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!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Days 11-15, Camino de Santiago

Days 11-12. Arrived at Conque, our final destination on the French side of the Camino! We stayed at a Benedictine monastery famous for housing the remains and relics of St. Foy (Santa Fe), a girl who was tortured to death by the Romans in the 4th century because she professed to be a Christian. Below is a monk explaining the ornately carved tympanum of the Last Judgement over the door to the church, where we later gathered with about 40 other pilgrims for evening prayer and singing (compline). 

Day 13. St. Jean Pied de Port. This is our starting point for the Spain side of the Camino de Santiago; it is a fortified city in the lower Pyrenees on the French side of the border. It has been good to rest since Rachel has a sore throat and I'm having some arch problems because of my flat feet. Here she is in front of the scallop shell symbol, which pilgrims carry on their packs and is a sign of the Camino. 

Day 14-15. Crossing over the mountains. Before leaving St. Jean, I received word that a young man died who I worked with last year at Community Roots Garden through a gang reduction program. He died after a fight from stab wounds. I hiked over the Pyrenees with heaviness, remembering Erin and carrying his family, friends and enemies in Oxnard with me. Praying for an end to violence like this, for those who carry heavy burdens every day, and that I may be a part of the things that make for peace.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Churches along the Way

I've been thinking about how Catholic Christianity in Europe (the little I have seen so far, at least) is so different from the forms of church I have grown up with. It feels very foreign, like another religion altogether. I can't seem to wrap my mind around it or identify with its practices and beliefs, though I have worked and worshipped with Catholic-based groups without feeling this great of dissonance in the past. When we stop along the Camino to visit towering gothic cathedrals and Romanesque churches, built as far back as the 10th and 11th centuries from beautifully carved stone, wood and stained glass, I feel as if I am in an art museum rather than a place of worship. I admire the holy relics, but in the back of my head, I think that the gold and jewels would have better served the poor. The people who come now are mostly tourists; even the water in the stone baptistries has dried up. 

As we walk through these former hubs of religious and political life in Europe, I find myself remembering my Anabaptist ancestors, who were persecuted by the Church authorities a little further north of here during the 17th century, who gathered in mountain caves as their places of worship, and who secretly baptized followers of Jesus in the wild, muddy rivers that I still see flowing through these hills. 

Friday, May 31, 2013

Days 6-10, Chemin de Saint Jacques

Day 6. Almost a blizzard! We walked with snow blowing against us all day. Here I am demonstrating our multipurpose gear in action (sheet scarf and sock gloves). Something about walking with my head down against the wind, just putting one foot in front of the other all day made me go into kind of a meditative state. Though at one point I realized my mantra with each step had become, hot cocoa, hot bath. Hot cocoa, hot bath. It's amazing what focus one can have with only basic necessities in mind (I realize I'm including hot cocoa in that category). And what joy one has when they are finally reached. 

Day 7. Transhumance Festival in Aubrac. We arrived in time to see this lively  annual tradition on the Aubrac Plateau - the moving of the herds to higher pastures for summer grazing. Traditional village dancing, music, and food accompanied the successive groups of cows and herders that walked through town. Rachel and I tried some aligot, basically mashed potatoes with enough cheese mixed in to make them stringy, and almost bought donkey sausage because we thought the man who said, "it's like a horse with small ears" was describing venison. 

Day 8. Dropped elevation below the snow level for a gorgeous walk today on a path spongy with wet fallen leaves and the sun coming through ash trees like shades of green stained glass. 

Day 9. We have been passing through some of the most bucolic little villages these past few days. It strikes me that each one is constructed from and so resembles its landscape. Some towns are pinkish red from the sandstone below, used to build the houses and churches, others are built with granite stones, mossy and softened with age. Even the roof tiles change depending on the local resources; in this region all the houses have slate shingles. And in every rural town, the majority of the houses have a huge garden that takes up the whole space of what would have been their back or front yard. Here's a picture of a particularly large one below, replete with lettuces, sweet peas, potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, and strawberries. 

Day 10. Today we met someone from the U.S. for the first time on the trail. Strangely enough, I probably met him once before! Brad was part of a monastic community at Good Earth farm in Ohio last summer, and I visited there during a food and faith conference. Rachel and I were at the point of talking to cows the day before, so we were relieved to have someone else to talk to in English! He has hiked the Camino twice before, and this time started at Taize with the goal of arriving in Santiago in 2.5 months. Wow! We start the Camino in Spain in just 2 days. I'm excited to finally be able to understand most of what local people are saying, and learn more about Spanish culture along the way. 

