Saturday, March 26, 2011


As I was getting ready for Sunday's sermon about confronting fears that keep us from moving forward in faith, I remembered a thread on one of the El Camino forums.  It was started by a young woman named Hilda who started to walk El Camino in 2008 and only got 3 miles down the 500 mile pilgrim way before she gave up.  Nevertheless she continued to feel the pull to walk, even though she continued to be frightened of it.  Hilda's honest sharing of her fears and her failure sparked a very honest, supportive, often moving discussion.  For more information, see the link below.

In the responses, a number of people shared their own fears.  While I don't think I am really frightened, re-reading this thread has made me reflect about the things I am anxious about.
So I thought I would write them down and see if I find that process helps me get some perspective.  So here is my anxiety list.

I am anxious about getting blisters.

 Actual Camino Blister.  Scary!
I am anxious about getting some sort of injury.

I am anxious about getting sick.

I am anxious about getting lost (even though the trail is well-marked, I can get lost ANYWHERE)
 Follow the yellow arrows.This doesn't seem so scary.
I am anxious about sleeping in pilgrim refugios with lots of snoring, farting strangers who come in too late or leave too early and disturb my sleep.
 Definitely scary.
I am anxious about sharing a bathroom and shower with those same strangers

I am anxious about bedbugs.
 Really, really scary
And, most of all, I am anxious about going all that way, walking all those miles, and not really experiencing anything spiritual or meaningful. 
 Is that all there is?  Scariest of all.

If any of my first anxieties come to pass, I trust this will happen--

If I get blisters, I will take care of them.

If I get injured, someone will help me.

If I get sick, someone will take care of me.

If I get lost, someone will help me find my way.

If I end up sharing sleeping and bathroom arrangements with rude or snoring pilgrims, I will put on my big girl panties and deal with it.

Hopefully, pre-treating my sleeping bag and sensible precautions will deal with the actual bedbug problem, if not the anxiety.

As for the final anxiety, the one that I won't have some sort of spiritual experience, this I leave to God.  I trust that all I have to do is pack an open heart.

Saturday, March 19, 2011


I go to Body Pump three mornings a week.  Body Pump is group weight lifting set to high energy music.  

Since I've been really lazy about pushing myself when it comes to strength training, it's been very helpful to have a class to challenge me.  What I can I say--I thrive on structure.


At some point during the class, the instructor will yell out, "Don't forget to breathe!"    Now you would think when you are grunting and sweating and struggling to lift a big old weight off your chest that the last thing you need to be reminded of is to breathe.  But invariably I discover that I've been holding my breath from the exertion.  So I let go, take in deep breath, and as the needed oxygen floods my body, the weight doesn't seem nearly so heavy.
I find the same thing true in my spiritual life. It is no accident that in the Bible the Greek and Hebrew words for Spirit are the same as the words of breath.  In Hebrew, the word is ruah--so Genesis 1:2 tells us that at the dawn of creation the breath of God moved across the face of the waters of chaos.  The Greek word is pneuma.

God's Spirit is our life breath, but often in the midst of difficulties I just put my head down, grunt and sweat and struggle along all by myself.  I get too busy to pray in more than perfunctory snatches.   I go around all knotted up with anxiety and tension.  But if I take just a few minutes and BREATHE....literally.  My favorite form of meditative prayer is centering prayer, which includes deep, reflective, intentional breathing.  When I pray this way, when I take the time to center and rest myself in the One who is the Breath of Life, suddenly things don't seem so overwhelming.

That's why an intentional daily practice of prayer is so important.  This came home to me earlier this week.  Lent is always harried, but between losing our associate pastor and getting ready for my big walk (plus a few other things) this Lenten season has seems especially demanding.  Luckily, our Lenten study, The Open Door by the always wise Joyce Rupp, requires an intentional daily practice of meditation and prayer.  

On Tuesday I plunged into the required meditation time with some irritation.  One more thing to check off my to do list before I could get on to the "important" things that required my attention.  I was knotted and harried and grouchy.  But after a few moments of silence, of deep, contemplative breathing, I found my body suffused with life-giving oxygen and my spirit suffused with God's life-giving ruah.  God's breath, God's ruah moved across the waters of chaos that was my life at that moment and created peace.  My body unknotted, my spirit quieted.  The do list was as long as ever, but the knots of anxiety in both body and spirit had been replaced with a feeling of calm.

Just as I need my Body Pump instructor to call out reminders to "Breath!"  so an intentional daily practice of prayer and meditation calls us to us to breathe in the Breath of Life.
 The words of one of my favorite hymns speak to me in new ways:

Come and find the quiet center
In the crowded life we lead,
find the room for hope to enter,
find the frame where we are freed:
clear the chaos and the clutter,
clear our eyes so we can see
all the things that really matter,
be at peace and simply be.

I suppose that is one of the major hopes I take with my to El Camino. To clear away the chaos and the clutter, to re-discover all the things that really matter, to simply be.  And to have time to breathe...

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Shoe-bedo or Shoe-bedon't

Pergrinos are obsessed with their feet.  There are long discussions on El Camino forums about footwear--hiking boots vs. hiking shoes vs. trainers.  Goretex vs. leather.  1000 mile socks vs. smart wool socks.  Should you slather your feet with vaseline each day?  Toughen them by soaking them in tea?  All this discussion is about preventing the scourge of all long-distance walkers, the dreaded blisters.
I have read accounts of blisters the size of bagels.  Getting blisters can be extremely debilitating. They are not to be taken lightly.  And since you have only your feet to take you up to 500 miles or more, figuring out the best possible footwear is a very important decision.

