Seeking ourselves in a troubled world

Setting outAsh Wednesday is just ahead and once again the Lenten season is about to begin. It is a time of pilgrimage, a time of setting out into the often troubling and most arid parts of our lives to discover anew the mystery of God’s love, and mercy. It is in the making of this journey that we set ourselves the task of rediscovering the hope that sweeps the dust from the lamp of our faith. It is not an easy journey as waymarks are few, dangers lurk, and all sorts of temptations abound. Perhaps the greatest challenge is simply believing that we both need to, and are capable of doing this. The Lenten journey is in many ways a solitary one. It is a time when every individual, regardless of religious affiliation or not, can take some time and sort out the direction his or her life has taken. It is also then follows that we should focus on what needs to be done to be better people, to be more Christ like in all that we do. I don’t mean to imply that by following a few steps one miraculously discovers fulfillment in the spiritual life. Quite the contrary, as all of this spiritual effort frequently takes place in a mysterious world of dim light and featureless landscapes that tends to create more uncertainty, than clarity, as we  seek the path we are to follow. But, it is also a time when hope, prayer and reflexion can come together to lead us from this confusion to the truth of God’s love and what that means for us. It is in our willingness to accept God’s unconditional love that our peace and joy are born anew. Every pilgrim road we have walked bears witness to this. Today we find ourselves inhabiting a world that is suffering on so many levels that it can crush our spirits and throw us into despair. Let us hope that this year’s Lenten journey can help us all find the compassion and mercy needed to start the healing that is now so needed, and so long overdue.”In order to find God in ourselves, we must stop looking at ourselves, stop checking and verifying ourselves in the mirror of our own futility, and be content to be in Him and do whatever He wills, according to our limitations, judging our acts not in the light of our own illusions, but in the light of His reality which is all around us in the things and people we live with.”Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island”Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23)

Remembering Wayne

The Camino de Santiago continues to have an enormous effect on my life.  One of my favorite changes is a new interest in a plethora of spiritual authors.  One of my favorites, Wayne Dyer, passed away last August.  He is an absolute legend and sold…

Paddy’s Eye and Anton’s Arm

pilgrim bear After all that long, cold, quiet on the mountain, I walked right back into the spinning blades of The Peaceable. There’s much to do here at our house, even if anyone passing through Moratinos would think a neutron bomb went off. There’s nothing moving but the occasional crow. The funnest thing lately was recording a Podcast with David Whitson, and American pilgrim who’s tech-savvy and a fine interviewer.You can hear it here,  I was cleverly paired with Rom Bates, an Irish guy who did something like we did at about the same time: he quit the Big Job in Dublin and went with his wife to Moissac, France to open a pilgrim shelter. Rom and I are mutual admirers, and we both enjoy talking about ourselves. Pull up a glass of something nice and have a listen.Another reason I came back was Paddy’s eyes. He’s under a long-term treatment for vision troubles, and in the last three months he lost the ability to read without hugely magnifying the object or book or screeen in question. It’s a hard road for a man whose house is a scattered pile of books, magazines, pictures, and paintings in progress. Paddy’s been amazingly philosophical about it, for the most part… he’s still got Podcasts and YouTube videos, and a good set of headphones.He had a minor surgery on one eye last Friday, an experimental procedure that shoots an anti-cancer drug into the tube that connects the lens in the front of his eye to the retina in the back — if I understand correctly, the optical nerve runs through there. The drug kills overgrowing blood vessels that are squashing up the space in there.This morning, Paddy picked up a paperback book I’ve been reading, opened to a random page, and realized he could see it clearly! Glory be!After church we went to Mansilla de las Mulas to celebrate at a nice restaurant. It’s a joyful day.I am beating the bushes for volunteers to host at the Albergue Convento San Anton de Castrojeriz this year, and I’m learning about how many mattresses of what size they need at the old donativo Domus Dei Albergue in Foncebadon — theirs are in pretty rotten condition, and folks I know seem to like buying beds for donativo places… so get out your wallets, people! I’m back!>I need to start a little non-profit to handle project donations.>The memorial grove for fallen pilgrims idea is already well-developed among a little volunteer group in Navarre. I may need to take a trip over to Pamplona soon to learn all about it. >I’ve pretty much finished a short history of the ruined Monastery of San Anton, written by me and Robert Mullins, a writer who volunteered there last summer. Before I decide how to package it, (and how to pay for it) I need to find out what’s become of the relic that used to give that old monastery its Holy Ghost Power healing juju — they had St. Anthony’s left arm! It was kept in a silver “reliquary” case, and used to sanctify medicines and elixers the monks used for healing St. Anthony’s Fire, an epidemic disease in medieval Europe.When the monastic hospital at San Anton closed up for good in about 1795, all the riches and artwork were sent to the parishes of Castrojeriz, where a lot of it still is. But the arm? It left town. No one seems to know just where it ended up. Probably Burgos, the wise heads say. Look at the big imperial convent. Look at the church in that neighborhood — the Church of San Anton.So that’s the plan: an expedition to Burgos, to find San Anton’s missing arm. I bet nobody else is doing that this week. First one to find it wins the Arms Race!

