Pilgrimpace's Blog


camino retreat – endings

On Saturday 8th February we walked a few metres to the massive sacred space of San Martin Pinario

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where we held the service of Stations of the Cross.  This was incredibly powerful and moving for me.  There is something very deep in ending a walking pilgrimage with this following in the footsteps of Christ in his Passion.

We moved from the simplicity of wood and granite

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into the utter splendour of the reflected light from the reredos when we reached the final Station – Christ’s Resurrection

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Perhaps the only thing to do with all of this was to go for coffee in the Reyes Catolicos.

This was the last day for all of us.  We reflected on how it had gone, on what we were learning, the gifts we were discovering.

I remember when I was nearing the end of my long walk on the Camino de Levante in 2009.  My friend John texted me just before the end telling me of the lessons I would learn as a result “in the coming decades”.  Kathy’s research on education pointed to the same truth.  Perhaps we learn at the pace of walking.

Kathy shared this poem by Hafiz.

Absolutely Clear

Don't surrender your loneliness
So quickly,
Let it cut more deep.

Let it ferment and season you
As few human
Or even divine ingredients can.

Something missing in my heart tonight
Has made my eyes so soft,
My voice so tender,

My need of God
Absolutely
Clear

.

After a comparatively early dinner, we wandered round the city.  Avoiding the techno bagpipes, we found a bar where students played American folk rock and blues.  After a final late whisky, we said goodbye to Rebekah.

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This neighbour shouted in the night.

We walked Kathy to her morning train and went to Pilgrim Mass.  It was lovely to sit in it as an ordinary pilgrim.  Lots of emotion to do with arriving and remembering.

A good farewell Sunday dinner with John and the Big Man (imported mint sauce brought out for the occasion).  Reflecting that we are all people who give a lot in life.

How do we cope with this?

praying, walking, talking with others, letting off steam with others.

And perhaps the right place for this particular pilgrimage to end, a night with Mike in a bar, drinking a few beers, eating croquettas, watching the Barcelona match.

A good place for all this to end, at least for now.

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camino retreat – in santiago

An extraordinary day, adding to the depth we had encountered in the walking and fellowship.

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Our Merry Band was given wonderful hospitality by the Cathedral.  We were invited to have an Anglican Eucharist in one of the Chapels.  By wonderful serendipity, it was the Chapel of San Andres – taking us back to our beginning at Teixedo.  This tough and rugged saint was a very suitable patron for the week.

During the Eucharist, we continued to reflect upon our theme of the Gospel Journeys and how our own journeys weave into them.  We heard TS Eliot’s Journey of the Magi

A cold coming we had of it

just at the worse time of year

and thought about what it might mean to arrive in this luxury of a couple of days of gift, grace and space.  We prayed through the suffering and difficulty we encounter in our own lives – all very committed to serving others in different ways – and in the world, and how pilgrimage might be a strengthening of love and compassion rather than a turning away.

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After Mass, some of us walked through Santiago to Sar, to the Church of Santa Maria la Real, a Romanesque gem.  We rested in the silence of the interior lit up and warmed by hundreds of candles from the Festival of San Blas a day or two before.  On the way up the hill we drank Estrella Galicia in a small bar where men played poker.

I was woken sharply from siesta by condensation dripping on my head.  When Mike took the mickey out of me, Buddha fell on his.

We were asked to return to the Cathedral for the evening Mass and were taken to special seats in the Sanctuary and welcomed by Dean Segundo.  We were extremely close to the Botafumeiro.

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Then off for more.  Dinner at the Gondola with wonderful food and wine, and then a quemada at the end, the incantation specially written by John to reflect our journey.

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A day so full of gift, and we were not finished yet …



the road to santiago

I was just sitting down to write a post about our time in Santiago when the doorbell rang.  It was the postman with a parcel from South Africa.  I knew what was in it.

One of the best books on the Camino is Walter Starkie’s The Road to Santiago (other personal favourites include Jennifer Lash’s On Pilgrimage and Cees Nooteboom’s Roads to Santiago – I’d love to know what your’s are – especially if I find something I’ve not yet read).  Starkie’s book was published in 1957 and is relatively hard to get hold of.  I found one in a second hand shop.

Sylvia Nilsen, a pilgrim from South Africa who contributes a great deal to pilgrimage not least through her Amawalker blog, put a photo of her copy on Facebook.  It had a beautiful dustcover.  I commented that mine had lost it.  Sylvia colour photocopied it and sent it to me.  Wonderful!

