Monday, June 27, 2016

The boys in the boat

The boat
Santiago has witnessed many pilgrim arrivals but I dare say that the arrival of four Irish sailors who have rowed a traditional Irish currach from the west coast of Ireland to A Coruña in northwest Spain has to be one of the most memorable. They set out in May of 2014, wintered the boat over a couple of times and finally arrived in Santiago a couple of days ago. Now the Irish are known as a jovial people and these fellows did not disappoint. They have kept everyone smiling with their charm, good humor and the occasional dose of traditional music and song. One of the most challenging parts of their arrival was getting their boat overland to Santiago. Santiago's own Mr. Fixit, John Rafferty, took up the challenge and with a variety of resources employed finally got the boat into the city and bedded down in the cloister at the Jesuit church of San Agostin. This was last Saturday. Come Sunday the boat was maneuvered by many hands out from the cloister and down along the Camino Frances path to the Plaza Obradoiro and then around and up to the Plaza Platerias. After a grand celebration at the Sunday pilgrim mass the boat, once again with many hands, found its way back to the cloister at San Agostin for another night's rest. Today, Monday, the crew joined us for our English language mass in the cathedral but instead of the mass being said in English, Fr. Joe, said the mass in Irish. One of the boat crew, Brendan, brought along his accordion and along with his remarkable voice provided all the music for the mass. There wasn't a dry eye in the chapel. It was a magical moment to be sure. But, there is more to the story. The crew wants to leave their boat in Santiago for the winter and return next year to carry on perhaps as far as Africa. Their enthusiasm is unbounded. Once again Mr. Fixit, came to the rescue and with the blessing and help of his landlord emptied out his garage to make room for the boat. That was the first part solved but now the boat had to be carried, once again, through the streets of Santiago and out along the route towards Finisterre where John's house is located. Yes, many hands were once again found, and not long thereafter the boat had covered a kilometer to its winter berth in John's garage. It has been a crazy few days as the boat and crew maneuvered throughout the city, but the gift of their spirit has lifted many hearts and has made this pilgrim city unique in yet another special way. Up the Irish and our best wishes for a safe journey home for this remarkable bunch. You simply cannot make this stuff up.
Mr. Fixit
Departing San Agostín
Fr. Joe directing traffic
The boat gets a pilgrim shell
Plaza Platerias
Today's mass celebrated in the Irish language

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Resisting the speed of right

For the past three weeks Robin and I have immensely enjoyed our volunteer work at the English language masses in the Cathedral of St. James in Santiago de Compostela. This opportunity coupled with the other traveling and walking we have done on this trip has woven an unusually vibrant tapestry of experiences, surprises, and reflections that frequently amazes me with their complexity as well as their simplicity. How so one might ask? To begin, it is no surprise that Robin and I are seekers. We feel completely comfortable with our belief in a loving God. The struggle that many have with this premise is that so many religions have claimed a God of their own, and because it is their own, they have a firm belief their God is superior. Now if it was just left there one could say well so what, but more typically what happens is that along with a belief in their God comes a belief and a required conformance with all sorts of rituals and practices. Many people find this challenging as it seems religions try to imply that only through adherence to these rituals and practices can one find peace with, or even access to, God. Now that strikes me as crazy. Having been a practicing Catholic for almost all of my life I still struggle with why the Catholic Church feels so much of this ritual is vital to its existence. Yes it is important to be able to verbalized exactly what it is you believe in, but if your neighbor has a different opinion, does that make him a heretic. Why should that matter? After all are we not all God's children. It is our own personal faith journeys that should capture our interest, and those of others should be left to them. Catholic teaching speaks frequently of the ability of good acts to bring God's spirit to those who have not yet encountered it. It is clearly not preferred to wage a debate of the pros and cons of one religious belief over another. What is important is to be able to embrace in our own lives those moments of inexplicable joy that seem to arrive unbeckoned, and unexpectedly. When these moments arrive, it is almost like a navigator finding a break in the clouds to fix his position. We just seem to know that something unique has occurred, and it challenges us to engage in a deeper reflection to truly draw out its full promise. Others might find their strength in different ways, and we should have room in our hearts to both understand and tolerate that. And so it goes. Each "Holy Spirit" moment drops a point that adds to the locus of our faith journey. It is a journey that can lead us anywhere and everywhere, but in the end it is our hope that we arrive where we began, with God our father. Both Robin and I have witnessed many of these holy moments where God's spirit just seems so close. These encounters warm our hearts, hopefully guide our ongoing behavior, and provide a course adjustment so that even when the journey seems fraught with peril and uncertainty, we feel comfortable we are heading Home, and being homeward bound is music to any voyager's ears.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Come join us for a hike

