket vending, and people pushing an agenda, plus all these large groups of young people, old large people, loud, and they all move in clumps.  “Half the work is an awareness of what is going on inside of me,” Simon would say.  I notice the judgment I feel for them, thank it, accept it, and let it go.  My intent is to not let it knock me off the Camino, but I’m still working on being grateful for it.

Foot cooling pool. Wonderful.

Most days a deep feeling of gratitude comes over me in the midmornings, about the time the sun has come out and I’m on my second cafe Americano.  I feel a connection to something larger than myself.  Not God-like much larger than I, more like the Milky Way connection.  I think about the pilgrims who have walked these paths. What was The Camino speaking to them?

Wildflower

Back to my own issues,  I think about pizza game theory, as in if I eat a slice, you have one less to choose from (otherwise known as Zero Sums).  I try to imagine a scenario where the Project doesn’t have to choose.  Instead of I have to go home… to   I want to home.  It all goes back to intent.  What was my intent, and how does it help restore the life she was created to live?  I can’t find the line between enabling and being supportive.

Along the way.

Being helpful, supportive only to see time I thought I was gaining get devoted to the Institution. My feeling about this informs me my intent was not pure, I was doing this for me and it backfired.

Marker shows the distance. Is this really a good idea?

Each day closer to Santiago, I feel it’s approaching weight. What I will carry forward? What will leave behind? How will I return home after Santiago?

Barking dog apparently bites too

I keep getting asked about my expectations about arriving?  I didn’t come with any expectations, and for me it has been more of a journey than a trip along the Ley Lines of Northern Spain.  Not to get all Dan Browny, but legend holds this trail was an initiation of the Celts before Christ.  “Veins of electromagnetic power in the earth and lines of energy (called ley lines) are said to be aligned with the Milky Way along the entire trail, all the way to Santiago de Compostela.” (I’m Off Then, K. Hape)

Standing Stones in the river.

Peter, who arrived days ago warns me that it was a bit of a let down.  I guess after walking two months to get here, it was going to be difficult to meet those expectations.   My expectation will be relief, that I made it, that I won’t have to walk for a few days, or pack up in the mornings. I feel an excitement about the reunion of all the people I’ve walked with this past month.  A bit like heaven, I expect, at least the reunion part.

14c Mary with a gee whizz look

I walk until 6:30 and 98 degrees.  With that kind of heat it is difficult to stay hydrated.  I’m one sweaty, stinky, dehydrated pilgrim.   I started following the Brierary Plan, which gets me into Santiago on 19-June.  I much prefer quitting when I’m tired.

Fin.

Days 29 and 30 – Intent

AGUIADA / PORTOMARIN – Galicia is beautiful, so different from the other parts of Spain I’ve walked through.  It’s not just the rural landscape, but also the languages that seem to switch from Spanish to Galician effortlessly.   And then there is the food.

These are great forest trails!

I now have had three days of good walking.  I think Peter was right, I just had to push through, that or get into Galicia. It is nice to be able to walk all day just for the fun of walking.  The mornings are cool and foggy, the afternoons hot and dry, and in-between, delightful forests of trails.

Beautiful trails of Galacia

“It is better to travel than arrive,” Peter would remind me mid-afternoon, when I was really just wanting to arrive more than anything else.  Travel is all good and well, but when you are hurting, arrival is awfully nice too.

Signboard outside of Simon’s Place

Today I came down the big hill, after the supposedly last mountain range and wandered into Simon’s Place.

Table of treats in Simon’s Place

Simon did the Camino four years ago with his mother, and after several years riding motorcycle around Africa on a journey back to his home of Australia, he returned to be a presence for Pilgrims along the way.

Prayer Trading

There are moments when I realize the timeline of the life I was created to live had intersected with the life I am actually living.   It’s not that often, or maybe it is, but I’m not aware of it.  Anyway, wandering into Simon’s Place and plopping down on his couch,  became one of those moments.

Simon signs my book

It was a ridiculously long descent that left my right foot aching, and the rest of me ready to call it a day.  Actually, I was thinking about calling a taxi.  Simon was saying good-bye to a South African who had walked the Camino 10 times since 2006, and she asked me to take their picture.

The thing I noticed about I Simon was he didn’t lead or even ever ask the same set of questions people had been asking me for 29 days.  As I looked around I had my own set of likely often asked questions about him and his presence here, but I thought if he isn’t going to ask the standard set, then neither would I.  I think we both appreciated the break.

