Thursday, 10 December 2009

I am sorry if you tried to follow the link to Peterborough pilgrims web site.. As you discovered I gave a wrong address. The correct address is I have changed it on the last page if you are wondering what on earth I am talking about. To see the changed site you will need to empty your browser's cache first! ... Look on the site and you will see all the pilgrimages that I am organising this holy year of St James. If you want to join us you are more than welcome. That is a worldwide welcome. If you would like to explore the possibility you can either email through the link on the site or directly. I do hope that you take up this offer. If you are worried about Internet scams then you will be glad to know that all the costs will be paid by you directly to those providing the service, planes, albergues, meals etc. Peterborough pilgrims do not get involved with money matters. .. There are a few exceptions, 1. We do book ex UK flights. 2. We pay for a taxi for transfers in the UK and pass on the costs to you. 3. We do need a donation to help the society to function. .. We are willing to help in every way we can, so should you want us to do more then we will, but we are not a tour company. If you wish to take responsibility for everything that is fine by us.. We look forward to walking with you.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Practical prayer pilgrimage.

Yes I do know that it is two weeks since the last post or is it more. Developments have been afoot here for next year and that takes up time. Peterborough Pilgrims have been meeting and we have discussed what we are going to do next year. New leaflets have been printed and the distribution has started. The plans for next year will be published on the web site in a few days. If you want to join us then you are most welcome. When it is published, follow the link and walk with us. It would be really good to get together!
It seems rather strange to the about to write a practical blog at this time of year. It is raining outside and any sensible pilgrim is tucked up in the warm. There will be little chance of trying out what I am going to suggest for sometime yet. But a promise is a promise so here goes. But I must stress that the following is my experience.It is not 'the' way it must be done, perhaps it is one amongst many. .
When you set off give yourself a little time to settle into the rhythm of the day. This need not be a long time, do not fall into the trap of putting a start off and so waste the day. After a little while begin to think about all those things you want to pray about. For 98% of these are contained within the category of 'God bless Mummy and Daddy' prayers, the things that you need God to do for you. Please do not think that I want to devalue these needs.Our Father has invited us to cast all out burdens on him. Some of these requests are very serious and you will not proceed very far until you have addressed them. There are however, like birds that will keep dropping down into the silent space to feed off your prayer time, if you let them. Deal with them first and sent them on their way. This takes about 45 minutes to one hour for me. There are times when the problems you bring are so massive that you do not get very far from them. This is not a failing. On my first pilgrimage it took many days to move on from here.( The story is on earlier posts. If you have not read my story perhaps it would help you to read it so that you are able to understand where I am coming from) ..
There is much work to be done here. All those hurts and pains of previous times need healing. They are healed by looking at them and through them in prayer. Opening up to God's spirit all those dark rancid corners that have not seen the light of day for years. It may be ,as I have said already, that you will need to go over much ground and even go over it many times. But do not rush it as this is one of the reasons you are here on Pilgrimage. You have a great deal of time to use, so use it wisely. ..
There is also the 'holding up before God' those things that are of concern to you, but with which you are not directly involved, but are of real concern to you. Aunt Maud's operation that she is to have later today and many other similar things. If may feel as thought the list is inexhaustible, but is is not. You will get to the end of it. ..
Do not be misled at this point. You have run out of words, but the prayer is not over. Prayer is not just a shopping list. It is more about relationship than words. The example of two lovers comes to mind at this point. When they first meet each other after a period of separation, they cannot stop taking. After a while the words cease and silence takes over. This silence is about harmony and togetherness. Should one of the lovers wander off at this point, this coming together would be halted, with no little distress as the link is smashed. The absence of words does not mean an absence of communication. So with prayer . Silence has eloquence of its own. ..
There are times when it is not possible to get into this active state of silence. This is where the use of the 'Jesus prayer' is helpful. The prayer goes like this~ 'Lord Jesus Christ. Son of God. Have mercy upon me.' Say it over and over. It has a mantra like quality. It will focus the mind and draw you into the presence of God. It works by stilling the surface mind by giving it something to do whilst the lower levels detach and follow the lover. ..
A little discernment is needed here. The thoughts that come into the mind are not all enemies of the soul. Some thought will not be your thoughts, but God's answer to the hopes and questions that you have expressed in the earlier opening section or even from other days. So weigh the thought carefully and quickly. If it is not of the moment, say, I wonder how Man U are doing? put the thought down and walk on. If it is not of prayer, but is important the write it down on a note pad and work through it later. If on the other hand you begin to discern the hand of God within it answering and taking you on into new truth then allow it to run in this Holy prayer space. It will be in this way that God will speak to you, healing you and giving you the next steps of your life pilgrimage. ..
The ground is now cleared to go to the next level. Levels are a great way to think about prayer. In former times and in earlier understandings of God, God was seen as 'out there'. the Deity who was watching us from on high. This is not enough. St Augustine spoke of God as the ground of our being. He is the first principle. He comes first before everything. He comes before my thought about him. He is foundational. We on the other hand are secondary. Our thinking is built on the ground of our being. He is down there in the depths of my being. Thus as I focus and find the still centre of my being I begin to find God. This is why we have cleared the decks, dug down, stilled the heart to travel into his presence. ..
As well as being relationship, prayer is also experimental theology. That is not to say that we are free to make it up as we go long. But it is the space where we find out things about God by observation of the situation that we find ourselves in. Prayer on pilgrimage has a good slice of this experience. As with physical science, this science of God needs patience and insight into what is happening. Without acute observation much can be missed. The silent centre can be mistaken for just a silent place or we can go deeper into it and get to God's heart. ..
Tresa Of Avila and St John of the Cross, both Spanish mystics, have written about the darkness of God. By that they mean that God is so other that he cannot be seen with any of our existing senses. That he is also such intense light that to look on him produces an instant blindness.But look we must! It is in this looking that we experience him. There is a direct link between this blinding darkness of God and the deafening silence that we experience in pilgrim prayer. We peer into the dark, strain our ears in the silence and meet with the ground of our being. ..
This takes time and persistence. We have to become tuned into his presence. When we are, all takes on a new awareness, an awareness of him, that in time becomes a daily opening to us of the God space, not restricted to our wonderful pilgrimages.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Steals on the ear the distant triumph song

We have thought about the metanarritive and now we move on to Metanoia~the transformation of consciousness beyond the capacity of human will and faculties.
Image, and it will not take a great deal of effort as this part of the subject has been used many times in movies and TV plays, a man or woman who has lost their memory. A good example of such a film is 'Overboard' starring Goldie Horn; made in 1987.
. To the one who has lost his or her memory, all is blank before this present moment. They have no past, no family, no context ,they just are! It is as though they have dropped out of a creative place that has delivered them as complete adults, here at this precise moment in time. He has no self beyond the here and now. A kind soul discovers him and tries to help. He is successful, in that he, that is the kind soul, finds out a great deal about the amnesiac from other sources. In his kindness he tries to reboot the memory of the amnesiac, but the more the amnesiac hears the more uncomfortable he becomes. A construct warp is produced in him. He needs to hear about who and what he is, but the more he hears, the more he cannot bear to hear it. From the outside he hears truth about himself, but within, the internal truth of the moment does not resonate with what he hears and so he is disturbed by the warp between the two realities. He is not able to see his person as he is in the memory of others . This is the state of man. But mankind is one more step beyond; he has forgotten that he has forgotten.
. Then one day without warning something happens,and he regains a fragment of an event, a word of a previous conversation, a memory from a photograph discovered by accident, when he remembers himself as the subject of the photograph and things begin to change, the warp moves into alignment and his memory becomes harmonised. let's take for example the case of a Prince who has had this experience of losing him memory. He is also not aware that he has forgotten everything. To him his life on the street is normal. That is who he is. One day one of his subjects recognises him for who he is and bows to him indicating through a discussion who he really is. The Pauper/Prince looks at the other fellow and thinks him mad. Perhaps he humours him for a while, to be safe. He ultimately goes off back onto the street feeling sorry for 'that odd man who accosted me and mistook me for someone else'
. To the Prince amnesia is normal and forgetfulness crazy. All humanity labours under this forgetfulness. The mass of people are not aware that they have forgotten who they are. And sadly most have not yet had any disturbance of their construct warp. They do not know that they are forgetful and view the few who have had an experience that has begun to awaken them as crazy.
. The walking of a pilgrimage is one of the ways that we get a little message from home. The quite hours of walking without major pressing external matters allows us to hear that song of heaven that as the hymn 'For all the Saints' puts it ~ Steals on the ear the distant triumph song. Even so there are those who want to maintain their forgetfulness and insist that there is nothing beyond and so close their ears to the siren song of heaven that is calling them to their lost inheritance, their real selves.
. So if you want to apply this to the question, who are true pilgrims? the answer must be everyone, as God calls everyone to become who he created them to be. All are pilgrims but not all are willing to walk the whole distance home, which is not Santiago, but Heaven.
. This leaves us with the question 'How do I use pilgrimage as a tool to recreation? How do I hear the song of heaven and regain my real nature?
. That will be the substance of the next post.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Travelling together.

