From A Headstone In Ireland: “Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal.”
Hilary Stanton Zunin: “The risk of love is loss, and the price of loss is grief – But the pain of grief is only a shadow when compared with the pain of never risking love.”
Unknown: “When death overtakes us; all that we have is left to others; all that we are we take with us.”
Walter Scott: “Death— the last sleep? No the final awakening.”
Leonardo da Vinci: “As a well spent day brings happy sleep, so a life well spent brings happy death.”
Theodore Roosevelt: “Death is always, under all circumstances, a tragedy, for if it is not then it means that life has become one.”
Bertolt Brecht: “Do not fear death so much, but rather the inadequate life.”
Benjamin Franklin: “A man is not completely born until he is dead.”
Mark Twain: “All say, ‘How hard it is that we have to die’–a strange complaint to come from the mouths of people who have had to live.”
Rabindranath Tagore: “Death is not extinguishing the light; it is putting out the lamp because dawn has come.”
I found myself with a case of the grade-school giggles as I left the cafe. Not long ago, an episode like this would have affected me greatly, I would have been indignant, even angry, certainly not willing to donate another hour of precious time from today to go to the café owner’s bank. But, as I’ve said numerous times, “It’s the Camino.” And not only the Camino de Santiago, but when we see any journey we embark on as a “camino,” we begin to visualize every step of the trip as providence. This event was foreseen, permitted, and if I view it in the “camino” context, one (or both) of us will grow. Every person we encounter becomes important. Important because they were placed in my path today for a reason, or perhaps I was placed in their path for a reason. To become upset at events that are beyond my control, is not only unproductive, but even disrespectful. This man clearly needed this 12E for my meal, the driver who cut me off in traffic is upset with her husband, and the client who shouts at me has a child at home who is very sick. The man crying in the pew next to me held his mother last night as she died, the bank teller who snaps at me has a father with alzheimer’s, and my child who lashes out is struggling with their sexuality. My neighbor who shouts at my dog for barking just got fired, and the woman inexcusably texting as she drives just found out that her biopsy was cancerous.
I laughed because I knew Gilles would give me a funny story to talk about, because his bank was still open, and from relief that no one was entering any of the stop signs that he flown through. I laughed at my being in France walking to Lourdes, when my staff at work was screaming at being too busy, and my family was feeding the dogs and scooping the litter box. I am so fortunate and so blessed, despite it all. I refuse to be upset about a passport, a missed flight, a silly credit-card without a microchip, or someone who may be over-reacting.
Here for a Reason
And so “The Camino” becomes a new outlook on life, a new perspective. Everyone is “here for a reason.” When I screech to a stop because someone enters a crosswalk, they are no longer some random pedestrian who had inconvenienced me. He’s a man home from Iraq, going to the beach with his son for the first time in two years.
And so I walked towards Lourdes, and became very, very fatigued. Although the sun was still quite hot, it was almost 8 pm, and I’d left 13 hours ago. I welcomed the shade as I traveled past Chemin de Croix and continued on “Route de la Foret,” a magnificent trail of rolling hills through the forest. I thought about lots of stuff. I always do. The week was now taking its emotional toll. I was hungry again, exhausted, wishing I wasn’t alone, and beginning to wonder why I do this to myself.
So why was I here on this day? Why this place? Lourdes is all about Mary. If you don’t understand the relationship some Christians have with Mary, I’m not sure I can explain it well in a few sentences. Perhaps it’s like our relationship with Jesus Himself. Some people believe, and some people don’t. Scripture affirms how incredible the entire story is, even two-thousand years ago, even to the eye witnesses who were telling the story, and leading worship.
“For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:18 (NRSV)
The first “worship-leader” was Mary, who led so many to her son. And so I have been pulled to Lourdes, where Mary appeared to poor, ignorant Bernadette so long ago, and where hundreds of thousands of faithful continue to also be pulled for the miracle that is here. You see it’s not the soil, or the miraculous water, or even the grotto itself. It’s the faith that they represent that can move mountains. We come to Mary to pray that she help us. Help us to understand, to have strength, to carry on. We know that she knows our pain. My pain. She lost her son also. Her son was also killed in the prime of His life. His blood and water flowed upon her from the cross. He looked down from that cross and told John that she was his mother now. She was, of course, mother to all of us after that perfect sacrifice on the cross – the cross that represents love itself to His followers. So yes, just as Christ humbled himself to us and felt the pain of our own humanity, Mary knows the sufferings of loss.
She is a disciple of the Lord, the first and best disciple, but one who surely struggled to understand him, just as we do. She is a member of the “communion of saints,” helping bring us to her son, not someone who stands between us.
On a personal note, may I ask you to pray for me? Was it okay to ask my dear mother on her deathbed to ask God to guide me when she was there with him?
And so that’s why its okay to ask Mary to pray for us. To intercede on our behalf. Think she does? Think she can? I would never have told my mother “No” to anything she asked me for. And Jesus certainly loves His mother as much as I do mine, and likely considers her requests highly. (Remember Cana?)
And we call all of those believers who have gone before us, praying with and for us, the “communion of saints.” They are not up there somewhere, praying for us, rather they are with us here, constantly, as part of “The Kingdom of God.” So this “Kingdom of God” is not just somewhere we go “as a reward for being good” when we die. No, it’s something we begin now, a choice we make everyday, here and now, as believers, to be the Kingdom of God, by choosing to live our lives the way Jesus asks.
