Thursday, 29 May 2014

San Andres Aljucen

(the 'e's in the above heading should have accents over them as the Spanish requires. I apologise for the omission of accents in all relevant blog postings. I do not possess the requisite Blogger expertise.)

Today I arrived in Carceres, a city with a long and colourful history, and with many amazing buildings and precincts to attest to its story.

A Roman colony was founded in 34BC. A city gate, "Arco del Cristo' survives from this time.

In Medieval times Arabs and Christians fought in the area. But on 23rd April 1229 Caceres was finally and definitely reconquered by the Christian King Alphonso IX of Leon.

Christian and Muslim aggression and warfare was also highlighted en route a couple of days ago when I stopped at the small village of Aljucen. As with so many wonderful sacred buildings, the local church was locked. 'Ah well,' I thought, 'there goes another opportunity to connect with the faith of years past.' However, late in the afternoon Anna, the hospederia who had admitted us to the albergue, came by to say she would open the church for us to see inside. I jumped at the opportunity.

Before we entered, Anna said, in Spanish of course, that she would speak slowly to me of the church's history. The church which dates from the 15th and 16th centuries, is dedicated to San Andres (St. Andrew), though there is also a statue and reference to Santiago (St. James). What I think Anna said is that the church itself is, or it contains a memorial connected to the Christians' final defeat of the Muslims. Several times she repeated 30 th November, but I didn't pick up which year she was referring to.

Then she opened the door and. As I stepped in, I gasped and my eyes filled with tears. I was overcome. The simple beauty of the interior resonated with God's regal yet loving presence. The whole scene oozed God. I don't think my photos do it justice, but they're the best I could do.

I was also aware of the faith of centuries that confronted me. The ongoing struggles between Muslims and Christians could well have caused much damage in the lives of those who had worshipped here. If walls could talk, what stories these might tell.

I am mindful of how easy it is for me to practice my faith. How would I fare if serious persecution were to break into my life?

San Andres, and the people of Aljucen - the memory of those past and the gracious present hospitality of Anna - are impressed on my mind. My voice was somewhat choked as I thanked Anna for opening the church. I told her it had been very special for me, because I love Jesus.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

I'm Here

It did not take too long for me to make some Christian connections with Merida.

The immediate intent of my early morning stroll was to procure breakfast - not an easy task. Sunday mornings in Spain are not the busiest of times. While I waited for premises to open (around about 9 o'clock) I took in some of the sights. Almost by accident I came across Trajano's Arch. Then came the Roman Bridge. This was adjacent to the high and solid stone wall encasing the Alcazar, which I didn't visit. A short exploration of side streets brought me to the Temple of Diana. Then, wonderfully, I found the first premises open that served food. I stopped for breakfast.

As I finished breakfast, church bells were ringing nearby. They came from the not-too-big church building in the square. This turned out to be the Concatedral de Santa Maria la Mayor. There was no signage to indicate this, I had to work hard to verify it was so. This anonymity struck me as being in glaring contrast to the publicity given to the pagan ruins in the city.

I entered the Cathedral as mass was about to begin. I do not know enough Spanish to follow the service, nor am I familiar with the Roman Catholic liturgy which might have seen me through. Nevertheless, I was in God's house in company with His children, and this was good enough for me.

The mass was what I would call "sung Eucharist". Several priests entered, one of whom took up position in a confessional. A number of females, fully robed, also processed in with the priests. I took them to be the choir. They participated wonderfully in singing, but also played leading roles through the entire service -reading, leading responses etc.

I was in touch with God's people. The means of celebration was somewhat unfamiliar to me but this did not matter. I believe God when He says, "When two or three of you come together in my name, I'm there with you." He does not tell us when or how we are to "come together", He just delights that we do.

My morning connection was enhanced and even deepened by an afternoon encounter. The accommodation I was finally able to secure in this very busy city (it was truly the last place I had reference to) is very close to the remains of the famous aqueduct of Merida, Los Milagros Aqueduct. After a short siesta I took a stroll to the site. I found myself taking photograph after photograph. This surprised me, I usually forget to take any photographs at all.

