On New Year’s Eve as the clock struck midnight after I’d tucked into a fantastic meal of beef wellington and roast duck, I made a resolution – I would not eat meat for the month of January. My waistline had increased a bit after a month of celebration with friends, family and food, so this was all part of my ‘get back to health’ plan for January. As a meat lover, I thought that giving up meat for a month would be very challenging, so instead of simply eliminating meat from my normal diet, I looked for wholesome plant substitutions to expand my normal diet. I discovered a love of sweet potatoes, quinoa, falafel and lentils. I rediscovered my childhood love of avocados and beans. As I eliminated dairy, I discovered that I love almond milk and as I radically cut back on added sugar, apples and bananas taste sweeter every day. Well, one month has turned into three and I can’t see myself ever going back to eating meat. My waistline is back to normal, my energy levels are higher than ever and I’m exercising more. I feel lighter and healthier in body, mind and sprit. So try going meatless for a month, you may just love the results.
I encountered a sad situation today. A couple were on the telephone to the police trying to find a lost bag containing all their money, credit cards, phones, tickets and passports. They had just been dropped off by taxi on the street of their resort. After walking up to the resort with their baggage, they realised that they had left this bag on the pavement, but it was gone when they returned to where they had left it. Hopefully a Good Samaritan found it and has turned it in at a resort office in the area. In life generally, but especially when travelling, keep it simple.
I’ve just finished reading the biography of Steve Jobs; an amazing story. Each of us wants our life to count for something. We are told from an early age to ‘be somebody’. Some of us have great aspirations for the world stage – build a great company, win a gold medal, be elected President, set a world record. For others, the aspirations are smaller in scope – get a college degree, own a house, win a beauty contest. All of these ‘be somebody’ aspirations imply being admired and celebrated by others. We can’t really be ‘somebody’ if we impress nobody.
But I wonder if impressing other people really matters. Maybe we should turn our eyes to heaven. With the things that they’ve experienced, I can’t imagine the angels of God are too easily impressed. What if our life could reflect God’s goodness in a way that was so honest, so consistent, so gentle, so loving, that someone who encountered us said “I want some of that” and turned to God? What if our life led to the angels of heaven throwing a party? Now that would be a real accomplishment.
the angels of God rejoice over one sinner who repents – Luke 15:10
I’ve just spent the last ten days in a Bed & Breakfast and will be here for another ten before moving on. This is a radical change from both my recent Camino life of a different bed every night as well as my life a few months ago in a four bedroom house. This lifestyle creates a difference in the way I interact with the world around me. I am using public spaces (coffee houses, parks, library, etc) for relaxation and work, even finding that I’m developing a favourite seat or spot much like I would have had my favourite chair at home. It’s also now two months since I sold my car, relying on walking or public transport. Not having a kitchen forces me to think of my food needs in daily terms and to keep it simple. I’m finding two distinct changes occurring with me. My normal thought timeframe is dropping from weeks or months down to days – grounding me more in the moment. And I’m becoming more observant of and interactive with the people around me. So far, so good.
Walking the Camino de Santiago over the past twenty seven days has been an amazing experience. I’m sure each pilgrim’s camino is different but my camino had three distinct phases.
The first phase – enjoyment – was filled with excitement and wonder. The beautiful landscapes and new food provided an exotic backdrop to meeting people from all over the world, hearing different languages and engaging in long, ambling conversations. Sleeping, showering and everything else in close proximity to tens of strangers was still a novelty and the caffeine, bread and chocolate for breakfast overcame the sleepless nights.
The second phase – endurance – was tough. The lack of sleep finally hit me. The landscape was dry, dusty and hot. The trails were rocky and seemingly endless. It was time to be alone; no one wants to talk with a dry mouth. The afternoon heat was unbearable and swarms of flies buzzed my face all day as I walked. Then one day it all changed. Blustery winds, cold persistent rain, damp rooms – the endurance continued.