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and the post about what happened when the Merry Band of Pilgrims got to Santiago will follow soon ….



camino retreat – arriving
February 24, 2014, 5:43 pm
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When we woke up on Thursday, I did wonder if it would have been better to have brought bog snorkling equipment rather than walking gear.  The next of this winter’s extraordinary sequence of storms had arrived.

Fortified by breakfast and reflecting on the Road to Emmaus, with its themes of brokenness, hope and joy, we stepped out into the wet.  Our original plan was to be driven back to Sigueiro and start from there; the weather was too bad; a couple of us had injuries – a damaged shoulder and chest, skinned heels.  We set off from where we were.

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The rain and wind were apocalyptic.  Just once the rain stopped enough to risk the camera.  Fortunately the route on this final day of walking has changed since I last walked it.  It now takes you well away from the main road which would have been awful in these conditions.

We stopped to warm up with cola-cao on the outskirts of Santiago.  A few minutes from the centre we passed our hotel, the excellent Girasol, and dropped our stuff off.  Those who were soaked through found dry-ish clothes, and we walked the Cathedral

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Mike and I are immune to tempestas as we celebrate arriving.

Entering the familiar atmosphere of the Cathedral, we found silence amongst the bustle (although the weather meant only nine other pilgrims arrived that day), praying before the altar and the saint.

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Welcomed into the Pilgrim Office by our good friend John, warmed up with an excellent dinner at the Girasol with John and the Big Man, a long siesta, another dinner, and then …

an extraordinarily rich couple of days …



camino retreat – interval

Wednesday 5th February, our second day of walking, was a day of hard showers and interludes.

After breakfast  – when Mike and I sought to disprove Rebekah’s assertion that Spanish doughnuts are no good (they fuelled the walking, but I’d go for porridge to maximise this) –  we began with our morning reflection.

George Herbert’s Love was a good place to start, God’s grace gently summoning us back to him, and the theme of love happening through meals and hospitality – something that fits so well with what we receive on the camino, but also in each of the lives of the four of us (see the previous post on End Hunger Fast for how this fits in my life and ministry at the moment).

Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,
        Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey’d Love, observing me grow slack
        From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
        If I lack’d anything.

“A guest,” I answer’d, “worthy to be here”;
        Love said, “You shall be he.”
“I, the unkind, the ungrateful? ah my dear,
        I cannot look on thee.”
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
        “Who made the eyes but I?”

“Truth, Lord, but I have marr’d them; let my shame
        Go where it doth deserve.”
“And know you not,” says Love, “who bore the blame?”
        “My dear, then I will serve.”
“You must sit down,” says Love, “and taste my meat.”
        So I did sit and eat. 

We thought about Jesus’ call to follow him, about how we can tell we are close to him through our growing compassion for others.  This quote from St Athanasius’ Life of Antony, perhaps counter-intuitively for those on pilgrimage, spoke to us:

Some leave home and cross the seas in order to gain an education, but there is no need for us to go away on account of the Kingdom of God nor need we cross the sea in search of virtue. For the Lord has told us, “The Kingdom of God is within you.” All that is needed for goodness is that which is within, the human heart.

There is after all the job of returning home and living there.  Pilgrimage is an interlude which can make things clearer.

In the early morning, the rain stopped and something beautiful happened

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The sun – those of us who live in Europe had not seen it since Christmas.  Even Kathy, coming out of Californian drought was missing it.  The fields around, full of water, were lit up.  A rainbow – heralding the next rains – arced across a quarry.  We stopped and I took out my notebook and read RS Thomas’ The Bright Field (you can read it here).

The weather made the walking much more comfortable.  We were able to pause more, to look around.  We passed some wonderful homemade sculptures.

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We rested rather than sheltered in bars as we drank a coffee or a claro, we were able to sit next to a forest path to eat bocadillo.

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We walked the long straight path into Sigueiro and celebrated with beer.  As the accommodation there has declined, we had arranged to stay a few kilometres outside at the Hotel Vicente.  Ignatio picked us up.  Again, we found that we were the first pilgrims through this year.  We had a good dinner of what the kitchen had – welcome warm caldo, fish, tarta santiago.  Being with Rebekah meant we had good knowledge of the local wines.  Good conversation, and then to bed to listen to the next storm beating the highway …



camino retreat – a prelude
February 15, 2014, 11:03 am
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This had been in the planning in one way or another for a couple of years.

