Pilgrims' Potpourri

Reflections on our journey with God

The Way of a Pilgrim- to pray without ceasing October 14, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — karedsol @ 1:17 am

The Way of a Pilgrim is the title of a small book written in the nineteenth century that describes a pilgrim’s walk across Russia searching for a way to practice St. Paul’s advice that Christians should “pray without ceasing.”(1 Thessalonians 5:17). My wife, Karen, and I recently completed the Camino Santiago de Compostela, a Christian pilgrim route that has been walked by countless people for over 1,000 years. The Camino, in English, the way of St. James, is a pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain, where, according to legend, the remains of the Apostle James are buried. Our route, the Camino France, took us on a 495 mile journey from St. John Pied-de -Port in southern France to the Cathedral. Like the Russian’s pilgrimage, the exterior journey was a portal for a more profound interior journey, a journey of the heart and spirit.
In its document on the Church, Lumen Gentium, the second Vatican Council reminds us that “on earth” we follow the Lord “as pilgrims in a strange land.” On the path to Santiago, the meaning of that phrase came to life in a way it never had before. We left a somewhat routine life at home where we are known by the roles we play, the jobs we perform, and the relationships we have formed. On the Camino, with our belongings in our backpacks, we were known only as peregrinos, pilgrims on the way to Santiago. We were in a strange land, walking side by side with peregrinos from all over Europe, speaking different languages, but united in the daily hardships and joys of an arduous walk and a common destiny.
The daily walk of 12 to18 miles began in early morning’s darkness and ended with a mid-afternoon arrival at an albergue. An albergue is a hostel that offers pilgrims very basic overnight accommodations, usually in dormitory style. One of the highlights of each day was gathering at a café with other pilgrims to share a meal, Spanish wine, and commiserate about our various aches and pains! These meals were like United Nations meetings, yet despite the language barriers, we made lasting friendships. We became particularly close to a young Italian who had cystic fibrosis. He had a very severe cough and difficulty breathing but was determined to finish the Camino. When asked why he was on this pilgrimage, he remarked that he needed to do this to find himself. Catholic by tradition, something deep inside called him to walk this ancient path. So many other young people expressed similar sentiments. It is remarkable that in a world that seems to have lost its spiritual center, thousands of pilgrims seek that center walking alone on a remote path in Spain. Whenever we saw this young man, his frail frame weighed down by a heavy pack, we drew strength from his energetic and persevering spirit, and prayed he would find himself and, in finding his true self, discover God once again.
Our simple work each day was to follow the scallop shell markers and yellow arrows that mark the path. Day by day, as our feet connected with the earth, we became more grounded and in communion with the soil, the living creatures around us and with God. Although our bodies were tired, our spirits were refreshed on the sacred ground which bore the footprints of so many pilgrims before us. If time permitted and a computer was available, we blogged about the myriad of ways God blessed each day. Step after step the soles of our boots wore thin but our inner beings grew in humble awareness of God’s amazing grace.
It is impossible to fully describe the profound impact this pilgrimage continues to have on our lives. The images, experiences and people we met on the Camino permeate our consciousness. Recently, while climbing an Adirondack mountain, I relived our first day’s strenuous climb from a picturesque country village in France over the rugged Pyrenees and into the Basque region of Spain. A powerful wind forced us to hold on to each other for safety. Watching the mountain sheep steadfastly grazing on the summit in this wind, we considered crawling, like our sister goats, through the mountain pass to avoid being tossed about. At the summit, the valley below us was mysteriously blanketed in an enormous white cloud. It was a mystical moment on the mountaintop; we had left the planet and entered the heavenly realm.
About 150 miles from Santiago the path makes a steep ascent to the highest point on the Camino, Cruz de Ferro. A simple iron cross stands atop a weathered pole surrounded by thousands of rocks deposited there by pilgrims. We climbed the rock pile and placed the small rocks we had carried from home on the pile. The rocks represented all the people we held in prayer on the Camino. Those rocks held their suffering, dashed dreams, death, the brokenness we all feel and the brokenness of our world. We were once again on Calvary with the Lord who was broken on the cross for us.
In one of the hundreds of churches that dot the Camino route, a large poster with a smiling face of Jesus welcomes pilgrims with these words: “Yo Soy El Camino,” translated “I am the Camino.” When we finally reached Santiago, we began to understand the meaning of those words. The joy we experienced entering the Cathedral with hundreds of pilgrims to celebrate mass was overwhelming. At the end of the liturgy, an enormous incense burner, the botafumeiro, was hoisted high above the dirty and tired pilgrims by six attendants who began to swing the burner higher and higher until it seemed as if it would touch the ceiling. The incense filled the sacred space; its fragrance was a balm for our weary bodies. We were finally home, but the Camino did not end at the cathedral.
The Camino is the pathway to Santiago. The real Camino is the journey we make each day. Each human person is on a Camino. We are all on the Way. Jesus is our Way. When our eyes are open to see the Lord in the intimate details of our daily lives, revealing God’s goodness in the tiniest flower, the canopy of stars and each face on the street, we will have learned what the Russian pilgrim set out to learn- To pray without ceasing! Buen Camino, Blessed Journey!


