Spain Week 1: Getting Here and Getting Going

I’d love to have been closer for this photo, but the moment was just too personal and I didn’t want to infringe. Some things are more important that getting the story perfectly. But you can see why it was so powerful. This is the essence of pilgrimage. People sharing experiences together.

Maneuvering their way methodically through the crowd of Sunday morning tourists the three young women emerged from the descending tunnel just as every bell in the city launched a frenzied peal proclaiming high noon. Commanding all attention, the bells overwhelmed every other noise in the plaza, including the bagpipes that always seem oddly out of place, yet inevitably evoke emotions consistent with something so powerful and deep as the conclusion of this journey.

Walking sticks in hand, clickety-clacking along the ancient cobblestones, the trio made the last of more than a million purposeful steps across the better part of forty days. Six hours prior and ten miles eastward they’d set out early but there was no beating the heat this day. Noontime temperatures already pushed three digits and heavy streams of sweat ran down their dusty legs as gravity pulled tiny rivers of mud into their long-ago sweat-filled, worn-out shoes. The threesome remained close making their way respectfully through the bustling crowd and came to a point that obviously seemed suitable. In unison, they turned their bodies and eyes eastward and upward now bringing into full view the place they’d walked toward a month. Newly restored and refurbished, the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela is breathtaking against the deep blue August sky. For the moment, each was lost in her own private thoughts.

All cleaned up after many years of restoration the cathedral is restored to her former glory.

Just as they were soaking it all in, one of the peregrinas made an independent step forward raising her hands wide toward the heavens as if to receive this long-anticipated moment into her spirit. In a crowd of hundreds, she is alone in a private state of thanks — immersed in gratitude. Following suit, her compañeras step alongside as they clasp hands skyward celebrating as family.

Together, they have walked across a country on a footpath known to seekers for more than a millennia. Maybe it was nothing more than a long walk. But it’s just as possible they may never be the same. Only time will tell.

Nevertheless, together, they have arrived.

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After four days traveling Dana and I had already spent two recovery days on the ground shaking an unusually difficult bout of jet lag. We decided to fight the fog of flying forward in time and pretty much losing an entire night by taking a bus to the cathedral plaza — the familiar place that defines Santiago de Compostela. It was there where we witnessed the scene described above. I was already caught unwittingly off guard by the emotions returning to the site where the Way of St. James concludes. This place, and what it means, has become an unexpectedly important part of my life over the last three years. There was two years of book writing most recently followed by nearly fifty presentations from Potomac, MD to San Francisco. It seems I’ve lived “The Way” for a long time now.

God works in mysterious ways. This pilgrimage experience continues bringing personal and important revelations about the things I consider most important. And it has blessed me with an incredible network of family and deep and meaningful friendships across the world. It’s a big deal for a kid who grew up in a cotton patch in the middle of rural Arkansas.

So I know exactly how these women felt as they concluded their long pilgrimage. What they may or may not know is the truth found in that cliché notion that their real pilgrimage begins at the end. I hate that cliché. But I now know that it’s real and that it has the potential to shape us in wonderful ways.

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Here’s a recap of our experience so far:

GETTING HERE

Saving more than a thousand dollars on air fare, Dana and I bypassed our home airport at Memphis International and made the six-hour drive to Dallas-Fort Worth for our departure point. The total ten hours from Dallas to Atlanta, then Atlanta to Madrid was about as flawless as international travel comes.  Still, we were three hundred miles from Santiago de Compostela, our home base for the next three months.

I’d not pre-booked any travel beyond Madrid in the event of delayed connections or airport problems. Too many reservations can quickly become a falling house of cards with the slightest glitch in this type of travel. The other side of it is that you never know the scenarios that await.

After catching the airport commuter train to Chamartin Station, the man at the ticket counter explained that every train to Santiago for the next four days was fully booked. August is vacation season in Spain and everyone is squeezing in their last bit of free time before school starts. The bus lines were also fully booked. I’ve learned these moments are not resolved with panic.

Our goodbye selfie with the Walters. Somehow, Kathryn didn’t make it into this photo.

After a few back-and-forth texts with our hosts, Nate and Faith Walters, we discovered a ride share program in Spain that works much like Airbnb. They call it Bla-Bla Car! After a few hours weighing all the options (which amounted to one) we booked three seats (one for each of us and one for our luggage) with Humberto who was headed from Madrid to Santiago the following day at noon. By 7 p.m. that night, we’d arrived at Nate and Faith’s, exhausted, but at home base for the next eighty-nine days. As noted earlier, we remained in a travel fog for the next thirty-six hours.

OUR HOME

The final puzzle piece that made this trip possible was the opportunity to house sit for Nate and Faith as they are on an extended trip back to the US. So our responsibilities include both caring for their house and serving at the faith-based, non-profit they founded, Terra Nova Pilgrim House, just a few blocks off the cathedral square.

