Friday, June 26, 2015

Puzzles and the Contemplative Life

The Rev. Nancy E. Gossling

Puzzles. It was another new prayer discipline for me, just like walking, only passive. Interestingly, the latest scientific research shows the importance of silence and sitting quietly for children; however people of all ages and vocations, people of every socio-economic status, and people who have 24/7 internet access need to unplug and be quiet. We must discipline ourselves, and provide the space for others, to take a break. We need self imposed “time-outs”  to regroup, regather, recreate, and recollect ourselves into the one, unique, and beautiful individuals that we all are!

Last fall, I decided to “take on” a 1500 piece monster puzzle of Ireland. I had “all the time” in the world not to rush through it, and not to set a deadline for its completion. I was “in transition”, a perfect time for being “off message”, a perfect time for “refocus.”  I chose this puzzle for three reasons: it was difficult and could not be completed easily or quickly; it reminded me of a country and people that I love; and I could spend time recalling memories. Thinking new and old thoughts, I put together pieces of this puzzle. I put together pieces of my life.

Frankly, I never had much interest in puzzles; and this puzzle was much bigger, more complicated, and much more difficult than I ever imagined. Several times I thought about quitting. Instead, I just went back to Cambridge or did something else. I was looking for anything that would distract me from the task at hand. As summer approached, deadlines appeared. Paul had business associates arriving at the end of June and the puzzle was now occupying two tables in the living room, instead of one. Pollen covered it with a thin layer of Irish pea green. This puzzle needed to be DONE. Frankly I was tired of it and tired of this new prayer discipline. I was ready to move on!

What to do?

Finish it. While some things are worth quitting, this one was not; and so I had to focus time and attention to get it done. No more excuses.

Life is like putting together the pieces of a monster puzzle. Silence is required for concentration, for memories to surface, for new perspectives to be acquired, and for issues to be clarified. Challenges abound. Help is needed. Patience required. Pieces go missing; and sometimes we want to quit. And yet, like me and my puzzle, we need to finish it with focussed time and attention. We also need to know when it’s time to move on. The contemplative life invites us to do that.

Friday, June 19, 2015

What's Not to Love?

The Rev. Nancy E. Gossling

This will be my last post specifically about the Camino, although I know future references will occasionally pop up like Spanish broom. It’s been 10 days now since I’ve been back. The transition from walking the Camino to walking Cambridge is finished. I’ve moved on; I’m now walking Cape Cod! What became clearer to me while living, working, and studying in Ireland and Spain in 2013 is that walking has become a prayer discipline for me. Clearer in 2014 was that transitions are hard, multi-faceted, and they involve more than just you. This year in 2015, I realize that my life as a pilgrim is a life-long vocation. Life is a journey, always. And what’s not to love about our life’s journey, no matter where we put down our soles and our souls?

What’s not to love about being a pilgrim on the Camino to Santiago de Compostela Spain? Aside from the blisters, sore muscles, and painful joints, there are pilgrims who face difficult weather, no sleeping accommodations, and ornery companions….there’s a lot not to love on a pilgrimage; and yet even the painful times are worth loving.

The Camino is an intentional pilgrimage. Some people walk for religious or spiritual reasons; others for the pure physical challenge of it. There is the joy of accomplishment, no matter how much you walk. There is the opportunity to slow down and immerse ourselves in the beauty of nature, to experience the love of family and friends. The Camino offers the blessing of being surrounded by a people and culture that welcomes the stranger with open arms and hearts, with good food and wine, with fiestas of music and dance. What’s not to love about these things?

To have no intentions at all invites a life that is swayed by undesirable forces, or another person’s agenda, or a life that blows where the Spirit wills.

Many pilgrims walk the Camino with intentions. It may be a mission of reconciliation, a time of transition from one stage of life to another, a time to offer prayers of gratitude for a successful surgery, prayers of hope for cancers in remission, or to cherish and honor memories of loved ones who have moved on to the greater Life. Some people come with one intention and leave with another. Upon departure, they say, “I really am going to stop doing this, or I will start doing more of that.” We all have the credentials to speak, to pray, to forgive, and to move on.