PS. My mom said some of these pictures are getting cropped off (maybe because I'm using an iPhone?), so if you can't see them then sorry. 

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Days1-5, Chemin de Saint-Jacques

Day 1. Le Puy en Velay; bright-eyed and bushy-tailed!
Started our journey with about 50 other pilgrims in a small town famous for its green lentils and lacemaking. At morning mass, we received a blessing and a special pilgrim passport to show at each hostel along the Way. An ornately dressed statue of a dark mother, or the "black virgin," presided at the front of the 11th century cathedral. I lit a candle in front of a statue of St. Jacques the pilgrim for our journey, and all mes cheries back home. 

Day 2-3. Muddy trails and lots of rain, hard slogging and some steep climbs in the Massif Central, an old volcanic mountain range. Met Denise and Savas, a couple from Australia who are always joking, and really fun to talk with. Stayed at our favorite hostel so far run by a friendly woman named Sonia, who served a 4 course dinner made with products from her family's farm, including more cheeses than I have ever had in one meal.

Day 4.  
Worked our way up to an average of 20 km per day now, about 12-14 miles through lower hill country in Auvergne, a lovely agricultural region known for its cheese and meat. Lowlights: bedbug sightings and my first dog bite of the trail. (It was a sheep dog and just nipped my calf, didn't hurt really.) Highlights: after tiring of baguettes at every meal, Rachel and I bought tuna and goat cheese and made a dandelion salad with greens foraged along the way. Miam miam! (Yum!)

Day 5. Snow!!! This (below) was the view from our window in the morning. We walked through a mixture of snow and sleet all day at an elevation of about 3,500 feet. The locals said this weather was really unusual for late May, and we were unprepared. Denise and Savas, our hiking companions today, laughed at our trail fashion - wool socks for mittens and our silk liner sheets for scarves. Denise said that sometimes the Camino isn't about the journey, it's about the destination. Today was such a day. 

My favorite sister

One of the reasons I wanted to do the Camino was to get to know Rachel as an adult. We are 7 years apart (I'm older, though I admit she is more mature). As we were planning for the Camino, Rachel and I joked that this trail would be "make it or break it" for our sisterhood. So far we are making it (check back next week though)! 

I'm glad to have my favorite sister to walk with, depend on for French, fight with about directions, tell me when my jokes aren't funny, sing My Fair Lady songs, split pastries, and experience this adventure together. 

PS. When I told Rachel my post title, she said, "well, you're my least favorite sister." That captures our relationship. Since she's my only sister. 

What we are doing/ what are we doing??

As you likely know, Rachel and I are hiking the Camino de Santiago, or the Chemin de Saint-Jacques, as it is known in France. The many routes of the pilgrimage end in Santiago de Compostuela, Spain. Along the way, pilgrims rest at hostels spaced out for every night. Some towns have been hosting pilgrims for hundreds of years. 
On the first day of the trail, especially as my feet grew sore, I found myself asking... why are we doing this? We flew thousands of miles to Paris, and then took a train to our starting point in central France that covered a greater distance than we will actually walk during the next month (about 500 km). We are walking a trail that was at its height in the 11th and 12th centuries, all because of Jesus' disciple, James, who purportedly failed at evangelizing Spain and returned to Jerusalem. Soon after, he was beheaded by Herod, and his followers sent his bones to Spain in 44 AD. (In a stone boat, and apparently they only took a week to arrive.) Fast forward 250-300 years, and the Church decided to create a pilgrimage destination out of the place his bones were buried, partly to claim Spain from the Moors for Christendom. 

After reviewing the strange history of the Camino (some old bones? A stone boat? Anyone else incredulous?), it seems a little crazy to walk 6 or more hours a day for a month or more because of a saint who was co-opted by the church-state to essentially bless the Crusades. 

On top of that, Rachel and I actually don't expect to reach the destination, Santiago de Compostuela. So, why again?

It's a nice walk. Really, it passes through some beautiful countryside. And thousands of people from around the world (mostly Europe) hike the Camino every year. Many of them do the pilgrimage as a spiritual quest, though not all. 
For me, walking is both a physical and a spiritual exercise. It creates the space and rhythm for a kind of prayer, and it attunes my mind to my body. I usually don't have a lot of patience for prayer, and I don't like working out that much either. I do like walking, though, so I hope a month of it will make me stronger, and by that I mean both my legs and my soul! Maybe this ancient walk will help me to better carry some questions about where I'm going, how to travel through life more simply and with greater trust, and how to embrace both the gifts and risks I sense God preparing me for. 