We have thought a little about types of pilgrimage in general and in detail about pilgrimage of place. Now a few thoughts about pilgrimage as journey. ..
I think that it is more helpful to think about this subject as pilgrimage of narrative. When we set off on that first walking pilgrimage' we begin a new story. We have never done this before, we do not really know what to expect and we wonder what it going to happen to us and even if we are capable completing the task. It is the beginning of a story. This story has a beginning and we hope a middle and an end. It is linear in nature following the secession of days and places. However it is not the only story in progress. It is part of the bigger story that we call our life. Our story has become complex and parts of it seem to repeat in such a way that we wonder if it is going around in circles. For many the whole reason of going on pilgrimage is that personal story has become so complex and difficult that 'I need to get away and sort things out'. We take time out of our big story to engage on the small and simplified story of the Camino. Easier to handle! .
To help think through these thoughts I would like to introduce a set of labels of these stories. The labels are the Camino narrative~ the framework that doing the walk imposes on all who set off. i.e days of walking, time for reflection,staying in the Albergue, eating with other pilgrims etc; My narrative~ the story of my life; Finally the Meta narrative~ the story of God in relation to mankind that some call the Gospel story, the life of Jesus and the life of faith. ( For those who are theologically or philosophically savvy I would like to say that I do not at this point want to debate the whole post~ modern thing about the existence or not of the meta narrative. On this blog it is a given) ..
So I start walking from, say St Jean. Up the long hill to Spain and Santiago. As I walk on that first day all is new to me. I marvel at the breathtaking beauty.I converse happily with a few other pilgrims, just odd exchanges at first. These folk are strangers at the moment. It is hard work and I wonder if I am going to make it to the top of the hill let alone Santiago. But all too quickly the day ends as I enter the campus of our lady of Roncevalles. Check in, get a sello, and walk down the hill to my bunk. I shower, put on new clothes, sink a beer, book dinner, go to mass, eat and before 10pm, go to sleep. Next day I get up and start the same again. On this second day things are a little different. There is that interesting bloke I talked to over dinner last night. I walk along with him for a while, we begin to tell each other a little about ourselves. Slowly a pattern emerges to the day. This we fall into and enjoy. We are discovering the Camino Narrative. The narrative is similar everyday, with different scenery until it delivers me to Santaigo. .
Let's look at the bloke that I have had dinner with, and have now walked with. Call him John! I have never met John before and I know that I will never meet him again. He is becoming a friend. This friendship is contained. He lives in Canada in a small town I have never heard of, I will never go there.He is not sure if he will ever come to Europe again, let alone the town I live in. We are however sharing a demanding task that is drawing us together. This friendship is not of the normal kinsd that I have experienced before. It has a strange intimacy. This is in part due to the ' brothers in adversity' syndrome and in part to the fact that in truth he knows nothing of me except what I choose to tell him. After the Camino I will never see him again and those who are part of my normal daily life will never meet him or hear what he can say about me. So he is safe. I can tell him me deepest secrets, opening up areas that I have not visited for some years. I can do this in a place that is more secure than any confessional box. So I am liberated to tell him anything and everything. This bring it own joys and therapy. .
I am not however always talking to John. I am talking to others, sharing and hearing secrets. Added to this, there are times when I am on my own. In this space I reflect on My Narrative, turning it over and over in my hand. This stone of my past may be sharp. It cuts me as I think about it over and over, but as I turn the stone over, I am able so see think a little more clearly at this distance. Over and over it goes. After a while I begin to notice that the sharp stone is not so sharp, it is becoming a pebble, smooth and shiny. I get to the point where I don't even have to turn it over. After a further little while I don't what to carry it any more, so without fuss in my own quite way, I put it down on the ground. I walk on away from Cruz Ferro, healed. .
There is a pattern building up here. Think of it this way if you will. Along the ground, laid out for me to walk, is the linear Camino Narrative. It is more or less fixed and the yellow arrows hold me on the way. As I walk I overlay the Camino Narrative with My Narrative. I do this by the things I share with others, my own thoughts as I go and the pebbles of now tamed past hurts that I lay down on the camino and walk away from. In so doing the Camino Narrative becomes My Narrative and I am changed. This is the common experience of all who go on pilgrimage. .
A little aside. If I say to John that is is not a real pilgrim because he is not interested in spiritual things He is deeply offended and argues with me,' who can define pilgrimage. I have no right to tell him that he is not a proper pilgrim.' I would like to say that there is a total miscommunication here. He hears what I say as 'You do not have a a Camino Narrative'. He has however a very definite Camino Narrative. If I am saying to him that the has no Camino narrative he feels like I am saying that he has no narrative at all. He is a non person. No wonder he is upset. I on the other hand have been trying to say that he has not gone to the third stage of the narrative. And perhaps he would agree on this form of understanding, that is if he accepts that there might be a third stage. .
Stage three pilgrimage is when I lay My narrative on the Camino Narrative and use the two together to overlay the Meta-narrative in such a way that I enter into an experience of God. The classical term for this is prayer. ( Don't be put of by the word. It can mean going down on one's knees, but it is mostly about being with God). As we reflect on our narrative, we also reflect on the Christian Narrative and draw from it ways of understanding what is happening to us. This is school of prayer is to help us navigate our future narrative. When the pilgrimage is over the Camino Narrative , a sort of template, is removed. The lesson we are invited to take away with us is how to walk the Meta~Narrative in the same way as we have walked the Camino Narrative. Or to put it another way. When we cease to walk the Camino we take with us the understanding of how to walk with the one who said ' I am the Camino~I am the the way, the truth, the life'.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Towards a theology of place.

It is time to return to the main thrust of these pages. A few days ago we were thinking about the different types of pilgrimage that are at work in Santiago Pilgrimage. I would like in this blog to amplify the theology of place a little more.
As we have already seen, Helen, Constantine's Mother was in many ways the Mother of this type of pilgrimage when she went to the Holy sights in Jerusalem in the mid-forth century. It is interesting to note that about the same time an understanding about Icons was also developing. Although it does not seem so on the surface, there is a deep link between them. So let's examine the Icon above .
As you may know it is by Rublev. He depicts the Trinity. Christ in the
centre ;the Spirit on the left and the Father on the right. They are
contained within a circle and at the bottom there is an opening in the
circle. This expresses that the relationship between them is all
encompassing,but that it is open to us. They are all clothed with blue,
the colour of heaven and another colour. This speaks of the different
characteristics of each person. The Father has a sumptuous robe of
gold~The Glory of the Father. The Spirit has green the colour of
new growth and the Son has brown, the hue of the earth as depiction
of his humanity. Before them is a shared dish representing the
hospitality shown by each to each of that which is also a common
possession to them.
So that is what it is saying, what about the question, what is it?
Is it just an interesting picture or is it an idol, a false God made
by human hands.? It is neither of these things. A better way to
think about it is as a window through which we look to see what
is happening now. In the case of a Saints Icon for example, they
are not in the cold earth but in heaven. At this moment they
are enjoying the life of heaven and we are allowed to see them
as they are now. A sort of static heaven TV. As we pray we
engage with them, not only as they are now but also with all
their history, we are encountering the totality of their present
being. In this engagement there is a two way flow. We see them
through the window of the picture and prayer and they sent us
help and the grace of our Lord Jesus as they have experienced it.
It is a total person to person engagement.
A Holy place is like Icon. In the case of Santiago it is the Icon
of St James. A place where we can engage
with him as he was and as he is. So the Pilgrim Mass is
an expression( all be it a pale Shadow ) of the heavenly
banquet and our arrival in heaven. The hugging of the Saint
is more than a wooden statue, it is a hugging of a real man as
one would greet a close friend. The picture can be added to,
but I think that you get the idea.
There is a process of engagement that is subjective
within the pilgrim. This is where a limiting can happen. If the
Cathedral is taken within the narrow confines of a material
human encounter, then it is just Words and Architecture.
I do not go deeper, because I do not have the eyes of Faith
to go deeper. If I look deeper, then I am able to go deeper.
The hymn writer George Herbert, drawing on St Paul's
writings and St James' epistle ( Bishop of Jerusalem,
brother of our Lord, not Santiago) in his hymn ;
'Teach me my God and king';
has these words that sum up this idea :-
The man that looks on glass,
on it may stay his eye,
but if it pleaseth, through it pass
and there the heaven espy.
So a theology of place has within it the deliberate placing
of oneself in proximity to a sacred site.This is not only
a reccy of where such and such happened, but an active
engagement with the subject of that site( In the case of
Santiago, with St James.)It is a here and now encounter
with, who they were, what they did and what they have
become,their present reality that communicates the grace
that they have and are receiving in such a way that we are
able to participate in their experience of Christ.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

A little way of smallness.