So these were my contemplations as I stumbled through the wood. The caffeine had long since worn off and I was struggling a bit to keep any pace at all. This was a rare occasion where I reached for my music playlist for something to keep my morale and my pace going. I had downloaded some songs that I hadn’t heard since grade-school at St. Francis Xavier, and had resisted the temptation to listen to them until now. We just don’t sing them anymore, but seem pretty appropriate now:
Immaculate Mary. Hail, Holy Queen (Oh Maria). And of course Ave Maria. A contemporary song by Matt Maher called Great Things, and a second, contemporary arrangement of Immaculate Mary by Josh Blakesly and sung by our own Sarah Kroger.
One last (very long) hill, and I was at last out of the forest, and onto the road. I had placed a hiking headlight on, and must have appeared to cars passing by like Martin Sheen in The Way, dragging each foot forward at the end of his long hiking day on Camino. I was only about 2K from the shrine now, and I changed to Gregorian Chant music that I had downloaded in the 80s when it was popular, and quickly was pulled into a very mysterious place.
It was well after 10pm, I was tired and emotional, and after a few minutes of listening, I pulled out my earbuds for some silence.
Then I felt it, and heard it, and as I began to almost run towards, I began to see the flicker of the thousands of candles. If you’ve not been to Lourdes, there are loudspeakers positioned over a kilometer from the cathedral, which is constructed over the grotto. During the evening procession, tens of thousands from hundreds of countries, each hold a candle and walk in procession towards the shrine with “Our Lady of Lourdes Hymn” playing constantly, progressing through many languages. Not surprisingly, as the pilgrims heard their own native tongue sing the “Ave Maria,” they would become very emotional.
As it turns out, in addition to the pilgrims, this weekend also would be “military weekend.” Over 900 countries were represented here, marching in their finest, with their chaplains and military brass. Pretty moving to see hundreds of thousands of troops with their brothers and sisters from countries who may not be politically friendly towards each other, kneeling together, or holding hands in prayer. There is hope indeed.
Very tired, more tomorrow.
Categories: hotel - wifi, mobile post, post - beautiful/visual, post - meaningful/life lesson, post - religious/spiritual
| Tags: 1 Cor 1:18, Ave Maria, Bernadette, Bernadette Soubirous, Camino, Camino de Santiago, Cana, Candlelight Procession at Lourdes, Catholic, Chemin de Croix, Christian, Communion of Saints, contemplation, Great Things, gregorian chant, Hail Holy Queen, Here for a Reason, Ignatian, Immaculate Conception, Immaculate Mary, Josh Blakesly, Kingdom of God, Lourdes, Lourdes Grotto, Magnificat, Martin sheen, Mary, Matt Maher, Miracle at Cana, Mother Mary, Oh Maria, Route de la Foret, Sarah Kroger, Sikeston Mo., Siobhan O'Sullivan, St. Francis Xavier, The Way, Virgin Mary, Walking to Lourdes, William Cullen Klein |
“No!” the French man shouted the word which means pretty much the same in any language. He threw my credit card across the counter onto the floor in a tirade of rage with what sounded like a very large multi-syllabic word, but I’m quite confident there was lots of profanity interlaced inside.
I had left Arudy early and enthusiastically, with no intention of stopping at Asson as I’d been advised. It was a simply beautiful day, and although I hadn’t seen the breath-taking beauty of the mountaintops, nor the grueling triathlon I experienced last year, the rural French countryside so far was romantic and charming, and really lovely.
Less than an hour into my day, as I was passing through one of the tiny villages, I noticed I had just passed a huge wooden door that was slightly ajar. I continued past, until I realized the shape of the shadow this building cast onto the ground; I spun around to see what I had missed. Certainly not a cathedral by any standards, but when I stepped through the open doorway, I gasped. The icons, the stained glass, the statues, the crucifix, the altar were breathtaking. I slowly took off my backpack and leaned my trekking poles on the doorway. Habit made my way to the second pew on the right, where I always seemed to find myself in these little harbors. Only when I looked down to the bulletin on the seat in front of me was I drawn in. The French village église where I was kneeling was St. Colome’s church.
(Years earlier, Cullen had expressed frustration that he couldn’t find a patron “Saint Cullen,” and decided St. Colome was close enough.) The gravity of this day hit me for the first time. This was May 17, always to be my darkest day, but I was in a magnificent place, where people asked Cullen’s “patron saint” to pray for them. Seemed fitting enough, and I spent over an hour there.
Sanctuary in St. Colome Church
Even though I was now well behind in my timetable for the day, I found myself walking in much of a daze, without paying much attention, and this was risky since wrong turns were easy to make on poorly marked trails and roads. I glanced up and smiled, realizing I was on the right road.
As I hiked along and worked out the logistics of the remaining two days, I realized I had such an early return flight from Pau Airport on Monday morning that I would need to stay there Sunday (tomorrow) night. This would mean not being at Lourdes to see the candlelight procession at night, and I had been told that this would be very memorable. I now firmly resolved that I would not only make it to Betharram, but that I would continue on into Lourdes on this date; it had been my intention all along to be at the shrine today. For the first time, I decided I’d stop, change my socks and insoles, and have a proper lunch, and a double espresso!