Finally, on a February night, four pilgrims – Kathy from San Francisco, Rebekah from Pittsburgh but living on the Meseta in Castille, Mike and I from Birmingham in the English Midlands, met in the ancient port of A Coruna for a week of walking and retreat, a spiritual space in the midst of winter.

We had a day before we began walking.  We set the bar high.  The morning’s reflection contained this wonderful poem by Matt Merritt:

 

Sundays in May

 

Something should be starting.  While you breakfast

slowly on the leavings of the week, watching

fledglings scream their demands across the lawn,

 

the seeds of an idea should be reaching

for the surface.  Watching trees making free

with their confetti, your heart should be surrendering

 

to the unlearned salmon-leaps of love.  You should

be seeing clouds not as rain but as the opening

of a wide, white country before astonished eyes.

 

Your song should be earning the blackbird’s praise.

Walking that avenue into town, passing students

dragging bags to the laundry, revision notes tucked

 

inside the NME, you should be moving

towards something that has waited for you

all your life.  If it is to happen,

 

here among the ice cream vans,

the two-for-ones and the pavement tables,

it’s as well that it would happen soon.

(From The Elephant Tests by Matt Merritt – a very fine collection published by Nine Arches which I recommend you buy)

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We determined on a pre-pilgrimage, a visit to the Shrine of San Andres, St Andrew, on the coast at Teixedo.  This is an important site.  As the saying goes, A San Andrés de Teixido vai de morto o que non foi de vivo.  And like all good pilgrim places it is hard to get to, especially in winter when the days are short and the buses few.  We got to Ferrol.  We could not find a connection.  We hired a car and, with the sketchiest of maps, drove off, enjoying the view, drinking in Galicia through the windows.

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We left the car at the top of the cliffs.  Two ways were signed – we took the narrow one.  Climbing down the Camino to the village, closed up but for one shop selling devotional and other tourist items

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going into the Church to pray, especially for the beginning of our pilgrimage and for those people and things that were especially on our hearts.  Outside, on a sheltered bench, we ate bocadillo, introducing Mike, who had not walked in Spain before, to the delights of tortilla.

We climbed down further, past the clootie cloths tied to the fences (I spent ages trying to work out where I had heard of ‘clootie cloths’ before, and then remembered they are in Ian Rankin’s splendid The Naming of the Dead), to the cliff edge where we sat quietly, contemplating the power of the sea and the promise of tomorrow’s storm.

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Turning we climbed back by the Wide Way.  This may have been a mistake.  The stones were submerged by winter rain and slippery.  One of us fell and injured a shoulder (I was with tough pilgrims – there was very little complaining about some nasty injuries; we just got on with the walking and offered it up in prayer).

We drove back to Coruna, getting there in time for Mass in the Church of Santiago, the traditional start of the Camino Ingles, the English Way, the route that the English pilgrims took when their boats landed, and a good dinner with plenty of wine, trying to ignore the weather forecast playing on the television in the corner of the bar …



lenten journey 15
March 24, 2013, 4:38 pm
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At the beginning of October a few years ago I sat in a Chapel in the Cathedral in Segovia before a rather fine reredos with a statue of St James the Pilgrim looking particularly exhausted and dazed, his tongue seeming to stick out a little with thirst and heat after a long days walk across the plains.  I was praying hard as I screwed up my courage to begin walking again after a few days sightseeing with friends.

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We enter Holy Week, another time that needs a lot of courage if we are to enter it deeply and, with Grace, to walk in the Way of Christ (and we remember today the martyrdom of Archbishop Romero 33 years ago).

On Friday we paused on the snow-covered and by now rather slippery tow path to admire these Victorian bottle kilns.

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Mark too this photo of me – I seem to have a manic look.  Had I tried the St James Potion from the chemists or had I been out walking in the cold for too long?

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When I asked the museum’s custodian whether there was a drug available to assist ailing walkers, she pulled in her grey cardigan and led me to a cabinet whose drawers were painted with the faces of saints.  She pointed to the tired, bearded image of St James, scallop shells on his hat, shoulder and staff: ‘That is the best for you,’ she said, pointing at the label: B JUNIP. LAUR. ‘Yes,’ she continued, ‘juniper and laurel.  It is for walking; for pilgrims like you.’

How many pilgrims suffering en route to Santiago had been tempted by St James potion, only to buckle into incontinent spasms?  Juniper’s diuretic properties and the poisonous effects of laurel seemed unlikely to benefit a man with several hundred kilometres to walk.

– Nicholas Crane