A Beauty Filled Life

A Beauty Filled Life

As I walked the Camino, I found within myself a longing for beauty.  Mile after mile passed beneath my feet and I made commitments to myself about how I would like to live my post-Camino life.

Read poetry every day.
Look at new artwork.
Listen to classical music.

All of those commitments and ideas didn’t translate as neatly into my reality as I had hoped.  In the rush of the daily grind, it is difficult to intentionally set aside time to experience beauty.  Most days, my taste of beauty happens when I remind myself to take in the fall foliage before winter sets in.  But an intentional pursuit of beauty?  Generally, that is non-existent.

Last night, I flipped through a book of poems entitled Poems You Ought to Know.  My English degree (with a concentration in British and American Literature) meant that I recognized most of the names in the table of contents.  Some of the poem names even sounded familiar, but few were ones I could stop and say, “Oh, I love this one!”

Edgar Allan Poe’s “Annabel Lee” was there and I recalled that in college I taught a lesson on this to a classroom of high schoolers during an education class.  It is a beautiful poem, I think, even with the natural morbidity found in Poe’s works.  The poetic devices that I had reviewed with the class came to mind dimly.

It makes me wonder why I don’t read poetry like my heart desires.  Why do I not sit down and read a Shakespearean sonnet in the evening?  Why don’t I learn about the famous classical composers?  Why don’t I use the gift of the internet to virtually explore art museums and learn about the different periods in art history?  I desire it.  Why don’t I do it?

Because it is easier to not.   Continue reading “A Beauty Filled Life”

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When the Exciting Journey Becomes Tiring, Carry On

When the Exciting Journey Becomes Tiring, Carry On

Over three years ago, I filled a hiking backpack, flew to Europe, and walked El Camino de Santiago.  The first day on the Camino, though difficult, was exhilarating.  We walked from the beautiful little town of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in France, over the Pyrenees, and into Roncesvalles in Spain.  The newness of the adventure combined with spectacular views made me excited nearly every step of the way.

The next morning, we were tired and sore, but eager to continue this 500-mile trek.  So we set out again, walking for hours, taking in gorgeous scenery, and dining at little cafes or from our packed lunches.

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Then we did that again.  And again.

Sleep, rise, walk, eat, walk, Mass, eat, sleep.  Repeat.

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The tiredness soon was eclipsed by pain.  My feet ached in a way they never had before.  Blisters developed in tender places.  The beginning of the day meant pressing my feet into my shoes and then starting the delicate process of walking.  After a while, the pain dulled and seemed to fade into my subconscious.  However, if we ever paused, my feet gave a fiery reminder to sit down or keep walking.

Yet even these blisters didn’t completely dampen my spirits.  I knew they could happen and it was, in a way, part of the Camino adventure.  Each day, I offered up my pain for different intentions and this made the journey a pilgrimage instead of a hiking trip.

One day, I no longer wanted to walk.  

The intense desires to sleep in, be in the same place for more than 15 hours, or watch a movie were things I hadn’t anticipated when I started walking.  There was a definite shift from “This is fun!” to “This is a pilgrimage.”  Internally resistant to another day of plodding along, I realized that this adventure would require work and an embracing of the daily struggle.

And then I realized, this is a lot like life. Continue reading “When the Exciting Journey Becomes Tiring, Carry On”

Home: From Rabanal del Camino to South Dakota

Home: From Rabanal del Camino to South Dakota

Walking into my hometown parish church for Memorial Day Mass, my family settled into a pew and prayed for a few minutes before Mass started.  It wasn’t particularly early, but the quiet and stillness made it feel earlier.  The priest was praying from his breviary and other parishioners were in silent preparation for the greatest memorial feast.

I was a bit surprised to find a Camino memory surface after a few seconds in the church.  The beauty of a still morning and entering a place I regard as a home, took me back to Rabanal del Camino, arguably my favorite spot along the Way.  Enticed by a sign outside the church saying there was a Benedictine Pilgrim Guest House, we stayed in Rabanal for a couple of days.  While brief, this was far longer than any other town we saw in Spain.

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After our first night at the guest house, we walked the short distance to the church for morning prayer.  The parish church was still and cool.  Choir stalls occupied the front of the church and those of us who stayed at the guest house quietly settled into them for our community prayer.  Simply having slept in the same town for two nights made me feel like a resident.  I watched pilgrims continue their walk and was filled with a strange joy that I was able to leave my backpack next to my bed.