Despite my time at St. Colome, I must have had quite a pace, because I entered Assom much earlier than I had originally anticipated. As I entered the café I tried to make sense of the daily special posted on the chalkboard. After ensuring the proprietor would accept a Visa credit card (I was now completely out of Euro), I ordered and sat at an outside table. Gilles (pronounced “ghee”) was overly obliging, so happy to help me, prompt with every course, and so polite. After a filling meal, he apparently misunderstood me (who would have guessed?), and brought me two double espresso! I was walking all the way for sure now!
Patting my full tummy, I chased the ibuprofen with the last swallow of coffee, and went back inside to pay. After reading the introduction to this post, you no doubt, know this doesn’t end well.
Apparently, all the credit-cards in Europe have embedded microchips in them (as fraud protection). I had been warned of this as I spoke to the Capital One rep on the way to the airport to inform them that I would be in France and that charges from there would be legit. She assured me, however, that it should be no problem, just to have them enter the number manually. I had used this card every day with no problem; the few times the reader needed the chip, the vendor was able to manually enter. Not today.
The kind Gilles had another side. He was now a furious maniac at the thought of a 12 Euro loss. The keyboard on his card reader was broken and would not allow manual entry. I attempted every possible solution. Could I mail him the funds? Of course not, he had no reason to trust me. Would he accept a $50 bill and give me 20E of change (a more than generous exchange rate)? Of course not, he was afraid of being taken advantage of. How about taking my $50 bill and I trust him to mail me the change. Of course not.
By now his wife was shouting also, and I couldn’t tell if she was upset with me for trying to pay with monopoly money, since I clearly knew my credit cards were no good, or at her husband for being an idiot. Or whatever.
Apparently she came up with the obvious solution. He would take me to the bank! Now I knew none of these little town banks would exchange currencies, but I went along and indicated this was a sound solution. (At least maybe they could talk some sense into them so they didn’t lop my yahn-key head off).
Clearly it was two minutes before the bank’s closing, because we squealed out, and flew through numerous corners and (I counted) 14 stop signs without even his tapping on the brakes. He turned, smiled, and proudly announced, “We’re here!”
Well, short story made long (sorry, it’s the Irish genes) – they would not exchange currencies, but convinced him that the exchange rate that I had offered was more than fair, and that he could deposit the American money into his account and the bank would convert after a few days.
So now I had used another 90 minutes of my over-scheduled day, but I was committed. I had a four shot espresso buzz, and would still keep to my plan.
Categories: hotel - wifi, post - meaningful/life lesson, post - religious/spiritual
| Tags: Arudy, Assom, Betharram, Capital One, chip card, credit card microchip, Cullen Klein, France, Lourdes, Nay, Pau Airport, Saint Colome, St. Colome |
Second day hiking the GR78
Look at the mileage count on today’s (May 14) MapMyHike App, it’s nothing heroic, it’s actually embarrassing. A guidebook for the GR78 apparently doesn’t exist in English, so I splurged and prepaid for a small data plan – hope it is big enough. Anyway my stoopid GPS lost signal in the mountains (what’s the point, right?), so I walked about an extra ten miles. This was supposed to have been an easy day so I had planned to go well past Mauleon to get a bit ahead, in case there was a problem later. Oh well, I’ve done this enough days over the past two years that this stuff just kind-of happens. No worries. It’s the Camino, the definition of the unexpected, and God’s providence. But it was still a “little frustrating!”
The day also began on an embarrassing note. Reminiscent of Dr. Thomas Avery (Martin Sheen) in “The Way,” we bolted out of the Alberge bright and early, but in the wrong direction. Having just posed with Monsieur Briseteia for a farewell photo, he was watching closely, and redirected.
We got started just in time for a sheep crossing. The shepherd and the dogs are just such an impressive team with their sheep. Every part of the body knows it’s role, does it without hesitation, and without complaining. Lots to learn here.
Lost without a shepherd
Although I took a wrong turn or two, today was just simply an incredible day. As I’m inclined to say it’s not merely the destination, it’s the journey. Why be bothered with frustration from losing my GPS navigation signal; the wasted hour allowed me more time with my son and my God. Sixty degrees ish, sunny, and the most incredible view of the Pyrenees you can imagine. I took a few pictures, but most are for my son and me. Just us.
After about six hours of the most challenging hiking I’ve encountered (by far exceeding last year, except that one day), I was really pooped. I truly needed to stop about every 20 meters to catch my breath, regroup, and focus my motivation. I kept saying, “Give me strength, focus, energy, even some kind of sign.” Almost immediately, over my head, as quick as a wink, a deer jumped across the road. I reached for my camera, and he was gone. Something else for “just us.”
A driver on the road saw I was struggling and asked ( I assume) if I’d like a ride to wherever I was going. Without hesitation, I said “Oui! S’ie vou plais!” But then, as he opened the door, for some reason, I declined and apologetically thanked him, “merci boucou!” Yes, I would do this myself, and then as if walking on air, I seemed to float to the hotel (yes, I splurged tonight, a real hotel!)
I realize it’s just my second day. But last year I almost had to quit on my third day because my knees were shot. Thanks for all your love, support, and prayers.
That’s all the light stuff. If that’s all you’re here for, thanks for dropping by.
More tomorrow! A little preaching after these pictures…
One of us has to move!
Charolais near Mauleon
Charolais in the way!
