James the Apostle: Son of Thunder

(Blogger’s Note: Taking a break from my normal format and style today to offer a few thoughts about James the Apostle. It’s appropriate here, since the Camino de Santiago’s traditional route along Camino Frances (The French Way) concludes in Compostela, Spain at a cathedral where it’s believed James’ remains are enshrined.)

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  • He is not to be confused with two other men named James who appear in the New Testament: James, the son of Alphaeus, another apostle; and James, the brother of Jesus, a leader in the Jerusalem church and author of the book of James.
  • Of the three apostles who comprised the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples (Peter, James and John), we know the least about James. We do know, however, that he was the eldest brother of John, and that their father’s name was Zebedee (their mother’s name was Salome.)
  • James possessed two natures, both of which were characterized by strong feelings. He could be particularly indignant, had a fiery temper when adequately provoked, and when the storm was over, he was inclined to justify and excuse his anger. Except for these periodic upheavals of wrath, James’s personality was much like Andrew’s. He was a superior public speaker. Next to Peter, James may have been the best public orator among the 12.
  • James, his brother John, Peter and Andrew were all partners in a fishing business prior to their calling to follow Jesus.
  • There is evidence that James was the first cousin of Jesus, and had been acquainted with Him from infancy. It is believed his mother Salome was the sister of Jesus’ mother Mary.
  • Not much is known of his ministry after Jesus’ resurrection. It is believed, however, that he lived another 14 years before his martyrdom. By order of Herod Agrippa I, James was beheaded in Jerusalem about the feast of Easter, 44 AD. It’s believed that during this 14-year period, James visited the Jewish colonist and slaves in Spain to preach the Gospel.
  • He could be quiet and thoughtful one day, and a very good talker and storyteller the next. He usually spoke freely with Jesus, but for days at a time he was the silent man. James had many spells of unaccountable silence.
  • The outstanding feature of his personality was his ability to see all sides of a proposition. Of all the 12, he perhaps, came the nearest to grasping the real import and significance of Jesus’ teaching. He, too, was slow at first to comprehend the teacher’s meaning, but once they had finished their training, he acquired a superior concept of the gospel. James was able to understand a wide range of human nature; he got along well with the versatile Andrew, the impetuous Peter, and his self-contained brother John.
  • James, John and Peter, had three experiences with Jesus witnessed by no one else. They were present for the Great Transfiguration, witnessed the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law, and were called aside to watch and pray with Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane the night before His death.
  • James was the first apostle executed.
  •  He was not above mistakes. When a Samaritan village rejected Jesus, he and John wanted to call down fire from heaven. It was his fiery temper for which he and his brother earned the nickname Boanerges or “Sons of Thunder.”
  • It has been said that when the apostle James was led out to die, a man who brought false accusations against him walked with him to the place of execution. He doubtless expected to see James looking pale and frightened, but he saw him, instead, bright and joyous, like a conqueror who had won a great battle. The false witness greatly wondered at this and became convinced that the Savior in whom the prisoner by his side believed must be the true God. The man himself, therefore, became a convert to Christianity and was condemned to die with James. Both were consequently beheaded on the same day and with the same sword.Screen Shot 2015-10-11 at 5.30.51 AM
  • One of the Camino de Santiago’s great traditions upon arriving at the cathedral in Compostela takes place at the Pillar of Many Hands where James’ image is carved into a pillar and surrounded by Christ and the other 11 apostles. For 10 centuries, pilgrims who complete the journey have placed their hand on the same spot and offer a prayer of thanks for protection and safe travel.

(Biblepath.com was a source for some information in this post.)

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To Everything There is a Season

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I’ve always been over-zealously impulsive in an obsessive-compulsive sort of way.

My checkbook over the years would testify to that. In a fit of chronic depression one day, and minus the relatively decent income I’d had pre-depression, I drove a perfectly good Chevy Tahoe to Memphis and bought a Mercedes AND a Rolex. They went well together, I convinced myself. Long-term, it didn’t do much for the depression (or the checkbook), but it sure felt good in the moment. I’ve since dumped the Mercedes for a Toyota Tacoma, and gave the Rolex to my son.