Entrance to Simon’s Place

“Our decisions come from either fear or love,” he said.  I’m sure there was some preamble, but that’s the first thing I got in the notebook. “Or sometimes it is fear wrapped in love,” he added explaining that we are either searching for validation or exploring something together.  He seemed like he wanted to explore something, and I didn’t need validation at that moment so I was all in.

Wildflowers!

In the light of what Simon spoke about I thought about my Project, and the process I was exploring to help her break out of the–I know I wrote doom-loop, but I it’s more of a—decaying orbit.  My project is caught in the gravitational force of the Institution, and her orbit is failing.

“Intent matters more than actions,” Simon added.  I had always heard that actions mattered more than words, but he believes it is our intent behind them.  I scribbled:

Actions < Intent

For the next hour I participated in one of the most stimulating philosophical conversations I’ve ever had.  I felt like I was on the set of My Dinner with Andre, except I knew my lines (and understood them), and participated fully.

A very square church that closed its doors instead of having the regular 8pm Mass.

I wondered about the intent behind my actions with my Project, and reviewed the When Helping Hurts model.  The goal of WHH methodology is restoration of the life God intended us to live; the life we were created for.   That is the point of restoration, not what I think the Project’s life should look like, but how God intended it to be lived and loved.  I am not sure my intentions were always that pure.  Sometimes it felt like a zero-sums game where I could only win if The Institution lost.  I had set up a situation where my Project had to choose between us, and The Institution rarely lost, not when the fate of the continent was in the balance. The Camino tells me I must implement a scenario where the intent of my actions was to help restore The Project’s life toward the one she was created to live, not to force a choice.

Interesting arch I got to walk through

I walked with Ko today, a junior in college from South Korea.  Ko and I met weeks ago but had not seen each other in more than a week.  She calls herself a “none,” meaning she does not practice any religion.  Most of the South Koreans I’ve met are Presbyterians, so I was interested to listen to her observations about faith.

“They are all the same…” she told me.  “right?”

Ko – from South Korea

“I believe the world’s religion have at their core the same goals, or ideals, to help their believers become the people they were created to be.   How they get there is different, and those differences are largely cultural, based on the culture they grew out of.”

“What do you mean?” She asked.  Ko is studying psychology and wants to help people by being a counselor. We put together a list of the religions and where they came from:

  • India: Buddhism; Hindu;
  • Japan: Shinto;
  • Italy: Catholic;
  • Germany: Lutheran;
  • USA: Methodism
  • Middle East: Islam …

“Well, it’s like this,” I begin telling her about the food of India, Thailand and Ghana.  “The thing is, each of those food types start with the same basic ingredients: garlic, onions and ginger, but what they do with them and how they do it makes all the difference.

A yummy salad and goat cheese

That is how I see the religions of the world.  They all start with the same goals of peace and guiding people toward the lives they were created to live, but how they do it is a way that makes sense to the culture (they came out of).

In the morning we see slugs crossing the trail, which begs the question…why?

This discussion gets Ko thinking about food, and that night Ko makes Korean noodles for dinner,  I put together a stir-fry and along with some other Koreans, we all enjoyed a great feast that started with garlic and onions but sadly no ginger.

All these new pilgrims…Ah!

The last few days the number of people on Camino has grown.  The last 100km is what is needed to be granted a Compostela, the certificate of a completed walk,  so all sorts of new, fresh pilgrims have joined the trails.  They are fun, excited, and a fresh contrast to the weariness of us who have been walking longer.  It might be that we are in the final days of our walk to Santiago, and that the end is near is on our hearts.

Are we ready, or will it be like MaryAnna said, “Santiago will always be with us.”

Fin.

Day 28 – Galicia at last!

To my right is Galicia where the wind is blowing me

FILLOBAL – After two days of chipping away at the long hill up to O’ Cebreiro, I finally crossed over into Galicia, the autonomous region that is the final province of the Camino.  Once in Galicia, and the other side of the mountain, the weather changed from the mid 80s to the 50s, walking among the clouds and rain.  So good to see the rain which I had not walked in since the third day of this journey.  Nice to break out the rain gear I had been carrying, and make it worth its weight.

Clouds pouring over the hills of Galicia

All day long I thought about John, and what he said about the Camino being a physical manifestation of my spiritual journey, and the back pain I had been carrying these past days could be a physical manifestation of my spiritual pain, or the hurt of the soul.

