Say A Little Prayer. One last post from this year’s time along The Way

This is a version of the prayer I try to find a moment to pray everyday as I start out in the morning. I have with fair regularity said it from almost the beginning of my first Camino. And though everyday on the walk I find myself wondering why it seems (so far) to only be a Camino thing .. there would be absolutely nothing wrong with it as an EVERYDAY FOR

LIFE practice/discipline – for me and or you!!!??!! Feel free to steal it and rewrite it as you may…

Lord bless my feet that they may always follow the path you lay out before them – be it the way to joy or work.. challenge or adventure.

Lord bless my legs that they might stride boldly into the future you would have me find and live into. And that they may continue to be the founding pillars for the temple of God that is my life.

Lord bless my inner parts that they be always ready to digest all that you give me to feed on this day and that I be nourished & sustained in every way needful.

Lord bless my arms that they be forever open to embrace with grace all that comes my way this day.. those in need of tenderness… those in need of compassion.. and those in need of companionship.

Lord bless my ears that I be able to listen for and hear every word you speak to me on the way.. words of challenge.. words of hope.. words that come in tears of sorrow and giggles of glee. Words that call me into the deepest engagement with life.

Lord bless my eyes that they be ready to take in all the beauty AND the ugly I will encounter today.. the mysteries and the truths I will be blessed to stumble across today. Help me to always ready to truly SEE the human experience in all its colours AND the kingdom moments.. the visions of hope and the reality of people in struggle.

Lord bless my nose that it too be ready for all that will take in. The scents of sweetness, savoury.. AND the putrid whiffs of life’s fecundity.

Lord bless my mouth that it be more closed than open… to enable me to always be ready to listen before I speak. And that when I do speak may it always be words of love, understanding, hope and grace for the world.

Lord bless my mind that it be able to stay curious and alert.. ready to dream dreams and see visions.. ready to discern and chew through all the signs and wonders you give me.. ready to be enlivened to be all you want me to be.

And lastly Lord bless my heart that it forever be a seat for your spirit to live in me and a fountain of grace for all who need an incarnation of you.

AMEN

“Love never ends…”

And so another time of wandering my way across Spain has come to its last day of walking. We arrived “in the square” (the great gathering place in front of the cathedral of Santiago) late morning Saturday, August 24. As per tradition we were greeted by both friends and strangers and a whole myriad of emotions that it would be basically impossible to list or understand. At the core though.. to once again pass under the arch and walk into the sunlight beaming down on us as we look up at the front doors and spires of the great church… side by side people who have become incredibly beloved to me… was/is a breath-taking, heart-filling, heart-wrenching moment.

Now obviously this is not quite my first time “arriving here”. And indeed the cathedral does have an “old-friend” feeling about her. That aside however .. the experience of coming to this final walking-on-the-way day of a Camino is never something you can quite pin down or predict. In fact.. this time (in some part thanks to the emotional honesty of my walking friends) I might actually say I was more moved than even the first two times. (Or maybe Camino is finally cracking me open a bit!?!) In any case there were tears in my eyes as I once more looked up at the grand spires and undaunted statue of St James/Santiago blessing us from on high.

As I have no doubt written here in previous years.. the one thing we all share in that moment is a huge sense of surprise at how conflicted we suddenly realize we each feel. For while there is no question that there is an incredible feeling of erupting joy and a soul-moving sense of accomplishment in that moment, there is also almost as quickly a wave of deep grief – grief that an incredible, unique and powerful time in our lives is now slipping thru our fingers. For you see the Camino is not simply a long walk you finally complete.

As much as all you can think about for those first few days is how great it is to FINALLY get to the albergue for the night..&/or how amazing we think it will feel to FINALLY get the whole thing done… it doesn’t take much more than those few days for there to root in you a steadily growing realization that “FINALLY” has nothing to do with what we are about here. As cliche as it is to re-say it … Camino/life IS NOT about destinations. It is and forever will be 100 % most profoundly measured in the quality of the steps you take ON the journey and the moments of grace/joy/compassion/peace/hope that are incarnated for you and in you along the way.