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Early afternoon, we gathered for lunch in the monastery, prepared and served by the lovely Benedictine priest.  Even with a meal shared in silence, it was a tangible sensation of the familial in a country where I often felt as though I simply passed through.  In the evening, we gathered for Mass and then later for evening prayer.  Mass wasn’t an unusual occurrence along the Camino, but participating in Mass in the same church with a priest who recognized me was a novelty.

It wasn’t until we stopped walking that I was able to notice how much my heart longed for the familiar.  While I enjoy adventures, I also really love home.  Being a wandering stranger for weeks at a time was difficult for my homely heart.  When we spent a couple of days in one place, I was able to experience the joy of resting and the gift of the familiar.

One evening, after we had supper at the guest house, everyone staying there took a stroll through the streets of Rabanal.  Though I knew those outside my party for only two days, it seemed we were a little family, following after the Benedictine priest who had an endearing sense of humor and depth.  A French lady happened to see our group and simply joined us as we walked leisurely to the outskirts of town.  I didn’t blame her; it is something I would have wanted to do had I not already been in the group. Continue reading “Home: From Rabanal del Camino to South Dakota”

When Simplicity Must Be Chosen

When Simplicity Must Be Chosen

Nearly three years ago, I strapped on a hiking backpack and walked five hundred miles.  As I walked El Camino de Santiago, people crossed my path who were completing the pilgrimage for the second or third time.  While beautiful, I wondered why people would complete this trek multiple times.  Once will be enough for me, I thought.

Yet now and again, I find myself longing to be on some dusty trail in the midst of the Spanish countryside.  It isn’t because of my love for travel, although I suppose that does play a role.  My desire to be on the Camino for a second time stems largely from my desire for simplicity.

On the Camino, it is easy to be simple.  In fact, it is almost a requirement that one be simple.  On your back, you carry all of your clothes, sleeping bag, toiletries, etc.  Everything you think you will need along the Way, you must plod every blessed mile with it fastened to your back.

Sometimes it annoyed me to live so simply.  I wanted a different outfit to wear.  I was surprised at how much I found myself longing for a real towel and not the travel towel I would use each day.  At times I wished to simply remain in the same place for more than an evening.  There were several things that made me not like living simply.

Yet, in a very authentic way, I realized my heart was made for simplicity.  When my closet of clothes overflows and the laundry basket is full, when my bookshelves no longer have room for the books I insist on buying, or when I find myself shopping online for things I realize I do not need, I remember that my heart is a simple heart.  Yet I wish simplicity was forced upon me instead of needing to be chosen.

My possessions have a weight and I want to be free.

Sitting in a cluttered room, I find myself slightly jealous of my older sisters and their vows of poverty.  To be free to be poor.  I know I romanticize poverty, but there is a longing in my heart for less.  And in that less, I know I will find more.

But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful.  Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.”

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For over thirty days, I walked the Camino and if I did it again, I would pack less.  There is a simple beauty in choosing between two outfits.  There is a simplicity found in needing to walk a few miles each day.  I’ve never been so aware of my feet before.  And rarely have I felt like I’ve spent the entire day just being and walking in the Lord’s company.  Those lovely, simple things make the Camino something I wish I could be doing right now. Continue reading “When Simplicity Must Be Chosen”

Our Lady of Lourdes

Our Lady of Lourdes

“What color was the towel?”
“How big was the towel?”
“How was it wrapped around you?”
“What color were the walls?”
“Was the bath made of marble?”
“Were the walls taupe?”
“How large was the bath?”

I knew what they were doing.  

Sometimes students love to get their teachers off track and launch into tangents.  It works even better if the teacher enjoys talking about particular topics.  I recall a specific teacher in middle school who would tell the same stories over and over again.  And we loved to let him because it meant that we wouldn’t move on with other work.  As a teacher, I now understand a little more how one could repeat the same story to the same class and not remember.  If I, a “veteran” teacher of five years, struggle to remember if I told this story this year or to this class period, then a teacher of 30-40 years should definitely have a greater struggle.