“What does this pain represent?” I asked the Camino.  Silence.  But asking seemed to make my back hurt less, and I’ll take that.

One of the open churches I hid out in during a downpour.

Many of the churches of Galicia were open today, and I don’t know if they are always open, or just open because of the rain.  They made a great place to duck in and let the storm pass, and having 20-30 minutes to pray, and look at their altar space and wonder what are the people who make this church like?

People coming in from the rain for the funeral

I didn’t have to wonder with one church because it was open for a funeral. I stayed in the foyer, greeting everyone who came in, but not attending the actual service, that would be rude.  I did enjoy napping and listening to the cantor chant the mass of the dead.

Naptime in the Foyer before the funeral (yes I can in fact nap anywhere)

This was another day of mostly walking alone and half of it in the rain and thinking about something my chiropractor, Rosanne Butera, used to ask:

What is your body trying to tell you that your soul will not acknowledge?

I love these mystical trails that look like they were cut into the forest.

Pain is a big part of the Camino, and there seems to be no escaping it.  I spoke with a pilgrim walking back from Santiago and toward Rome my second week.

“Do your feet still hurt?” Yes.

“Do your muscles still get stiff?” I asked.

“I would not use that word stiff,” he said smiling,  “it is more like they seize up if I sit for too long.” I could relate.

“Your back…?”

“Still hurts in the afternoons,” he answered.

A home from 1933.

Peter told me about a young Australian he met who was carrying 45kg (90lbs) in his backpack.  When Peter asked him why, he said that he thought that pilgrimages were supposed to be hard.

Raingear, and ready for it

I think his point was that different people find different things hard but where there is challenge there is an opportunity for stretching and growth, both physical and spiritual.  Pain is just part of the growth process.

After the rain, a beautiful hillside.

It is one of the things I miss about walking with Peter.  He was so wise and thoughtful and if he were here (instead of in Santiago) I’m sure he would tell me hard is not bad, especially if I am able to find the strength, over time, to keep going and keep grinding away on the things I came to the Camino to seek clarity on.

wildflowers, I will miss you when you’re gone.

“Bring Camino to your home” a volunteer told us one night at an evening blessing.  “But do not bring your home to the Camino,” he cautioned.  At the time I admired the symmetry of his wisdom, even if I was not sure what he meant.  As I near Santiago (I’m less than 100 miles) I find myself contemplating how to bring Camino to the home Suzanne and I share.  Will I be able to apply her wisdom to our lives in Ghana?

Moo to you too

I have no hard statistics, but I would say one in four of the pilgrims I talk to are repeat offenders; this is not their first Camino.  Swen, his sixth, Mary and Sister Marsha, their third, MaryAnna and Kay, their second and today I met a woman from South Africa who did her first Camino in 2006, and now is on her tenth.  At night we share stories of Camino junkies, wondering what part of this journey did they not get, or did they find their home on the Camino and the rest is just lived to return to it?

I want to want to walk another Camino, but right now, I can’t want what that want leads to.

I climbed out of that valley to enter Galicia

Galicia is beautiful, mystical, and farm country.  The Camino path is an earthy, wet smell of manure, horse and cow, but I also see sheep and chickens.  Homes built above barns, and huge stacks of corded firewood tells me it gets cold here in the winter.

Living space on top; barn on bottom.

I go to sleep tonight wondering what spiritual pain is manifesting itself in me, hoping tomorrow will be better. The pain makes it difficult for me to connect with God and think about anything else.

Fin.

Day 27 – Physical Manifestations of a Spiritual Journey

LA FABA-

“Steve, the Camino is just a physical manifestation of your spiritual journey.” – John from Arizona.

I was struggling up the long O Cebreiro hill, when a man named John came alongside me to walk together.  I say walk together, but mostly I was laboring to keep up.  John had already walked further that day than I had the last two, and now he was passing me on this hill effortlessly.
I didn’t think much about what John said until after tonight’s Pilgrim’s Meal. Martina (from Germany) told how Santiago pulls her along the Camino.  “Each morning it is like Santiago takes my wrists and walks,” she said hold her wrists out, “helping me along.”

It was a lot steeper than this photo makes it look.

Let me say that has not been my experience so far.  If what John said was true, could the spiritual part of my Camino be manifested with a difficult physical journey?  In other words, am I having a hard time of it physically because I’m either having a difficult time of it spiritually, or not doing the work I need to?