The Lighthouse at the end of the World June 6, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — karedsol @ 11:12 am

Finisterrae´s lighthouse is positioned at the western most end of the island and sits on a lone rocky point. Weather in this part of the world is often a thick, foggy mist which covers the moutains and valleys. There are times when one can barely see the houses that dot the country side and the little villages. We have spent some time sitting on the rocks at the end of the world. Surrounded by water, some gulls and rocks, when the fog comes in, this place is almost surreal. This kind of weather and lonesome spot on some rocks surrounded by the vast Atlantic ocean makes one realize just how small we are and brings us to the center of our existential condition. We are very tiny beings trying to find ourselves and are often in a kind of fog. Things are hidden; meaning is obscured; identifying landmarks is a difficult task at best. The lighthouse perched high on a rock is the one dependable marker in the landscape. Its light guides the mariners who work the seas, providing a point of reference and a safehaven in the dark mist. For Christians, Jesus is the Lighthouse; the one on whom we depend to find our way in this world; the one whose light never dims but shines on the path that leads from the end of the world to the beginning of new life. What a great blessing it is to know the Eternal Light and to trust that while on our Caminos, when the way becomes obscure, the fog sets in and we cannot see our hands before us, the Eternal Light leads us safely home. A favorite prayer by John Henry Neuman captures the essence of this reflection.  We share it with you for your own contemplation.

Lead, Kindly Light

Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home—
Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene—one step enough for me.

I was not ever thus, nor prayed that Thou
Shouldst lead me on.
I loved to choose and see my path; but now,
Lead Thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will: remember not past years.

So long Thy power hath blessed me, sure it still
Will lead me on,
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone;
And with the morn those angel faces smile
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile.

May the Lord´s light shine on your paths wherever they take you.


We have come this far by faith… June 4, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — karedsol @ 7:39 pm

Leaning on the Lord. Oh oh oh can’t turn around we’ve come this far be faith. This song refrain was one we sang throughout the second half of our journey. Our journey has been one of faith. Throughout the Camino, we had doubts about the direction to turn, our ability to withstand the rigors of the daily walk, where we would find lodging and if the weather would be favorable.

We arrived safely in Finisterrae yesterday after a 3 hour bus ride from Santiago. Many pilgrims travel here after the Camino to rest, process the Camino journey, and listen to the pounding of the ocean. The Romans believed this was the end of the earth, terra firma. This is an apprppriate place for us to come at the end of this portion of our pilgrimage. We are returning home to move to a new city and a new diaconal assignment. Leaving the familiar home we have lived in for 18 years to embrace the new. We overlook the ocean here and can see for miles the mountainous coastline. The views are spectacular. We look forward to the views from our new place , new undertakings, new endeavors. We pray you too get some beautiful views from your places.

