The first strand

I signed up for the second stage of formation in an incarnational modern day monastery today. My wife and I commit to three strands. Each of which I fully respect and yet have many questions for these three strands as I journey into this stage of “living it.” I reflect here in these posts on the three strands.

The”liminal” has subsided as things here settle in: there are less new things to say hello to this year and far fewer things to say goodbye to. This provides room for some deeper reflection as I continue to journey with faith. The routines that go with a more settled existence have changed things more permanently (babies have such an effect). The setting is idyllic, nestled in the hills of Middle Earth where the sky seems to touch the earth creating a number of “thin spaces” throughout the property. The Divine has evidently descended over time here in which I live, or perhaps it is the converse in that we are made the more aware as we stop and take stock.

1. The first strand: Jesus Centre

  • Having missed the 2015 Nepal earthquake by 3 days, my faith began to unravel in response. This came at a time where I  began to question my world with a critical understanding (thanks Dave Andrews, 2013; Charles Ringma who helped us through a book study in our home of Steven Bouma-Prediger & Brian Walsh, 2008 ; postgraduate study of Michel Foucault, 1975; Elizabeth Johnson, 2011; and Dale Martin, 2009), I was left with a choice. Either I abandon this notion of God completely or wrestle with the issues that arose.
  • Having left Nepal 3 days prior to the 2015 earthquake we found ourselves walking across Spain on the Camino de Santiago, providing some time to think and reflect on questions of faith. The question of where God is in the issue of suffering hit me full in the face following the quake. In short, my framework of faith broke down. The question boiled down in essence as many have explored previously of how to fit a God of love with the suffering in the world. The Nepal earthquake got me thinking. Many thousands of some of the most beautiful people in the world had just been killed, made homeless. Where the hell is God in such a scenario?
  • My nice and neat, easy to navigate with all of the answers in a three point, easy to construct framework faith was inadequate. This “easy to construct faith,” was just as easy to “deconstruct” when facing such questions of suffering. The Nepal (or Gorkha) earthquake was just one such suffering of which I was aware and yet this one particularly impacted on my world for some reason. Dale Martin’s (2009) take on the New Testament certainly provided ample room for such a deconstruction.
    • There were many other factors occurring at this time also with this faith journey. It was not only the critical questions taking place, my community of friends and networks too began to change simultaneously. This provided a “greenhouse” of opportunity to examine my faith journey.
  • A new framework was therefore required to investigate and engage with this God if I was to continue on the faith journey. Into the fray came Elizabeth Johnson, who I’d listened to on a Home Brewed podcast talking about her book “Quest for the Living God.” A self described feminist, Johnson questioned the white, male, patriarchal idea of “God.” Helpfully, she explained that when it comes to the Divine, our understanding can be only likened in analogies. These projections of the white, male were certainly dominant in times past but this was changing rapidly as new theologies emerged in response to historical events and social conditions.
    • The process of likening the Divine begins with creating analogies to something earthly, but crucially this then needs to be deconstructed if we are to reference backwards towards the divine. For instance, the Psalmist describes God as a “rock,” and yet this can’t be taken literally. As Augustine surmises: “if you have described God, it is not God.”
  • The closest we get to the Divine is love, quite like Otto Rudolf’s idea of mystery who moves ever closer to humanity and yet remains utterly other. The divine has been fully expressed in Creation and I wanted to continue to believe, the historic person of Jesus Christ. Yet, this is all under fire, and the book itself raises questions. How to resolve such an impasse?
  • What moreover, of suffering? Johnson spends a chapter outlining the work of three German theologians who struggled with the same questions following World War 2 and the horrendous aftermath of the holocaust. This went part way in answering the question although left much to be explored.
    • Moltmann examines the idea of the “crucified God”
    • Soelle talked about the “silent cry of life” while
    • Metz went even further to discuss the use of the Psalms in remembering and lamenting. Metz talked further about the compassionate promise to whom one laments.
  • I murder their complex and thorough thinking on the issue, although it seems satisfactory for now. What needs to occur, however, is further exploration in this community I am living.
  • It has left things utterly open and in transition, with plenty of room to question and deconstruct Von Hugel’s “child-like institutional” phase of my faith. The “adolescent critical” phase has certainly come about where these questions have arisen. Much deconstruction has occurred but something needs to replace this understanding if faith is indeed to continue into the third phase. Von Hugel also uses the idea of mystery of faith this third “adult” phase to explain the way forward.
  • The time has certainly come to face these realities and attempt some way of bringing about an understanding of this divine mystery as I explore the wisdom of the ages.

