Sunday, June 8, 2014

Dear Darkening Ground

Dear darkening ground,
you've endured so patiently the walls we've built,
perhaps you'll give the cities one more hour

and grant the churches and cloisters two.
And those that labor - let their work
grip them another five hours, or seven,

before you become forest again, and water, and widening wilderness
in that hour of inconceivable terror
when you take back your name
from all things.

Just give me a little more time!
I want to love the things
as no one has thought to love them,
until they're worthy of you and real.

-Rainer Maria Rilke, from the Book of Hours: Love Poems to God, I 61

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A Blessing in the Dust

A poem-blessing for this transition time, passed on to me by someone (a graced encounter) who just left Elkhart, Indiana, who I met just two weeks before I leave there for seminary...

A Blessing in the Dust

You thought the blessing
would come
in the staying.
In casting your lot
with this place,
these people.
In learning the art
of remaining,
of abiding.
And now you stand
on the threshold
The home you had
hoped for,
had ached for,
is behind you—
not yours, after all.
The clarity comes
as small comfort,
but it comes:
illumination enough
for the next step.
As you go,
may you feel
the full weight
of your gifts
gathered up
in your two hands,
the complete measure
of their grace
in your heart that knows
there is a place
for them,
for the treasure
that you bear.
I promise you
there is a blessing
in the leaving,
in the dust shed
from your shoes
as you walk toward home—
not the one you left
but the one that waits ahead,
the one that already
reaches out for you
in welcome, in gladness
for the gifts
that none but you
could bring.

-a poem by Jan Richardson 

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Days 21-25, Camino de Santiago

Day 21. Los Arcos. 
One of the TOUGHEST days on the Camino for me. Not just because it was raining buckets all day. Not just because the famous wine fountain of Irache with free wine for pilgrims was closed (below), and not because Rachel forgot our goat cheese at the Albergue (I promise that before I die, I will forget that ever happened). I just wasn't fully awake and focused mentally, and it was one of those days when the reasons why I am on this pilgrimage seemed empty. I missed family and friends and wished for "normal" life when I don't have to get up early to trudge through the mud for 6-7 hours, then wash, eat, sleep and repeat. 

Day 22-23. Logrono and Ventosa. 
Yesterday's doldrums were gone somehow when I awoke to rain on what would be our longest day yet - 30ish km, about 18 miles. Rachel and I sang a lot on the trail, which helped lift our mood and give us energy. And at a certain point, I stopped caring that my pants and feet were soaked. We met up with some pilgrim friends from Argentina, South Africa, and Orange County (isn't that a separate country?), and went out for tapas that evening in the beautiful city of Logrono, which was celebrating its patron saint. We went to bed at 9:30, just as the festividades were starting! The mural below says "El Camino de Santiago se hace por (E)Tapas," jeje. 

Day 24. Santo Domingo de Calzada. 
Today was a strange day. We walked about 7 hours and reached a mostly abandoned housing development at the top of a hill with an empty golf course and for sale signs everywhere. It was like something out of the surreal suburbs of Phoenix - pavement and tract housing and fake landscape. Tired, we looked for an Albergue listed in our guidebook called the Virgen de Guadalupe. We knocked and knocked and finally a man opened the door with a loud "SI?!" As soon as we stepped inside, Rachel and I both felt creeped out. No one else was there. The man said it would be 13 Euros each, twice what we usually paid for a place. We peeked into the dark kitchen and bedrooms and all the while, the bad feeling grew. I looked at Rachel and without even talking, we decided to get out of there. It was another 6 km until the next village, but we were glad we trusted our intuition!
Rachel even picked up dinner along the way (below). Just kidding, the church in the town we stayed in is famous for a legend involving a chicken. 