We start to gather
This past weekend we answered an invitation from some Basque friends who we met while walking the Camino Ignaciano. The invitation was simple. We are holding our annual hike in Agurain please come and join us. Pretty straightforward, but not exactly. At first I thought this was some sort of hiking club and this was their annual outing, but that was not the case. Yes, apparently there was a small group of locals who use to mountain bike all around the area. A couple of these friends eventually passed away and it was decided to honor that long term friendship by creating an entity that is called KA-Hiru. The letters K and A are the first name initials of the deceased friends and hiru is Basque for the number three which is noteworthy because the group challenged themselves to bike up the three highest peaks in their region. So here is the interesting part. This past Saturday, 120 people gathered, not to celebrate an organization (KA-Hiru exists in name only) but simply to celebrate friendship, and it's power to bring people together in a positive way. That is how I distilled all the multi lingual explanations, but having witnessed this remarkable event I think I am pretty close in my assessment. The people of Agurain (which is a 20 minute drive from the regional capital city of Vitoria-Gasteiz) are closely connected to one another as a community, but they are also closely bonded to their Basque culture, and to the land. It is those bonds that continue to draw crowds of people both young and old into the mountains for a day for celebrating the friends in their lives, the Basque culture, and the beautiful land they are blessed to call home. I wish more of us would wake up and say, " What a brilliant concept, why didn't I think of that?"  As a sidebar, I found it extraordinary how fit these 120 people were. I am sure they all have TV sets and computers that could distract them, but somehow they spend enough time out and about to stay in great shape. Our group of 120 hikers ran an age gamut of perhaps 75 to 8. There were two walks available. One was 20 kms and the other followed the same route but started further along and it was 11 kms. Robin and I walked the 20 kms route and it was a serious workout, and we are use to this kind of thing. But the entire group clipped along pretty darn quickly up some steep pitches, and appeared none the worse for wear for doing it. One guy, probably in his early 60's was watching me try to negotiate my way through a barbed wire cattle fence, simply bounded over the whole thing. Yikes! I have now met superman. It was a grand day. The weather was cloudy and then the rain caught up with us and by day's end. As we picked our way down a broad rock slab, a cold 30 knot wind collapsed umbrellas, and vainly attempted to delay our crab walk to the finish and the warmth of an ancient stone hermitage that awaited us.  Friends celebrating all the things that are important to them is a wonderful thing to behold. But, truth be told, it was our amigo, Zazpi, who in his role of "master and commander" saw that an organization came together to provide hot food (sausage and potato soup, wood grilled lamb chops and custard for desert), ample drinks (keg of beer, crates of wine, orujo, pacharan, water and soft drinks, and cauldrons of coffee), and bus transportation back home at the end. All the food was cooked on site at the hermitage and the whole fiesta came together splendidly. I have attended many parties in my life, but this one was one of the best organized ones I have ever been to. Plus it was great fun. The whole thing wrapped up with traditional Basque music and dancing that I was told is how they conclude every party. As we finally coaxed aching muscles up the stairs of the awaiting buses I felt certain we all gave our own version of a blessing for the gift of friends, and the day we shared together. Perhaps that sense of joy was what finally warmed me up, but full disclosed there were some adult beverages in play as well. What a day.
Our approach path
Approaching the "sheep path"
The sheep path
Local fauna
A look back early on
Robin and Josemari
Shepherd's hut half way shelter
On the move again
Robin and Josemari
Cave entrance that goes on for 2 kms.
A little more elevation gain
Home at last (almost)
Let's eat
Lamb chops on the grill
Our skilled chefs
View from the door
Our arrival slope
Our skilled musicians
A fine day for a party
Zazpi (master and commander) closing the fiesta.
A last look