As the date of for my pilgrimage drew near (less than 2 months now!) I  started to fret about my footwear.  The last couple of weeks my fretting grew into a fullblown footwear crisis.

Most experienced walkers recommend well-broken in boots, so almost a year ago, I bought a pair of Keen hiking boots to wear on our hiking vacation in Rocky Mountain National Park.  They worked out pretty well--no blisters!--but were maybe just a wee bit snug.  (I have since found out that Keens run small). But I had successfully hiked over some pretty rigorous terrain, so I put my fears aside and decided the Keens were fine.

But the other consistent bit of advice about footwear is that you should get your boots a little large because your feet will swell. There was definitely no room for swollen feet in these boots.

Thus my footwear angst.  Should I stick with my old hiking boots that had worked out pretty well last summer?  Was my nagging concern about my boots being too small a legitimate concern or just a product of my anxiety about my upcoming trek?  

Good weather and my schedule finally coincided a couple of weeks ago and I was able to get out for a 7-mile hike with my backpack loaded up with about 11 pounds of canned goods (about 3/4 of the weight I will be carrying on El Camino).  The pack made a big difference--the boots were definitely too small.

So I was off on a shoe shopping venture--and I wasn't looking for cute strappy sandals or an adorable pair of red high heels.  I was looking for sturdy, comfortable, waterproof boots.  (Waterproof is very important--no telling when you will be walking in an all day rainstorm.)

I tried on a pair of Merrells that felt great, but a little research on the internet revealed that the waterproofing didn't hold up.  I actually bought a pair of Vasque boots that felt great in the store and had gotten great internet reviews, but just wearing them around the house resulted in hotspots on my feet, the precursor of the dreaded blisters.  Those went back to the store and I went back to square one.

After some more checking, I ended up with another pair of Keens, identical to my old pair, only a size larger and in a different color.  I went out for a 8.8 mile walk today with another loaded pack and they were great!  So meet my 
new best friends. 

The prophet Isaiah wrote, "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who brings good news..."  I don't think my feet will be beautiful in these boots.  Let's face it--they're pretty darn ugly.  But if my feet are dry, comfortable, and BLISTER-FREE, that will be good news indeed.

Thursday, March 3, 2011


I know nothing about sports, especially soccer, but I have to say, I do like the way Latin American soccer announcers get all excited when their team scores and scream, "GOOOOOAAAAAAALLLLL!!!!"
I've been thinking a lot about goals lately.  For perhaps the first time since I graduated from seminary in (God save us!) 1984, I have a very concrete goal.  Walk 500 miles on El Camino.  I've been astonished at how having a specific, measurable goal has transformed my workout routine.  As I've said before, I've been working out more or less regularly for 11 years now.  No real goal except not to fall apart, not to gain (too much) weight, and not to die young (like my parents) of a massive heart attack.  

But now I have this clear, definite, highly defined goal.  Suddenly I'm at the Y one or two hours a day instead of 30 or 45 minutes.  Now that the weather is warming up, I make it a priority to find time to go out for a long walk with a loaded backpack, even if it means working longer hours the rest of the week.  

Having a goal has transformed my workout routine. I'm more much intentional and focused.  What I'm doing counts for something.  All of this has made me wonder how this can translate into other parts of my life.  But first I have to figure out what are the goals of my life.  As I enter the seventh decade of my life, what is my goal for the time I have left? 

I don't feel called to make any big changes--I love my life.  I have an amazing husband who puts up with me far more than I deserve, I have work I love and that I find meaningful if sometimes exhausting, I have 2 terrific children, and 2 fabulous grandchildren.
But I want to be as intentional about my spiritual preparation for El Camino as I am about my physical preparation.  So I have spent quite a little time meditating on what, within the framework of what I know is an extraordinarily fortunate life, is my goal, my calling in the last third of so of my life.

Really, the question as I keep coming back to it, is what is my calling as a Christian?  What is my calling, my goal, not as a pastor, not as a "professional" Christian, but as a profoundly imperfect, deeply flawed, frankly sinful follower of Jesus?

I thought, perhaps I should stop thinking about writing a book and actually DO it.  And maybe that will happen--I swear half the people who walk El Camino end up writing a book about it.  But writing a book didn't feel big enough, or at least not long-term enough. 

Then I thought, maybe I should be more active in social justice issues.  I feel strongly about children's issues--maybe I should become an activist and a volunteer.  Good start, important to me, but it felt like a piece of the puzzle, not the whole answer.

What I keep returning to is the idea that my goal, my calling, as a Christian is to be like Jesus.  Liberals like to make fun of the WWJD (What would Jesus do?) trend as overly simplistic, and I suppose it is.  But it is its very simplicity that I find it profoundly wise.  It's a pretty simple question that can keep you up at night.  And it is a question I am asking myself more and more.  

There's an old joke where a husband says, "I make all the important decisions in our marriage.  Who should win the World Series.  The way to fix Washington.  How to achieve world peace.  My wife makes the little decisions--how we spend our money, how to raise our kids, what house we should buy."

I've been conscious of Christian values in big ways--my overarching values as a voter, as a citizen, as a pastor.  But now in all kinds of little ways, I have started to judge my actions by the  question "What would Jesus do?"  Would Jesus would make snarky remarks about people, which I am all too prone to do.  How would Jesus treat the transient that just interrupted my very busy day and needs help? What would Jesus do with that person who is clearly an idiot but is nevertheless a child of God? 
How can I be more like Jesus?  This is one of the big questions I will be taking with me on my pilgrimage. Don't know if I will come home with any answers...This may be one of those times when, as the German poet Rilke says, you just have to learn to love the question.