When I saw the sheep and their shepherd, I just couldn’t resist the temptation, and it’s been bothering me a lot since Easter Sunday, when I read someone’s Facebook post.
A friend of my daughter posted, on Easter Sunday, that ” We are not sheep, so we are in no need of a shepherd.” That was breathtaking to me but I crumbled to the floor that it got hundreds of likes, and lots of LOLs. Really?
I do realize that, over the past couple of years, my FB posts, and certainly my blog writings are faith centered. I get it. And I’ve lost a lot of followers, and lots of “friends” because of this. Fair enough. I’m a big boy, and I’ve gotten pretty thick skin after 50 years. But I do find both of these facts so very depressing.
You see, this person that wrote and shared such a popular, funny post also lost a son in a recent unlikely, unbelievable accident. The details or location aren’t so important. My daughter knows this man, who’s about my age, because she knew his son. I didn’t know either one.
What I do know is this. Jeshua ben Joseph truly lived. He is an indisputable historical figure. All three monotheistic religions agree. The other two hold him us a a great man, a wonderful philosopher. He said some of the most mind shattering things for the time. Including lots of clearly metaphorical references to a shepherd and his sheep. I’m no theologian, or bible scholar, I’ll insert the verses later. Jesus also claimed to be the messiah, and the son of God. This is also irrefutable. And all of his apostles (except John), and hundreds of other eye witnesses that knew Jesus were killed because NONE of them would retract or change their story, particularly about having seen Him after the resurrection, and then He disappeared before their eyes.
C.S. Lewis made famous the “liar, lunatic, or lord” argument. Jesus was one of these, and clearly not such a “great man” if liar or lunatic.
What we do with our faith when challenged with tragedy and crisis is unpredictable. It’s all just a bunch of words until we confront such a crisis. Our “profession of faith” is just a bunch of words unless we really think about them. And if we don’t agree, it’s our obligation to dig deeper to discover why not, or have an epiphany to prepare us for the unthinkable. We will stand before our God, perhaps tomorrow. Will He even know you? “He knows his sheep, and they know Him.”
Categories: hotel - wifi, post - beautiful/visual, post - funny/humerois, post - meaningful/life lesson, post - religious/spiritual, Uncategorized
| Tags: C. S. Lewis, Camino, Camino de Santiago, Cullen, dr. Thomas Avery, GR78, Jesus as shepherd, Liar lunatic or lord, Lourdes, mapmyhike, Martin sheen, Mauleon Licharre, Ordiarp, St. Jean-le-Vieux, The Way |
Imagine my thrill as I arrived at the airport. This would begin my return to the Camino I’d been planning for months and I was well prepared today. I scanned my barcode at the airline kiosk to print my boarding passes with well over an hour before boarding. The people all around me were running around in a panic, I was proud for once that I wouldn’t be pushing the clock. But pride is an ugly emotion. So many of my posts seem to revolve around humility, and so it feels fitting that this one would as well.
The kiosk asked to scan my passport. No problem, it’s right here in my stack of well organized documents. But there was a problem – the photo I glimpsed as I placed it into the machine to scan was of … Noah. Apparently, I had mistakenly grabbed Noah’s passport days earlier when I was organizing all my things together. So imagine this emotional roller-coaster! I’m two hours from home, my flight leaves in a little over an hour, and I have no passport.
Mother’s Day seemed so fitting, so appropriate to begin my journey to hike to Lourdes, the shrine where the mother of our Lord appeared. But this was also my wife Sharon’s holiday. If life hadn’t so dramatically changed two years ago, this Mother’s Day would be Sharon’s day. I knew she was exhausted after a long week dealing with year-end administrative issues at school, and not so thrilled at the prospect of another Mother’s Day with me gone.
But I had to call someone to rush my passport to me. I was upset in a sullen, downcast way, but not emotional or even angry at myself. I just felt very empty. I didn’t feel mad; Yes, my Camino was all messed up, every connection would need to be changed, and I’d likely arrive hours or days after I’d intended. But as I discovered last year, I do find myself with lots more patience lately for stuff like missed flights going wrong. Things seem better in perspective. You can’t control most missed flights, they’re out of your hands and, a cancelled flight derailed my first connection last-year also. But this was my fault, and totally avoidable.
This was also so much more than an inconvenience for her, she didn’t feel well, was a bit down, and now I’d made it worse.
Yes, that’s a good word. I felt empty.
And Sharon was so good to me, like it was no big deal, like she was glad she could “make it better.” ‘Cause that’s what mommies do. I did make he next flight, and am sitting here in Madrid waiting for my final connection to San Sebastián. But it does feel tainted. Maybe in a useful way.
One of the books I read to prepare for this trip said what we needed to empty ourselves beforehand. Perhaps this allows the space, the openness to Grace, and the unexpected.
Certainly many pilgrims come for healing and relief, but others with tortured minds and broken spirits. Some seek to find that Grace to change their lives and free themselves from the bondage of materialism, addiction, and other self-enslavement.
The truth is that most folks do go home in the same physical condition. However, I’ve been told a radiant joy that totally transfigures their state of mind is astounding. A transfiguration of their inner inner experience, leaving them stronger to live and have faith through their sufferings, illnesses, and handicaps.