Liminal spaces

Paraparaumu, NEW ZEALAND

Being in-between is a strange place. My life currently is a funny mixture of not being in Australia and yet not quite fully in New Zealand. By way of analogy, AA Milne describes this place in the poem Half Way Down:

Half way down the stairs is a stair where I sit.

There isn’t any other stair quite like it.

I’m not at the bottom, I’m not at the top;

So this is the place where I always stop.

 

Halfway up the stairs isn’t up and it isn’t down.

It isn’t in the nursery and it isn’t in the town.

All sorts of funny thoughts run round my head.

It isn’t really anywhere! It’s somewhere else instead!

 

Being out of the workforce this year has provided a welcome break from the frenetic pace of school teaching. However, it has been interesting reflecting on things learnt and discovered during this time. As I look back, there are multiple points of reflection in both the mundane and surprising. This year has provided the luxury of taking a sabbatical to travel. In doing so, I found that it is possible to reduce my life to carry-on baggage. In fact, the less the better, especially when you decide to walk 900km across Spain. In the journey of life though, I’ve come to realise that we are “not human beings on a spiritual journey but spiritual beings on a human journey.” As a fellow pelegrino told me one day: “The first time I did this pilgrimage, I booked my accommodation each night and followed a schedule. This time, I just decided to follow the little yellow arrows. That’s it.” I’ve found it so helpful to take time to listen to the little signs pointing out the next step (whether it’s up or down).

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After having spent six months overseas this year (trekking through the Annapurna Range in Nepal and walking the Camino across Spain amongst other things) our travels have come to an end in the antipodes. My wife and I will now call New Zealand home for the next chapter as a new adventure begins. Moving is easier said than done. I tend to get anxious about small things at the best of times. They say that public speaking and moving house rate amongst creating the highest levels of anxiety for an individual. My wife and I have decided to not only move but also move country. So it’s understandable that in the process I encounter a wide variety of emotions at any given time. Nevertheless, it’s not the first time that I’ve moved. I calculate that I have moved house and lived at 22 addresses between being born and taking this sabbatical. Bouma-Prediger and Walsh in their book “Beyond Homelessness” point out that this new “norm” of shifting and change is almost de rigueur for my generation. These authors point out that this generation finds itself profoundly dislocated socially, economically, ecologically and spiritually. We inhabit virtual new worlds with limitless social connection but ironically find ourselves isolated and cut off. This takes its toll. Paradoxically, this year while I have thoroughly enjoyed the adventures and freedom of travel, I have also longed for a place to call home, somewhere to feel connected to. Arriving then to a family and home-away-from-home is welcome respite as my wife and I have immigrated to New Zealand.

Ko Blue Mountains te maunga; Ko Stradbroke, Brisbane te moutere; Ko Ngatiawa te awa; Ko White te iwi; Ko Whyle te hapu.

This would begin my Maori introduction or mihimihi. Rather than identifying as an individual, Maori see themselves connected to a much broader environment and community. A mihimihi explains your connection to such things as a significant mountain, island, river, your tribe and sub-tribe and then your meeting place. So rather than just saying “my name is Rob.” I make a raft of connections in introducing myself to an audience. In the example above, I make a connection to my birthplace in the Blue Mountains. I then identify South Stradbroke as a significant island for me. Finally, I make connections to my family and the tribes that I belong to. Too often unfortunately, these connections are fractured and dysfunctional in our modern world. How much things have changed! Consider that only two centuries ago, the average person would not venture further than 50km from their local village. Compare that situation to our modern world where we live ‘on the go,’ always ‘going places.’ It seems that we have become a half-way stair people, living in airports awaiting the next big thing. The Maori philosophy seems to be a much more holistic and integrated way of finding our place in the world. The approach is refreshingly interconnected in comparison to the individualistic framework so prevalent in our Westernised post-industrial world. I have found that the Maori mihimihi provides a pathway to find my connection to my wider world.