I’ve also been fortunately introspective enough over the years to get acquainted with my eccentric personality to know there are predictable seasons when I really need something to anticipate, to work toward, or to set as a milestone kind of goal. Men live in distinct seasons. We really do.

Impulsive behavior and big dreamer type thinking don’t always complement one another so well. Throw in the other part of my personality that is addictive and self-sabotaging, and oftentimes … well, it’s not pretty. It can be a freaking mess, to be quite honest. Alas, we all live along such broken roads.

In my 39th year, at 250 pounds, I decided I’d run a marathon before I was 40. In the course of 12 months, I dropped 85 pounds, completed the St. Jude Memphis Marathon and ran two more before the end of my 41st year. It was hard. It hurt a lot. It seemed almost impossible. I think that’s what I enjoyed about it so much.

There are other examples of such extreme behavior ad nauseam. Cashing out a six-figure retirement plan to launch a new business in the midst of a recession, building a house on another continent mostly via the internet … Shall I go on?

And so I knew as I approached 50, these almost unmanageable personality traits that I’ve somehow learned to embrace, would manifest again. I just didn’t know exactly when or how, but I knew they would bubble up. I waited, knowing they would slip in undetected, like the morning fog that eerily engulfs and blinds its inhabitants. The desires would come, whatever their extremity. Steve Watkins – sacrificial lamb awaiting the sharpened sword.

I’ve desperately wanted to write again. Would I actually sit down and write the book that I’ve always enjoyed talking about, but never really shown the discipline to actually write it?

Would I launch some kind of new business that is always exciting to a point, but ultimately becomes a drudgeful bore?

Culinary school? I’ve always wanted to do that.

The seed was actually planted a couple of years ago, and I knew it in an instant.

Hard as it is these days, I try not to get caught up in things that aren’t real. Television. Social media. Labels. Most organizations. So many groups.

But as we watched a movie titled The Way, about an American man who traveled to Spain and trekked the pilgrimage of the Camino de Santiago, some 550 miles across Spain, I knew I’d met my match. It was too much to resist. I remember looking at Dana. “I’m gonna do that,” I said. And we both knew it would be so. God bless her soul.

Screen Shot 2015-07-12 at 7.14.20 AMI’ve already begun training for the pilgrimage from St. Jean Pied du Port, France to Santiago de Compostela, the burial place of James the Apostle. I’ll leave in mid-October with nothing but a backpack and a pair of boots, and will return some time in early December.

I’m at my best and my worst preparing for things like this, but am never more alive when doing so. It is both divine and horrific all at once. It’s even inspired me to fire up the old blog with a new look and new feel.

As a part of processing the milestone of 50 (which is still seven months away) I thought it would be beneficial to chronicle the experience of preparing for, and experiencing, the Camino de Santiago (translated The Way of James), and perhaps even throw in a thought or two about the radically changing world we live in today.

My writing is comfortably or uncomfortably transparent, depending on your point of view. I stopped wearing a mask several years ago. I’ve learned, much the hard way over the years, that when you peel all the layers back, and when a man strips himself down to the core of his soul, nothing really matters but Truth. All else is garbage.

Truth does not evolve. It does not have multiple definitions. It is singular. Dogmatic. Insistently authoritative. The North Star’s location may not be altered.

This is the manner in which I’ll write future posts, and it feels oh, so good to write again. This is what I do. It’s who I am. Really, it is.

So. I’ll see you along The Way. Join in the conversation if you like.

(Not an unimportant addendum: None of this would be possible without the amazing love, understanding and support of my wife, Dana. She gets me, and I am ever so lucky that she does. Her love is my greatest blessing).

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A Birthday Gift to Myself: The Way of St. James

Carnival in Ecuador

On my 47th birthday earlier today, checking out the sites on the first real day of Carnival.

“I love to sail forbidden seas, and land on barbarous coasts.”  ~ Herman Melville

February 10, 2013.

My 47th birthday. Oh, the humanity.

I’ve almost always given birthday presents to myself. Over the years, sometimes I’d show others what I’d given myself. Other times, I’d keep it private.

The most special gifts I’ve given myself are challenges, or commitments that I’d make for the sake of nothing more than the personal satisfaction of facing the challenge itself.

