Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Next Steps?

Easter is over.  It has been a weekend of  Semana Santa parades, masses in the cathedral,  pondering traditions for celebrating our faith and exploring the streets of Santiago.   It is interesting to walk on streets first plotted on a grid over 1000 years ago, to sit in mass and see before me a view which could have been captured by an early pinhole camera or a  renaissance artist.  Archbishop with staff and mitre before the altar, incense drifting through a sun beam slanting up towards the roof,  heads of people in packed rows bent,  a mother holding her sleeping child, the ancient glories of the altar glinting in the muted light.

The BEST bit, however, was walking on the ROOF of the cathedral!  Yup...there is a tour...it was originally a cathedral/fortress so soldiers had to walk up there.  Such a view!

We are leaving Santiago after the Easter weekend.   20th century thoughts intrude.  One Facebook friend asks "Did you find what you were looking for?"

In short:  yes.   Yes I did.  I was looking for time simply to place one foot in front of the other, in a simple lived experience of the words "Follow me".

I was looking for time to process some unfinished issues,  to allow my soul to catch up with my body as some have put it.

I  wanted to spend time with my husband, just the two of us, with no other demands on us but the needs of the day.

All of these have been met,  all that I needed was 'found'.

One of my most frequently repeated phrases these past weeks has been "look where we are!".  We have been blessed by the countryside,  birds, flowers, and beautiful medieval villages,  along with the weather.  Even the miserable weather has been full of  beauty.   Gods creation was rolled out in all its glory before us as spring has arrived.  What a gift to winter tired Canadians such as we were.  There is something about this gift of time, the physical expenditure, and the spiritual discipline which is a pilgrimage that  heals, feeds,  restores.  It is a lived experience of grace.

Tonight we met with one of our friends from St. Jean Pied de Port, our very first days on the Camino.  This journey for her has been life altering:  her identity has been shaped through her time on the Camino and those she has journied with.  It is wonderful to see the changes in her.

  We are grateful to our many companions on this way, and glad that our journey in life includes those who share our lives most of the time:  Eric, Vanessa, Jonathan, our families, friends and those who are part if our church family.   This journey is but a stretch of a much longer road.... and the walking continues.

Buen Camino!  This is the last post.

Adios.  Go with God.


ps:  No James Strachen, we aren't home yet. R+R time, recovering from pilgrimage now
pps:  David Crawford...sorry no videos. WiFi here has challenges....
ppps:  Eric...we'll see you soon!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Journey's end

Well, we have arrived.  Our good weather held out all week, and so we walked in sunshine the final day from Santa Irene to Santiago.  It was a reasonably long day -- 25 km or so -- and so it was with some pain in legs and feet that we made the last few steps into the plaza to see the Cathedral at last.  The last few days in Galicia are up and down through the rolling hills, sometimes in pine forests, sometimes in chestnut and sometimes in eucalyptus, intersperced with what seems like very rich farmland.  It is a lovely walk.

It was with mixed feelings that we concluded our walking pilgrimage.  On the one hand, we are very glad to get those packs off our backs!  On the other hand, we are not quite ready to be done with the experience of the Camino.  

So we walked into Santiago, admired the cathedral -- there is something awesome about the Santiago cathedral, even with one tower shrouded in scaffolding for restoration work -- and then headed for our night's accomodation to clean up and rest a bit.  Then on to the Peregrino office to get our offical "Compostela," the document that would have been called an "indulgence" in days gone by.  It is the official "you did it!" document.  And our names were recorded to be part of the prayers in the next pilgrim mass at the Cathedral.  

We actually have yet to go into the Cathedral for anything other than worship, so we haven't done the end-of-pilgrimage things that are part of the tradition -- ascending the steps behind the altar to hug the apostle's statue, and such.  Apparently some of these things one can no longer do, because they are causing wear and tear on the stone!

Next day we attended the pilgrim mass...

...and then headed out to Finisterre, the "end of the earth."  Finisterre is beautiful -- near the end of a spit of land, with beaches both on the Atlantic side and on the protected harbour side.  

We headed out to the lighthouse at the end of the point -- about an eight or nine km walk, which seems like a rest day now, especially without the packs.  We took some lunch, and ate out by the lighthouse, and watched, as we ate, two large groups of dolphins swim 'round the point -- jumping, leaping, splashing.  It was magical, but too far away for a photograph.

This is the other official end to the pilgrimage.  Traditionally, pilgrims would burn their clothes here (which by now would be rather ripe, traditional pilgrims not being as scrupulous as we have been about washing), bathe in the Atlantic (not under the lighthouse, which is quite dangerous water), and watch the sun set.  Then next morning they were to awake as if newly baptized, fresh and new into their post-Camino lives.  We didn't burn anything (though it was clear some have), and we found the Atlantic pretty darned cold at this time...