The third and final phase – enlightenment – was really the last few days. The sun came out, the woodland landscape was quiet and beautiful, the walking was peaceful and reflective. I realised (or learned or remembered) some things in those last days. 1. I don’t need to worry. At no point did I have need for anything; everything was provided for me when I needed it. 2. I actually need very little to be comfortable; a clean, dry space to sleep, food and drink. But I do like my privacy. 3. Little things can feel like luxury – a warm shower, a hot coffee, a cold beer. 4. The pain of yesterday and today does not have to go with me tomorrow. A sore ankle can heal even as I walk twenty miles on it every day. 5. Other than God, my children are most important to me; nothing else even comes close.
In some of the smaller towns finding a bed for the night can be quite difficult. I had read that a new private albergue had opened in Najera so I decided to try to reserve a bed for the next night. I emailed the albergue and received a prompt reply telling me that they had reserved a bed for me. I walked the 31km (20 miles) feeling good that I had a bed waiting for me. As I entered the albergue I saw several people in the lounge who all told me how fantastic this new albergue was. But things didn’t work as I’d planned. My reservation was not written in their system and the albergue was completely full. I had no bed for the night.
I wandered around Najera searching for a bed. Finally I found a cafe with a poster for a small albergue. The cafe owner took me to a house with two rooms. I sat down with relief in a room with four beds all for myself. The other room was occupied by three pilgrims that I had met a few days before.
I went out for some food that evening and at 10 pm as I was paying my bill as the whole town was closing for the evening, I looked up in disbelief to see Dave and Anna walking into town. My first walking companions, I had lost contact with them days earlier. It turns out that they had joined in the weekend fiesta festivities in Viana and being more than a little intoxicated, had spent the last two nights sleeping out on benches unable to find a bed. Now arriving at 10pm, after walking 40km (26 miles) they were resigned to spending a third night outside. But that was not to be. I took them to the cafe and met the owner just as he was closing up. I didn’t spend the night in the fantastic, new albergue and I didn’t have a room to myself after all; my two friends had a bed to sleep in instead. The only problem was Dave snored all night.
These twelve Jesus sent out … no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff. Matthew 10:10
As I pack and repack my rucksack, debating the necessity of every item for my Camino, I think about how we evaluate the necessity of stuff for the journey of life. I read somewhere that we pack out of fear. I’m afraid of blisters so I pack lots of plasters. It might rain so I have a rain jacket and waterproof over-trousers. One extra shirt will do but two will be better.
Life is the same. We’re afraid of being homeless, so we aspire to buy our own house. Three bedrooms will do but what about guests; should have a guest room or better yet two, in case they bring their kids? £10,000 in the bank is a good cushion but £20,00 is better. Ten pairs of shoes will do but twenty pairs are better. Out of fear, we seek security in our possessions, our money, our job, our abilities. But what if those very things distance us from our only true security – our faith in God. Are these false idols that draw our attention from our loving Father, the Creator of the Universe? Do we live a life of faith or a life of fear?
So as I repack for what seems like the hundredth time, I’ve decided to add a small bottle of hand wash (because I’m afraid catching a stomach bug). But, I’m leaving behind my expensive, waterproof over-trousers because I have faith that the rain will be warm and my quick-dry shorts and skinny legs will be just fine.
Today was my last church service before departing on the Camino in five days. Even though only attending Vineyard for a few months, this church has really been one of the blessings that God has given me this past year. We hadn’t had a church service for the past four weeks (during which time I’d sold my house, car, furniture and everything that doesn’t fit into my rucksack) so I was really looking forward to a time of worship and fellowship before departing.
Well as often happens, God had a message for me too. We had a guest speaker, who led us through a healing session. As I prayed for healing for a young lady who suffers from severe, chronic back and leg pain requiring crutches to walk, I became immensely aware of how blessed I am to be able to just simply get up and walk. So as I walk these 500 miles to Santiago, I will be walking and praying for her; praying that one day she too will be able to walk the Camino.
Before I left church, the young lady and two other friends prayed for God to walk with me on my Camino. What more can I ask for; friends who understand and pray for all I really need – to walk in the presence of God. I am truly blessed.