This is a picture of St Theresa of Lisieux. She was born on the 2 January 1873 in Alencon. She entered the Carmelite house in Lisieux in April 1888. She used nature to explain and teach about the Kingdom of God. She is often referred to as the 'Little flower'.The great motif of her teaching is helpful to us at his place in the ongoing discussion. ( I rather think that we are in an interesting cul de sac at the moment. Important matters that have to be dealt with before we can proceed). The motif is called her 'little way'. She pictures herself as a little bird. This bird is happy to look at the Sun above with joy. But for her the idea of flying high with the Eagles is not within her capacity, no matter how much she may wish it. She is content to be as she is. But she says she can soar with the Eagles should the Eagle comedown to where she is. It is not for her to do great things of faith but the strew wherever she goes with flowers. These flowers are the small acts of kindness, faith, charity, and love. In so doing the greatest Eagle, Jesus, comes down to where she is and they fly together. I find this idea helpful in thinking about pilgrimage, or more correctly engaging on a pilgrimage. There are the Eagles who soar to great feats of distance in impossibly short times. There are those who are able to make a great time of prayer and worship of their pilgrimages. That is for them, they are Eagles, I am not. However the strewing of flowers is possible. Sharing a few moments with those who have problems, Sharing potions and lotions and all the 'small ' things are to hand. So the Christ is incarnate again in the face and hands of another. These small act do not come without effort, it may be a small effort, but it is a great feat of strength for a little bird. It is a journey to the end of myself to find God. It may not be to the heights. But does that matters for Christ has come down to the small places. Therese died at 28 years of age of Consumption. 25 years later she was made a Saint. This was after her small way had been tried firstly by fellow nuns and later by a wider group who found her teaching inspired them. It is a paradox that in following the little way and passing it on to others that she became one of the most loved and revered Saints of the last century. Or to put it another way. Her way of smallness led to greatness. The little bird became a great Eagle. And what you see as your own little way is of the greatest importance and is not for others to discount or laugh at, wherever you and they are coming from. Flowers on the way to Santiago near Pontevedra.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Live and let live

As I write I am becoming aware that I have opened something up here. I also seem to be speaking into situations and message boards that have had discussions on 'true pilgrimage' which have run and run. For the most part it seems that they have caused bruising to all concerned. These discussions have left baggage on the ground for everyone who comes after them to fall over all. And we are in danger of falling into the arguments of others. So I would like to say a couple of things to get the floor of my blog cleared of danger. My understanding of the Christian call is inclusive. That is, that it is to all people everywhere. What they are and who they are is not an issue. The only qualification to be a disciple of Jesus is, to want to be one. A disciple is one who follows. In the case of St James, it was to be with Jesus for three years, learning to way of love and the opening up his soul to God's changing Spirit. So it follows that, I welcome anyone who has heard that call, without reserve or judgement of their starting place. Not that I am trying to make disciples for me. There is only one disciple master and that is Jesus. Therefore, it is not for me to make any judgements about someone's disciple. I am a fellow traveller. You are called to travel. That's great. Let's walk along for awhile together. In the case of the subject of pilgrimage I am not in a position to judge the validity of what you are doing. I have enough to work out what I am doing. If you ask me a question or need my help then ,I give it to you gladly. But I do not wish to insist that you must receive whatever I have, and most certainly I am not trying to develop something that puts barriers up and excludes anyone. Thus you must tell me, if you are a true pilgrim, because I do not know until you tell me. It may be that your behaviour is a little strange and exotic. That is because I have not encountered it before. You do not do what I do because I do not do what you do. But what you do, is an expression of pilgrim discipleship from where you come from. It may also be the key that I need to open up the pilgrim experience in a way that allows me deeper into God., so it is foolish for me to discount it. My aim on this blog is theology. That is the science of God. This science has two fields of research. One; What the scriptures have to say in any given situation. Two; What is the present experience of God in that given situation. For this discussion the first stays the same the second is restricted to pilgrimage. It goes without saying that long distance pilgrimage by foot,horse or bike is a re-discovered experience,one that was lost for some considerable time and is now found. And so I want explore the questions that the experience raises in relation to what can be seen and experienced of God in and through this human activity. My instinct is that, there is something very deep and profound here. That, it is in layers that need a certain amount of consideration. That, only then will this spiritual experience of wondering across Spain yield up its' treasure. From my own experience I know it is not just a walk in the Sun. So what is it? These are the questions that I am trying to delve into. I welcome your help. Thanks. Theology is like a building, say a large Cathedral , that takes many centuries and generations to build. Each generation of builders adds a layer. Often the first work the next generation does is to knock down part of what the previous generation has built because it is out of true.Then, they can add their layer. So I invite discussion. Knock down what I am saying because you think it is false. I want to build true and a few well placed wreaking balls are helpful. If , however you are wanting to demolish the whole building because you dislike the idea of Christian anything, then that is rather straying into the area of you insisting that I walk my pilgrimage your way and by what I have said in the above ideas, that is not part of the deal. Live and let live!

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

We are all pilgrims.

If you follow the various pilgrim blogs and sites you will not get very far before you come against the thorny question of what is a real pilgrim? For some it is that you walk a considerable distance, or go even further on a bike or a horse. Many pages have been written by all sorts and conditions of men,with many opinions. There has also been anger and distress about such and such a group not being real pilgrims. Even the Cathedral get in on the act and add to the melee. They add that a true pilgrimage is about being and getting to Santiago. For them it is the arrival that counts. However to most pilgrims I have talked to there is a greater interest in the journey. The arrival at the bones of the Saint is interesting ,a relief and even joyous arrival but it soon palls leaving something of a disappointment that it is all over and it is now time to go home. There is a sharp divide between those who have stayed in Albergues and Hostals and walking along the way and the mainly parish groups who come by motor coach from various parishes within Spain. To those who think that they have got there the hard way, they are at best an intrusion at worse 'they' prevent 'us' from doing the real pilgrim stuff in the Cathedral because they take up space to which the are not entitled to occupy and they are not pilgrims but tourists. What is the truth of all this? I think that a little clarity can be brought to this matter by asking what sort of theology is in place in the extraordinary activity of Pilgrimage. Helen, Constantine the great's mother went to Jerusalem in the early fourth century on pilgrimage. She when to discover what was left of the Holy sites, where they were and what could be saved of them. She went to see for herself and to experience as many of the echoes of Christ and the Apostles as possible.This was the first great pilgrimage of the rich and powerful. I do not thing that there is any record of her trying to make it as difficult as possible for herself to get there. She used the means of transport that the average mother of the Roman Emperor would use and got there as fast as possible. The place was what was important. Now we could stop at this point and say that proves that it doesn't matter how I get there, it is the being there that counts. But if we do, we short change many people. However we do note that a theology of place is developing. The tired walkers spend many hours out in the wilds contemplation their lives and their relation to God and the world in which we live.To them this is important. ( I know that many will say that they do not believe in God.That nature is all that there is. With a little further thought this becomes rather a non question. Look at it this way. A classical description of God is the other of which a greater cannot be conceived.For some this greatest is at the level of the natural order, for others a much higher being is obvious. But for our enquiry, if nature is the greatest to be conceived, then that is God. The real question becomes is God personal. Does he have a persona or is it a random inanimate force of which we are the victims, because we have been by that force, brought into being. I believe in the persona of God or to be much more precise the Christian understanding of God becoming human flesh in Christ Jesus!) To these walkers there is an experience that goes beyond words. For a great number this is life changing. These changes are different from the visit the Santiago's bones. It is a different experience. In the scriptures we find many accounts of life changing journeys. The exodus from Egypt, return from Babylon, the missionary journeys of the 70 in the Gospels and Paul trips with Barnabas to name a few. These biblical examples point to truths about the Christian life as journey.These mirror and point to the central belief of the journey to heaven; life as pilgrimage. And coming full circle, understanding of this Christian life is enhanced beyond measure by walking 'pilgrimage'.It is then that the biblical pictures come alive. So we have to admit that there is a theology of journey at work. So in Santiago Pilgrimage two distinct theologies are at work. One of Place and another of Journey. They are separate experiences. So a walker may say of one on the coach ' You have a defective pilgrimage of journey', but the pilgrim who have arrived at the Cathedral by coach can say that the walker is deficient as a pilgrim to the place. This points up for me, that it is not for us to judge another's pilgrimage. But rather that we should engage in the most comprehensive pilgrimage of which we are capable. The subject of pilgrimage is not to be found in how someone, unconnected to me does it , but rather that we engage with the Divine in as many ways as we are able, who is the true subject. Please make a comment, whoever you are and wherever you come from, on my posts it does aid clarity and helps to draw out a true understanding of pilgrimage. IAN