The gift of seeing with fresh eyes and deeper insights into one’s relationships (with people and things) can come with a change in one’s living environments. One cannot walk the Camino, and I would argue anywhere, without gaining something. On the Camino, new realities are realized. Wider perspectives are gained. Blisters aren’t the only signs of “hot spots”, whether they’re on our feet, in our relationships, or the world. A yellow arrow isn’t the only sign pointing the way forward; sometimes it’s a man with a harmonica or a white van ready to take you to your next stop. There are signs along the Way to “Be the Change” you want.

What’s not to love about the Camino? What’s not to love about Life? What’s not to love about walking the Way of God no matter where you put down your soles or your souls? I say, “Nada and Buen Camino!”

Friday, June 12, 2015

One Step at a Time on the Camino

The Rev. Nancy E. Gossling June 12, 2015

These were the words of assurance that our Andaspain guides spoke to us. We were five new pilgrims, who had come together to walk the last 100 kilometers (or 70 miles) of the Camino de Compostela de Santiago in Galicia Spain. We were joining six other pilgrims who had signed on to "walk every inch" of the Camino (or 500 miles). All you need to do is just "take one step at a time" they said. Even more importantly (in my opinion), they advised us to walk at our own pace, neither slowing down nor speeding up to accommodate the pace of others. One step at a time, at my own pace, one foot in front of the other. I can do this!
And I did. We all did. Not perfectly, not easily, and not without pain. Interestingly,  Anda comes from the Spanish word andar which means "to walk." You walk Spain with Andaspain; funny how they forgot to mention the last four letters of Andaspain! Walking for long hours can be painful, and we each walked with our own pain. We all carried baggage, literally and figuratively. Our aches and pains came in various sizes and shapes, and affected different parts of our bodies. Every day we applied remedies: compeed for the feet, braces for the knees, salonpas for the muscles, and walking sticks for the bodies. Cold rivers, warm baths, and hot showers gave relief. Companionship and laughter ease pain. There were many graces on the Camino.
We shared meals together. Often we had picnic lunches on the Camino; and in one place, I tasted pulpo (octopus) for the first time. A cold cerveza or tinto verano at the end of the day's walk was a time to celebrate the day's journey.  At dinner, we ate great Spanish food and drank great Spanish wine; we prepared for the next day's journey. Some of us slept well. And finally, in Santiago de Compostela, we toasted with champagne, celebrated mass in the Cathedral, and feasted on tapas of cockles, little necks, squid, steak, and patatas bravas. I can still see and taste the food.

It was glorious. The Camino experience was glorious for so many reasons, which is something I hate to admit. I'm always suspicious of those "things" that people talk about as "life changing" - as if it were something you had to do, or had to proclaim once you’d done it. Truth be told, the Camino definitely was not life-changing for me. Not even close. But it was glorious!
Why? Many, many reasons. First, and perhaps most importantly, I got to spend some time with my sister-in-law, Susan. We often didn't walk the Camino together or even sit together for meals, and yet, we had those important conversations somewhere and somehow along the Way to Santiago. We talked to people and shared our stories; every pilgrim is a potential new friend. We shared silence and solitude. From a distance, we saw life and family and vocations and vacations in new and old ways. We were walking, limping, and bouncing along the Way, alone and together, one step at a time, at our own pace. It was painful, and it was glorious, and as Susan said, it was healing. The Camino opens your mind and your heart.
To speak about beauty, in the natural and spiritual worlds, is to speak about what it means to be human. Everybody has pain; some suffer more than others. To be a pilgrim means letting go of baggage, packing lightly, walking humbly,  praying peacefully,  and being grateful for everything you receive on the Way. Life is good, even when it's hard.
For me, taking one step at a time on the Camino, at my own pace, meant that I was making precious memories. I became even more aware of my privileges, attitudes, judgements, and choices. I was reminded of how much I enjoy my freedom, appreciate my solitude, and am deeply grateful for family, friends, and strangers. I like having companions, and times to share conversation, food and drink. I like how pilgrimages open me up to our common humanity and our beautiful diversity. We have so much to learn from one another and from God no matter how, or how much, or even where we walk the Way.
Yes, I want  to remember my learning from the Camino: to walk one step at a time, and go at my own pace. There is no wrong way to walk the Camino. Eventually, we all get there! And, along the Way and at the End, there will be many more celebrations of life and love, and many more memories created. Of that I am certain. Buen Camino.