It’s a nice, four-level home with all the modern conveniences, an outdoor patio, a great kitchen where I’m already re-learning how to cook, and a nice backyard garden.

Together, we experienced a four-day transition as Nate, Faith and their four children departed for Washington just yesterday. They were all so gracious. It’s not easy having guests in your home as you’re preparing that many people for a six-month trip across an ocean. They must have walked out the door yesterday with a dozen suitcases.

OUR SURROUNDINGS

We’re a fifteen minute walk from a local mall and super mercado, and just twenty minutes off the Way of St. James as you enter the east side of town. I can throw a rock

At the local old-town market. A foodie’s dream.

to the local bus stop and busses run every thirty minutes all over town. Public transportation in Europe is great once you learn it. We’re looking at possibilities for all kinds of long-weekend side trips. Dublin is even a possibility.

There is a training school for circus performers two doors down from us. Interesting, yes.

Eager to prepare my first home made batch of pimientos de Padron. I may possibly consume a million of these while here.

WEATHER

Just as we arrived European news agencies disseminated warnings of all-time record heat in the forecast. We’re talking 118 degrees Fahrenheit in some remote areas. We approached 100 on three consecutive days. Because this rarely happens it’s just not

I don’t know of a person alive who could’ve taken this fan out of my hands.

practical for families to invest in air conditioning here. You open the windows and turn on the fans. Our finding a large fan at the mall was a divine miracle last Saturday. Practically every shelf in town was bare. Best €25 spent in a long time. Last Sunday, I took five cold showers.

It’s 68 degrees as I write at 11 a.m. now and a lovely breeze flows through our large open windows. Sweet relief.

Our sleep patterns here are complicated so far. Not only was there the adjustment of time, but at this latitude in this season our sunset doesn’t happen until around 10:45 p.m. Because I’m an early-to-bed, early-to-rise kind of guy it’s totally thrown me off from what we’re accustomed to in the lower southern latitudes. We are going to bed around 11 p.m. and getting up between 8 and 9 a.m. I haven’t slept that late since college. At least it’s pretty consistent with Spanish culture.

COOKING AND FOOD

Yesterday, we ventured to the old-town outdoor market. It’s a place that will make a foodie downright giddy. I’ve never seen better produce than what’s available in the Spanish markets. Combine that with the local cheeses (Galicia is famous for its cheese), locally produced wines (I’m determined to learn more about wine while here), fresh seafood and meats (chorizo everywhere), and baguettes for €.35 each, and I could easily gain fifty pounds in three months. This whole volunteer experience may require another long walk!

After yesterday’s market trip I prepared our first comida — (late afternoon lunch,

My chorizo and seafood pasta dish from yesterday.

typically the biggest meal of the day here). It was a nice chorizo and seafood pasta with a tomato, pepper, zucchini sauce.

I’ve discovered some low-alcoholic fruit ciders here that are refreshingly delicious. A cold San Miguel or Estrella Galicia beer is nostalgic of “second breakfast” on the Way. I also love an occasional cold sangria here, and cerveza de limon, a drink that is half beer, half intensified sparkling lemon juice. So refreshing. We’ll attempt a homemade papa tortilla soon.

OUR PURPOSE

Not to overlook the very most important part of this experience ahead.

Beyond everything, Dana and I have come here to serve and to listen. There is something inside my spirit telling me that listening will be the foundation of our service.  The more I contemplate Jesus’ commission for disciples to take the gospel news to the ends of the earth, the more I think it’s about listening in the modern day. Historically, our delivery method has been talking. Telling people this and that. Inviting them to come into our circle as if we are somehow different and set aside. We just don’t sit still and listen enough. “Come into our group, affiliate with us, and you will be okay,” we say. “You are there, but we are here. Come here.” I think it is time we listen rather than be so determined to recite the four spiritual laws to someone and expect a miraculous change in someone’s life in fifteen minutes. As Rick Warren says, for Christians, “we have a lot to unlearn.”

I want to embrace people. We are all the same kind of different.

Beyond this, I have come here with personal expectation.

Over the years this has become one of a handful of places where I believe I better hear God’s direction for my own life. Maybe I imagine that, or maybe it is true, but it doesn’t really matter as long as I believe it. I’ve come here with the expectation that God will clearly show what comes next. Ideas abound. Clarity is needed. Maybe it is another book. Maybe it is a new mission, altogether. If you pray, I ask that you might pray for Dana and me as we sort through what’s next. I’m personally praying each night that God will make me receptive to the place where He leads. I want to have an open heart and an open spirit. So we covet your prayers in that regard.

***

Tomorrow, we’ll receive our first mission and vision training at Pilgrim House and go through full orientation. Our work schedule begins on Saturday.

Until next week, buen camino.

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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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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.

***

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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