Then we walked back up to the top of the ridge for the views -- and to see the old Celtic sacred stones from which one could see the sun's nightly "death" in the Atlantic, and its rise in the east.  And after a fine meal of fish (this is a fishing village, after all) we headed back to Santiago.

Here in Santiago it is Semana Santa, with all those processions (see the previous post).  It is an interesting time to be here; the processions make heavy use of symbolic imagery in order to bring people into the story.  Here you can see one of the virgin Mary images -- with a sword sticking out of her!  Graphic image to recall Zechariah's words in Luke 2:  "and a sword shall pierce your own heart also."

The processions are interesting, and not what I expected.  There is certainly a solemnity to them, but they are also accompanied by marching bands -- as Karen has said, it is clearly street theatre.  An interesting way to proclaim, and enter into, the stories of the week.

So we are at the end of the Camino.  It has been something on the order of 800 km travelled (though not all by walking).  It has been fun!  There have been difficult parts.  It seems both like we only just got here to Spain, and that we have been here for ages.  We have met folks and formed surprisingly deep relationships, talking about things with people we've just met that we might not reveal to friends back home -- because we share this Camino, this quest.

Did we find what we were looking for?  That, I cannot answer.  I think it has been good for Karen and I to share this experience, to be a couple without the complication of shared work responsibilities.  I have tried as we have walked to live in the moment, to enter fully into the experience, to say "yes" to the life that the Camino has offered.   But have I been changed in some way?  I don't know.

I have rediscovered that I love Spain.  It remains a distinctive place, with strong cultural identities that have resisted the pressure to become generic, with big-box stores and chain restaurants.  It is still a friendly place, certainly on the Camino, where people will stop and talk even when there is no common language, where townsfolk take care of pilgrims with genuine friendliness and care -- even through we keep tramping through their space, tramping through their space...

Has something happened spiritually?  That I find even harder to answer.  It is as hard on the Camino to maintain a prayer discipline as it is at home.  At the refugios, once you awake, you need to get on the road fairly quickly.  There is little private space anywhere on the Camino.  So my discipline was simply walking -- and I cannot say what walking has worked into my body or my soul.  I do notice that I miss preaching -- that reflecting on Scripture and crafting sermons is in fact one of my primary spiritual practices.  Going to church isn't too satisfying here -- I just can't follow the Spanish.  I know enough about liturgy to know a bit of what is happening, and sometimes I can identify the Scripture that is being read -- but not being Catholic and not understanding Spanish means I am left out.   So in some ways I feel lost and disconnected...  But I knew when I came that I was looking for something deeper than all this -- deeper than ministry, deeper than thinking, even, something at the core of my being that I cannot access in "normal life."

So time will tell.  What have I "walked in" to my soul?  What have I "walked out?:  What did I leave behind at the Cruz de Ferro when I dropped my stone where folks have dropped stones for hundreds of years?   I am interested to find out.

But for now, the journey is ended, and a brief vacation begins.  We will rest, and continue to experience Spain, and Easter in Santiago, and perhaps after a time of reflection I will be able to say more about what might have become new as a result of this Camino.

So over and out from me from Santiago.  We'll post a few more about Easter, and Karen will finish her reflections here to wrap up this blog by Easter Sunday.

 Thanks for your interest, and blessings and love towards your own journey, wherever and however you are travelling.

Semana Santa: An Introduction to Holy Week in Spain.

We began this sabbatical process here in Europe in Paris on Ash Wednesday, and began walking the Camino Frances on the first Sunday of Lent.  As we have moved through this season and moved into Spain,  the preparations for Holy Week have been evident.  For Canadians, even Canadian Christian Clergy,  there is lots of ponder and notice that is different.

The first thing that I noticed was the posters advertising Holy Week.  Not understanding what this is all about, I found myself taking photos,  just to have a chance to look again, and see if I can make sense, and a connection to what this is all about.

What I noticed is that every town has some procession, usually several,  leading up to and during holy week.  All of the processions involve some of the  sacred art work in churches,  brought out and paraded as part of the tradition.  And I began to notice that all processions were organized by groups in the towns,  Confraternaties  or brotherhoods.  

The posters tell about what happens.  But I didn´t get it.  Why do people parade statues outside during holy week?  Why  are many of the people in the parades hooded, and why does it seem kind of creepy?

Let me address the creepy part first.  

