This is my guest blog post that was recently published on Tiny Buddha. In September of 2012, I flew from Idaho to Spain and began a 500-mile pilgrimage walk on the Camino de Santiago. I arrived in St. Jean Pied-de-Port without any expectations and a…
Return of the Prodigal Son-RembrandtBoth Robin and I have been reading some interesting spiritual books as we prepare for our upcoming pilgrimage from Le Puy en Velay to Santiago de Compostela next month. I still feel very connected to Thomas Merton, but of late I have become interested in the writings of Henri Nouwen. Currently I am reading a book of his entitled, The Return of the Prodigal Son. While this is a very well known biblical parable Nouwen offers his readers a new and quite personal reflection on this story, and how it links to his own struggle to return to the Father “from a distant country.” As I read this book I find myself examining my own struggles with the fragility of my faith, love of God, fleeing to a “distant country” and the subsequent long journey Home. What I have come to realize is that many of us are facing these same issues. We have lost track of God within us and have set out (left Home) to seek answers, and fulfillment in far away places. Perhaps His voice is just too faint to be heard over the noise of our daily lives. I know I frequently allow the commotion that attends my temporal pursuits to do that. It just seems I am conditioned to behave this way, despite the presence of a loving God in my life. But, the grace of the matter lies in the fact that God, like the father embracing his son in the painting, understands our flight, and patiently awaits our return as well.So, Robin and I are off to the pilgrim road once again to embrace another part of our journey together. We will be leaving for France just after Easter, and plan to depart Le Puy on April 25th. We are ever thankful for the gift of each camino experience. They have always provided remarkable spiritual renewal and have positively shifted or displaced us from whatever misguided preconceptions we carried as excess baggage at the outset. We are eager to be underway again, and are hopeful that, as has happened in the past, sufficient moments of stillness and quietude will be found for us to hear the soft voice of the Father within us. Whenever we listen and respond to His voice, regardless of where we find ourselves, we find comfort that we are not lost; we are simply where we need to be.Finally, less we should be lulled into thinking that the journey home to the Father is ever an easy quest, Henri Nouwen, an ordained priest, offers us, this reflection. “It is the place within me where God has chosen to dwell. It is the place where I am held safe in the embrace of an all-loving Father who calls me by name and says, “You are my beloved son, on you my favor rests.” It is the place where I can taste the joy and peace that are not of this world.This place has always been there. I had always been aware of it as the source of grace. But I had not been able to enter it and truly live there. Jesus says, “Anyone who loves me will keep my word and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make our home in him.”…But it has aways been very hard to experience the truth of these words. Yes, God dwells in my innermost being, but how could I accept Jesus’ call: “Make your home in me as I make mine in you”? The invitation is clear and unambiguous. To make my home where God had made his, this is the great spiritual challenge. It seemed an impossible task.” The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen.Peace be with you….
On Thursday, in the corner of a sunny field alongside the camino, me and Paddy dug a hole. It was not easy. The soil here is dark clay, but we´ve had enough rain lately that we could break the surface. We used a primitive sort of mattock to break it up, and shovels to clear out the chunks. It was hot work under bright sun. We stopped digging before the hole was very deep. We could not remember just how big the hole had to be.We were peevish and hungry. We put the shovels in the back and went home.We were peevish again on today. Finally, at 3 p.m., the tree arrived. Paddy was deep into his siesta. The delivery truck followed my van up the camino to the edge of the field. The driver opened the door and jumped out to help me unload. The driver was a very small woman, the same one who´d sold me this strapping young chestnut tree at the nursery earlier this week. I´d expected a big burly delivery man. I sighed. The lady never blinked an eye.Between us we wrestled the tree off the back of the flatbed truck, onto the ground, over the ditch, up onto the field. She stood up the castañero next to the hole. It towered over her. She looked at the tree and the hole.”That hole´s not big enough,” she said.She swarmed back up into her truck and headed back to Palencia. I made the hole bigger. I poured ten liters of water into it, and threw in the thawed carcass of a hen who conveniently passed on a few days ago. I put some sand on top, and spit in it, because that is what you do when you plant a tree. And then I went to put the tree into the hole.It would not move. It would roll, it would tip over, but it would not come out of the big black bucket that covered the