Saturday, 3 October 2009

A little closing of the eyes and the months have gone

I cannot believe that it is now October. It is equally difficult to accept that I have not written this blog since May. But as I think about it, May does seem a very long way off. Since then I have planned dispatched and received back five groups of pilgrims. Not quite true; I took the last group to Stansted airport for the flight to Madrid and the train on this morning. With the work of getting it all together for the leaders of the groups and the various bookings as well as a busy parish to serve, it has been busy all summer. I have been reading Rebecca Scott's blog as well as Johnnie Walker's blog over the summer. Each time I read them they make me feel a number of things. Firstly, disappointment when they have not added to their pages. This becomes deep guilt as I have not added anything to mine for such a long time. That is supposing that anyone is reading it? Secondly they have made me wish that I could drop everything and go off and walk the Camino north from Madrid and the route to Oviedo that Rebecca has spoken off so delightfully. I do not think that I will be able to do either this year or even have the funds. So it is time to hunker down for the winter. In the last post I promised that I would begin to develop a theology that revolved around and discussed pilgrimage. It seems to me me that the old picture of dial up connections vs broadband is helpful in getting so sort of handle on the pilgrim experience. Let me explain! Do you remember when computers became a household item. They gave us dial-up. It took forever, and for most of us it meant that we could either speak to our friends on the phone or we could surf the net. It was slow and very limiting. Along came broadband. It means that I can post this, my wife can talk to her friends. With the aid of a network my children can be on Facebook or researching for their homework, all at the same time. A large number of things are going on across a broad spectrum. It maybe that I am not fully aware of all that is going on, but that does not mean that it is not happening. The world of the rational establishment tells that the physical is all that there is. If you cannot taste, feel, touch, measure,see or hear then it does not exist. This is the narrow world of the dial up. It is hedged by on one side empirical science and on the other what is called rational thought. This is a very narrow world that limits me to the here and now. Things however are much bigger than that. Even in its own terms it is limited. There is no room for love or duty or emotional distress. All these are not measurable and are completely subjective. They exist outside measurement because we know them, we experience them with a different sense, which we call the heart. God's world is a broadband experience. There is much out there going on there of which we are completely unaware.Because I am unaware does not mean that it does not exist. On pilgrimage through those long hours, we begin to still the noise of busy life and we begin to hear traces of these other things that are going on. At this point we have choice. Do we delve deeper into these small sounds or do we just ignore them as white sound that has no meaning. My experience is that it is not white noise but rather the gate of heaven. We can go into a deeper experience and that this deeper experience is God.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

A few excuses and a beginning

For those who are followers a profound apology. I have been on pilgrimage again with a group from the shires of England. It was the full way from St Jean to Santiago. It has taken these weeks out of my life. So there as been no blogging. I know many folk use the pilgrimage to blog but for me with a group to support it is not really possible. The walking took a total of 32 days quite fast really. It always leads me to the point where I decided that this is the very last pilgrimage I am going on. I have done my share. Only on return do I realise what has happened in those who I have taken with me that I reconsider and move from a complete ban to as maybe to the certain knowledge that I will be on the next pilgrimage. I am not at that point yet but I do know that I will be soon.I also begin to put the experience into some sort of context and understand what has been happening for me. My reflections this time are many. The one that is most in my mind at the moment is the old testament story of Moses where he asks to see God's face. The answer is rather interesting. He gets a refusal and a promise. I will hide in a cleft in the rock and pass by, covering you with my hand. I will then let you see me from behind. I found that I could relate to this incident as it occured to me that it is only in retrospect that we see that the space into which we have walked on pilgrimage was filled with God. We see him from behind so to speak. For me it has been this realisation that has been in my mind the days since I returned from Spain. I have been in a space with Jesus for nearly five weeks. In this space I have seen great things in his creation and great things he has been doing in others and me. I have discovered again at a deeper level that the Christian faith is not about the formal institutionalise Church, but it is about relationship. These relationships are vertical; us and God, and horizontal; between each other. More than that there is no way of knowing which direction God is going to speak from next.Sometimes it is vertical sometimes horizontal. The constant is that he does speak all the time in that 'still small voice' that Elijah heard, to those who will listen to him.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Friday, 20 March 2009

There as some days when you know something is going to happen. This day was one of them. A steady walk through rolling countryside that would finish at St Juan de Oretaga. The destination was not where it was going to happen. It was not an important pilgrim land mark as St Juan, rather the opposite. A small village that had little going for it called Epinosa, a road side stop in the middle of nowhere, was to be the place of meeting. I knew this was going to be the place where something really happened, but I did not know what. I think a little background would be helpful here. In the 1980's I have been involved, at a distance, with a Church based in Anaheim, California. It was led by a late middle aged bear of a man called John. John had a team of young people who helped with his ministry. In this band was one Eddie Espinoza.His surname sort of stuck in my mind. And so it was on that peg that my spirit hung a feeling that something was going to happen. I know Eddie's surname and the place name are only vaguely like each other. But to a dyslectic like me it is near enough. So I can hear you asking 'what happened'? Nothing really and again everything. There were no flashing lights, or heavenly music, no pilgrim with great insight only the still small voice as the prophet calls him speaking words I need to hear. The day began in the usual way. Got up and dressed had breakfast and walked through the beautiful countryside. It was getting rather hot as I got into Epinosa. As you enter the village you walk past a fountain with the sign ' Aqua non potable'. I was annoyed by this sign. What good is a fountain that has water that is undrinkable? I got angry to myself as I crossed the main road to the other half of the village. Walking past the tourist office on the main road I headed up the slight hill to the top of the town. And was there that the small voice spoke. It told me not to get out of my pram over the fountain or even that I was thirsty. If I was not on the pilgrimage I would not have these problems, but as I was, then the joys and sorrows were all part of the deal.Or to put another way the lack of water was a sign that I was on pilgrimage. I was enjoying the pilgrimage and therefore enjoying the problem was not a negative but rather part of the experience. I thought about it for a while. It seemed to me that there was much that I could view in this light. And the great big problem was one of them. It was part of the signs of life and should be met rather than complained about. I remembered the scripture rejoice in all things. It seemed to me that I had found something important in this new approach to life. I had spent so much of my life wishing for tomorrow so I could be out of whatever was unpleasant about today. I was wishing my life away. When I should be enjoying every experience for what it was~ a sign I was alive.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Out in the wilds I begin to be found.