The hoods are traditional here,  a way to disguise who the person is as they engage in penitence and mourning.  Sorrow for the sacrifice of Jesus, and their own contrition and pennance,   as they participate in a ritual which  sums up all those ways we know we have somehow ´fallen short´ and for which we are sorry.  Participation in these parades can be hard work, and the physical cost can be painful.  The people who carry the statues may also choose to walk  barefooted,  to walk with Jesus, to share his pain. I think this is a way some chose to be open and vulnerable, rather than some sort of  ´pain is good for you´´ mindset.  Sort of like choosing to  walk 600km on pilgrimage is chosing to be open to the hard work,  blisters and  other physical costs,  to open ourselves to the gifts of  the journey.    The statues  are very heavy, and those who carry them must exert a lot of energy and strength, and it is difficult, can be painful.  But carrying such a load is a gift,  an honour, and a way to  say to God that  they are at Gods service.

North Americans see the hoods and instinctively react to the image we know all too well as signs of hate.  Some say the KKK copied these hoods, because they do cause people to react with fear.  The idea, however, is that those who walk are not on display,  not to be held up as examples of holy people.  Their personal expression of faith,  mourning, penitence,  is to be hidden, while the story of  Jesus to be held front and centre.  They emphasise the humanness of the story, which is full of pain, sadness, sorrow, grief.  These costumes underline that.  You cannot look on these hoods and feel anything like joy.

There are many parades.  We have just been to a couple so far - and will go to several more before the weekend is out.  What they are is exactly what we try to do on Palm Sunday.  They are a living experience of the story of Holy Week.  Each parade takes place during the week where it would have been during the events in Jerusalem so long ago.  The Palm Parade takes place on Sunday.  On Maundy Thursday, there is a ¨Last Supper¨ procession,  then at midnight,  a ¨Jesus Flagelation¨ procession.  It´s street theatre, with  a  sculpture from the church which shows the story,  and peoples reaction to it.  It includes the past, and characters from the present,  from Church, State, and  those who have organized the parade.

And like any parade, there is excitement, children,  photos taken,  tourist souveniers, etc etc etc.

(Just a wee side note;  I saw these little guys in a shop window and thought it might be a Darth Vader Semana Santa....but no...those are not light sabres.  They are matches,  which are meant to look like the long lit candles many of the walkers carry during the night processions. )

Here are some photos from the parade with elements from the ¨Last Supper¨.  The band played Galician bagpipes and drums,  the children carried symbols of the entire story, and the sculptures were of the last supper, and the Maddonna,  a beloved character in this story,  for whom many feel sorrow for,  as they connect with the sorrow a mother feels at the death of her son.

The characters telling the story are hooded, as are the bands.  Those who are representatives of church or state or the confraternatiy  are not hooded.  I believe this photos, above, is the mayor of Santiago de Compostella.  Dave and I followed the two fellows in red from city hall to the parade route.....

As the story continues to be told,  the mood grows darker,  the emotion more palpable. Tonight,  Good Friday, we will  go to a hillside,  and then into Saturday, through the darkest grief.  On Easter Sunday, we journey to the garden and to the joyful celebration at the cathedral. 

This is Holy Week.  A time to know that our story is Gods story, a story that is still being written.


Saturday, April 12, 2014

Home stretch

Well, we are here in a refugio in Boente, which you may have a hard time finding on a map!  It's a smallish town near Melide, which in turn is nearly at the centre of Galicia.  It's an eclectic group here at the refugio; one German, two Danes, one Dutch, two Norwegians, two from Northern Ireland and us Canadians.  We are, perhaps, two days out of Santiago.

Even the peregrino statues seem to be brightening up!  

The weather is sunny but not too hot -- the sun being somewhat unexpected for Galicia, which can tend towards dampness.  We ave heard some cuckoos in the woods as we've walked, and often seen these unusual granaries -- we think they are for storing seed grain -- one per farmyard here in this area.  
We are often walking on forest paths now, amid flowers and trees just coming into leaf.  With the rain earlier, and now warm sun, spring is springing all around us.  

We are a bit tired!  It appears that we are past the blister stage now, but our feet, ankles, and achilles tendons never quite lose their soreness.  We have decided that we are not ready for this experience to end -- but as for walking with a pack, well, we are pretty much ready to be done with that.  

The Camino is busy these days!  We are walking with at least two groups -- one of young adults and one of high school students.  You must walk at least 100 km in order to get your official "Compostela" for completing the pilgrimage.  That means starting in Sarria, which is what a lot of tour groups do.  Many will carry your luggage to a predetermined destination each day (and the school group even arranges snacks along the way, which they graciously shared with us one day!).  It's a good way to get a taste of pilgrimage, but it means that the atmosphere on the Camino is much different now.  At times we might be walking in easy sight of 40 other pilgrims!  The high school students -- let's just say we wish we had their energy and leave it at that.  