And I hope that writing about it all will bring a sense of clarity in this work of walking. I'm grateful for the presence of family and friends who share courage and light. I hope I can use this blog to share a little of the journey with you! 

Sunday, May 19, 2013


Bonjour from France! I am now on a bullet train heading to Le Puy, where my sister and i will start the Camino de Santiago tomorrow morning. 

Here is an overview of the week so far:

1.  Instigating a riot. Just kidding. Apparently Parisians are REALLY into their soccer team, because after they qualified for the World Cup, the streets were chaos! The team was supposed to make a public appearance near where Rachel and I were walking to the Eiffel Tower. 
We had no idea why shouting young men were running into the streets, smoke bombs going off, cars honking, motorcycles doing wheelies stopping traffic, etc. Luckily we slipped by the riot police under the Tower before they released tear gas into the crowd. 

2. The Louvre. Loved it. So much more to see (though we did get to see the Mona Lisa!) 'Nuf said. Here is a shot with some famous sisters (behind us).

3. Jet lag. I think I was supposed to be taking in the sights from the river Seine in this picture Rachel stole ;) 

4. Taize. We spent the last three days at  Taize, an ecumenical community in Burgundy that offered hospitality and refuge to Jews and others during WWII. Now the brothers host thousands of young people from all over the world for retreat, reflection on the gospel of peace and reconciliation, and to participate in their contemplative style of prayer through singing. For example: http://m.youtube.com/#/watch?v=t4Svh-9ohg4&desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3Dt4Svh-9ohg4
It was the perfect place to spend the feast of Pentecost, surrounded as we were by so many different languages. I'm holding onto something Brother Alois said about the Spirit opening us up to go beyond our borders, and trusting in that expansion. 

Feeling rested and ready to start the pilgrimage!

Take care,

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


I was on a plane like this the first time I had a panic attack. 
I bent over to breathe between my knees 
and tears streamed down my face 
as we bulleted ahead at 500 miles per hour. 
It was the Philippines then,
six months committed to an unknown place and people,
35,000 feet above the ground and no turning back. 
It would be one of the best things I ever flew into. 

Now, I hurtle my way into France
and the turbulence over the Atlantic
makes me close my eyes and silently
list all the people I love. 
Do they know I love them?
I pray, "God, I trust You."
With each lurch, "God. God." 

How is it that we throw our lives
so easily at the mercy of the clouds?
Without thinking, I trust my body to this 767, 
triumph of human engineering,
a plastic and metal leaf 
shaking near Greenland now,
tiny bright dot in the dark sky,
with only the promise of an oxygen mask
and a floating seat cushion for comfort. 

I place my trust in computers and in the hands of this pilot,
but humanity is no consolation-
I know the deep exhaustion pilots carry,
the bags under my dad's own eyes. 
Yet he has no struggle with faith
in the mechanical birds he commands,
does not think about the craziness as I do,
just the daily-nightly grind of a job. 
There's a certain peace in function,
in guiding a plane safely home again and again,
the time-tested work and whir
of a million parts lifting and landing together. 
Perhaps that is my only comfort,
my father's faith in flight,
or at least the work of it. 

Friday, February 22, 2013


How many times has your face appeared
in strangers' photographs?
Over a shoulder, behind a friend,
or in a crowd looking off, 
unknown and unaware.
Perhaps you are smiling
for a reason they will never know,
forever caught in someone else's memory.

How many facets of your own soul
do you still not know?
You would not recognize yourself,
even if they were lined up and set before you,
so deep and dazzling would they be.
Beautiful stranger, you might murmur,
who you are, God only knows.

-February, 2013

Wednesday, January 30, 2013


Working on a full-tuition scholarship to seminary that's due Friday, and finding that I still work best under pressure, unfortunately. And my writing skills have sadly slowed down A LOT since college. Taking a break now. Here's an excerpt from my 10 page essay on the very broad prompt they gave: "The Church."
"Much of Mennonite theology is expressed in how we cook, evidenced by Mennonites’ commitment to simplicity, using resources wisely, sharing with others, and remembering those without food. A Catholic friend of mine recently told me (tongue-in-cheek, I believe) that she was on the verge of converting to the Mennonite faith because of the More with Less cookbook! She loved the connections the cookbook made between our cooking and our care for the hungry in the rest of the world. Mennonites know that how we eat says a lot about who we are as the body politic."
One of my recent feasts: artichoke, lemon, basil, and oyster mushrooms sautéed with arugula all from our weekly Catholic Worker free food distribution - leftovers from grocery store "gleanings." And brown rice. Amen.