It’s fascinating being a tourist in your own country. You see the world with different eyes. I read once that some disproportionate percentage of people who live in Arizona have never visited the Grand Canyon. Yet nearly five million visitors come to see the Grand Canyon each year. Similarly with Australia and New Zealand, it’s often surprising how many local tourist attractions we have never visited ourselves. The stunning scenery and picture perfect postcards are striking especially to the foreigner here in New Zealand. My wife and I recently took a road trip in her homeland, visiting the South Island and were astonished at the grandeur of the landscape.

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There are some key differences between Australian and New Zealand culture that start to emerge once you emigrate. Geographically, both countries share a collective sense of isolation. Australia in the words of Dorothy Mackellar, self-identifies as a “sunburnt country, a land of sweeping plains”, with a vast outback that has the ability to create the most profound sense of isolation and smallness. It is a different sense of isolation however, that pervades New Zealand. New Zealand has a peculiar sense of ruggedness and raw isolation. Carl Walrond claims that New Zealand is the most isolated temperate landmass in the world. Little separates New Zealand form the wilds of the Southern Ocean and the polar ice mass beyond. If you drilled through the earth far enough from Wellington, New Zealand, you would eventually pop out near Madrid, Spain. Geographers call this the Antipodean point. Far from the high culture of Europe, New Zealanders have had to become an ingenious and self-sufficient people. Common wisdom here in Aoteoroa prevails that you can fix anything with WD40 and number eight wire. I always find it interesting to see the effect of the geography on a people and its culture. So too with New Zealand, its culture and people are greatly affected by this rugged geography.

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A recent tramp (kiwi lingo for bushwalk) in Fjiordland National Park on the South Island certainly reinforced this sense of isolation. We stood stunned and awed at many points on the Kepler Track. I for one was cognizant that the storm atop the ridge beyond was being thrown up from the wild Southern Ocean and the Antarctic beyond. Hiking amongst stunning mountains capped off by snow, brilliant icy peaks radiating through the wild storm clouds that threatened to break at any moment. Mishal and I ploughed through the snow along the broken ridge to emerge in moss hamstrung forests to emerge in the valley below. I half expected Treebeard (the Ent or walking tree, from the Lord of the Rings) to emerge and offer a cheery hello. Nature has always helped me to reconnect to my sense of spirit, as I stand in awe of Creation, revelling in the beauty of the wilderness.

There are many strong social cultural ties between Australia and New Zealand. The ANZAC spirit springs to mind. It is strong and our countries share a common heritage. Our histories overlap at many further points, and we are almost like brothers if not cousins. For decades, there has been a steady flow of people between our two countries, although the trend has been for more Kiwis to settle in Australia. In the past few years however, for the first time there has been a net migration of New Zealanders moving back to New Zealand. As my wife and I immigrate to New Zealand therefore, we find ourselves mid flow with this emerging trend. ‘Why did you move then?’ is often the first question that gets asked when we start to explain the almost golden life we had back in Brisbane. While in Brisbane we were ensconced in a community that we felt we could contribute to, both of us were in challenging jobs with opportunities to shine, we were developing strong friendship and family networks. It was time to return home we often reply: family, friends, and the sense of timing helped push us across the ditch.

In 2011, researchers working at Notre Dame University gave us all food for thought. They titled their research “Why walking through doorways makes you forget.” In their study, the psychologists tried to make sense of why we tend to become forgetful when we move from one place to another. Classic example: you put on the kettle and think of five other things that need doing before it boils. You return at least three times to boil the kettle before you actually get that cup of tea. Crossing the ditch is a big doorway for me. Not actually of course, there are airports and aeroplanes with all that security jazz but the transition is real. I see it in my wife as we take flight, it’s as though she is in one place but has already transported herself to the future in readiness of what lies ahead. My doorway is different. This is not just a temporary holiday, I am no longer a tourist, New Zealand is now home. The doorway feels more like the gateway to a new place of opportunity. Has this doorway made me forget Australia? No. I bring across a whole baggage of values, culture and beliefs with me as Max Weber clearly points out. What do I conveniently forget? Much I guess. It gives me the opportunity to start afresh though and to bring a new take on things perhaps taken for granted here. Sensitivity and humility will be required in spades though to learn and remain open to what’s ahead.