roots, no matter how I pounded on it.I looked around. The tractors crawling over the fields were occupied by the neighbors I usually ask for help with this sort of thing. Paddy, at that particular moment, was not an option.So I looked over the camino, and I said, peevishly, “Godammit, St. James. This tree is a memorial tree for a pilgrim who died on this road. I need some help here. Send me a pilgrim, please. A big, healthy one.” I sawed away part of the bucket and got the roots nearer to the hole. I thought of the pilgrim who´d died, a pilgrim who´d stayed at my house, a pilgrim I actually knew.He was a gentle man. Not a peevish bone in his body. I took a deep breath. “Phil Wren, pray for me,” I said. “It´s your tree. Do something.” And that is when the men came rolling up the trail, two tipos from Barcelona with backpacks and beer-bellies. Big men in bright blue and lemon-yellow quik-dri t-shirts, their faces smeared with sunscreen. I hailed them in my bad Spanish, asked them for a hand, told them this is a pilgrim tree.They stepped right up, peeled off their packs, pulled up the tree trunk so I could free it from the bucket. They dropped the tree in the hole, helped me stand it upright, helped me line up and pound-down a pilgrim staff alongside the trunk. They snapped pictures with each other´s cameras.I did not have a camera, but I will post a photo of the tree real soon.I do not know the names of the pilgrims who helped to plant Philip Wren´s tree, but I kinda think Philip knows who they are. Maybe he´ll keep an eye on them from where he is.They were godsends, after all.The Wren Memorial Tree was funded by contributors from all over the world who were encouraged by the Rev. Philip Wren, an English pastor known affectionately as “Methodist Pilgrim” on the www.caminodesantiago.me pilgrim forum. Philip walked the camino several times after diabetes cut short his career as a parish pastor. He died in May 2013 at the municipal pilgrim albergue in Logroño. A slate marker will be added to the base of the memorial tree once the soil settles around the roots.
Walking the Camino de Santiago was one gigantic journey. I left Boise in the Fall of 2012 without any expectations and it turned into a trip of a lifetime. This adventure continues on a daily basis as I embark on a mission to market A…
Did you ever think of bagpipes when you thought of Spain? I never did. I thought of vineyards and museums. I thought of bullfights and oranges. I thought of the architecture of Barcelona and of paintings of Toledo. I never, ever thought of bagpipes. But, there they were. And I was loving every minute. I … Continue reading →
Just an hour late in both the morning and evening. That’s all I was from a stunning reflection on Garibaldi Lake. As you can tell, I had beautiful weather and felt very fortunate when I visited on a late summer’s day. I had hiked to the lake during the same time in other years and […]
One of my favorite places to visit in the Vancouver, British Columbia area is the Reifel Bird Sanctuary. I try to get out there at least a couple of times every year for a relaxing walk in nature. There are numerous trails to explore that wind through different areas of the 300-hectare (740-acre) property famous for […]
I wheeled the trash bin back inside the gate. The snow was shifting to rain, it pelted down, and there on the edge of the N120 dripped a pilgrim. He did not respond to Spanish, but he knew what “tea” meant.He followed me down the muddy garden, doffed his poncho in the laundry room, sat down in the warm kitchen. He did not care that the kitchen was messy.He smiled, wrapped his fingers around his mugful of tea, bobbed his face over the rising heat. He smiled at the cookies and the apple on the plate. He picked up the cookies in a stack and sniffed them, like he´d never seen cookies before. He ate them that way, all three at once. The apple went into his pocket, for later. Paddy came home with the wet dogs. Tim and Rosie wagged and greeted the pilgrim on their way to the woodstove. They threw their bodies down and steamed their wet-dog stink. The windows started to drip.The man said thank-you in gestures. I helped him get his poncho on over his pack. He went back the way he came in, through the mud, out onto the side of the highway.It is that simple.I do not need to join the Association of Christian Welcome at the Benedictine convent in Leon, nor the Amigos del Camino in Logroño, nor trouble myself with the American Pilgrims on the Camino FaceBook page. I do not need to bemoan the demise of “the camino spirit” on the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage forum, nor spend next weekend down in Villalon with an over-caffeinated gang of Spanish hospitaleros, touring dusty convents and swapping high-decibel tales and shmoozing — fun as that might seem for a while. I do not need to go back to school and get my deacon credentials in order. I do not need to write any more camino books or guides or plans. Other people, worthy people, can do all those things better than I can.I do not need to put my fingers into all these pies. The Camino is right here, outside the back gate, in the rain.The pilgrims are cold and wet, and our kitchen is warm, and we have apples and cookies and tea. It´s that simple.