I am now as fit as I will ever be on this trip. I wonder if I push it, can I do more than one and a half sections in a day. Looking at the guide I see that today's section takes me to Santa Domingo, but can I get as far as Belorado. Twenty five miles now sounds possible. Could I do that much? I decide to go for it. There is no time for touristical stops. The birds on the wall in the Church of Santa Domino are only seen briefly, though a side door that lets you pray in the church without paying to go in. Because of the great big problem( if you have joined this blog for the last few pages you will have to go back and pick up the early story)I really want to get this done as soon as possible.Every day I am talking on the phone for a lengthy time. I want to get home and fix it. So I get on as best I can and as quickly. It is interesting looking back on this part of the pilgrimage.I see that I missed so much, things that on later pilgrimages I did see and touch and experience. These things did add to the quality of the experience and were , then, valuable.However I also see how one day fitted with the next to be a message to me. This message was not completed for some time afterwards. There would be four more pilgrimages before that day. It was all related to the bgp. And it was all about it resolution of the same. So I steamed ahead. I over did it on this day and the next. But even that was part of the message. Tired and hungery towards the end of the day, 22 miles later I saw the welcome Alberque sign, not at Belorado, but 4K before at Villamayor del Rio. This house was out in the countryside. Fields around it and very peaceful. They offered a meal in the evening. This I booked. After the washing and the usual stuff for the next day I settled in a chair in the garden to take in the stunning view. It was great. After the shower I felt good... good and stiff. I had had a rest so I was not so tired even though I could feel the effects of the day. I wished for a gin and tonic, but there was none to be had. The house here is really part of a farm. No bar and I could not be bothered going up the little lane to the local. So I sat in the deckchair at the edge of the field and watched the wheat grow. As I sat I realised that in spite of everything I was enjoying this and inside I was unwinding. There had been many tears about the gbp along the way and even more heartache. But the joy of the Camino was breaking in,just a little. So for this one I'll leave you as I enjoy the sunset, the meal to come which was straight forward Spanish farmers home cooking and excellent in its' way, and a good nights sleep.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

The rest of the day went quickly, By now I was well under way. The previous day had not been easy. It had been very long way and I was tired. Navette came and went in a cup of cafe con leche. And the rolling countryside just kept rolling along. At last the edge of Najerra came into view. I did not find the outskirts very appealing, but I must say that I was not much in the mood for tourism. It was getting a little too much by now. Walking down the hill into the centre of the town did not increase my interest. The motorists were bent on playing that well known pilgrim game that is one of the joys of Spain~'Squash the pilgrim'. This game can be played in any town or village where pilgrims and narrow streets with high walls can be found. On turning the corner I saw the river and isn't it beautiful. The banks looked well kept and really are a jewel. I asked a passerby where the albeque was she told me cross the river by the bridge and it was at the far end of the right hand bank. So off I go, to discover a wooden temporary build that has replaced the monastic house that was the the stop for the night in Najera. It seems nice enough,but oh so busy. I find a bunk and sit on it. It is in the middle bank of bunks. It is as I like it, on the bottom level. At that moment a man arrives, who turns out to be an artist painting his way to Santiago, with his girl friend. They talk loudly to those around them and me about the painting he has done that day and they explain that today they have not walked very far but have done many paintings. The girlfriend is a little fed up that it is stop, start, stop start. Never a really good days walking. I wonder if I should have brought some painting materials with me. The artist opens a folio of work for us all to see. At that moment I am thankful for my camera. I would not like to walk and carry a folio like the one he has. It is difficult enough carrying the stuff I need to wash, sleep and dress with. He finishes in a while and I sit on the edge of my bunk.By this time I have struck up a conversation with the lady on the bunk opposite me. She is about forty and pleasant person to talk to. She is here with her friend. They are both from London. Her friend is in publishing. She does not say what she does for a living. We talk for some time.I tell her that I have got into the swing of doing 20 plus miles a day. She says that they are going slower.I say that I am enjoying clocking up the miles. She says that the thing she enjoys is that , I quote,'the floaty feeling that comes when you are walking and your mind drifts off'. She describes it further. I do not really understand. But I will. I most certainly will. What she has spoken off is the gate of mysticism. This is the heart of a Christan pilgrim prayer experience. But for this pilgrimage and for a year or two it will remain closed to me. It is interesting that I had experienced what she was talking about, but like a gate I had not gone through it into prayer. We are now beginning to get to the areas that this blog is to discuss. I hope that you now understand why I wanted to relate my first experience. I do not think that my first pilgrimage is very different from that of others I have since spoken with. I am reminded of the verse in the scriptures. Enter by the narrow gate that leads to life. I think it is a narrow gate into God presence in pilgrimage. Most bounce off the 'floaty' stage and do not explore it. So their pilgrimage is meaningfully for many reasons, but does not quite get down to the deep places of the soul. Pilgrimage is mystical.

Saturday, 28 February 2009

A little incident that means the world

Next morning saw me off early as usual. Out through the streets of Logrono and into a long linear park. It was here that I realized for the first time that I am a slow walker. Everyone seemed to go past me. It did not worry me too much I had already learnt that at the end of the day most pilgrims had walked a shorter distance that I had. I was happy to let the hares get ahead. I sat on a bench that was beside the path and eat a breakfast of bread and cheese as the sun came up. Then it was away to new adventures. The park continued for some distance. Eventually I came to a large lake that formed the main feature of this country amenity. I think that it must have taken about 3/4 of an hour to walk to the top gate on the other side of the lake. As I came closer, I saw that a man had set up a stall on one of the picnic tables. As I am very English, my first reaction was to wonder what he was selling. And whatever it was I was not buying. Fortunately he was talking to another man. I sidled pass him. I did not escape, for at that moment, the other person moved off. The man at the bench called to me. 'Can I give you a drink'. I was drawn in, but I still doubted his motives. 'Or perhaps a sello'. I gave in and accepted his stamp. He then offed me, bottled water, a new stick, an apple, all of which I declined. I did not want to pay. In desperation he finally said 'then let me give you this'. He placed into my hand a hazel nut. Wished me Bon Camino and I went on. From his sello I now know he is called Marcelino Lobato. As I walked away I became a little ashamed of my reactions and suspicious thoughts. he was giving without any thought of return to the pilgrims that passed him. Some time later an another context, I was relating this story to a group of priests. One of them said that it reminded him of the gift that God gave Lady Julian of Norwich. God said to Julian 'I want to give you a little thing' placing a hazel nut into her hand. Julian asked 'what is this little thing'. ' It is', said God 'the whole world'. I have often thought about this event and my nut. Marcelino was giving me his whole world. To a stranger, because I was a pilgrim and I might have a need. What do I do in this world that is so loving to anyone, let alone strangers?

Thursday, 26 February 2009

I think I can, I know I can!

The night at Los Arcos was spent in the Albeque as per normal. It was nothing to shout about. Los Arcos is one of those towns that does not have much to commend it. It is old, but so am I.The only memory of that town, is a bar on the south side of the road through. This was the first place that I saw the long distance filling of a glass with cider from a barrel trick. The barrel is a large vertical thing with taps on the side. This small tap produces a long jet of fluid that the barman or in my case woman fires into a glass at some distance, say a metre, from the tap Very impressive. But if that is all that they have for entertainment, it quickly palls. On leaving the town we pass the graveyard, which has the legend carved in stone over the entrance 'Where you are, I was once'. The way my body feels today, I feel that I am with you already. Today is a beautiful gentle walk to Viana. The large church in the centre is open and the Christian community is one of the most welcoming on the Camino. On another trip I met their priest. He was not at all like the people. Perhaps they could swop notes.The people seem to have a continuous rota of welcome for pilgrims. In this church, in the season of Easter, they have a very beautiful black Madonna, with silver stars around her head. I took a picture,but as it has the shakes I will not exhibit it here. I hope to get a chance to photograph it again this May (09). This town on the hill has a most fantastic view towards Logrono. Whilst I was there, they were repairing the road to Logrono, so it was easy to walk the straight road without traffic,rather than go through the fields. The picture at the head of this page is the view from the town of Viana. Beyond the view of the picture are gardens that lead down into the City of Logrono. From a distance the hills on the south side of the city have an odd look to them. They are the only hills that I know of that seem to have had the tops taken off. It gives an appearance of leveling to provide a Spaceport for some ancient star going local population. I could just imagine a huge Space freighter the size of one of our oil tankers descending onto the flat top. Well I can dream like the next man! . Logrono Albeque is a modern, well appointed establishment. The pilgrim is often met by a local who is also Mayor of the City. He is great. Welcoming, friendly and helpful. A real friend to pilgrims. It was he who taught me the reply to thank you is 'not at all, or it is nothing', 'da nada'. I hope he was truthful. I have said it to many people. A walk around the town a meal and bed. It was a day without any alarms and I was beginning to realize that I might make it after all.

Monday, 23 February 2009

A hard day and meeting an Angel.

