Thursday, July 22, 2010

Returning Home

Our Grand Trip is over. One hundred days exploring the Holy Land, Italy, Spain, Sweden, France, and Ireland (with a surprise trip to Boston time thrown in). We've spent the last days reflecting on the adventures, and have let the underlying meaning(s) take their time to surface. This experience truly gifts us "life and food for future years."

I look back to my first blog post written in London (in transit to Jerusalem) and notice its focus on a local cemetery-turned-public-park. Funny: this evening I walked through another cemetery, part of Glendalough National Monument in Ireland. Centuries ago, St. Kevin found a stunning, serene mountain valley embracing two narrow lakes and decided to live in a hard-to-reach cave as a hermit. As news of his commitment and wisdom spread, followers arrived. Since it became difficult to be a popular hermit, he founded a monastery instead.

On my way back from the local tavern with correct change for the internet service, I realized that I could have the old monastery grounds to myself away from the daily tour bus crowds. The double stone arch marked my entrance as I made my way past a roofless stone church, its floor now covered only with gravel and the occasional grave marker. A vista opened down the valley we had hiked earlier today, swallows flitted past, and it suddenly occurred to me that this was sacred ground. I slipped off my sandals, not because a burning bush began talking to me, but as a way of honoring this place of rest and devotion to God. Even more, I thought as I walked on the fine gravel, I wanted to honor and give thanks for the privilege of time and money that made this trip, peppered with pilgrimages, possible. We return home to the busy business of moving to Tennessee and beginning three years of seminary study. I will bring with me a quieted inside, gratitude, a renewed awe for God's expansive creation and a honed respect for history and what it tells us today about what humans are capable of.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Why I Just Walked 72 Miles

Joined by our good friends Matt and Molly, Laurel and I spent the last five days walking the final 72 miles of the Camino de Santiago, a medieval pilgrimage route in northern Spain to the traditional site of St. James' final resting place (the story of how he got there from the Middle East, which involved a stone boat, is worth a read!)

As you can imagine, we had a lot of time for thinking, so I spent some of the time pondering the question, "Why am I doing this?!" The coolness factor, for starters: when else will I walk 69 miles in 4 days and 21 miles in one day ever again? Good bragging material, clearly. As a goal-oriented Western experience collector, there was a specific goal and (thankfully) good signage that led to a successful arrival at our destination.

Then there's the pragmatic rationalization: since I'm soon to begin seminary and aspire to become an Episcopal priest, I figured it would be helpful as I imagined how far Jesus walked from the Sea of Galilee to the Jordan River by Jericho to be baptized. Practical, right?

We figured it would be fun to travel with Matt and Molly, and it was. The four of us hadn't really factored in how the my-foot-is-about-to-explode pain might detract from the fun quotient, however.

Of course, there was something else larger than these reasons and less tangible, more mysterious. For more than 1000 years people have walked far greater distances than our measly 116 km for penance, for hope, in faith. Pilgrims packed Santiago's cathedral at the end of the journey for the daily Mass, sitting at the base of columns, standing everywhere, beyond tired and still searching for something even as we realized this particular quest was over. We yearned for a ritual that would preserve the spirit of this experience and guide us in a new direction.

We head to Ireland for 9 days tomorrow, and then we will be home in San Diego for only a few days before driving to Tennessee to begin seminary. It too will be cool, practical, and fun (hopefully free from foot pain, though) -- but it also involves a larger, longer, and more mysterious search for Home.