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.