Two days ago I completed the sale of my house, picked up my rucksack and walked to the Bed and Breakfast where I’ll stay for ten days before leaving to walk the Camino de Santiago. I walked because last week I sold my car. Only a rucksack because I’ve spent the last month selling and giving away everything else I own. What a feeling of lightness! Having sold my house with my ensuite bathroom, I’m now getting used to sharing a bathroom with another guest as I prepare myself to share bedrooms and bathrooms with up to fifty other pilgrims each night. But it’s not too bad. I’m being well looked after by a sweet elderly landlady who prepares fresh fruit salad, warm croissants, and fresh ground coffee for breakfast. Life is Good!
Last week, the theme in church was ‘forgiveness’ and the pastor said something that really made me think – “forgiveness isn’t fair”. To forgive or to be forgiven does not result in fairness or justice. So often we refuse to forgive because another has treated us unfairly and we’re waiting for fairness or justice. He also said “forgiveness is a choice” and doesn’t have any prerequisite, not even an apology or remorse from the person who has wronged you.
Then and there I decided to forgive my ex-wife actions that have caused me great pain and for which I have been carrying anger for a long time. She has never apologised or expressed remorse to me. But this wasn’t about her, this was about me. I didn’t want to carry this burden any more. I prayed for the spiritual strength to truly forgive, not just for a few minutes in church but permanently, once and for all. As I declared this and prayed, a heavy load lifted from my spirit. It was as if I has taken a bag filled with stones off my shoulder and set it down on the ground. I even felt the relief physically.
During this week and even through contact with my ex, I have continued to have this feeling of lightness in this matter. I can now confidently say this is once more ‘thing’ I have gotten rid of. It is finished.
The most significant experience, thought I didn’t recognise it as a sign from God until later in the day after the second sign, was on a six mile hike through a beautiful canyon. Now the hiking guide book that I was using states that it would be very rare to encounter any snakes while hiking, as snakes are afraid of humans and are long gone before we get near to them. Nonetheless about two miles from my car, as I turned the corner on a very narrow trail, I heard a very loud sound. I stopped dead in my tracks and looked down at a coiled 4 foot rattlesnake with its rattle vibrating loudly. Now rattlesnakes are extremely venomous and the advice if bitten is to get to a hospital within 30 minutes. Considering that I was an hour from my car with no cellphone coverage, I think it would have been a bit more than 30 minutes for me. I quickly took two steps back and spent the next twenty minutes observing and waiting for this snake to leave the trail so I could get by safely. The second experience was later in the evening. As I left the cinema after a movie, I took my car keys out of my pocket. A minute later as I approached my car, I heard a voice behind me say “Excuse me sir”. I turned expecting to see someone asking me for money or offering to sell me something. Instead it was a teenage boy holding something out to me. “You dropped this in front of the cinema”, he said. “Thank you very much” I said as I gratefully took my apartment key from him. He had picked up my key and followed me to my car to return it.
As far back as I can remember I have loved books. As a child, if I received a book as a present, I would beg my parents to let me stay home from school so I could read my new book.
In the past five years, I’ve moved house seven times and changed countries twice. Each time I’ve transported boxes upon boxes of books. With a house move in prospect again in a few months, I decided this time, I’m moving without my books.
A year ago I stopped buying physical books and restricted my purchases to digital books available on Amazon Kindle. But still, over the years I accumulated over a hundred physical books and at a glance could see the phases of my life reflected in my book collection. So giving up my physical books was never going to be an easy process.
To make it a little easier to bear, I broke it into three phases over several weeks. Phase one was taking the 60% of my collection that I wasn’t really,really attached to and giving them to charity shops. Phase two was taking the 30% that I really wished I could keep and giving them to my local library; this way I can visit them if I really want. Over the next two weeks I will be having a final read of my most treasured books and then phase three will be giving them to my library. Phase three will be difficult but I cling to one little security blanket; all but two of these books are available on Amazon Kindle, so if I really miss them I can always download them and take them with me. I doubt I will be though, because there are so many new books I want to read.