Last year I had the privilege of being able to do further study in Education at QUT and came across James Nottingham’s idea of the ‘Learning Pit.’ This describes the process of inquiry learning, starting with curiosity and its associated wonderment. What often follows is a sense of frustration and anxiety as you enter the pit itself. What draws one out of the pit is the ability to make sense of the world around you as you construct new information. It’s a fairly good approximation of the process that students go through as they encounter the highs and lows of inquiry learning. Of being thrilled at new finds but also the anxiety encountered and frustrations of the unknown. As a teacher you literally throw students in the deep end when you start them off with learning. As a teacher, I find that if I can fire a student’s curiosity they get excited about learning.

Being on the receiving end in my studies however, I realised the emotional ups and downs of this process that I didn’t normally empathise with as a teacher. In the movie “Wit,” a professor played by Emma Thomson, realises too little too late that her hard-nosed approach has won her respect but no love from her students. The professor in her pursuit of ego and knowledge neglected her own humanity. I don’t think I was as cold blooded as this particular fictional academic, and in fact fully enjoyed coaching students through their inquiry processes. Doing my studies though, I realised how difficult it all can be and the associated anxiety that students actually go through. I realised that the process however, could be daunting and frustrating for the learner involved. What was needed were people to help make those broader connections and to normalise my sense of flux.

I attended the “Citizens Advice Bureau” (yes, they have a service here in New Zealand, kept alive by retirees to help you with anything that Citizens need advice with!), and came across this insightful explanation of the stages of settling into a new country. They’ve split this journey into a nice curve, whereas in reality I’ve probably felt all of these emotions can be felt in a day. The diagram provided describes the process in three nice boxes, whereas I find that I jump between these almost simultaneously. For instance, my thoughts drift back to Australia and my homeland at any random interval as I hear about news from Canberra. As I tramped through Fjordland on the Kepler Track, I found myself frustrated by the thought of having to resolve some of the bureaucratic red tape by emigrating to New Zealand. I find myself therefore easily tired out by just being in this in-between space, “neither up nor down.”

I find it uncanny to compare the Learning Pit with the advice provided at the Bureau. Both describe a process, and anybody who has been through similar experience will attest to the accuracy of each of these models. The assumption with the Learning Pit is that you inevitably go through an emotional down as you struggle with learning. Whereas, the third stage of the Stages of Settling in model implies that the individual mainly determines the outcome. Fortunately, as John Donne says, “no man is an island.” In his inimitable prose, he says that we ought “never ask for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.” In essence, we are all inextricably connected to each other. I think some of the ancient wisdom of the Maori philosophy alluded to before has much to teach me as I face the busy frenetic instant world about us all. Richard Rohr chimes into say that this in-between space or liminal space is about taking the opportunity to grow and embrace the changes afoot. I find that a heck of lot harder to do than talk about.

I find that these liminal spaces, doorways, or half-way stairs give lots of room for exploration. I look back at my past to find a clear chronology, while the jigsaw of the future ahead is slowly coming together. I’ve scored a job at a local high school, and things like my driver licence and teacher registration have been approved. Over the next six weeks we will live at Ngatiawa River Monastery. Ngatiawa is a retreat space, converted from an old Presbyterian church camp, complete with a beautiful log chapel set amidst the Tararua mountain range. People are welcome to come and stay as long or as little as need be. We join a group of people in their pursuit of community, participating in the daily rythyms of prayer and Taize worship. Ngatiawa holds a strong link to the land, providing that deep sense of belonging and connection to nature, giving further meaning to my mihimihi. In finding this sense of home however, the paradox persists. In entering this half-way stair space at Ngatiawa, I must hold the tension of deeply engaging where I find myself presently against the impermanence of this world. It will not surprise me when a sense of adventure and freedom will inevitably seek to challenge the status quo. The best advice I received was to walk the next stage well. I can’t solve the future but I can live in the present, remembering well where I have come from.