We were talking about private revelation.  It is difficult for me to remember how much I knew at their age, but I was surprised at what they did not know.  I mentioned Lourdes, Fatima, scapulars, and Miraculous medals, receiving blank stares for many of them.  So I started to talk a bit more in-depth about Lourdes.  Once they found out that I had actually been there and been in the baths (“Can just anyone go?”), they had many questions.  Some were deeper (“Did you go to receive healing of body, mind, or spirit?”) and others were more surface level (“Do they reuse towels?”).  And when genuine interest (even if merely for the sake of not doing more classwork) is shown in the area of faith, I find it hard to not answer questions. Continue reading “Our Lady of Lourdes”

Communal

Communal

Every Thursday morning I spend about 45-50 minutes with a handful of high school girls.  And it impacts my heart.  This isn’t because profound things are said (although sometimes they are) or because I’m such a great discussion facilitator (that is a skill I do not have), but simply because we are in community.

Our human need for community is evident.  I am an introvert and I find myself baffled at times that I need other people.  Often, I want to be away from people or at home with a few select individuals.  Crowds and chaos aren’t my thing.  Yet my soul needs community.

I discover it when I am with my housemates.  When I first moved in, we bonded over “Parks and Rec” episodes.  I had never seen the show but their conversations were peppered with jokes lifted from the comedy.  So I started to watch the show and loved it.  Yet I don’t think I would have enjoyed it quite so much if I was just sitting in the basement binge-watching the series by myself.  Instead, it was a couple episodes watched over supper with one of the housemates or a weekend evening relaxing together.  Eventually, we would stop the show and naturally enter into conversation.  Recently, we had that experience again.  This time it was with “Stranger Things” (a bit different from “Parks and Rec”) and I loved how we would analyze, discuss, and predict where the show might lead or what different aspects  meant. Continue reading “Communal”

Monday Thoughts

Monday Thoughts

Thoughts for this day:

The God who created this vast universe with numerous solar systems and millions of planets and stars, also created the intricate design found within each cell in our body.

Sometimes a pan of sliced almonds set on broil (and forgotten about for eight or so minutes) will start a fire.  And it will cause you to call your dad into the room who will blow out the fire and dump out the ruined almonds.  It will also be a good dose of humility and remind your mom that things don’t matter–because you ruined her lovely new baking sheet. Continue reading “Monday Thoughts”

David

David was an American.  The first American that we encountered as a hospitalero in the Spanish albergues.  My impression of him, initially, was terrible.  That wasn’t because I was quickly judging him or disliked him in appearances.  It was because he came off like a jerk.

We showed up, with our minimal Spanish and tired legs, and inquired about beds for the three of us.  “Tres?”  The single word was a question indicating more than we wanted to attempt in Spanish.  The man with a full head of silvery hair was unimpressed.

“Yes.  I see three people.”  We were taken aback and weren’t sure how to proceed.  If I had an ounce more of stubbornness and more energy in my body, I might have left the albergue and walked to a different one or a different town.  Instead, we awkwardly stood there, feeling bad for our spokesman and wondering if he was the only one in charge.

He briskly asked for our passport and credentials.  Annoyed, I tried to kill him with kindness.  I openly smiled at him when he handed my documents back to me.  He didn’t seem quite certain how to take it.  I would have thought he would be excited or interested to meet some people from his country, but he was clearly not.

The other hospitalero came down the steps and she greeted us in Spanish.  David’s unenthusiastic voice chimed in, “They speak English.”

“You do?!  Wonderful!  I can talk to you!  My name is Patricia.”  The shift in emotions was quick.  David was brooding and annoyed while Patricia was bubbly and patient.  We watched them interact, assuming at first that they were a married couple.  She wanted to know what the men had discovered about the water situation.  Three times David gave a rude or unkind answer, but she persisted.

“No, really, David.  Tell me what they said, so I can tell those who are asking.”

Finally, he gave a genuine response that satisfied her.  My impression at this point was rather favorable to Patricia and dismissive of David.  I wasn’t here to get walked on or be the point of his melancholic sarcasm.  She convinced him to show us to our beds, a task he wasn’t pleased with but completed with minimal grumbling.

And so it was, the first American volunteer and already I was wishing one of us was from a different country.  No wonder people dislike Americans if they all act like that, I thought.

My next main encounter with David was at our communal meal.  Between Patricia and David, the plan for the evening was presented: supper followed by singing and then watching the sun set.  David kept walking in and out of the room while we settled into our seats.  I thought I had him pegged–they were a married couple and she wanted to volunteer and he came along because of her.  Not because he wanted to, but simply for his wife.

Yet within the first few minutes that theory was flipped on its head.  They weren’t married but had met the previous year when they finished the Camino in Finisterre.  Both wanted to volunteer and decided to complete the undertaking together.  He was from the States and she was from England.  This information was nothing to what happened next.