A final reflection may be that the Immaculate Virgin appeared in a less than immaculate grotto to a sick child of lowly status. God speaks to us in this way, through the mother of His Son, to meet us where we are in life, in the midst of our poverty and failures. He tells us that he loves us just as we are, our successes and our wounds. Furthermore, He shows that love and happiness are genuine when we serve others, in their physical or spiritual need. More later, the plane is boarding!
Fourteen year old Bernadette Soubirous was the poorest of the poor. Her father was unemployed, having been pushed out of his job as modern advances made his profession obsolete. The entire family of six existed in the single room that had years ago been abandoned as unfit for the village’s jailhouse. The stench of the town’s overflowing sewage was overpowering, but the family was literally destitute, and at least had a room together where they could huddle around the fireplace. Bernadette had been sick much of her entire life, with her asthma resulting in chronic respiratory disease. Malnutrition, the cold weather, and lack of medical care was taking its daily toll on her. She had missed more days of school than she had attended, and as such could barely read, the homely girl was labeled “simple” by her teachers, and teased as “stupid” by her classmates. She was poor white trash of her day.
The story would feel uncomfortably familiar to many today, even in our own country. But the timeless story has become infamous. The village where Bernadette Soubirous and her family scratched for survival was Lourdes, France, in 1858. The French Revolution had been particularly bloody for the Christianity. The dechristianization reached its climax on November 10, 1793, with the celebration and worship of the goddess called “reason” at what had been the Cathedral at Notre Dame. Over 20,000 priests had been executed, abandoned their faith, or deported. Churches had been seized and demolished, worship outlawed; icons and even crosses were all destroyed and banned. As Napoleon ascended, in the early 1800’s, a “sanctioned” religion was allowed some limited presence.
Those still practicing their faith saw no conflict with “reason,” and continued their worship under the watchful, suspicious eye of the very changed culture after a generation of atheism. History does seen to repeat itself.
As her father Francois was out looking for day work, Bernadette, her sister, and a friend had been out foraging for bundles of sticks to burn so their family could endure another night in the Pyrenees. She was shivering, and stayed back as the other two girls crossed the freezing stream to grab some branches. In just a few minutes, they would look back to see her kneeling in front of a cave where she sought refuge. She appeared in a trance, and unresponsive to their calls.
This would be the first of 18 apparitions of a “mysterious, beautiful lady” to Bernadette Soubirous. Even the priest and bishop would deny that anything miraculous was occurring. This was a poor child, living by the towns trash. They were horrified that this laughing stock was making a further joke of religion itself. Bernadette was being ridiculed cruelly, for she had almost no education, and almost no religious formation. The extent of her faith was staring at the crucifix in adoration of her Lord, and reciting the rosary, a sequence of prayers begging for the blessed mother of Jesus to pray for her and her family. So why would the Blessed Virgin, the humble mother of our own Lord choose Bernadette Soubirous to appear to? She had no idea that this was the Virgin, until her final apparitions when Mary finally answered Bernadette’s question – “I am the Immaculate Conception.” This was a concept not even made dogma at the time, and was certainly not taught to schoolchildren. Why appear and speak to such a poor, ignorant, humble child?
Why indeed. Mary herself knew humility. Imagine the scorn and ridicule when the 14 year old was discovered pregnant before she was married. In your mind, revisit that stable on that cold night when She and Joseph delivered the Child in an earthen floor animal refuge, where the stench of excrement was overwhelming.
In Matthew 18:2-4, we are called to have a “faith like a child,” where we stand in awe, where we contemplate in wonder that the God of the Universe would also humble Himself to show us how to love. This is not a “childish” faith where we accept without reason or question, rather where we use the reason that we were endowed with to live in faith that we do not walk alone.
In two hours I leave for the airport where I will return to the Camino de Santiago. Like last year, I will begin at St. Jean Pied de Port, in the French Pyrenees. However, this year, instead of hiking west across the whole of Spain to Santiago de Compostela, I will hike to the east, a very different type of Camino, where I will arrive in Lourdes on May 17th, the second anniversary of our darkest day.
Why Lourdes? So many people I have encountered in these past two years are hurting with their own grief, losses in many forms. Surely, many have shared stories of death. Others have had, and are struggling with loss of faith, a marriage, or simply shattered dreams. My cousin has been paralyzed for decades after an accident, a nephew has a lesion on his brain, and a best friend of my daughter recently fell to spinal trauma, now also paralyzed. There is so much pain and loss in our human condition. I’ve shared in previous posts about “redemptive suffering,” but that offers little consolation at the time to the injured or their loving families. They’d gladly give up their own legs for their children to be whole again.
Lourdes is about healing. Almost two hundred years after Mary spoke with Bernadette and water miraculously flowed from the grotto, over 2 million people visit Lourdes every year for healing. They will stand in lines for hours to glimpse at the grotto, process in the candlelight, and bathe in the miraculous waters. Indeed, physical miracles have occurred: the lame have walked, the blind seen, and cancers cured. The verification process is grueling and these astounding cures are breathtaking. But for every physical cure documented, there is also a different healing at Lourdes. A healing of the heart, of the spirit, consolation for the soul. Can these be any less miraculous? Many of my family and friends have asked me to return with a drop of the “miraculous waters” for them. And I will. I do have faith that I’ll bring back a different form of healing, for all of us.
2 So Jesus called a child to come and stand in front of them, 3 and said, “I assure you that unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the Kingdom of heaven. 4 The greatest in the Kingdom of heaven is the one who humbles himself and becomes like this child.