We invite you to view the pictures we post when we return home. They may help to illuminate the reflections we have posted and even invite you to experience the Camino Santiago de Compostela!
As always many blessings and love to you, Karen and Ed


Santiago de Compostela: The End and the Beginning June 2, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — karedsol @ 12:35 pm

We have arrived in Santiago, praise God from who all blessings flow! Yesterday, June 1 was such a gorgeous day with bright sunshine, blue skies and a gentle breeze. We made the decision to try to walk all the way from Arzua to Santiago without an overnight stop. We were so excited to be so close to the Pilgrim City that we walked 24 miles, starting at 6 am and arriving here 11 hours later at 5 pm. We were tired, our feet were sore but our Spirits soared as we saw the city from Monte Del Gozo. This mountain, the mountain of joy, is about 5 kilometers from Santiago and offers a panoramic view of the sprawling city. The climb to the top of the mountain  filled us with great joy to see that the end of our 570 mile journey was now within sight. We found lodging and went to the Cathedral to venerate the tomb of the Apostle James and asborb the blessings that seemed to be present everywhere in the stone, in the sanctuary, in the massive cathedral, in the Blessed Sacrament and in the countless pilgrims arriving. We cannot fully express what it means to us to be here. It will take some time to process the Camino and to open up the treasures we have been given on this journey. We then went to the Pilgrim´s office to show our pilgrim´s passports. These are the documents that contain the stamps from all the places we walked  on the Camino. They provide validation that we have indeed walked the required mileage to receive the Compostela. The Compostela is a certificate written in Latin that all pilgrim´s receive when they complete the Camino. But the Compostela is not the reason we walked the way of St. James, nor is it a reward for the accomplishment. Rather, the Compostela forever marks us as pilgrims, followers, seekers on the path.  We have walked in the footsteps of the many pilgrims who have followed Christ by following the way of the Apostle James.  Inside the Cathedral, we went up the steps behind the main altar to say a prayer before the beautiful statue of St. James that stands above the main altar.  As I(ed) put my hand on the shoulder of this statue, I prayed that I may never forget that I am a pilgrim in this life; that I may never stand still in one place and get too comfortable; that I may always be open to the movement of God’s holy spirit wherever that Spirit may take me.  It was a frigthening prayer, but a freeing one.  I think the Apostle may have whispered in my heart: Do not be afraid, for the Lord is always with you.  God has been with us on this journey and will be as the journey continues.  Today is Ascension Thursday, a major holyday in Christendom and in Spain it is a fiesta day.  We went to the noon Pilgrims’ mass in a packed Cathedral.  What  a perfect end and beginning for us as perregrinos.   The Lord´s message to his followers as he ascended is to Go and preach the good news to all.  With God´s strength we will each follow that command in our own way.  Buen Camino, friends and Blessings in abundance.


Yellow arrows, our guide! May 31, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — karedsol @ 2:52 pm

Today I was thinking about going home. I realized when we arrive there will be no yellow arrows to follow the way any longer. This will be very different since we have come to rely on these arrows, our Brierley book, Camino de Santiago and its fine descriptions of the paths we will follow and the terrrain, elevations and sites t look at along the way. We also depend on God’s grace and our fellow pilgrim´s who go before us. In this way the Camino is easy to follow. The way is well marked except when it alludes us in the dark morning, in distracting large cities and remote areas that do not have many guides.
When we return the guides will change and we will need to pay attention to the rest of the way for our lives. I appreciate the ease of the yellow arrows and shells. It will be challenging to return and still see the way.
We are nearing Santiago now with only two days of walking left. Our legs are tired, our feet ache and the itching of the bites is relentless but we rejoice that we are here with full bellies, a place to rest our heads each night, sunshine again and renewed spirits. The ultimate challenge for me as a one on the enneagram is to verlk theses imperfections and embrace what God has set before, a continual feast for the eyes, ears, mouth and whole being!!
May each of you be richly blessed with the guides that help you along the way for your lives. We are now in Arzua, about 25 miles from Santiago. With God´s grace we will enter the city on Thursday. Muchas gracias to all of you!