And thus it is that you have not read anything in this post about Camino being “over” or “finished”. There is always yet another step to be taken, another stage of the journey to be met, another moment of life to lived into and thru with engagement and love, another insight about yourself or life or God to be taken in, another beautiful spirit to encounter… and on goes the list to eternity. And for exactly those reasons .. I will be a pilgrim on “The Way”/a man on a journey for the rest of my life. (Even as I was both of those long before I ever heard of the Camino). Which is to say, adding the word “pilgrim” to my name on Facebook is not just a way to be cute. It is a commitment… a commitment to keep on working and walking.. and engaging life on as deep a level as I can.

For all the ways that each Camino has reaffirmed these feelings in me.. I can only say thanks be to God. For all the people who (on each Camino) have been brave enough to join me in this craziness, honest enough to engage the whole of the experience, and kind enough to share themselves and their love with me on the walk(s) .. to you I also say a deep deep Thank You and thanks be to God FOR YOU!!!!! (And in as much as I would love to list the names of each of you and how important you are to me.. I am not crazy enough to try.. at the risk of forgetting even one of the special people who made this walk – and each of the first two – all they have been.) Blisters be damned, heat be damned, long hard days up/down hill be damned, etc etc etc… I would do it all again to share even one more hour with you!!!

If you have been following all this from home… thank you for joining me on this incredible journey. I can only hope my meanderings and meandering writings have touched some part of you. And IF… if.. if even one of you now feels tempted to give this whole thing a try for yourself… or incorporate any of what I have talked about in to your day to day world… well then… I will have done the Camino proud.. and met my goal.

It really is something just about any one can do (with the right kind of patience with yourself.) And is something and guarantee WILL change you!

– today on a train to Lisbon to visit friends from Camino 2.. brace yourself John and Jean we are headed your way… August 27th, 2018

The Night Before…

Of all the things that change from one Camino to the next there are many things that stay the same. Of these is the the truth that the last night before we walk into the city is a night of many strange and conflicted feelings.

On the one hand we go to bed tonight on the verge of completing one of the most complex, physical/emotional/spiritual/mental challenges we are ever likely to take on. And without question that is true!!! This is so much more than just a long walk in the countryside. Sitting with my compatriots tonight one after another we spoke of how deeply we each have been moved by.. surprised by.. stretched by.. beat by.. bedraggled by.. transmogrified by.. challenged by… touched by.. reborn by.. the days we have shared, the steps we have taken, and hours/compassion we have shared. One by one we each talked about how we could not have imagined how radically our internal stuff would be rearranged as it bodies as taxed to their limits. And no … I don’t necessarily expect people who haven’t been here to understand most of that!?!?

Even as all that was shared and the obvious sense of pride relished, simultaneously we are each awash in a just as deep sense of impending grief – the grief of relationships about to change.. of an incredibly wondrous moment about to pass.. and a whole new way of being in the world about to end.

And so the night passes in a strange deluge of sharing, deafening silences, and antsy-ness. Even I who have been here now three times am not entirely sure what tomorrow will bring, how it will feel it how I will react. Even I as I had I know how confusing tomorrow will feel can’t help these folks so dear to me walk thru what’s only they can themselves walk thru.

To say we covet your prayers this night is not a question. To say we will each have a beautiful awful awe-full, weird day tomorrow is likewise a given. And so let me claim it. Please think of us this night and thru tomorrow. We will need all the help we can get and all the support you can give – now and when we come stumbling back to you.

– tonight from a mere 20 kms from “the end” of journey that will never reality end. From O Pedrouso Spain August 23/19

Milagros del Camino

There ARE miracles!!!!!

Now that may seem like an oddly obvious thing for a so called “man of God” to be suddenly affirming (as in haven’t I always thought that)!?!? And indeed it is true that I theory I always have believed that when it comes to limiting the ways God may or may not act… that is quintessentially a dodgy idea. Except that I don’t necessarily walk thru life actually expecting to have one dropped in MY lap. I am neither sure that I deserve it nor do usually think that is what God has in mind for me.

That said NOTHING surprises me on Camino. I have had dreams out here the likes of which I never have. I have met unique people who have profoundly touched my life but who don’t usually fall into the normal categories of folks I most often “connect with”. Add to this all the ways you seem to be met along the road by people who are exactly the kind of ear of compassion or voice of hope you need that day and really you begin to feel like miracles are

“normal”.