Categories: post - info/checking in, post - meaningful/life lesson, post - religious/spiritual, travel to camino
| Tags: Apparition, Bernadette, Bernadette Soubirous, Camino de Santiago, French Revolution, Lourdes, Miracle, Mt 18:2-4, Pyrenees, Santiago de Compostela, Virgin Mary |
I was caught off guard when a reader asked me about the significance of the scallop shell. I was a bit embarrassed when I thought about this. I’d never really thought much about the diversity of readers here. I’ve referenced the yellow arrow pointing the way along the route, however, at least as often, is the image of the scallop shell – most typically as a tile attached to one of the waymarkers along the road, or embedded as a brass plate into the surface of city sidewalks.
When you’re on TV or radio, or simply cutting a youtube video, you don’t see the faces. You are speaking to an audience of one – the microphone. Likewise, on a blog like this, I think about the four WordPress members that check-in after some of the posts, my wife, and maybe (hopefully) someday my kids when they are curious about what makes the old man tick.
My curiosity having been piqued, I dug into the administrative section of WordPress, and discovered over 500 people regularly following, and just over 7000 total search hits so far. Hence my embarassment at thinking I was a ‘child singing a Christmas carol for his family.’ Avoiding eye contact, they would giggle, “That’s nice.” So I’m certainly humbled to realize the outpouring of interest in my journey and my son. I also wish I hadn’t been in such a weary hurry on my first dozen posts, trying to text my story on my phone, when I read back and see all of the (often comical) typos. Anyway, feel free to comment – please do! I realize you must jump through hoops, or even join WordPress to comment, but I would appreciate it.
I had become so accustomed to seeing the scallop shell, the “Image of Santiago;” it had been so ingrained in what I saw everywhere – now that I’m home, I really miss it!
A few years ago, I would have had no clue about symbolism surrounding the scallop shell either. I took for granted all of my readers would also know those things I had learned. In my most recent post, I mentioned in passing the tapping of the scallop shells against the small wooden box attached to the outside of my pack as I walked down the streets of Santiago, as well as all the challenging trails and paths up and down the mountains on this incredible journey.
The scallop shell has long been associated with St. James, as well as Santiago. The scallop industry is a way of life on the North West coast of Spain, and all of Galacia, for that matter, and has been for thousands of years.
The scallop shell holds symbolism for Christianity itself. Used in those waters to scoop water to pour over the head during Christening, the shell represents baptismal renewal, the rebirth after washing away the sins. Although my own church uses immersion for the sacrament of adult baptism, Father Tony does use a scallop shell to trickle a stream of the purifying water over an the head of an infant. Indeed, an image of this shell is seen all over town on cars, representing well the Holy Name of Jesus Parish as her logo. Another “coincidence” (remember, there’s no such thing!) is that the symbol of my own faith community is the same as the Camino.
The scallop shell is said to be a metaphor on the Camino, its lines representing the different routes pilgrims traveled from all over the world, all walking trails leading to one point: the tomb of Saint James in Santiago de Compostela. Medieval pilgrims often wore a scallop shell attached to their cloaks or hats during their journey to Santiago. More than being just a symbol or a pilgrim badge, the scallop shells also had a practical purpose: they were a handy and light replacement for a bowl so the pilgrims could use them to hold their food and drink on their long journey. Pilgrims would also be given food at churches and other establishments, and a scallop shell scoop was the measure for the food they would be donated. Since the scallop is native to the coast of Galicia, the shell also became a memento, a physical proof of having completed the pilgrimage.
Pilgrims today traditionally attach a shell to the outside of their rucksack as a statement of their faith, and participants on the pilgrimage. I had attached two, one on each side, as I left St. Jean Pied de Port, France, over 500 miles ago.
I knew viscerally that although I was doing the walking, that many were along with me. And I will return soon to those I left behind. My next post will be my final one on this blog, and I’ll say a few things regarding “those that went with me.”
Traditionally, when we return home, we bring special gifts to our loved ones. But this was not a business trip, with stuffed animals for all the kids, or a vacation with T-shirts for everyone. Having those things would be worse than nothing at all – they would trivialize this journey.
What would be an appropriate gift that others could hold, to memorialize the Camino de Santiago?
The pictures show that the tapping of the “shells against the small wooden box” could not be those I attached to the outside of my pack for Cullen and me. It was the others, in the outer pocket with the box, that had travelled these miles with us. Sharon and I each carried these scallop shells on this journey; they symbolize those at home, who walk with us. As we have now finished this part of our Camino, we have presented each member of our family one of these treasures that we carried for them. Much Love.
Categories: post - meaningful/life lesson, post - religious/spiritual
| Tags: butterfly effect, Camino, Camino de Santiago, cremains, Cullen, family, Father Tony, Fr. Tony, HNJ, Holy Name of Jesus, home, Indialantic, Melbourne, pebble in the pond, remains, scallop, scallop shell, wordpress |
Like I mentioned in an earlier post, I soon realized that I did not need to be the first out in the morning, or even among the first. Not that I’m a sleepy-head, I always get up early. I just hate to fumble around in the dark, pretending that I’m being quiet and that I can actually see with a mini-flashlight. So instead, although Shar and I were up early, we slipped out and into the cafe next door … to get our camino crack – cafe-con-leche, and tostada (not at all what it sounds like, its just overly crisp toast and marmalade). After 30 minutes at the cafe, we returned to find the place virtually empty! Haha, oh well, I’m sure we’ll catch up to our friends…
…but hmmm, what if this is the one time we stop at a different albergue, or hike a little longer, or a little shorter. Our Camino is finished in just a couple of days, and I would like to see our friends to say goodbye. Oh well… we’ll wait and see.