Scenes of Sakura, Plum and Cherry Blossoms of Vancouver

Starting in February, Vancouver, Canada explodes with a vibrance of colour from many Spring flowers. For many residents and visitors, it’s the plum and cherry blossoms that are most awaited. As the city awakens after a usual dull and rainy late Autumn and Winter, the blossom trees are not hard to find. There are an estimated […]

Delusions and Illusions

My niece turns 18 in April and fantasizes about how perfect her life will be after that magic birthday.  She can finally move in with her boyfriend, smoke cannabis without inhibition, and never have to deal with her unreasonable parents. On this upcoming glorious day,…

Ducklings, Goslings, Flowers and More, Photos of the Week, January 16th to 22th

Sorry, I’m still catching up with my weekly posts. Instead of excuses, let’s get on with it. These are my photos of the week posted to social media! On the eve of the monster snow storm… It’s going to rain off and on for the next week here in Vancouver, but I don’t envy those […]

Roses, Tulips, The Black Tusk and More, Photos of the Week, January 9th to 15th

It’s been a crazy past few weeks for me. Between the holidays, moving, an operation, and caring for a family member who is now in the hospital, I’m behind on my weekly posts. Thats okay because my priority is my dear Aunt who I shall dedicate this post to. I show her my photos every […]

A Month On the Mountain

Laika Dog in The House, photo by Kim NarenkeviciusSo here I am, living in a dream house on the side of a mountain, 1300 meters above a deep green valley.  The scenery stretches out on all sides, at varying degrees of steep. Here there are no sheep, but many cows. They are beautiful Galician reds, with big soft eyes and spongy wet noses and bell-bottom fetlocks. I hear them in the mornings, bells and bellows from inside their grey concrete bunker a few yards away. When the breeze blows right their moist perfume flows up the street, up toward the pasture where they’d like to be. When the sun comes out the farmer rolls open the door and they walk slow and easy out, right past the front gate and around the curve, up to their favorite place. They don’t wander. They know where they want to go. The farmer lets them. But the sun doesn’t come out much these days. The cows stay inside where their bodies warm the space, safe from the fog that slides like a grey hand down the steep banks from O Cebreiro. I can see O Cebreiro from the big picture window, when the fog clears – but the fog doesn’t clear much these days, at least not at Cebreiro.  They get the worst of it up there. It’s only about 200 meters higher-up than here, but it gets all the fog, snow, wind, rain, pilgrims, and tourists.  I am house- and dog-sitting in a village called Laguna de las Tablas, which is six stone houses and some barns strung out along a single street. It’s all that will fit along this ridge. Pastures and fields are neatly mapped-out with mossy stone walls, even the most steep drops are delineated. They are property lines, watercourses, stands of trees, meadows. Birches, beeches, pines, willows, trees whose names I don’t know. Their branches are bare, but they still are full of color – the tops of the trees are pink, red, soft green, almost yellow. I walk the dog in the morning above isolated, abandoned valleys. They are full of wind-battered, mossy birches like Japanese woodblock prints. Plastic bags are carried there on the wind. They wrap themselves in the branches and turn, over time, to tattered pennants. You see them trapped down there in the box canyon, waving like some odd white crop from the trees in just that lot. Somehow, though, inhabited places, valleys with even just one house, have softer trees. The ones with halos of spring hovering over their heads. I wonder how they know. Pilgrims love this part of the camino. Its beauty is overwhelming in spring, summer, and fall, but