Buen Camino

Nothing quite prepares you for a pilgrimage.

Christian PilgrimSure, there is the research on the pilgrimage route, choosing the proper walking gear, exercise preparation, and the strategic packing of just a few clothes and essentials, but the pilgrimage itself calls into question any illusion of control we think we have in life.

Camino Frances is a 500 mile walk across the northern part of Spain that begins in the Pyrenees Mountains along the border with France and leads to Santiago de Compostela where it is said that the bones of the first martyred Apostle, St. James, are buried in a Crypt in the Cathedral. It is one of three major pilgrimage sites for Christianity. The other 2 are Jerusalem and Rome.

My husband, Jeff, 21-year-old daughter, Hannah, and two dear friends, Jane and Rob, began our pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Sarria, Spain approximately 116 km from Santiago. This is typically a 5-6 day walk into the old city where close to 2,000 pilgrims arrive everyday after walking up to 500 or more miles.Camino with friends

The first day was overcast and cool with the forecast of rain but that didn’t dampen our high spirits and energetic pace as we calculated the hours it would take to walk our first day goal of 14 miles. Like a typical North American my focus was on the destination and my race to get there. At one point I caught myself trying to pass other pilgrims much like my experience in Oregon at the Portland to Coast Relay race in which those passes are called “road kill”. This is fairly easy to do given the fact that we had started this journey after others had been walking for over 400 miles carrying everything they needed on their backs. We, on the other hand, were walking the last 73 miles of this pilgrimage – quite an advantage in the competitive scheme of things!

It took me a day of walking with increasingly achy plantar fasciitis feet in the rain to begin to realize that this was not a race; this was a pilgrimage experience. I went to bed that first evening exhausted with throbbing feet worried that I would not be able to walk in the morning. Surprisingly, I woke up buoyant with rested feet ready to head out for the next destination, but Hannah awoke to pain shooting up the back of her knees – tendonitis.

Seeing other pilgrims head out for the new day, I started walking fast, leaving my daughter behind. Then I remembered part of the Camino blessing that I had just read that morning, Blessed are you pilgrim if what concerns you most is not arriving, but arriving with others. Blessed are you pilgrim if you discover that a step backwards to help another is more valuable than a hundred forward without awareness of those at your side. Ah, yes… I determined then that this day I would walk with my daughter at her pace.

Step by step I found a new rhythm of being present to the moment and the people that I encountered, as well as the sights, the smells, the sounds, the touch of the wind on my body, the feel of my feet touching earth, and the new tastes of Spanish food and drink.

As I slowed down I realized that everyone walks the Camino in their own way — like Gary, an 80 year old man from Oregon who walks about 5 miles a day at a very slow pace, his two walking sticks echoing a steady beat as they hit the ground or Bill, a humble Gen Ex vagabond from Michigan, who instructed Hannah how to walk with tendonitis — short, slow steps, flat footed up hill, or Chris, a recently retired teacher from England, who walks at a fast clip because she has lots of energy.

The greeting on the path is Buen Camino, meaning “Have a good journey”, but it can also be a gracious reminder that all ways of walking are good ways.

As I allowed the Camino to have its way with me I began to enjoy the simplicity of the journey. Walk, Eat, Sleep is the 3-fold practice of the pilgrimage. That easy rhythm allowed me to begin to let go of the stressful baggage that I constantly and unconsciously carry with me – the to-do lists, performance anxieties and fears born out of scarcity, not enoughness, and shame. It opened me to see that every pilgrim suffers with both physical and existential pain and yet we walk, we endure, we find joy in the simplest pleasures like taking off our shoes and rubbing our feet at a roadside café while drinking a cold beer or smelling the eucalyptus trees as we walk under their forested canopy. With each step my heart opened wider to a sense of abundance – that this is enough and I am enough and this day is a sacrament unfolding in time and space.

Soy El CaminoThen like manna from heaven I came across a sign posted along the path that said, Yo Soy El Camino, y La Verdad y La Vida. “I am the way, the truth and the life.” Yes, El Camino, the way… this camino, this way. The pilgrim journey is a metaphor for life. Everyone walks it in their own way and it is all good.

Our call is simply to take that next faithful step, find our rhythm in unhurried calm, acknowledge our pain and in so doing find our common humanity — our deep connection to the fullness of life that we thankfully have no control over. This is the deep truth of life – that it is sheer unmerited grace, love incarnated in community.

Several days later during the Pilgrim Mass at the Cathedral in Santiago tears of awe and wonder flowed down my cheeks as I hugged and shook hands with my fellow pilgrims from around the world sharing the peace in our own native tongues.

All these people, all this pain, all this joy, all this good will, all this common journey is a glimpse of the kingdom. El Camino of Jesus is the “Buen Camino” of life.


The Human Quest

“We are put on earth for but a little while that we might learn to bear the beams of love.”              William Blake


The New Year is here and with it comes the annual New Year’s resolutions. This year it might be to get more organized, travel more, take better care of our bodies, get a better job, restore, mend or find loving relationships. Maybe this year we have simply resolved to not resolve anything!

Regardless of how tangible those resolutions may be, they all point to some intangible that we long for in our lives. And that is fulfillment: peace, joy, hope, love, and a purposeful direction and meaning in life. It seems this is what the wise men literally found in that stable 2,000 years ago. Union with pure light and love. God enfleshed in the form of a baby.  Heaven on earth.

And my question is, how on earth did those wise men find it? I have been looking for it all of my life in one way or another, haven’t you? The last place I would think to look would be where they found enlightenment — at a homeless shelter in the body of a newborn baby wrapped in rags in the land of misfit toys.