Cool, detached, collected, sarcastic David began to speak.  He revealed that this was their last night of the two weeks of volunteering.  The next day they would be leaving for a holiday.  David got choked up numerous times during his speech, his voice cracking and squeaking as he struggled for control.  It was completely and utterly unexpected.

The meal of lentil soup with meatballs was served.  David would take our bowls, with a large smile, and refill them before passing them back down the line to us.  I was baffled.  This hardly seemed to be the same man.  Here he was trying to be polite and kind, a contrast to the seemingly self-absorbed American I had encountered hours earlier.

David was one of the greatest surprises of the Camino.  I’m not sure I ever again saw such a transformation.  The first David was, unbeknownst to me, struggling with the idea of leaving the tiring but beautiful work of being a hospitalero.  He was also under stress due to water problems and trying to communicate in his rather terrible Spanish.  I didn’t know that but immediately felt not welcomed.  Patricia was more patient and knew more of his heart.  When he obnoxiously refused to seriously answer her questions, she patiently waited for him to be sincere.  That evening, David told all of us that Patrica was his best friend.

They sang silly songs, making fools of themselves for our entertainment.  Then we took a group picture outside and watched the sun set.  The colors were lovely but weren’t quite as grand as South Dakota.  In the morning, we set off, waving goodbye to companions from the previous night.  David surprised me.  At the center of our hearts is a desire to be known and loved.  We may build up walls all around us and shield ourselves with steely hearts, but there is always a chink in the armor.  Because there always remains the desire to be known by others.

Even supposed jerks like David can turn out to have hearts of flesh after all.

“I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts.”  Ezekiel 36:26

A Reflection of Authenticity

A Reflection of Authenticity
A Reflection written in France
 

Among the swarms of people, residents and visitors, that bustle through Paris, I am merely a face.  Living in a city causes people to think and act in different ways.  Just being with the people, riding in the Metro with them, traversing their streets, I began to feel how closed off they are to the world.  Everyone is wearing a mask–to protect themselves, to not let others see their true selves.

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At one point, I was deeply frustrated with it.  I feel like the quest of the last few months has been to learn authenticity.  Who am I really?  Who is God really?  How is our relationship doing?  It has been all about not staying on the surface but delving deeper.  “Become who you are!”  I was in Paris meeting peoples’ eyes and smiling, but then I remembered city people don’t do that and it could send a message I don’t want.
Riding on the Metro I knew I stood out with my large hiking backpack, but I felt like I fit in more when I acted bored, had a blank look on my face, and appeared to care little about the stops.  We encountered young ladies near the Eiffel Tower who wanted signatures to help the deaf and the mute.  I’m not entirely sure how their attempt to target only English-speakers would actually help the deaf and the mute of France, but that was their mission.  The beggars at the churches–are they actually poor or is it all a ruse?
It bothered me to be living in a world of masks when I was striving for authenticity.  I hate trying to evaluate people’s motives when my innate desire is to trust.  I want to believe in people.  At one point I looked at the crowd and thought of how each person is a well, their depths cannot be plumbed.  Yet if we cut off the deeper parts of ourselves, if we live as masks instead of just hiding behind them, if we live so long in the superficial and shallow, we will begin to lose our ability to go deep, we will lose our belief that we even have depth.  We will become the masks we wear.
Perhaps this is why the faith appears to be dying.  People are tired of masks of holiness.  They, whether they know it or not, crave authenticity.  And the pagan world presents at least one thing authentically–I want to live without rules or morals but simply in the pursuit of pleasure.

How does one live authenticity in a world of masks?  I don’t know exactly but I have some ideas.  Don’t feign indifference when you actually care.  Care less about appearance and more about actuality.  Live deeply.  Penetrate the inner depths you have and seek to know others at a deeper level, too.  Refuse to be content with living in the shallow end, but rather put out into the deep!

The Post before "The Camino Memoirs"

I have returned from walking the Camino de Santiago.  And I plan to write lots about it.  But not quite yet.  However, in anticipation of those writings, the next few weeks will more than likely be filled with what I will now dub “The Camino Memoirs.”  You will not fully understand my Camino because so much of what the Lord did was just for me, just for my heart.  Nevertheless, I will try to give you a glimpse into the beauty, the toil, the graces of walking across Spain for a month.

Until then–I realized that the Camino is life.  Each day is another day laboring in the vineyard, filled with beauty and sacrifice.  And each day takes us one day closer to Heaven.