Camino Real and the Real Camino May 30, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — karedsol @ 4:07 pm

Today´s camino brought us through many very tiny villages, farm country and beautiful woodlands. We saw few pilgrims today and wondered what happened to the crowds that had  gathered at Portomarin. We encountered our first rain today as we neared our destination Palas De Rei, a mere 43 miles from Santiago. It is very difficult to describe the sights, sounds and smells on the Camino. It is unlike any walking tour we have been on. The Camino winds through real places and allows the pilgrim the unique opportunity to enter the lives of the real people who inhabit northern Spain. For the most part, these people are rural dwellers who make their living raising livestock and growing vegetables. Potatoes and corn are major crops. As we walked we saw many small farmers milking their cows, tending their gardens and working in their fields. The path was strewn with the manure of the many farm animals who also traverse the Camino getting from one field to another. The smells of animals mix with the smells of wood burning, food cooking and the fragrance of roses, which are planted so abundantly here.  The natives in this area are people of modest means, yet they celebrate life with gusto in the way they tend the earth, plant so many beautiful flowers and enjoy fiestas!  In our travels we have passed many roads in Florida, California and the Southwest that are labeled the Camino Real.  They are usually very majestic roads decorated with flowers, well-maintained and popular with tourists.  There are two very different meanings to Real in Spanish. One refers to the Camino for Royals. These are the Caminos that often attract tourists.  However the other meaning of Real is just like the English, the real Camino, the camino where real people live their lives; The Camino real is not a showcase but a humble path through the lives of ordinary people, like us.  It is a great gift to travel the Camino de Compostela for it is the real Camino.  Jesus spent most of his life on the real Camino, encountering the small people, the people who had no power or prestige in their world.  He brought the good news to these people.  He told them that God did not come to earth to travel the Camino Royal, although God is the King of Kings.  Jesus told the people that God wants to travel the real Camino along side of us, just where we are.   It is interesting to note that the only time Jesus traveled the Camino Royal was when he entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.  It was on that Camino Royal that he was tried,crucified and died for us.  How blessed we are to travel the Camino real, the road to Santiago.  How blessed we are to travel a road that hundreds of thousands of searching pilgrims have traveled before us.  Each day we encounter the Lord on this Camino just as he encountered the people of his time two thousand years ago.  Buen Camino to each of you as you travel your Camio Real with the Lord as your companion.


Small is Beautiful May 29, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — karedsol @ 3:31 pm

Today, there were many more pilgrims on the Camino than in the past days. Our Guidebook prepared us for the influx of new pilgrims joining the walk at Sarria. It is a perfect spot for those who have limited time to walk to Santiago since it is just over 100 miles away. The additional traffic on the Camino was difficult to adjust to. I(ed) found myself out of sorts, distracted and unable to appreciate the moment by moment experience of the Camino. In addition our feet were feeling the strain of the walk and even our boots showed signs of deterioration at the heels!  Everything wears out some time.   Our attitude changed abruptly when we crossed a swampy area. We heard a chorus of sounds emerging from the swamp but could not detect what was emitting the sounds. After close observation, we found a large green frog and realized that we were being treated to a large chorus of frogs singing God´s praises. We had never heard frogs sound this way. It was quite beautiful. A short while later, we came across a very tiny mouse who had run out of her little hole in the ground and was forgaging for food. We watched the little creature with delight for several minutes and even got to take some pictures of this cute little mammal.  The mouse brought a smile our faces and restored our centeredness. It made us realize that God is not always in the big things, the beautiful sunset or the mountaintop experience, but God is often found in the small and insignificant places, if we only take the time to seek God´s presence.  For a moment, we seemed to have lost touch with God, but the frog chorus( as beautiful as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir could sing) and the mouse show brought us right back to earth.  We were reminded of a valuable lesson today in the midst of the high traffic on the Camino.  We need to Stop, Look and Listen to find God´s presence in our hectic lives.   We will spend tonight in Portomarin,  88 miles from Santiago.  Be assured of our prayers along the way and please remember us and all the peregrinos in your prayers.

Blessings of peace, friends.