Every now and then though even on the Camino you can potentially get spiritual whiplash. And so began the phone call between Sonja and her brother last night. At the begin it was simply a chat to let him know she was still plugging along in spite of a very rough day of painful blisters and sore feet. During this she spoke of how happy she was to have been walking with a lovely Scottish woman, a kind man from Wales and a “pastor from Canada”. To which her brother responded, “oh isn’t that a coincidence he too had walked with a “pastor from Canada”. … what of course followed was a bunch of detail/memory swapping the end result of which is…. that as can only happen on Camino I am indeed the SAME CANADIAN PASTOR. Sonia who I have now walked with for almost four weeks is the sister of Sergio who was a fun part of my Camino family back in 2013. I even had a few pictures on my phone to confirm it all!!! And again indeed .. in both cases both people have been gifts to me.

To state the obvious. I do not believe God pushes us around like pieces on a chess board. And yet at the same time I do not believe in coincidences much either. What I am sure of though is that God has a relish sense of humour and loves to tantalize us with wonder. Tonight I once more stand in awe of the delightful God fills our lives with surprise and foretastes of the feast to come. (And no such things do not only happen on Camino but we are more tuned to them I think).

– standing with a stunned look on my face and my mouth open in Tricastella, August 18/19

Climb Every Mountain…

The climb today into O’Cebriero is a very unique day in a bunch of ways. Firstly it is a #%&)! of a walk – over 20 kms and 31 plus stories (according to my Garmin watch). Secondly you suddenly get the distinct feeling that you took a “left turn at Albuquerque” and have somehow ended up in Scotland or Wales. For you see the area of Northwestern Spain we have just walked into is almost as Celtic as are Ireland, Scotland or Wales. The architecture is similar. The music has a distinctive familiar lilt to it. And everywhere you look there the exact same images you see in the various UK countries and the Maritimes. All of which makes me feel like in have found my people.

In the Caminos past this is one of my favourite little villages to visit. A grand mixture of fine people, good food, nice wine and the breath of God clearly on the wind. Tonight however time restraints for some of our Camino family mean that we will be breaking up a bit. Some must charge ahead in a series of 30 plus km days to get to Finnisterra etc before their flights home. Some of us, on the other hand, have realized that stretching the days out means stretching out our incredible experience that is the Camino.

And so the good byes begin…

And though it likely seems odd for anyone to imagine that such good byes must be easy to say nothing could be further from the truth. I mean sure we have only had a few weeks/days to spend together but… here on the Camino relationships are simply not normal. As in the quickness with which they become deep and intimate is much faster than usual. And just so, the ways in which we share with each other and care for each other is much different and more honest than so called “real life”.

In the end such means that the friends we make out here become fast friends very fast. And in many cases they become with whom we stay connected for many years to come. And thus to have to say good bye to these folks is unlike the usual “see later” we usually dash away with. It is, in truth, it’s own unique kind of grieving experience. And as result we are all feeling a bit heavy of heart these days. Either because we had to say good bye to some or because we know more good byes are coming.

I hope you have people I your life who are dear to you as these folks have become to me. And if you do please remember to cherish them. Every one of them is a gift.

– from a sad night after O’cebriero.. July 18/19

Changing times…

[Please note these last two posts are out of order]

So apparently even a ghost town can have a resurrection!?! Tonight we are in Foncebadón. In the past this was THE most simple deserted village I stayed in on the trail (full time population of three along with two horses and a donkey). And frankly I loved it as just exactly that. The albergue we used to stay in was run by volunteers who lead yoga and served a communal vegetarian supper. The only store was a wee shop that sold a few fruit, chips and one litre beer cheap.

Today however there are three relatively new albergues, a pizzeria, and three sophisticated shops. Even the one I lived has been upgraded. AND they have a whole new smooth paved road thru the town.

Now as much as it goes without saying that I am a big believer in resurrection.. this is not one that I’m that happy to write about. The various rumours that the growing numbers of folks walking The Way has served to commercialize it seem to be (in some part) true. And for better or worse the popularity of this town as the last place just before Cruz de Ferro seem to have made investment in an old Spanish village a worthwhile risk. Good for them I imagine but… I feel.. bad for us. Or at least it has mightily changed the vibe of one of the places that really touched me in years past and was the scene of some precious memories.