Near Azqueta. Road works in connection with the new motorway.
The house is astir. It is a new day, another walk. It is still rather dark outside, but we set off anyway. Down through the ancient hill village to the Roman bridge at the bottom of the village. This was a fine bridge, mostly still in good shape.On the far side one wall of the bridge has broken down so that you have to climb down through what were the insides of the bridge that have now spewed out into the river. Apart from that big hole, most of it is as it was in Roman times. It would not be a difficult job to repair and restore this structure. I wonder why they don't do it. I can see from looking at the map that the track is going back and forth crossing and recrossing the road. I take the short cut straight down the road. It is very quite.The Sun begins to come up and I enjoy a new day. Estella is reached for breakfast. I sit in a town bar on the main street, as it climbs out of the town. I study the map. I am at the end of the section that I had cut in half to press on to Cirauqui. It is only 9:30am. I wonder if I can do a whole section of 22kms, but that is only 13 or so miles, it sounds shorter in miles and I decide that it is on. I also decide that I will have to cut a few corners, walk along the road to make it all happen faster. Phone calls are also made about the gbp. They go on for a while. They are not satisfactory; neither do the help the situation or me. In fact for me thay make things worse. They will dominate the day in a way that will make today's walk the hardest yet. However, at this point I do not know it. Coming out of the bar,I go up the hill following the yellow arrows. They take me up a steep hill into a new housing estate. I find this rather suspicious. I wonder if I am on another of those Camino wild goose chases that add miles, show you some not very pretty place, and take you to a second cousins bar that just happens to be on the way. And sure enough here comes the bar.I am about 150 feet above where I would really like to be and the path is taking me straight down the hill on steps. I have been on a big loop. There is the main road with pavements that lead from where I was to where I am now. It has a gentle rise to it and is 30% of the distance I have walked. We are at a zebra crossing. I can see that the Camino crosses the road here to go off into another circuit of old road. I know from the map that we will rejoin it later after an extended walk. Oh boy. You do not get me twice in so short a distance.I walk straight up the road. Later I find out that what I missed on that loop was the free wine fountain. Win some; lose some, but not loose both! I keep to the road for a great deal of that day. It is hot, hard work. The gbp is eating away inside and I am getting very tired. The distance seems endless and I wonder if I am really up to this. Catch the bus home now screams every muscle. A bar appears around lunch time. It is full of the usual suspects. Old men playing cards,truck drivers, husbands~fugitives from wives in siesta time. I wish this was an Alberque. I would gladly stop here. I carry on. About an hour later I am about three miles away from Los Arcos. I am walking on a road which is undulating. We are in a rough scrub countryside and I am on my own. I am all in, but have to continue. I cannot stop here in the middle of nowhere. Far ahead of me in the heat hazy I see someone coming towards me. I watch as he gets closer and closer. I do no know why I am looking at him intently, but there is something about him that holds me. He looks like a pilgrim in dress and baggage, but he is walking the wrong way and off the Camino route. I am off the Camino route. This is not an easier way and no one would return on this hard road so who is he? He looks up and fixes me with his eyes. This is extraordinary. I feel him looking into me with the question 'Are you alright'. My mind says 'Yes'. I feel a breath of refreshment blowing through me and I am stronger for the encounter. Our eyes part and we go our separate ways. My mind straight away wonders if this has been an Angel encounter. They do happen on the Camino, but not to me. I turn to look at him, but he has gone over the hill and out of sight. My interest is up now, so I turn around. If I walk a little way back. I will see him. I do this. On the top of the hill I have a view of the last 1.5 miles I have walked. There is no one! And no turnings off, or houses or bars or anything, just scrub! Was it an Angel? I think so.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

The Alberque at Ciraque.

A generous heart

This hill village is really beautiful, especially the views across the valleys to the mountains beyond. The Alberque as good. It has the feeling of a private house. It is well appointed and the owner/hospitaller is warm and welcoming. The only disturbing thing is that I cannot find anywhere to have the evening meal. I have already paid for it, but a Comidor is not to be seen. All is revealed later. We are told to assemble at the front of the A. The lady takes us behind the house, through a door and into another set of rooms below the house that must have been the cellars of the building. There we eat a well prepared meal of the usual type. This is somewhat spoilt by a French woman who sits at the shared table near me. She takes sometime to berate me about the English; always expecting everyone to speak their tongue. I am uncomfortable with this and rather wish that she did not talk to me at all, either in French or English. But I hold my tongue. It maybe that I will meet her many times in the days ahead. For that reason, to keep things sweet. I accept the rebuke. The day is over I am lying in bed thinking about what I have learned in the pilgrimage. I have gone over and over the great big problem. There has been no resolution and I have no ideas how to solve it. I have prayed into and out of the issues without any result. I have spoken on the phone several times and things are not any easier. If anything they are worse. My mind and heart are tired. My body is tired from all this walking. I have learnt that I have brought too much stuff and I am in the process of leaving it behind. I have removed stuff from my bag every night now. And the bag gets heavier and heavier each day. What a picture of life. I can see that my life is crowded by stuff.I have become a carrier of things I do not need.I do not know why I am here. In some ways it all seems rather pointless. But I am pleased with the distances that I am walking. I can do far more than I had ever expected. It has been a delight to learn that I'm was wrong in my thinking. I had been allowing the thoughts to distill in my life that I should not and could not expect to be able to do what I had done as a young man. A pain here and slowness there, this was to be expected in an older man. So 'Take it easy, soon be dead'. What a blasphemy. I have been wishing myself to an early grave. I have learnt that body and soul should not be separated. I am rejoicing in a new found vigor of spirit and body because I have pushed laziness and lazy thoughts aside. So all is not bad. With those thoughts I go to sleep. I sleep the good holy sleep of the pilgrim.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

A quiet Valley walk

The bridge and village are not quite what I had imagined. In my minds eye I had seen a steep side valley with the bridge at the bottom, beyond the houses were clinging to the side of the hill. The bridge was the same shape, but not in that place. This was the first fo many changes to what I had expected. The Camino always keeps you guessing. I crossed the bridge. There are few building on the other side and the footpath takes a sharp turn left. After two hundred yards it then takes a sharp right and enters a wide bottomed valley. I was alone. Nobody to be seen. I do not expect the Spanish out at this time. It is the middle of siesta. I did expect pilgrims there were none. The pilgrims who were with me have stopped for the day. Those who were in front are leaving me behind. I have noticed since that day that the quietest time of day is early afternoon. That is the time one can expect to be alone. It is a wonderful walk along the valley. After awhile I notice that the path has been diverted. My instinct is to ignore the changes. Fortunately, I do not. The new path is not easy. It climbs steeply, is narrow and has not had a great deal of use. It shows signs of mechanical earth movers that have pushed the path through where there was none before. The ground has that uncompacted feel about. As I get to the top of the hill I understand why. The motorway has come through here. The original Camino has given place to the car.I have to content myself with walking high on a shoulder about the fast new road.The day comes to close about two hours later. The town of Ciraque is before me. It is a traditional hill top village. The church at the top, the rest of the houses huddling together for support at its' heals. Walking up the hill I notice that everywhere is restored. All the houses have that new paint look. There are not many people about. There is one general store.I cannot find a bar. The albeque is in the centre of the village, by the Church at the top of the hill.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Bless me Father!

So I set off the next morning whilst it was still darkish. The way could not have been more obvious. Straight down the the back of the nasty little hill and out into the fields. So as I walked I thought about how many days I still had left till I could get back to the UK. Oh I've just run out of tarmac and there is a fence ahead of me. So I retrace my steps, to the last cross roads. There I look for a yellow arrow in the yellow light of the street lamps. I do not find it as the marked route has cut this corner off with a short cut through the estate. I am a little unnerved. I walk back to the fence and wonder if I am supposed to climb over it. I see no signs of a path on the other side so that cannot be it. Back to the cross roads. In the distance I notice a group of pilgrims crossing the field that I have recently been looking into. But they are on a parallel course to the imagined way that I had hoped for. This unmarked road must be it and sure enough it is. I meet up with the lost Camino shortly after. It descends into open fields that smell damp and growing. As I walk the crushed herbs under foot release their oils that fill the air with nature in the morning. Looking up, ahead I see that the way rises to the top of what seems a low hill.The top is not far away and it is not to step a climb. Oh! the deceits of the eyes. It takes over two hours to reach the top. It is quite steep.As it is morning in May there is dew and fresh lush grass underfoot. Wonderful grease to slip on the clay beneath. Two thirds of the way up. I hear the noise of a group a group of Irishmen talking with verve. I would not like to call them old. But they were most certainly senior. I pause on the path near where they are sitting. It is good to hear the Queen's English spoken by one who does it every day. One of the Irishmen look down at me and asks where I have come from. I tell him. He corrects the question. Not where had I started today, but where was my home. I tell him. I also answer the next question he puts to me, by saying that I am an Anglican Priest. He is in raptures. 'Glory be, bless me Father' he says. So I do. He then tell me that he likes the pilgrimage and discloses that he has been on many before and lists them. He does not include the Camino as this is his first. He is quiet for a moment and says 'I can't stand the gradient. I love the pilgrimage, but I can't stand the gradient'. I leave him with his friends chatting on the rocky outcrop and go to the top of the hill. At the top there is a large metal sculpture of a line of pilgrims in silhouette. It also forms the background to the banner on this blog. Now it is down hill to lunch in Puente. A steady walk after a steep decent. And with the bridge, the end of the first major section.