It’s always interesting to see what’s been planned for us. By now, I think all of us have come to the conclusion that it’s all been planned for us. And not just here in Spain.
“Letting go” really feels like the moral of the story so far.
We walked for the next five hours – it wouldn’t be Galacia without a bit of rain – most of our day was just beautiful – without seeing a single person we knew, or really many people at all.
Gum tree forest, just outside Arzua
Still a little chilly in Salceda!
Walking alone together allowed for lots of time reflecting on this journey. Sharon asked me what have been my favorite days, my most meaningful. Without hesitation I told her more about my day scaling the three mountains on the “green route.” That day was the Camino in a nutshell. The physical exertion astonishes me – I truly could have not have done it by myself. And it was an emotional rollercoaster. The views, the clouds, the elevation itself, the temperature changes, the exhilaration, the near panic of being lost without even a trail to follow as the fog and darkness settled in, the fragrance of the wild lavender with none in sight, the vivid colors, my closeness with nature and our Creator, the exhilaration of attaining each of the three summits, my laughing at having been led by wrong directions to complete the third peak when I had decided that two was plenty enough, and the total exhaustion at the end of the day. That had, by far, been my favorite day.
But other days had been more exciting. My first day, leaving France and over the Pyranees by the Napoleanic Route was exhilerating, and I was really just giddy with the excitement. We had looked forward to this Camino for a year, and this was it! I was actually hiking up the Pyranees! Between the stormy clouds, the few glimpses of the view were breathtaking, but, unfortunately, they were only glimpses. The check-in station in St. Jean Pied Port had warned me, the weather forcast was ugly, and the route had just re-opened after having been closed from the snow, and an “accident.” I knew all that, but for the previous five days warm weather had melted much of the record snowfall, and even yesterday, the weather up there had been sunny and beautiful. But not today. “Just be careful, and stay together.” The two German guys I had intended to stay with (no one I’d see or mention again) … left me in the dust, and I knew my comfortable hiking pace. The biggest mistake on the Camino (right behind ignoring the weather) was trying to keep up with someone else’s pace. See ya! Soon, however, I was joined by two women – Laura from Canada, and Maryanne from Budapest ( I realize I previously wrote about them, but I hadn’t discussed this day with Sharon yet). They were the first perigrinos I had actually gotten to know; they also had burdens and excited expectations about this Camino. We shared stories; and would be the first of many times I spoke about Cullen. Just after Orisson (1000meters), the skies opened up, and on the ridge between the Spanish border near Frontera and Col de Lepoeder (1450meters), the treeline on our right disappeared, and we felt the full force of the 40-50Km wind (later reports were of gusts up to 70), the freezing rain and sleet made it so hard to keep your balance. By now we had caught up to several small groups that had braved the Napolean Route, and many were slipping and literally being blown over. That had been an exciting day.
And there had been more “moving” days. The third day, I walked alone for many hours; just after Zabaldica, as I reached the summit of Monte Miravalles, I turned and was literally blown away by the beauty. This was the first time on the Camino where I would see clearly from a mountain summit, and see God’s creation below. I sat down, got out my ipod and listened to the soundtrack from “the Way.” We were doing it – this was our Camino. My first tears of our long journey together.
I already shared about the Cruz de Ferro, but I never talked about the fence crosses.
There are several places along the Camino where pilgrims have stopped and woven a cross into the fence, simply made from two sticks. I was prepared for this, because Brierly describes it in his guidebook. What I hadn’t been prepared for was seeing them – they went on for miles sometimes. Many had poems, scripture, or pictures held firmly between the cross and the fence. Mommies, daddies, soldiers, children. Brothers, sisters, grandparents, even an untrasound. Names, messages, and love written on the backs of the photos. So much heartache here on the Camino. They were no longer wooden crosses on a fence. These were each stories of love and loss, and faith in a loving God for redemption, salvation, and confident hope of reunion with loved ones. I don’t actually remember stopping and taking my pack off. But I do remember taking the cross made from the Palm Sunday frond out of his box, and weaving it into the fence with his picture from Gemini Elementary wedged underneath. Sharon wept when I showed her the picture of this on my phone. I think you can see it in your mind. I just can’t post it.
- Section of fence with crosses placed by other pilgrims, by Logrono
I had also been moved when Matt’s father Todd hugged me that morning. As we stood there shaving, I told him what a great kid Matt is. He was quick to share with me as he recalled when, shortly after Matt’s brother’s funeral, he realized how much more Matt needed him then than his other (now deceased) son did. He had to be the loving father. Remember, he said, our Father in heaven knows the pain of losing a son. Lean on him. Pray for Mary’s intercession. She also knows this pain we both feel. But just remember, you have an entire hurting family who needs you like never before. (It didn’t strike me at the time, but this was a Protestant minister telling me to lean on Mary? That irony struck me when I saw him receiving holy communion later that day. ‘Things that make you go – hmmm’)
Todd. Matt, and family were only in Spain for a week, and walking the Camino for four days, and I met them on three different occassions, their second and fourth day, then three days later, hours before they left for the airport. Think it was a chance encounter that I would meet them out of the thousands hiking the Camino every day? This was no coincidence.