Hei konā mai

Rob

Annus Mirrabilis

4000km across Europe by car, foot, rail and plane. Travelling through Istanbul, Paris, Copenhagen, Oslo and then Frankfurt. This little video is a slideshow of our recent and unfortunately concludes our “annus mirrabilis” or beautiful year! See @smylemob for more photos.

Post script Camino

A brief summary of our little wander across Spain…

Utter mystery

MYSTERIUM TREMENDUM ET FASCINANS

near Milly, Normandy, France; Mont St Michel, Britany, France; & St Malo, Brittany, France

 

The light was refracted into every hue of the rainbow, allowing it to dance through the cathedral in a choreographed symphony. I could have stared at that window all day. Photographs do not quite capture the experience of the interplay of light. While the little smart phone tried to take it all in, some things do not fit inside an image. While, I had seen a thousand different stained glass windows so far in my trip across Europe, this particular one stood out. Having to rebuild this cathedral in St Malo, France after the war, they weren’t constrained in their portrayal of the divine. Rather than relying on icons and pictures, they had used a myriad colours in an attempt at portraying the divine.

The normal stained glass window uses allegorical, figurative and literal pictures to tell stories. Even the magnificent St Maria Cathedral in Leon, Spain (the so called “Sistine Chapel” of stained glass windows in Spain) does so. There are umpteen old, white, men who are used to portray stories of god in these reflections of the divine. In Leon, levels are used to designate lower earthly things like harvests and nature at the base and then towards the top, images of saints and the divine appear. While the cathedral in Leon is indeed stunning, the St Malo window bypasses this by making a different statement. It’s as though the person who created this window understood that the divine cannot be reduced to a series of cartoons. As Elizabeth Johnson points out, the divine image is something completely beyond our understanding. In this approach, the divine is an utter mystery, rather than a nice neat box for our brains to understand. As Augustine put it: “If you can understand [God], it’s not God.” In some small way, the St Malo window helped me to see the divine quite differently.

This excursion was all part of a week-long retreat with the Northumbria community in France. We were retracing the steps of the Celtic Saints, probably typified by St Colambanus. While Colambanus was probably not the easiest character to get along with, he certainly shook up the status quo. Spending two weeks with this “new monastic” community on the border of Brittany and Normandy in France was an entirely unexpected bonus of this trip. I wasn’t exactly sure of what to expect, having read little and having limited connection prior to the people living there. Reflections and thoughts of the time so far:

  • The group consisted of seven people I was to find out, of which my wife and I were the youngest by half. This comes with certain dynamics, although I am finding that the age gap becomes less important. In the scheme of ideas and discussion it seems that merit matters more than a number. I met some wonderful people who in their honesty helped me in my journey to understand the world in a deeper way. Talking with people always helps broaden our understanding if we are willing to listen. Drawing on the ancient tradition of the faith of the Celtic saints has been a wonderful way of digging into the heart of life and the divine.
  • Engaging in the history of the Celtic Saints has made me realise the multitude of expressions of early Christianity. Ireland in the 4th century was a place where faith was vibrant and the expression of this was to share with others. What resulted, was scores of monks setting out to the continent as peregrinati or itinerant and wandering Christians. They would establish communities and connect with local people sharing their faith in expressions of monastic life which while misunderstood now is really quite beautiful. It’s difficult to summarise a week of learning and reflecting in a few sentences. Suffice to say that “thin places” are real and that I experienced the most stunning mass with the nuns and monks of Mont St Michel.
  • For another thing, some claim that the Celtic Saints were the “first Europeans.” As they travelled and brought worship of the divine rather than warfare, they started to transcend tribal boundaries. Community-minded in their approach, the Celtic Saints wanted to connect with their locality. In doing so, they drew novitiates and a laity from all across Europe to seek out a simpler life of contemplation and action. Participating in a small modern version of such a community this week has helped me to see the importance of this. Our world is becoming ever more fragmented and divided along scores of fault lines, ranging from the political, economic, social and cultural. In this milieu, people on the margin are often neglected and left behind. I have much to learn from these saints and “good men and women of old” who journeyed life with quite a different emphasis.