While walking A Million Steps on the Camino de Santiago, I had the pleasure of meeting many strangers from all corners of the globe. Given our common walking goal, the formation of the bonds were instant. There were several people that I met for only…
Little Ruby Truth is bird-like. It sings beautifully. It can fly south for months at a time, and you don´t notice ituntil it´s not there any more. It is known to “lay an egg” now and then. Truth can twitter sweetly all morning, and then poo on you from a great altitude. We are dealing with a big, heavy Truth here, ever since I came back from the Camino trip. If this Truth is a bird, it is an ostrich or emu, or maybe a bustard. Malin and David, our trusty friends, were here when I got home, working their tails off in the pouring rain. I jumped in and helped David pour concrete and reset the fencing in the chicken pen. We shifted the remains of last year´s firewood to the other side of the woodstore, and ordered in more. The three of us moved that and stacked it very neatly, all in a single afternoon, just before the rain began again.We hung up the Franz Kline prints in the pilgrim salon. We cleared and cleaned and got the car inspected. We said goodbye on Friday, when Malin and David went off to Palencia to busk with their guitar and ukulele and marionettes. On Saturday, Paddy and I helped clear up the Plaza Mayor during the annual tree-trimming — this year we planted a line of chestnut saplings! We loaded up the back of our car with long switches cut from the plane trees. We left them in the car overnight.There they breathed out their green breath and steamed up the windows. When I moved the car round the the back gate to unload them into the wood store (the wands make good kindling once they dry out) the car was perfumed. It smelled like February, the best kind of February — like something green and living buried very deep beneath the cold. There was no Mass in Moratinos this week. We went instead to Terradillos and worshiped with the neighbors — the few who were not in the street outside. Sunday was a boar-hunting morning in Terradillos, and dozens of flourescent-clad gunners with their car-trunks loaded with hound dogs were hanging round the streets, waiting for the fog to rise. You cannot hunt in the fog, it´s illegal, Mauricio told me. I wondered. I have seen many, many hunters out in the fog in recent mornings, some of them shouting that it´s illegal for me to be out there with my dogs! Go figure. We drove toward home. On the camino just outside town I felt a big bolt of pain in the left side of my chest.I´d felt the same bolt about halfway through the camino last week, about halfway up a long, long hill. It took my breath away. I am having a heart attack, I thought.And so, long story short, we went to the medical center, and from there to the hospital, with a stop in between along the road so I could have a cry. I was poked and tested and scanned and x-rayed. In the wee hours of Monday morning the doc gave us the news: No heart attack.Asthma has left me with an enlarged heart, but it is in great shape, along with my blood and bones and food-digester. But sometime in the recent past — probably at San Andres de Teixido, where I took a spill in the rain — I tore some of the muscles between my ribs and my breast-bone. Hauling wood and concrete and tree-limbs in the following week didn´t help the healing. A couple of months with no heavy lifting and I oughtta be just fine. I was very glad to know I was not dying. We went home and slept all day.And woke up with this big feathered Truth Bird nesting in the middle of the kitchen table, squawking an awful song.Truth is: the last couple of caminos I´ve done have kicked the tar out of me physically. Much as I love walking caminos, I must reconsider my wandering ways.Truth is: It´s been a tough Winter for both of us, health-wise. I can´t go away for longer than about ten days, because this place requires heavy work on a daily basis. Paddy cannot keep this place going on his own. He cannot drive the car, haul the firewood, handle all the dogs. (The man who was going to take little Ruby Dog in May has backed out. We have SIX dogs now.) The pair of us can never go anywhere together, and going seperately is becoming increasingly difficult.But we have to go. Our families need us sometimes, and our families are in England and the United States and way down south in Malaga.Truth is: We don´t get so many pilgrims any more. Winter used to be our busiest time of year, but in the past month we have had exactly five pilgrims here. We are not so useful any more, pilgrim-wise. We are here and equipped with goodwill and food and beds, but if the pilgs choose to go elsewhere, well… Maybe we should consider other options. What are those? Even if we don´t take pilgrims, we need help to keep this place going.If we keep this place going. We need an architect.We need a caretaker, friends, funds to build the far end into a place a caretaker can stay. And maybe a vision. A new one. A purpose. A ministry, maybe.Or just some wisdom.(If I was me, I´d tell myself to walk the camino til I got an answer.)But please, no more Truth. Not for a little while.I am not sure my heart can take that.