in January it is not so obvious. I drove today up the isolated camino path from Las Herrerias to Cebreiro, one of the most breathtaking hikes on the Frances route. The view was invisible, laden with fog. I do not remember that road being paved – I recall a soft green pathway… but I have not walked up to Cebreiro for more 20 years! Today I stopped almost to the top, in La Laguna de Castilla, a tiny hamlet with a very good restaurant. (Yes, there are two La Lagunas here, within about 2 miles of one another!) Rain was falling. It was just me and Isidro, the barman, but he lit the fire and pulled up a glass of local tinto. We talked about taking care of pilgrims, building fires in old-fashioned iron stoves, how tough it is, keeping big stone houses warm. I was having a good day, Spanish-wise. I told him I love staying at Laurie’s house, how I’m getting some good work done, but I am always cold – I have never had the indoor temperature higher than 14.5 degrees. (58 degrees Fahrenheit). “How many layers are you wearing?” Isidro asked. “Indoors? Three up top, two on the bottom,” I told him. “You have to wear a hat,” he said. And keep your shoes on always. Or boots, even.” “Indoors?” “You’re living in a house that was a barn not so long ago,” he said. “If you want to feel warm,  you need to bring a couple of cows inside, and sleep upstairs!” He roared with laughter. He poured another glass of wine. I haven’t been drinking, but it would be churlish to say no.  He carved a couple of slices off a chorizo – another thing I’ve been passing up. It was delicious. I told him so. “What are you doing in that house for a month, all by yourself?” Isidro asked. (This is a variation on the perennial question any solo woman gets in Spain: “Where is your husband?”)  “I am editing a book,” I told him. “I’m a writer.” “Like Laura! It’s a literary house, then.” “Yes. It’s a great place to work. And I like the dog.” “Tell me, because I am wondering,” he said. “Are you famous?” I laughed, probably a little too loud. “Really, though. I think I have seen your face,” he continued. “And you have the attitude of a famous person. You are comfortable.” “I am not famous in Spain,” I told him. “I am not famous anywhere, not TV-interview famous. Only in a very small part of the world. But there, yes. I am known. I am comfortable.” That gave me something to contemplate through the afternoon. The sky cleared a bit, and I took Laika Dog out walking. I picked up litter along the road up to Cebreiro. After the second hairpin-turn I looked over the little town of Laguna and beyond, miles and miles of green fields, forests, deep valleys and mountains with snow on top. I looked at the hamlet, at “our” house. I thought how beautifully restored it is, comfortably decorated, “tastefully appointed,” even – full of food and Canadian recipes, a working kitchen, a labyrinth in the garden underneath the snow… Yeah, it’s cold as hell sometimes, but I have a cozy bed beneath the eaves. And that view! Oh, the view! And I thought, yes. I have this place all to myself for weeks. A spectacular place. I work, but only because I want to. I took the dog home. I drove up to Cebreiro, where the Franciscans have a Mass every single day at 6 p.m. – a real luxury! I went to the hotel bar afterward, a cozy little place, to use the internet. A group of young men were there, pilgrims, Japanese and Korean. One of them played “Long Distance Call” on a harmonica – well enough the barmaid lowered to TV volume.  The room went quiet while he finished.The fire snapped and thumped. A huge flaming log dropped out of the hearth and rolled across the floor. The pilgrims shrieked and scaled the barstools, their steak and chips and flip-flops abandoned for a moment. An old man in the corner laughed out loud like a little boy, and the pilgrims, recovered, joined in.        Life is lonesome up on the mountain, and cold sometimes. But it is very good indeed.