Day 25. Belorado
Today was a wonderful time of serendipitously running into friends we had met along the way. One of these was Ann-Dominique. I told her she was the funniest, most genial French woman we had ever met. Ann spoke only French, but I felt an instant connection with her. She is hiking the Camino as a retreat to have some time to herself (context: she has 6 children to care for at home), to see who God brings her way each day, and to pray. One gets the feeling around Ann that she must be close to God because of the warmth of love and joy that radiates from her. She showed me much of the Mother's tenderness and light, and even though we probably talked for only 4 or 5 hours total, we were all in tears when we had to say goodbye. 

Day 26-27. Ages-Burgos
Last days on the Camino! We ran into a mother and daughter who were not doing so well relationally when we first met them in the beginning of the trail - people say to be careful who you hike with - and I thought about them often as we hiked. They were committed to finishing, though, and the daughter said she wanted the Camino to be a way to reconcile with her mom, who she had a painful history with. Praying for a break through for them! 
I left them feeling thankful for walking with Rachel. Though we saw the worst in each other at times, we also learned to depend on one another, communicate better, see the best in each other, and show love through small acts like washing the others' clothes, changing how we would normally do things, or letting the other person shower first.
I'm sure I will have more thoughts on finishing the Camino and what it meant, but for now I am glad to have made it, glad for a stronger friendship with my sister, and glad to be coming home in a few days!
Ours were the last shoes on the shelf at the Albergue today - the journey is over for now!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Days 16-20, El Camino de Santiago

Day 16-17. Roncesvalles to Larrasoana.
One of the most crowded stretches of the Camino so far; I would estimate about 200 people started with us in Roncesvalles. I think the number of pilgrims on the trail created a scarcity mindset, because this section felt rather competitive. Some pilgrims rise at 5 in the morning so that they can be the first to arrive and claim a bed at the next Albergue (Spanish hostels don't take reservations). We left at 6:30 or 7 and arrived at our destination around 2 or 3 pm with three of the five Italians we met that day. The Albergue only had a few bunks left (and it was the only place in town), but the Italians decided to wait for their friends to catch up before checking in, even though they had just met one another. In the end, they all got beds, but 30 minutes later we saw some other sad pilgrims get turned away. 
Below is a picture of a table at the Albergue in Roncesvalles where pilgrims leave behind whatever they carried over the Pyrenees the day before and decided they didn't need. Cast-offs ranged from an electric razor to fancy shoes to a book on how to succeed in business. Rachel and I gladly picked up a National Geographic and a little shampoo, both of which felt like a luxury. Maybe we missed the point of lightening our packs, but the metaphor of carrying only what is essential in life did not escape us. 

Day 18. Pamplona. We stayed at a huge Albergue with hundreds of bunks in this city, famous for the running of the bulls. One of my favorite days so far! Rachel and I went to lunch with Lisa and Allison (below), teachers from Phoenix who work with special ed kids and were inspired to walk after watching "The Way," a movie about the Camino. 
And here is Rachel running from some bull statues... We both were a little "bull-headed" later that day and got in our first fight of the trip, but after some alone time and apologies, we realized half of our troubles had stemmed from hunger. Five tapas later, things were back to normal. 

Day 19. Puente la Reina. Today I walked for a few hours with a warm, talkative man named Alfonso who does the Camino de Santiago every decade, and is walking this time for his 70th birthday! He lives in Valencia but is Basco. Since we are walking through Navarra, Basque country, it was interesting to hear a little about the history and politics of the region from him. Alfonso's brief history of Spain went like this, "Guerra, guerra, guerra, y despues, Franco." War, war, war, and then, Franco. He understandably did not seem to want to talk about the nearly 40 year dictatorship, which he experienced until he was 33 years old, except to say it was a terrible time. 

Day 20. Estella. 
I would be remiss not to mention the many signs, flags and graffiti in this part of Spain that assert Basque independence. They show that the creation of national boundaries and the unification of autonomous kingdoms still feels like recent history. I think the economic downturn only heightens some of the Basque discontent at the national government, especially for this ethnic minority that was self-ruled for centuries. Wish I could stay to learn more of the fascinating history here, but we will soon be leaving the region of Navarra for the great wine-producing lands of La Rioja! Saludos!