Otto Rudolf talks about the utter mystery of a God who comes near to us, drawing us into ever further fascination with the divine. Rudolf uses the fancy Latin phrase to describe this: “mysterium transcendum et fascinans.” Upon seeing the stained glass rose window at St Malo, I drew the following pictures in response. Trying to show that God is an utter mystery is difficult at the best of times! As Elizabeth Johnson points out though, even giving names to God reduces the mystery. It’s as though, we need a thousand names to approach some approximation of God and even then, it’s not enough. And yet, the invitation is always open to engage in such discussion. So, I for one appreciated the stained glass attempt to show this mystery and the beauty of a relationship that goes ever deeper. Like that old Roman said, we only now see the divine through a darkened glass. While more complex, I much prefer an infinite mystery of the divine rather than being able to tick off some theological confession and being able to throw god in a box.

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Camino finishes as the quest begins

I teared up as I realised what Mishal had said…

“We finished it Rob.”

I’m overjoyed that after 29 days walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostella, we finally covered the 800km to finish the chapter. I enjoyed all of it but I think you only understand the emotion of it all if you’ve done it. I’m sitting now in a stark paroquial albergue on a white couch, with a green lawn stretching out from the tall glass window while the wind sweeps through the birch. Stark modernist buildings block the San Lazaro albergue while the brightest and strongest sunlight glares down from on high. This unusually sunny weather belies a normally rain drenched Galicia akin to Ireland or the North Sea.

Rob and Mishal complete their Camino – Credencial and all!

We have just received a lovely warm welcome from the hospitaleros to a clinical but very functional and spacious albergue. The showers have little shelves, we have a bunk each, we can stay as long as we like for eight euros per night, free access to wifi, a kitchen and some space for reflection. Oh the little things! 

Today, Mishal asked a couple of great questions on walking into Santiago that got me reflecting on the whole experience. Here are some thoughts:

1. How has your view of God changed during the Camino?

  • Listening to some podcasts by Dale Martin (from Yale) on New Testament history and literature has given me the freedom to critically reflect on the bible. Moreover, studies last year as part of my Masters introduced me to Michel Foucault (thanks Clare O’Farrell) and opened up an avenue for a much more critical view of my own faith. I don’t think I realised it at the time but on reflection, these thinkers prompted me to deconstruct my faith and give the room to go about reconstructing this entire exercise. A postmodern view of Jesus? A respected friend of ours, Charles Ringma, suggested in a book study at our house that yes, it’s possible.
  • What remains are different pictures of the same Jesus that I venerate but interpretations abound that allow me much greater freedom to respond to Christ. I cannot ignore the person of Jesus but have a much greater appreciation of the early Christianities and this gives me the freedom to go about relating to Jesus directly rather than the Bible and correct doctrine being of utmost importance over relationship with God.
  • What have I questioned? Probably everything related to the church and religion that have continued to generate power, conflict, violence and exclusion. It’s been quite difficult actually, trying to square away this whole Camino, seeing the different representations created of St James -the apostle, the pilgrim and the ‘moor (Muslim) slayer’ based on who is telling the story (i.e. who is in power). The Guardian writes a great article on the ¨metamorphosis¨ of Saint James and the representations of him for different purposes. I find it horrific and offensive to relate to St James the ¨moor slayer¨ (Wilkinson, 2004) and have seen countless images of this spread throughout the Camino Including major statues of Saint James’ horse crushing Muslim soldiers  above the main altar in prominent cathedrals. History is written by the victors evidently, although there is now a return to see St James in pilgrim guise.
  • I would say then, that I’ve come to a much more critical view of my own faith and therefore have had to accomodate a much bigger view of God. I can’t wait to read Elizabeth Johnson’s book “Quest for the living God” and then going to find expressions of this for myself and add my own voice to the conversation. It’s like Oz Guiness (1996) says: “your questions are too small and your view of God too narrow.” Or, in the words of wise Rita:

“God’s not scared of your questions Rob. It’s as though he says ‘You can punch me and I can take it, go on, is that all you’ve got?’ We find a safe place if we seek and knock.”