On my 38th birthday, I challenged myself to run a marathon before I was 40. I did three. More recently I proclaimed I’d be a published author by the end of 2012. Still working on that one. But it will come to pass.

Those who know me best, know one of the things that keeps me motivated and at my best, is when a great challenge, or adventure, lies ahead. It took me 28 years to beat my best buddy in a single round of golf, but I never quit.

In 47 years I’ve learned that adventure rarely creates itself, so today, I’ve given a birthday gift to myself.

The narrow path, or The Way.

The narrow path, or The Way.

I’ve given myself permission to plan for a new adventure.

Within the next two years (sometime before my 50th birthday) I’ll go on a great pilgrimage to walk the Way of St. James, or the Santiago de Compostela, or the Camino de Santiago, whatever you wish to call it. It’s the 500 kilometer pilgrimage to the burial place of James, brother of John.

Completing the camino should take about 75 days of steady walking.

With a little help from Wikipedia, here’s some information on the camino.

The Way of St. James

The Way of St. James was one of the most important Christian pilgrimages during medieval times, along with that of Rome and Jerusalem.

Legend holds that St. James’s remains were carried by boat from Jerusalem to northern Spain where he was buried on the site of what is now the city of Santiago de Compostela.

The Way of St. JamesThe Way can take one of any number of pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela. Traditionally, as with most pilgrimages, the Way of Saint James began at one’s home and ended at the pilgrimage site. However a few of the routes are considered main ones. During the Middle Ages, the route was highly traveled. However, the plague of the Black Death and political unrest in 16th-century Europe led to its decline. By the 1980s, only a few pilgrims per year arrived in Santiago. In present day, the route attracts a growing number of modern-day pilgrims from around the globe. The Way was declared the first European Cultural Route by the Council of Europe in October 1987. It was also named one of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites.

The Way of St. James

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The pilgrimage to Santiago has never ceased from the time of the discovery of St. James’ remains, though there have been years of fewer pilgrims, particularly during European wars.

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The Christian origin of the pilgrimage has been well documented throughout the centuries.

To the End of the World

The main pilgrimage route to Santiago follows an earlier Roman trade route, which continues to the Atlantic coast of Galicia, ending at Cape Finisterre. Although it is known today that Cape Finisterre, Spain’s westernmost point, is not the westernmost point of mainland Europe, the fact that the Romans called it Finisterrae (literally the end of the world or Land’s End in Latin) indicates that they viewed it as such. 

To this day, many pilgrims continue past Santiago de Compostela to finish their journeys at Cape Finisterre.

Scallop Symbol

The Way of St. JamesThe scallop shell, often found on the shores in Galicia, has long been the symbol of the Camino de Santiago. Over the centuries the scallop shell has taken on mythical, metaphorical and practical meanings, even if its relevance may actually derive from the desire of pilgrims to take home a souvenir.

Two versions of the most common myth about the origin of the symbol The Way of St. Jamesconcern the death of St. James, who was martyred by beheading in Jerusalem in 44 AD. According to Spanish legends he had spent time preaching the gospel in Spain, but returned to Judea upon seeing a vision of the Virgin Mary on the bank of the Ebro River.

Version 1: After James’ death, his disciples shipped his body to the Iberian Peninsula to be buried in what is now Santiago. Off the coast of Spain a heavy storm hit the ship, and the body was lost to the ocean. After some time, however, the body washed ashore undamaged, covered in scallops.
Version 2: After James’ death his body was mysteriously transported by a ship with no crew back to the Iberian Peninsula to be buried in what is now Santiago. As James’ ship approached land, a wedding was taking place on the shore. The young groom was on horseback, and on seeing the ship approaching, his horse got spooked, and the horse and rider plunged into the sea. Through miraculous intervention, the horse and rider emerged from the water alive, covered in seashells.

The scallop shell also acts as a metaphor. The grooves in the shell, which come together at a single point, represent the various routes pilgrims traveled, eventually arriving at a single destination: the tomb of James in Santiago de Compostela. The shell is also a metaphor for the pilgrim. As the waves of the ocean wash scallop shells up on the shores of Galicia, God’s hand also guides the pilgrims to Santiago.

Why do I want to walk The Way? Because it’s there, and life’s too short not to. And I have no idea what the experience will bring, but I know something’s waiting.

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