On the other hand I did spend the night once again surrounded by bunch wonderful friends.. Had a great meal of BBQ and a decent sleep. Really all one can ask for in an albergue!!?

Once again it appears that the only true constant in life is change (and how hard it usually is for us to accept/deal with it).

– from Foncebadón just a day shy of leaving my rock behind. August 14/19.

The Old Rugged Cross

Among the singular highest privileges I get on the Camino occurs at what is also one of its holiest places/moments. We come to it but a few short kms past Foncebadón in the pre-dawn hour (for many of us). This place is called Cruz de Ferro.

The history of this place is that at some pint someone raised a simple iron cross (Cruz de ferro) on a tall pole. Relatively quickly the tradition evolved that every pilgrim was to bring a stone with them from home to drop at the foot of this cross. The obvious intent being that this stone would be a symbol of something you want to either religiously turn over to God or spiritually leave behind. As you can imagine that means that for many people this can become a very emotional moment. Just as you must imagine that after some 1000 yrs there is a hell of a pile of rocks there.

For each of us the rock means something different. For some it can be as simple as a bad habit. For others it is much more life changing or deeply personal. What has always been some powerful for me is to take some time to sit off to the side and watch as the various folks I now know wander up and take their moment at the foot of the cross. For some I know it is going to be a very holy and religious (in the common use of that term) rite. For a great many tho – who might otherwise deny a spiritual aspect of their Camino – It is profound to watch them walk to the cross.. spend what Is obviously a personal and moving moment and then walk on.

This year I got there well before dawn and was fascinated as one by one the various folks wandered up and found a seat at the foot of the cross then sat down facing east to watch the sun rise. Once again for me the symbolic meaning of the metaphor we were all living was incredible – even if only a few were necessarily with me in consciously recognizing it. Frankly at first I was a bit annoyed as some of the earliest ones kind of unthinkingly blocked the way for people to get to the cross and place their stones. But slowly as the crowd grew and the silence set in, it all became beautiful.

I myself of course had a stone to leave. One I have been carrying painfully for way to long. And while I have no illusions that just dropping a rock will make that sorrow disappear, I know that this is a beginning of yet another pilgrimage for me.

THIS is THE moment I wish I could fully share with you all. Impossible tho that is. (That is unless reading these crazy ramblings does manage to convince a few of you to give this a try.)

– today on the other side of of the cross of iron… in Ponferrada August 15/19

The Long and Winding Road…

Sorry for the time out but… we have been waking some extra long days of late and wine and weariness have detracted from my sense of responsibility to my blog. Yesterday in fact we walked 37 km (following a day of 34). This now puts me a full day ahead of my last time on the walk.

For reference the difference between an average day of 26 km and a day of 37 kms feels roughly like the difference between waking further than you ever have and staying at home with your feet up eating bonbons.

Apart from quite literally walking out butts off not much of note has transpired. We are not well into the Meseta – Spanish for “the table” — which most lament as the hardest, flattest, most mind numbing portion of the walk. For we of Saskatchewan stock the fact is that it is not really as flat as they say. (Think more Yorktown parkland than Regina flatness for 200 kms in any direction. The essence of which means that there is a lot of time to chat with other pilgrims AND more than enough time to trip over that other entity you are likely to have to face in someway among the way – God I whatever way you might define your God. The reality being – as I say often – I don’t care how “unreligious” you may try to claim you are, somewhere and in some ways along this path you simply ARE going to find yourself having a chat with something you might just as well call God – something bigger and more in control than you.

I don’t say this to be especially missional or religious.. it’s just that strip it all away.. leave behind the busyness of life… walk yourself into a trance and you will suddenly come face to face with wholes bits and pieces of your inner self you were sure were still there/alive. And just so.. I don’t think it matters if you ever put a name to it but… there is always a moment (too many for most of us) when coming this tangibly in relationship with your broken parts and frailty, you also come to the end of the rope of your so called “independence”. You come rather abruptly into yet another of those moments when, try as you might, you really are out of gas and need someone or something to keep you from simply coasting to a stop in the ditch.

