This morning at 3:00 - unedited save for one word... S.
Dearly departed we are gathered here
Always and forever
Under all the moons and stars
there ever were or will be,
in air and breath
in water and thirst
beyond time and place and matter.
Beyond what matters
and what does not.
There can never be a way
of no you
God help me,
there just is... us.
My dearest one’s voice said…
This is the day
the day I knew would come.
The day I would join you
in the fellowship of the wrecked and devastated.
The day I’d know
the wondering that will not end.
Some days will begin with blackened thick and clotted skies
until suddenly a gentle breeze blows.
And in the holy instant it lifts,
the dawn will become a wispy pink and lovely affair
fresh and new
as I join you and say,
this is the day
the day I knew would come.
The day I would join you
in the fellowship of the healed and blessed.
When I’d know
the wonder that will not end.
You said it would come along in waves like this
so sloppy and tangled and twisted.
You said it all belongs
and promised me all will be well
along the Way we now go.
We will recognize the others,
see it in their eyes
always in their eyes,
the only place left to look.
Our fellows of the
wrecked and devastated and healed and blessed,
along the Way we all now go
our hands joined always.
On a dusty ancient far-away road
And marveled at the biggest sky we'd ever seen
rimmed by mountains north, open plains south.
toward a distant unknown coast.
of what we'd find along our Way.
of being called to this
and wondered, why?
to return forever and again.
One would summon the other
and the answer would be
Forever and again and always
This past Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, I found myself in the mood for a walk – a long one. I could have gone anywhere, but given the nature of traffic on a holiday, decided to leave the car parked and remain in town. The resulting meander included some road walking beside Bantam Lake, along trails that led to a hilltop meadow with distant views of a cloud-mottled landscape, then deep into woods fully dressed in summer green. I rounded lush, deep wetlands, and passed through cool, shaded pine groves.
Mostly, I was able to be alone and in good quiet. The prayer of walking on this day was a listening prayer. That kind always seems best because its source really doesn’t need much in the way of input from me. It knows. More importantly, I don’t. In silence I can realize this at depth, chastened and humbled by what surrounds me as I move through it. Sometimes, actual answers will come from these attempted flights into stillness. At other times, there is but a vague sense that something has shifted around, and what remains is to rest in knowing all is well. Such was the case on Saturday. Rest then.
Reflecting on this as I walked, I began to consider this place in which I live; a place that allows for such wanderings on any day in any season. I first came to the northwest corner of Connecticut as a 12 year-old on a vacation, next as I ran errands for an employer the summer before leaving for service in the Navy. I remember thinking back then how much I longed to live here, but couldn’t say why. Knowing comes from the underneath of things - must have been an early lesson in that. But perhaps there was some conditioning, some softening and opening of the heart required first.
I’ve lived here for eight years now. My ninth spring is nearly behind me, the solstice coming soon. Of all the places I’ve lived, never have I loved one more. I had finally arrived here seeking refuge from a savage emotional storm of loss and change I could not yet even fully comprehend. It may, in hindsight, have been an unreasonable expectation of something so fleeting as place. The fact that it didn’t let me down has made it, at last, home. I travel from here. I return. I stray and then re-center, always here. I center in the quiet of the forest in the still air of summer, and lakeside when the ice is thick and sunrise makes it moan and rattle and echo against the hills all around. I center in the resting autumn chill when everything exhales and the colors make my heart hurt. I center in the great commotion of the wind and rain that brings on the springtime. And it was just down the road from my place that the calling to the Camino de Santiago came to me in mid-step while walking.
To be so inextricably linked to a place seems odd to me in one sense, yet in another I think I’m being shown that I am inseparable from everything. Everything.
Three years ago, I walked into the Praza de Obradoiro and turned to face the Cathedral of St. James. This last day of walking the route had started with driving rain, exactly as had the first day in the French Pyrenees. Beginnings. Endings. Curious things. The end of a very long walk - the beginning of everything else.
From Into the Thin, A pilgrimage Walk Across Northern Spain (Sept. 2020 from Homebound Publications):
...I walk into the open plaza, turn, and regard the iconic western façade of the Catedral de Santiago, the Cathedral of Saint James. It is partially covered in scaffolding, undergoing cleansing and restoration; like its tired pilgrims, a work in progress.
The Camino de Santiago is an experience of body, mind, and spirit, and these tend to correlate to sections of the route. Most pilgrims would agree that the vast Meseta, which comprises the middle 150 miles of the French Way, is the realm of the mind. Those who are young often dread its mostly flat sameness, while the older pilgrim will find it to be the perfect place to mine the experiences of a lifetime. I walked it essentially alone as was my intention. It proved to be fertile ground for remembrance and contemplation.
Here are some images along with a few sentences from Into the Thin, a Pilgrimage Walk Across Northern Spain (coming September, 2020).
...Though known for the desolation of the landscape, its perfect secret is the endless sky, big as all Montana where storms are seen from hours away and the clouds can come in so low as to be almost within reach.
...The sky is full of countless shades of textured gray with impossibly deep blue breaks between the clouds, as the rising sun lights the earth in warm tones leaving long shadows. There is something new about the air after it rains, as new as springtime, as peaceful as the fall. The colors seem deeper, the contrasts sharper, any dull finish on the world made bright again, all scrubbed and perfect.
Last evening, I silently walked on a candle-lit labyrinth. There were more than 50 of us. The air was still and felt a bit close, an early note of the summer nights to come. A harpist played from the center of the labyrinth, accompanied by a chorus of peepers from the surrounding woods. Our footsteps on the fine gravel surface of the path were the only other sounds. Silence has a way of reminding, of allowing. So too does shared movement.
From Chapter 7 of the upcoming book Into the Thin, A Pilgrimage Walk Across Northern Spain:
...No longer do I see pilgrims, I see pilgrimage; a movement toward something, a movement away, a movement of Grace. I realize in this moment I am not apart from them, or they from me. I am in no way living in opposition to them. I am them. And in the larger context of life beyond the Camino, all the competing needs and desires, all the conflicting interests, all the wounds inflicted and received, all the differences of body and thought and language and most certainly of religion, are revealed as only mistaken notions of things. Elegies of separation become expressions of compassionate oneness along this thin, magical road to Santiago. Realization loves to dance here, to be glimpsed even if only in the briefest of flashes.
Here’s to thin, magical roads. And here’s to the one of us.
Street scene in Pamplona, mustard blooms at Guendulain-just west of Pamplona, and Puente la Reina (Bridge of the Queen).
Here are a few images from the high mountain pass in the French Pyrenees on the Napoleon Route which crosses the border into Spain.
Early morning, Saint Jean Pied de Port, France, April 20,2016.
From the Prologue of Into the Thin, A Pilgrimage Walk Across Northern Spain...
I wanted to leave in the pre-dawn light, the vague, gray light that speaks of beginnings and new things, a light that invites but promises nothing, a light seemingly intended for the relatively few - my kind of light.
After leaving my room key at the empty desk in the lobby, I stepped out into the street, swung on my pack, and made my way to Rue de Citadelle in the cool, dark, lonely morning. I walked down the hill and across the canal bridge, able to see almost the entire narrow street before me as it faded to a point. The tapping of my sticks on the street echoed on stone walls and shop windows as I moved through the silent sleeping town of Saint Jean Pied de Port toward le Porte d’Espagne (the Spanish Gate) on the western side of the Old City. Beyond were the first steps of the Camino de Santiago.