 

2. How have your feelings towards God changed? 

  • Hugely. I think in answering the first question, it allows the freedom to question institutions, power, religion and other forms of “boxed religion.” It’s as though I constructed this little box of God and then after asking some critical questions this nice neat view of God gets all smashed up and needs a much bigger space. Similar to Bouma-Prediger and Walsh (2008) who conceive of a thinking space “with doors and windows for faith” – my concept of God can’t just be all open planned with a laissez faire approach so that anything goes. I need to adhere to some thoughts and perspectives and reject others. I need boundaries but it’s just that these are now much bigger and they require rebuilding and re-shaping. The doozy question for me though was:

“Wouldn’t a loving god who tells us to forgive his enemies, not also do so?”

  • Previously I would have responded with some complicated answer about the tension between justice, anger and sacrifice in God the father. The feminists critique this by saying: “an abusive father holding all this ‘tension’ needs to go to jail and the son requires counselling.” I think that they’ve got a point. So, where does the anger go? I think that there’s much room for dialogue with God like Rita, Foucault and Bouma-Prediger and Walsh all encourage. Having a different view of God allows the freedom to even ask the question in the first place.
  • Previously, I would have feared being excommunicated or expelled for the wrong answer. Community, though, is where it’s at. As Elizabeth Johnson comments, these new expressions of faith is akin to a renaissance in theology not seen since the reformation. As we re-read the God who is “beyond us, with us and in us” – we cannot but help but respond in creative and yet traditional ways.

I’m still processing and reflecting all of these ideas and more is yet to come. I think our final days of walking to finis terre (previously thought to be ‘land’s end’) will allow some of these thoughts to continue to ruminate and develop into something else. 

References

Bouma-Prediger, S. & Walsh, B. (2008). Beyond homelessness. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
Deboick, S. (2010). The enigma of Saint James. The Guardian, July 24.
Guiness, O. (1996). God in the dark. Wheaton, IL: Crossway.
Johnson, E. (2011). Quest for the living God. New York, NY: Continuum.
Martin, D. (2009). Introduction to new testament history and literature. Yale University: iTunesU Audio.
O’Farrell, C. (2005). Michel Foucault. London: Sage.
Wilkinson, I. (2004). Public outcry forces church to keep moor slayers. The Telegraph, July 22.

Being “present”

MELIDE, A CORUNA, GALICIA, SPAIN

Jets streak thin contrails across an effervescent blue sky while on terra firma below, the myriad shades and textures of green waft agricultural smells of “dampened earth” (Brierley, 2015). The fattest and most glistening cattle siesta semi-permanently, at times rising to feast on a smorgasbord of leafy lush greens. Bells chime on the hour from the many churches that line the Camino de Santiago de Compostella[1]. On one of the stamps that I collected en route, a star contains a copy of one of the original motifs serving to guide the pilgrims or pelegrinos to Santiago: a star surrounded by the Latin “Lord, show me your way”. The modern, ubiquitous yellow arrow and shell reflect the multiplicity of routes revived in the 1980’s by el Papa in an attempt to unite Europe. The camino is not without moments of frustration and also moments that are hard to articulate – moments of joy, revelation, or experiences of the divine? I recall a few of those fleeting moments below:

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

At San Roque, with the arch that appears on the 10 Euro note… (Photo credits: Jenny from South Korea)

THE “UP” MOMENTS

Trees with Lights

Annie Tinker talks about a moment she describes as “seeing the trees with the lights in it.” In much more articulate language, her depiction of this moment describes how for the briefest and fleeting moment in time, she was overwhelmed with a sense of being completely present to the elements of light and nature as she saw this tree. I too saw a “tree with lights in it” one afternoon, exhausted after the descent from the Pyrenees. I had taken the less frequented route and saw a tree illuminated almost from within it seemed. Concentrating to find my footing, I lost sight of the tree and the moment was gone. Tinker recalls Walden (by Henry Thoreau) in the way it is written, bringing about the present moment in such beautiful figurative writing. Similarly, the Four Letters of Love by Niall Williams has been a highlight of literature for me this trip. This ability to stop and appreciate nature only really occurs though when we take the time to appreciate the moment as it occurs in the present.