House keeping

Those who are following this blog, and there seem to be a few , may well wondering what is going on here. In my introduction on the left of this page I speak of experiments in theology and here I am just telling a tale of my first pilgrimage. This is because what will come later was a great surprise to me. I never set off to have my understanding of the faith so radically changed. I had no idea it was coming. So I want you to know the whole background of those early days. If you want me to cut to the chase and dive into theological discussion, you will have to wait. There is quite deal to come yet. If you haven't been in on the beginning, then I would recommend that you go to the page bottom and work up. If you cannot bear any more of this stuff but want the main feature, then come back in about a month. In the mean time you might like to look at the new web site of Peterborough pilgrims to Santiago. This was built by us to help new pilgrims understand what they are getting into and to invite anyone who wants to come with us to join us. And another thing; It would be great if you felt you were able to sign up for this blog~ helps encourage the writer that he is not talking to himself.

Monday, 16 February 2009

So good night Vienna

The modern way into Pamplona is to go through the park, down a dusty track that appears to be through small holdings following the river until you come to the bridge over it that takes you into the area of town that is nearest the Cathedral. I found my way and was standing in front of the Cathedral wondering what to do next, as the door seemed to be closed.Just then a coach load of Japanese tourist came up with their guide. He asked me to explain my sack and stick and shell and with that they set off in a frenzy of photography. What a experience. It made me feel firstly, ' I must be a real pilgrim.' Then a bit of a freak, a tourist sideshow in the tour guides working day.I was glad to get away. I walked through the city to the University. I had been told that I could get a sello on my pilgrim passport there. What I was not told was that I would have to walk well out of my way to get it. It was the end of the day, however, so what the heck! A shortish walk out of town to Cizur Menor. This village is at the top of a cruel little hill that takes it out of you. Not too welcome at the end of a longish day's walking.The countryside was now more rolling that straight up and down as in the three previous days. This hill is really the first of gentle hills that go on for several hours up and then the same down The Alberque in Cizur Menor is a delight. Run by the Roncal family with a beautiful garden setting. It has been developed over many years as a place of refreshment or pilgrims. For many year Mr, Mrs Roncal have given themselves to this work. Mrs Roncal is a healer of feet without equal in this part of the Camino. On my last visit,October 2008 she demonstrated the effectiveness of burn cream for blisters on the feet. She was also on her own as her husband had passed away since my last visit. I wonder who will take on her work when it is time for her to stop. She was saying that she does it all herself these days. I wanted to say, 'give us a job! I'll take it on from where you leave off'. Being English and polite I didn't. I wonder what would have happened if I had. Round about now Hans turns up. He did stay late to have quiet shower after something of a lie in, and his long German legs have gotten him to the bottom of the short nasty hill at the same time as my sawn of jobbies have. We walk up the hill together. He tells me about his day, I cannot remember any of the details now. I do not tell him about mine which has been another 15 rounds with the great big problem. a few tears thrown in for good measure. I ache and I hurt inside. But for now I listen as he tells me about the plans for the evening. Hans was the one who said that we should aim for Cizur. Get a good place to stay, blast through the City of Pamplona, and catch a bus back into town after a rest. So we did. I stood on the wrong side of the road waiting for that bus that would take us into the city and to the famous Tapas bars. The bus came. It was on the correct side the one I was standing on. It felt wrong. My mind was clearly still in the UK. The Bus is a short ride, down the hill and into the main areas of town. Hans pokes me. It's time to get off. So I do and so does he. We cross the road and walk through the streets. Hans tells me that the bus home is on the opposite side of the roundabout. I take mental note of the exact place. It does not strike me why he is so keen to make sure I know where to catch the bus. Soon it will. To be precise one beer later. We had ordered a couple of tapas, nothing very big, and he says' I'll see you later. All the bars along here have different tapas, try a few'. With that he is off. This is not what I had expected. I thought that he might be able to tell about Pamplona and we might chat for a little. The was a little 7 minutes to be exact. So I did as he had said and moved on to another bar. The long evening tapas supper rather ground to a halt at that point. I had a couple more pieces and caught the bus to Maison Roncal. Pilgrimage has some surprises not everyone turns out as you expect. For the most part they do, but now and again....... I got up early the next morning. Today was to be the day when I got going. I had looked at the guide. The next section was to Puente la Riena. 20k. If I cut the section beyond into two and did half of that as well as today's section I would cover about 30k, if I stopped at Cirauque. Could it be done? I think I can! As for Hans, I never saw him again. That 'short Little fella' he had called me. Well that 'Short little fella' was going to sleep in a town further on that you tonight. So good night Vienna..

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Catch up with pictures

Valacarlos. On the road route.


Albergue at Larrasoana.

Looking west

Morning on Boar road. He was seen crossing on the rise ahead.

Pamplona and a Boar.

So with the gbp going over and over I fell asleep that night. What was I to do I really wanted to go home and sort things. In the night an idea came to me. Dig your heals in and walk longer and faster faster. Try and look at the maps and guide and cut of some of the corners. Take the direct route and do 1.5 sections from the guide. That will mean 30k per day. That will be tough. I may not be able to do it and the sections may not allow it. The next morning the American students were not so keen to get up or make noise as they had the night before. I got up quickly and rather early. It was still dark. Breakfast was non-existent. And because of the darkness and the thoughts of the previous night, I set off along the road away from Larrasoana. There were no cars or lorries at that time. It was very quite. I think in the next hour or two I only saw 3 or 4 vehicles. The Sun began to rise. As yet it was still below the level of the hills that run parallel to the road.So the right hand side was gaining in light and the left side was in a deep shadow of night. I kept walking. As I walked I looked to my left,up on the hill, I saw movement. What was that? Could it be? The moving, whatever it was came closer. It was now still some 500 yards away and indistinct. It was a wild boar. He was very still now. He had caught my smell. Pilgrims are very good at smelling. So it is no surprise that I had come to his attention so far away. With that he was off. Keeping his distance he came up the field to the road, over it,into the field on the right and up the hill into the sunshine. Running all the way as fast he could go. Red in the morning sun he came to a small copse of trees. He ran along the fence until he found a hole and went in. That was the last I saw of him.I have never seen a wild boar before and it was riveting. I had heard that they were dangerous if you got too close. Had I walked the main route I would have missed him. He would have gone before I was close enough to see him. So even on the road there are wonders to be experienced. You may wonder what had happened to Hans. He was tall with long legs. For him walking was done quickly. So he liked to get up later and shower. At Larrasona he was still asleep. he had told me to head for Cizur Minor on the other side of Pamplona and that was were I was going, but not until I had been through the great city.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

That first night.

The meal that night was much better than I had expected. Salad followed by trout and flan. I still could not believe how little all this was. I sat opposite a youngish man. We were at a table that was designated as a table for those on their own. I asked him if today had been his first days walking. He told me that it was his last. He had started in Santiago. He wanted to walk home as he had walked to Santiago last year. I kept quite about my experiences of the day. I was in the company of serious pilgrims. And so to bed. I lay in bed for sometime thinking about what I had taken on. Now the idea of doing 550 miles really came home to me. I must be crazy. I thought about my reasons for being there in the first place. I was here because I could not be at home! I began to feel a little home sick. And I feel asleep. What a lovely dream. Oh! the noise, the lights, the morning. Hardly light and they are on the move. The pilgrims are dressing and leaving. It is about 6:30am. I am up with not very good grace. Down to breakfast which is in the next village. I make myself understood even though I have little Spanish. It is another beautiful days walk. I am struck by memorials by the wayside to pilgrims who have died. As the day goes on I feel more and more for them. The pack is getting heavy now. I must find a way to get it lighter. I had noticed a shelf in the undercroft at Roncesvalles that had all manner of stuff on it. I now understood why. Left behind by pilgrims who had too much stuff. What a picture and lesson of life. In the west we have too much stuff. It bogs us down and stops us doing what we are made to do.Be in the presence of God. Larrasona came into view. The Alberque is in the town hall with an extension across the road. It had a portacabin for the facilities as well as a largish group of loud American students. The noise was a jar after the quite hours walking. But they are young and having a good time. I wonder if they will be so noisy tomorrow morning, early, when it is time to set off. We shall see.Their noise was welcome after all. The day had not been that difficult to walk, but on my own, without distraction my mind had picked away at the gbp. Over and over it had gone. I want to get home to fix it. Prayers of desperation. And some self pity. Why was I here what was I supposed to learn in this situation. I have no idea.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

My Story continues.