We are told that a star brought the wise men to that stable. But what if they misread that star? A few inches either way could mean a world of difference on the earth. Couldn’t that star have been shining over one of the better homes in the neighborhood? You know the one with two working parents, a cozy fireplace with the stockings hung with care, the garage overstuffed with toys, and the photo albums filled with smiling faces in far away places? Isn’t that the star we really want to follow? What made the wise men not second-guess that lowly stable location? What made them not choose the Jone’s down the street instead?

I wonder if these wise men discovered something about their own essence and true nature even before taking that journey toward the star. I have a hunch that they had grown so in love with glimpses of this light that they leaned towards it like a flower that bends toward the rays of the sun in the summer.

Maybe the journey to Bethlehem began when the wise men resolved to travel to the depths of their own souls. The Mystics tell us that when we take this kind of life-changing journey we discover shards of that radiant God-light inside each of us. This light is like a honing device for the source of all light and love even in the places and situations that we least expect.

William Blake said, “We are put on earth for but a little while that we might learn to bear the beams of love.” I love this image. Of becoming so connected to the source of love and light that we become the vessels of that love in this world.

But how do we go about doing that — following that star?

We do as the wise men did. We begin our journey inward. It is a journey of transformation, of letting our outer world inform our inward journey. Of being curious about why we act and respond the way we do. It is about healing old wounds and making amends. It is about allowing God to love us so deeply that we in turn reflect that love to others. It is a process of attuning ourselves to love. Richard Rohr says it is like “practicing heaven now”.

I think we can do this best in a community that listens deeply to each other and to the promptings of love. My dream this year is to help to create communities that “practice heaven now”.  I am initially looking for 6 to 10 people who want to create these kinds of  communities in the Portland metro area and I am hoping to gather us together for the first time in late January.  Won’t you join me?


WisemenO star of wonder, star of light, star with royal beauty bright, westward leading, still proceeding, guide us to thy perfect light.



This little light….

First this:
God created the Heavens and Earth — all you see, all you don’t see.

Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness.
God’s Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss.
God spoke: “Light.”
And Light appeared. (Genesis 1:2-3)


What came into existence was Life, and the Life was Light to live by.

The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness;

the darkness couldn’t put it out. ( John 1:4-5)

The days are growing shorter in this season of waiting and we are in darkness. Two shootings this week; children and loved ones innocently gunned down. North Korea and Iran are close to being able to kill millions through nuclear arms. People are still out of work and homeless. Many go to bed hungry. Entire villages in Syria no longer exist and AIDS continues to devastate Africa.

O God, why have you forsaken…?
We are poured out like water and all our bones are weak.
Our hearts are like wax melting within our breasts.
Our strength is broken like shards of pottery. (Psalm 22)

Today it is dark.

I had plans today.  Put on some Christmas music and wrap gifts.  Maybe bake some bread and write our family Christmas letter.

But today is dark — a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness, a soup of nothingness.

And the only word I have in this darkness is “Why?”.  A word spoken by all people.  A word even spoken by Jesus while he died on the cross.

“Why?”  has to have its way with us.  It is a word that introduces us to the depths of despair, injustice, forsakenness, terror.  It is a process that needs to be honored, felt, lived. It is the void of utter meaninglessness that we are made to bow to in order to shatter our illusion of control and embrace our humanity.

Today it is dark.

Today I don’t claim much, but I do know this.  The way of Jesus is the way of letting go and being broken open.  The way of Christ is through the valley of the shadow of death.

Christ calls us through the halls of Sandy Hook Elementary School as well as the Clackamas Town Center Mall.  And as he walks with us, he becomes the Light — a way in the darkness.

“Peace I give to you, but not as the world gives.

Do not be afraid.”


Back to the Garden

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing  
and rightdoing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass
the world is too full to talk about.” 
― Rumi


Have you ever been so filled with awe, so delighted to drink in life, so embraced by light and love that words failed to capture the moment?

This is the field of which Rumi speaks: the field of at-one-ness, gratitude, delight, peace, understanding.  This is the field out of which all things are created.  This is the realm of God — grace incarnate, enlightenment.  Most of the time we seem to just stumble upon glimpses of it when we least expect it.

It is so palpable, yet so elusive.  If we were honest with ourselves, it is what we long for but can’t quite figure out how to get.  Joni Mitchell sings about it this way, “We are stardust. We are golden and we have to get ourselves back to the garden.”

But how do we do that?

Rumi gives us a hint — it is beyond our rational grasp of figuring out the right way.  It is beyond theology and politics, gender and race.  It is beyond all of our pre-conceived notions and consumer wish lists.  It is beyond best intentions and plans.

Jesus talked a lot about this in terms of the Kingdom of God.  And it seems like many of his stories and images pointed to one counterintuitive act — trusting enough to let go, so that we might fall into the arms of Love.

When I think about starting a movement of house churches in Portland I can quickly go to “ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing.”  My strategic brain gets engaged and before you know it I have masterminded a whole new way of being church all by myself.

Thank God there is an equally compelling voice, my spiritual self, that repeats the trust mantra.  “Trust in me.  Trust in the unfolding.  Simply invite your friends to play in the field of possibilities. Gather together and listen deeply to wisdom and the way will be revealed.”

So when I find myself micromanaging my plan, I remind myself of the field — a playful place of discovery and delight where I just have to show up and be present.  I am hoping others will want to meet me in this field as we practice listening together.  We could begin by listening to our stories and the stories of Jesus. And then we could extend our listening practice to our communities that long to be restored.

What is the preferred future that we long to be a part of?
How can we help to make that a reality?

I do trust in that unfolding, and I know that when my soul lies down in that grass the world is too full to talk about. And so it begins…