Peeling fog

An infected toe caused us to rethink our approach to the Meseta, the laborious long and flat stretch between Burgos and Leon. A blessing in disguise, we hired bikes to provide relief to the injured toe. Antibiotics and three days later, we had shot through what takes normally eight days on foot. On one of these mornings, we had left the cloud of pelegrinos behind and the open crisp morning stretched on before us the fog lifting veil-like as our numb fingers cut through the still dawn air. I will not forget the sun rising and peeling away the mist before us, and at one creek crossing, the road dipping at a slight incline to speed us ever faster through the icy air.

Refractions of the divine

The Leon Cathedral is sometimes referred to as the Sistine Chapel of Spain, not for its use of paint but the amount of light entering through a ridiculous number of stained glass windows. Leaving the audio guide behind, I was lost in the myriad refractions and reflections of light entering the nave illuminating a medieval recount of the biblical narrative. The choral piece playing in the background provided ample opportunity for one of those divine encounters despite the milling crowd glued to their earpieces. I got lost looking up at the ceiling and the light streaming through the glass, wondering what a God was really like. These temple builders had a pretty good crack at presenting something glorious like one of those Revelation descriptions or something out of Isaiah.

Arriving

Walking into Pamplona on a route used by pilgrims for centuries past, I had quite the moment. On hearing the Cathedral bells chiming to welcome midday as we crossed the river. A calling perhaps? Something within me found that experience of “deep calling unto deep.” Hard to articulate exactly what but I felt quite overcome with joy. It’s one of those moments you can’t repeat and beyond scrutiny of the objectivity of logic and fact. It was as though the feminine side of the divine had reached out to say welcome. I see you. You are wonderfully and intricately made. I know you intimately and you are welcome. Welcome to this journey where you’ll have your ups and downs.

 

THE NOT SO UPS

Of frustrations? Of the not so ups but rather the downs?

Quadrophonic snoring

I found that there is apparently no meaning to life. The trilogy in five parts by Douglas Adams humorously distils the answer to 42 but the question was lost in the experiment called earth. I’ve got to be honest, I couldn’t stomach the whole book, it was far too long-winded and ended up nowhere in particular but I think that was Adam’s point – there is no meaning life according to him. I’ve found otherwise but in his humour he talks about “quadrophonic sound.” As though it could be more clear, the bass of some snorers in the albergues and paroquials puts rock concerts to shame. Some nights, it’s pretty bad and even ear plugs don’t cut out the full extent of the sound. I for one, won’t miss the quadrophonic snoring.

Flashlight to the face

“The only thing worse than wet socks…” It became a saying one summer between my brother and I as we’d jokingly out compete for the “only thing worse than…” and they ended up getting rather outlandish. I’d add one of the worst and most annoying things was a flashlight to the face as fellow pilgrims awake early to make an early get away. A little outrageous and perhaps a first world problem but there are better ways to wake I think.

Living out of a bag

I won’t miss packing and unpacking my backpack each day. It’s a bit of a rigmarole putting your life possessions in a bag only to put it all back away the next day. Certainly, there are worse things, like a flashlight to the face or other non, first world problems but this one I’ll be happy to leave behind.

REFLECTIONS

I write this with three days remaining on this pilgrimage. I’m over it to be honest. I’ve seen my share enough of cathedrals, endless picturesque villages and agricultural scenes. I’ve paid my dues, I’ve walked the distance and am ready for it to finish. And yet, I know that I will also be sad to see it go. The rhythm and simplicity of it all. One pelegrino epitomised it by contrasting her two pilgrimages. She explained that the first time round read the guide book religiously, trying to make the stage each day and reserved a bed each night. She didn’t bring the guide book the second time, she said it was simple, “you just have to follow the little yellow arrows. That’s it.” Like that yellow brick road, oh the analogies continue ad infinitum but it simplifies life when you think of it in terms of opportunities to

[1] Camino refers to the way in Spanish (you may recall the Martin Sheen film a few years back of the same name) while Santiago refers to Saint James the apostle. Saint James was allegedly buried at this place and a further myth regarding Compostella also needs to be explained to get the full title: a shepherd boy allegedly found the burial place by means of starlight. Compostella therefore refers to starlight.