Not ten minutes after telling those stories, as Sharon and I got to the top of a very long winding hill, we caught our breath and looked around – there it was. Another fence with woven crosses, for as far as we could see. I didn’t even say, wow, what a coincidence – I was just talking about one of these. Tears also streamed down her face as we read the back of a young woman’s photo, signed goodbye from each of her four children.
The skies were threatening again, and we decided to stop in Santa Irene, instead of going all the way to Pedrouzo Arca as we had planned. As we entered the town, there were Tony and Jane (from Australia) sitting on a bench, as if they were waiting for us; we made plans later to meet for dinner, but never set a time. They were staying down the road, so we’d just go up there a little later, since we’d just decided on a real hotel that was just a block away, next to a restaurant.
We did go into the restaurant for some lunch, and who sat down beside us? It was the Irish guys from the other night! As they sat at the table next to us, I asked the one I had spoken to the other day if his head still hurt, and he just laughed, not really remembering who I was or what I was talking about. As I refreshed his memory about staying our staying at the Ultreya Albergue together, they began to laugh hysterically. He explained that Michael, pointing to the one nearest me, had been drinking (ya think?) and had passed out at the bar. So he slung his friend over his back, and carried him home, and UP THE STAIRS in a “fireman’s carry.” That’s what all the noise was, his head kept hitting the wall on each step! Finally, he slid him off his back and on to his bed, but as he did, he woke up, and thrashed about, and so then fell off the bed onto the floor. Then he started crying… “And it sounded like a little girl!” I interjected. We all laughed so hard we disturbed the other diners, and someone actually shushed us. It was too funny. Good Craic, indeed.
Soom we realized these weren’t the Gaelic football lads we had expected. They had been college friends a few years ago; one was an engineer, one a pharmaceutical rep, and one a banker, and they had pretty strong political leanings, well thought out theories regarding the strength of the Euro, and European Union itself. One had felt the “clock ticking,” as he turned thirty, and decided to walk the Camino, then was joined by his good friends when they found out.
Then one of them asked me the question.
I used to ask the question myself, often at first. When you asked someone why they were on Camino, you knew they would reciprocate, and I’d get to tell about Cullen. But after about two weeks of this… not that I was “tired” of talking about my incredible son, not that I couldn’t get the words out through the tears, not even because I felt guilty because it made their own reasons sound trite, and unimportant in comparison. No, I just was at a place where I didn’t need to. Everyone who knew Cullen loved him, and has been made so very sad by all of this.
I think it’s more like this. I am no longer in that phase of grief where I want everyone else to be sad too. I am so grateful for the 19 years with my son, and confidently hopeful that we WILL see him again.
So why are you here? I was tempted to quote Martin Sheen and say, “Family business,” but I didn’t. So I told the story one final time. I hadn’t in several days, and I haven’t since.
Two of them couldn’t look up, and when the third did, his voice cracked, “I’m so sorry,” tears starting to brim out. I said, “Thanks,” and it is really sad, a devastating loss, but I’m starting to see some light. There was so much positive about him, so much love, and it must make him so sad to see the sadness left behind. I need to make something positive out of all of this. I need to make him smile.
“You must be very religious,” he said with such a brogue that I had to process the words. This caught me off guard, coming from the country where so many have left the Church. He didn’t say, “you must be very spiritual,” he said “You must be religious.”
“Yes,” I said, “you could say that.”
“Interesting that we should run into them again,” I said to Shar as we left. “It’s the Camino,” we said together, after a brief pause. “I really feel bad though when I bring people down.” “Sure, she said, “but stand back and look at it from a distance. They saw the love and strength God gives us – it could have been a life changing conversation for them, even one of them. It’s not a concidence that we met up with them again either.”
As we walked back to our room in silence, it occurred to me that for the first time in my life, someone had recognized me as a Christian by my behavior. “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”
After showering, we both laid down to read. Sharon was reading, Crazy Love, by Francis Chan, and I had, Gifts of Passage, What the Dying Tell Us With the Gifts They Leave Behind, by Amy Hollingsworth. Of course we each got about 2 pages deep, and were both fast asleep.
When we awoke, hours had passed, and although we were sure we’d missed dinner with Jane and Tony, we would still walk into town to find a different restaraunt.
It was getting later, colder, and misting rain, so this quickly felt like something we should reconsider. We realized “walking into town” was not only further than we had anticipated, it also involved quite a hill. By the time we decided maybe it was a bad idea, we could see the shops and cafes, and so we kept going. The cold rain was coming down hard now, so we slipped into the first restaraunt. It said “Pulparia” on the outside, and I remembered someone had told me that meant they served octopus as a specialty. Oh well, when in Rome…
Did I say there are no coincidences? As we walked into the pulparia, seated at the table were Jane, Tony, Dirk, Esther (one of our German friends through Dirk), Peter and Sebastian and two 70 year old ladies (all Germans we had recently met). We toasted many things. To: The rest of our lives, the Camino, St. James, Cullen, each of us individually, and again collectively as good friends, and “chin chin!” whatever that means.
Our walk back went by very quickly. Another very good day on the Camino de Santiago. Much Love.
Octopus at the “pulperia”