This Camino is just for walking, and for a few hours no bikes (yeah!)

Today is the climb of the last of the big mountains of The Camino, and it is looking like I will be unable to finish it today.  What started out as a short nap in the cool church, was followed by another on a stone picnic table outside in the shade.  By 3pm, one of the German volunteers told me I must stay here for the night.  I looked around, there was a nice kitchen, good beds, and an ecumenical worship service at 8pm.  And then Sister Marsha walks up, and I thought I really should stay here, reminding me of something I heard:

Your Camino is measured by friends, not miles walked.

Friends I can do, miles or kilometers, not so much, plus Sister Marcia is an interesting Camino-friend (read her very good Camino Blog: https://rsmmarcia.wordpress.com/).  This is her third Camino, and she has a more complete understanding of what she is walking by than I do.

Steps lead up to the field built right in

Later Freda, from Holland showed up.  I had not seen her since my last day on the Mesada. Rena her Dutch friend was lost, somewhere behind her.  We decided to cook together, and then attend worship.

Freda – praying, as Uver looks on in the shadows

Worship was led by Uver (sounds like Uber) and another German, both volunteers.  Completely in German, another worship service I can’t understand, but now in German instead of Spanish.  I wasn’t the only one thinking that, nobody but our leaders got a word of it. The service ended with a foot-washing, which was appropriate.  I feel sorry for the South Korean who washed my feet.  P.U.

Uver – leading German Worship.  Look upper right for the space where a statue is missing.

Packing Lists and Equipment

It is a good day to talk about Camino mechanics such as packing list, and equipment for posting from a mobile phone.

Steve’s Packing List 2017

  • 2 short sleeve shirts (Eddie Bauer Travex fast drying)
  • 1 long sleeve cotton shirt*
  • 1 pair cotton long walking shorts*
  • 1 pair nylon light weight pants (Columbia)
  • 2 pair boxer shorts
  • 2 pair wool ankle high socks (Darn Tough)
  • GoreTex Rain Coat
  • Keen Sandals
  • Keen ankle high boots
  • Samsung Phone J2
  • Olympus Tough TR-4 Camera + case
  • Plastic tripod
  • Sunglasses
  • Extra reading glasses
  • Toilet kit
  • First aid kit
  • 4 nylon packing bags (cloths, electronics, night stuff, extra)
  • International electrical adapter with USB, USB cables
  • 2 power packs (2600)*
  • USB Headlamp
  • Earplugs (custom made)
  • Wide brim hat
  • Osprey 36lt backpack
  • Scrubba Washing Bag (and Key soap)
  • Silk sleep sack
  • Walking stick*
  • Bluetooth Keyboard (to connect to my phone and write these blogs)

* bought in Spain, along the way

All together it is about 15-17lbs when I have two small bottles of water, and some emergency food.

Early morning trails

Most days I set out between 6.30 – 7.30am after having slept in my walking clothes.  My first stop is in the first town for a Café Americano, and then it’s another 5-10km before stopping for breakfast.  Miles before noon are free, miles after lunch…painful.

See how steep it is?

Between 2 and 4pm, I try to find a place to stay.  That said, I’ve walked as late as 8.30pm, and stopped as early as 12 (as in today).

When I do stop for the day, I shower, wash clothes, and grab something to eat if I’m hungry.  Then I write for a few hours, and eat dinner, (ideally a communal meal).  After dinner, if there is no pilgrim’s blessing, I add pictures, post the blog and go to bed.

Metal bunks beds are not the best. Wooden…much better

I take pictures with an actual camera. The camera connects to the phone via wifi. I use the Microsoft Word app on my phone, with a bluetooth foldable full-size keyboard to write.   After the blog is written, I copy it to the WordPress app on my phone, insert pictures that were transferred from camera to phone, and then post either by public wifi, or the internet on my phone (via a Spanish SIM chip).

The right tools for the job

I’m quite happy with how everything works. At night I plug in my phone and the camera to recharge.

This Church is locked (most are)

Final Thoughts

I go to sleep tonight thinking about John, was he even real?  I mean we walked together for maybe five minutes, and he dropped that physical/spiritual quote on me and then I couldn’t keep up.  Was he sent to deliver that message and then move on?  This seems like just the kind of thing The Camino would do.  This ought to be easier, and maybe if I focus more on the spiritual, the physical won’t be so painful.

The view from the Altar looking toward the entrance