We are still enjoying ourselves greatly.  We are still having some significant conversations with other pilgrims, now as we draw near to the end.  We are still hoping to reconnect with some of our original "gang," to find out how they are doing.  And we are continuing to enjoy Spanish food!  Below is a "warm salad" and "pimientos de Padron" -- delicious green peppers, which my guide tells me are quite hot one in ten peppers (we have yet to get a fiery one).  

So it is with mixed feelings that we draw near to the end of the pilgrimage.  Hard to believe it has been so many kilometres and so many days...  

Tomorrow perhaps Santa Irene?  and then Santiago...  


Wednesday, April 9, 2014


Well, time for a couple of stories -- encounters along the way.  This is one of the great pleasures of the Camino.  Most every day we meet someone new, have a good conversation, and bid each other "buen Camino!" and part.  Perhaps we will see them again, perhaps not (though it is surprising how often we run into each other again...).

But sometimes our encounters are not with other pilgrims.  The two pictures above, for instance, are of a camp in a particularly bleak section of the Meseta just before Astorga.  It was sunny, but very windy and quite cool.  And there in the bald open, tacked on to a ruined stone building, is a camp in which David has lived for the past five years.  Andre (I think is his name) had joined him for a time.  There is no water, running or otherwise.  No power.  But David has lived here, providing rest and free refreshments for passing pilgrims, for five years now.  His camp is beginning to be noted in guidebooks.  David and Andre are very friendly (and the ladies tell me they are very good looking), they make great toast with olive oil and herbs, and I have no idea how they are supported.  But it is quite something to have such hospitality (and they absolutely refuse any payment) in such a bleak barren spot.

A few days later we were walking in El Bierzo, one of Spain's wine and agricultural districts.  We thought it felt a lot like the Okanagan!  As we walked down a road, an older man on a bicycle stopped to talk with us.  He was, as he rode, listening to a MP3 with english lessons on it, and was eager for some practice.  He told us to be careful, in Spain, to walk on the LEFT side of the road (safer) and asked how we liked Spain.   We said we love it --  as we do.  And then we talked a bit (here our language limitations hindered us) about what has happened in Spain.  It used to be so prosperous, he said -- everyone with a job, a home, a car...  And now the banks have taken them all from many.  25% unemployment or higher.

Why does this kind of crash happen, and who is served by this kind of crash?  Why is it not better for people to stay in their homes, even if for a time they cannot make the payments, than for them to sit empty, repossessed by a bank?  I am afraid that our economic system is not serving the well-being of people, but something else...

When he had to get back on his bike and go (he was on his way to see his grandchild!) he wished us well, shook our hands, and said a heartfelt "welcome to Spain."  It was actually a very moving moment.  He meant it.

And later, still in El Bierzo.  It has been wet, and the roads are muddy -- particularly the farm tracks.  We came upon a fairly tiny elderly woman and a young man in a small red car -- stuck deeply in the reddish mud between two vineyards.  Mud or snow, we figured Canadians are usually skilled in getting cars unstuck!   So we pitched in.   After about fifteen minutes of work, we had the car out.  Yes, we got a bit muddy, but our reward was seeing the relieved smiles on the woman and they young man.  I think without us they would have been at it a long, long time.

Later, as we plodded up a path and they turned onto the paved road, they honked several times and waved...

Small things, but they can be meaningful.  We have found folks here quite welcoming and kind.  Next time I want to have better Spanish...  

One more story.  I was sitting in a bar, having met Tim, one of my favorite pilgrims.  We were talking, as we drank some wine in the afternoon, and the conversation turned to feet.  Tim was having trouble -- bad enough that his toes had begun to bleed.  The bartender said gently, "I can help you with that."  We looked at him.  He ws a young fellow -- fairly good English.  "I'm a podiatrist."  We continued to look, not sure what to make of this.  "I know," he said, "a bartender.  But this is a family business, my office is in the back, so I tend bar sometimes between patients.  I can see you now if you like."  So this guy took Tim back to his office, and after a while, Tim came hobbling out.  "It's true!  Hurt like heck, but I think he's fixed me up.  His office -- tools, plaques, it's all there."  Later, a fellow who might have been the podiatrist's father came behind the bar.  Asked us if we wanted another.  I said no, Tim wanted a gin and tonic.  "Nope," said the father, "you want some of this."  (his English was not so good, so I'm taking some license)  And he pulled out a bottle of local white wine.  Poured us both some, gave us some of the best olives I've had, and continued a conversation.   Lots of fun.  And he charged us, in the end, what seemed like quite a bit too little.

People are great!