This is my first view of the great monastery of Roncesvalles. And it is very welcome.Now for the test. I had been told about the provisions made for pilgrims. Some places free, some donations, some 3-7 euros. I wanted to believe it. My sense tells me that nobody, but nobody would charge so little for a night sleep and a shower. I have enough in cash to take me to Santiago if it is true. I also had my credit card if it was not. So sit I at the large refectory table that is in the office in the gatehouse. I fill in the form ,get the passport stamped and find to my delight that pilgrims really are welcome. They are charged a small amount for the night. I do not expect very much for so little. I am overjoyed that it now seems that what I had been told and had read about pilgrimage is unfolding. I walk down the wide roadway, past the split rock of Roland, towards what has clearly been a great tithe barn and is now the Alberque of the Abbey. Inside it is not the under converted barn I am expecting, but it is a beautifully fitted out, open plan dormatory, with well appointed facilities. On later visits I realise that there are too few showers with little hanging space. On this visit it is heaven. I am very tired. So a quick shower and a rest. I take the booklets that I have brought and begin to study them with eyes that have not looked as closely as this at these materials, thinking about and planning the following day.
After my rest, I go for a walk. Examine the Church. Sink a beer. Discover that the meal is not until after Mass. I book a meal ticket. Hans slopes up. He has had a good day, high in the hills. It is now that he explains that his thirst for the route Napoleon is because his last trip was on a bike. It is a first for him as well. The last trip was up the road I have just walked. As a guide his star is sinking fast. Never mind I buy him a beer.
I feel the need to be along and pray about the gbp so I leave him in the sunshine and go once more to the Church. My prayer are in words albeit in my mind. I go over once more my troubles. This is no different from what I have been doing all day. So what have I been doing all day? What is this I am doing.? I'm I thinking or praying. Was I praying then and thinking now or the otherway around? I am a little tired to tangle with that metaphysical problem at this stage of today. So I got out again into the sunshine to wander about.I wander about for so long, forgetting that there is a small matter that I have not altered my watch, that I miss the beginning of Mass. Well let's be honest about half of the service. I am annoyed at my stupidity. I stand at the back and join.I recieve and am blessed. Shortly I am outside once more with an small animal devoring my guts. I really need Dinner. And I need it now.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

The next part of my story

The Spanish gate at St Jean de Pied de Port
Walking up the hill into the town we are faced with a tee junction. We turn left and walk one hundred yards up the hill, coming to a stop outside a shop. Only it is not a shop it is an office. The office of the French Confraternity of St James. The office is full. There have been those who walk faster than we who get to claim their credential before us. We join the queue. All shapes of pilgrims are here. Long ones, short ones, bald, hairy, badly cut ones, young ones, old ones, old ones trying to be young ones. young ones trying to be old ones, Male and female he made them, pilgrims he made them all. I am called forward. I present my credential. It is stamped and returned a few details are taken. Name, age, passport number, sex etc. Hans is next. His interview is a little longer. He has to fill in a more comprehensive form. Why does he want to go on pilgrimage? It is Cultural, Religious, Other or a blend of the three. It's a blend. He gets his pilgrim passport. It is smaller than mine. That will fit into his pocket much more easily than the A5 thing that I have.We withdraw to the street where Hans tells me that he is going to walk the route Napoleon. The high way across the top of the mountains. I am for the low way, recommended for those who are not very fit. That's me, fat and unfit. We walked together to the end of the town. Facing us at the bottom of the hill is the Spanish gate. This is the real start of the pilgrimage. It is 550 miles of walking from here. Outside the gate he goes one way and I go the the other, as Hans has directed me. I begin to walk downhill only to walk in a complete circle back into St Jean by another way. Perhaps Hans is not such a reliable guide as I thought? Again I leave by the Spanish gate and go up the hill this time to a very obvious fork in the road. Here I turn right and skirt around the side of a hill to join what seems a fairly mainish road.At this stage there is a walkway or pavement.It seems positively suburban.But soon we are out of the town and no pavement.I have by now picked up the famous yellow arrows originally put down by Father Elias of Cebreiro many years before. I hope these will take me all the way to Santiago. The day was not easy, but it was uneventful. The most exciting part was where the path diverged from the road and cut a large number of S bends off. It was at this point that I learnt that all the pilgrims went by the route Napoleon. This meant that any off road sections were overgrown and not trampled. The result being that it was a hard path to walk. Towards the end of the day I breasted the hill to come out on a small road at the highest point on the way. Coming towards me was a couple of older folk. In the front was a weathered, gnarled woman,looking happy and full of life. She was having a great time. Behind, was what I took to be her husband. He looked beaten up to say the least. I was glad that I had gone the easier way! I wondered if he wished he had? Later I discovered that they were French. They were retired. They were going to do the whole length of the Pilgrimage. Every afternoon I came across them in the same state of liveliness/exhaustion. It went on for three days until one evening she was on her own. On enquiry I found that they had had a heart to heart. The result was that she was to walk and he had caught the bus to Santiago. He was there by now, sitting on a bar stool drinking cold beer. There were others with me at this time. We all went silent. Drinking the words in and in our imaginations a share of his Santiago beer. The silence said it all

Bayonne;The river and town

After an hour and a half I land at Bierritz. Transfer bus to Bayonne. A public service bus really which takes for ever or so it seemed at the time. Get off on the wrong side of the river from the railway station; walk across the bridge to the square in front of the railway. Pause and look at the timetable. Last train at 6pm, I am not ready for that and I've been expecting to stray in Bayonne. I stick to the plan noting that there is a train 8mm tomorrow. As I am looking and planning a man who has been on the bus rushes up, tries to buy a ticket, is told that it is too late, although the train is standing in the station. I watch as I can see that he is boiling with frustration. Alongside is another man. I can see that there is no connection between them. They both have sticks and rucksacks so they are linked, they just don't know it yet. They are pilgrims. Neither is able to get to St Jean tonight. All three of us will stay in Bayonne tonight. I go to the Hotel Ibis which is as disappointingly standard as very other chain hotel I have ever been in. It is cheap, but not cheap as in hostals in Spain. This I do not know yet. If the Hotel was very bland the restaurant is not. After a walk up and down the town, during which I discover a good butcher who sells great sausage.I find a small bar by the river in the upper part of the town that looks as though it will be cheap. Outside they display a plate de jour. It is an interesting menu. I order and get a simple meal beautifully cooked that was delightful. I am somewhat surprised. I am also happy and grateful. I feel that God is in control of this adventure. Back to the Hotel and so to bed. Next morning I get up early or as it will be for the foreseeable future the normal time of 5:45am. To me this is a strain. The strain is devalued by the excitement that I feel. Today I start walking. I am at the station by 7:30am. Ticket in hand I go onto the platform. After a few short minutes, first one pilgrim, then the other arrives, from wherever they have stayed all night. I have seen nothing of them all night, or this morning, except I did see the Italian, who I knew to be Italian at that moment because I saw a small flag on his bag, as I walked around the town last night. The Italian stands well down the platform. He is out of conversation range. The other is next to me. I asked if he is going to Santiago.It seems a strange question to be asking on a railway station that is not on a direct line or even the same size tracks as Santiago, to a person who is not going to use the train to get there. He tells that he is and that he is German. This is his second pilgrimage. Bingo! Someone to show me the ropes. He is meeting a friend in three weeks time and wonders if he will get to the agreed meeting point in time. The train comes and we get on it. Now railways are one on my 'things'. I have always been interested in them. This journey then is the icing on the cake for me as we wind our way up the valley towards the start of the walk. It is a bright and clear morning. The French Pyrenees are beautiful. And what is that in the distance. High peaks.That's where we are going. Now! Today!. The heart swells again. After one hour we are there! St Jean station is the end of the line. The platform is full of people pushing and shoving to get on the train back to Bayonne. I am somewhat amused and puzzled. I had thought that this would be a one way trip. Pilgrims to the mountain, thence to Santiago. So why are there so many coming back. Have they started a pilgrimage only to give it up in the light of the first days experience? I never find an answer to this question. So I guess that they were ramblers. Returning home after a few days walking the mountains around St Jean. My thoughts are broken by Hans, the German pilgrim,to me guide, telling me we must get off and hurry. We have to get to the pilgrim office before the crowd or we will be in the office for ever. We need to start walking as soon as possible. I have my pilgrim passport already. It was issued by the British Confraternity. I go along for the ride anyway. He knows what he is doing. I do not.