Not that I imagine everyone goes home from camino and suddenly becomes an active member of a church or anything like that… it’s just that it does get harder and hardest to hold onto the illusion of being in charge. If nothing else having a pain in you back by definition means you suddenly realize there are somethings you just can’t do for yourself.. that you need to humbly convince SOMEONE to rub that cream on there FOR YOU!?!! (And yes of course that metaphor is autobiographical). Just as it is true that you can’t but share that $80 a tube cream with your close friend of two days who needs it for their shin splints. Try all you want. You are never going to get them this on your own. And in someway (many ways) begins every act of kindness or care I believe is God. Behind every thought or tear or peel of laughter I believe IS GOD!!

– today a day ahead of schedule in Leon, August 11, 2019

Angels Unaware…

Tonight I find myself laying on my bed in the loft of my favourite albuerge in the Camino. It really is a wonderful place to spend a part of a day (especially after 31 km walk). At the entrance you are greeted by the first of a set of metal abstract representations of pilgrims. Stepping in you find yourself in beautiful courtyard of old stones and farm equipment and the like along with a foot pool to cool your weary toes in. On top of all this beauty and welcome the staff/owner are incredibly hospitable and the food is great. Every Camino… in the days ahead of this stop… I go on and on about how incredible this place is and spread the news to all who will listen. Tonight we are full to brim in no small part because of all the folks I told to stay here.

A stay here reminds one of how little it takes to make one feel welcome and blessed when your needs are brought down to their barest necessities. A warm meal with good people… a soft bed (relatively speaking).. and beaconing smile goes a long way toward making you feel “at home” even when you are a few thousand miles from your usual hearth. In the Bible much is made about how we need to be vigilant in our hospitality… in that someday we could be “entertaining angels unaware”. I think we sometimes forget though what it means to trust that some days (often) we are – in the opposite – entertained BY angels with even more grace. Again too often unaware of the fact. As in YES we all share the call to be “little Christs” to one another which means by definition that there must be many days when Christ is welcoming and embracing us in the grace and compassion of the people we meet along our walk (of life/the Camino). Realizing this is of course both the food of faith we oft need AND yet another possible opportunity to remember the importance of gratitude.

And so my challenge for you today is to both BE the kind of people who open yourselves in welcome but also the kind of people who look for the ways God is welcoming you I. The other people around you.

– from Boadilla Del amino August 7, 2019

Come On People Now Smile On Your Brother….

Hontanas … it’s a town that makes you feel like from any given door a young Clint Eastwood might step ready for a spaghetti western showdown. You can almost hear the oh so familiar music echo in the back of you mind. (And in fact the most famous of those movies WAS filmed near by.) It is one of my favourite towns on the mesetta (the flat part). As opposed to my favourite albergue which is tomorrow night.

It is still quite disappointing to be missing Dominik on these days but it is also true that I am developing the inevitable group of folks that I can almost call my Camino family. It is interesting to realize that with each Camino I have been a bit more deeply immersed in different cultures. This time somewhat differently from previous times my most familiar folks are a French woman, a young Hungarian woman, a fun guy from Romania, a young woman from EDMONTON, and a group of Spanish and Italian folks. Add to this dash of the usual German folk and UK people and we have a fairly good chunk of the UN.

What is of course no surprise (and yet still powerful) is that the more kinds of people you get to know the more you realize that apart from the accent the stories are all quite a bit the same. We all arrive here on the Camino with a varied mixture of wounds and dreams.. struggles and stuff to work out… things to cry about and things to giggle thru. We all show up here in the midst of a changing time in one or more of our relationships, concerns about vocational/work life, needing to have a time away or needing a time to go deep. What is truly amazing though is how caring and compassionate we who walk this walk together can be with each other – all struggles with language culture be damned.

It is no question that being stripped of so many of life’s usual facades/masks and being as weary and worn as we are does open us in ways that we don’t often encounter in our “normal” life journey. And yet it non the less begs the question of why we do not do this for each other more commonly. I can absolutely stand as witness to how healing and beautiful it is to share you story or share your fears and have them held with care by someone (in these cases someone you usually have only known for a few short days). Just so I can also tell you how wonderful it is to be able cry without shame when you need to or laugh without caution when such is natural.

It is truly sad that not everyone can be here to have a taste of how wondrous these days are. But it is actually even more of a shame that there not more of this kind of abundance of simple care on everyone’s daily walk. I know we can do it. I wonder what it would take if we just have it an try.

– tonight from Hontanas – August 6/19