A very pleasant parkland has been established around the aqueduct. The afternoon was superb. It was sunny and warm, and with not too many people about. I sat quietly for some time on a seat in the parkland. As I sat, I felt the presence of Jesus with me. I sensed Him communicate with me, saying something like: " Yes, I'm here! I've been in Merida for a long time. Centuries, and many people, have come and gone. Some have accepted me and enjoyed relationship as we walked together. The people you saw in the church today know me, but maybe not in quite the way you know me. This is the joy I experience with you, my children. You are all different, and the relationships you each share with me are different. But rest in the assurance that my love is total and complete for each and every one of you. I ask you to especially know this now. Relax, enjoy my smile that comes to you in the sunshine. Let me savour you and bless you with an abundance of peace and love."

So I did, and He did!

And lo, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Via de la Plata

  After nine days of walking, I reached Merida yesterday. Today I am taking a rest day, one of several I hope to enjoy along "the Way".

Merida has origins in Roman times, if not earlier. There is much evidence of Roman presence still to be seen in relics in the city ( e.g. Roman Bridge, Diana's Temple, Los Milagros aqueduct, Roman theatre, Trajano's Arch).

The origins of the Via de la Plata are none too definite, but it appears to have been a route, a Roman roadway, between their establishments at Merida in the south and Astorga in the north. To translate Via de la Plata as "the Silver Way" may be something of a mistake as there is no concrete evidence of silver production. The more likely translation derives from the Arab word 'balata' being paved way.

And so, this way, the longest ( and quietest) of all the Spanish Caminos has been a connecting link between the south and the north of Spain for many centuries.

I cannot ascertain too clearly the history of the route as a Christian pilgrimage trail. Certainly the remaining Roman evidence in Merida points to a pagan Rome. Most of Spain also experienced centuries of Muslim domination originating in the south but extending north until the only Christian opposition left was along the extreme north, in the way of the Camino Frances. With the re-conquest of Seville and Cordoba by Ferdinand III in the late Middle Ages the route was again Christianised and has remained so since.

I cannot help but see a connection between the prior changes in spiritual influence on the Camino (Pagan - Christian - Muslim - Christian) and today's mixed bunch of participants. The traditional name for the traveller is peregrino (pilgrim), yet just this week I heard someone declare he was not a pilgrim, he was a walker. I've not yet met anyone who has overtly indicated they are making a walk of faith. Well, I am!

As I make further exploration of this ancient city I will be very aware of the faith aspect, and eager to connect with Christian presence. Yesterday I walked with a clear realisation that Jesus was with me. We had a most wonderful time together. My hope is for this to continue, and to deepen as we walk the Via de la Plata side by side.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

The Road Less Travelled

 My first "selfie"!

I am now several days along the Via de la Plata. The weather has been kind and the way is enjoyable. I have travelled sufficiently long and far to draw some comparisons with my previous Camino experiences.

I would say the Camino Frances is by far the most popular, and in many respects the most organised for today's pilgrims. Geographically, towns and villages are often less widespread than on the Via de la Plata. This invites more frequent stops, catch- ups with new Camino friends, and coffee refreshment. On the Via de la Plata  I have experienced several days where there has been no intervening refreshment stop (i.e. bar or cafe) between the morning departure point and the day's final destination. Additionally there have been days when I've only seen (and sometimes this is a sighting in the distance)  one other person during my time of walking. This is made up for at walk's end when I meet, at the albergue (pilgrims' hostel) many of the folk I've spent time with at previous albergues. And so, each day contains a mix of time spent alone (often when walking) and time taken in enjoyment of fellowship with others (relaxing at the albergues, sharing a meal etc.).

In a nutshell, the Camino Frances yields more frequent stopping places and greater numbers in company compared with the Via de la Plata. In my opinion, Camino Portugues falls between the two.

I do miss the "coffee opportunities" that were more obvious on the Camino Frances. And a 20Km walk seems much longer when there are no intermediate established stopping places between start and finish. However, these "minuses" are more than offset by the exhilaration of a decent walk in pristine air through open and pleasant country.

The "way" varies from minor roads to mountain tracks.

In places the vegetation is sparse.

Then another path may lead through woodland.

When I have opportunity, I enjoy walking -and talking with others. This may be of short or extended duration, for there is a beautiful unwritten protocol on the Camino that no one is obligated. Each person walks their own Camino. If anyone walks alongside you at any time they are free to press ahead or to hold back as they desire. To see this in operation is delightful. There is no recrimination - "Don't you want to walk with me?" Rather a generous understanding and acceptance.

Of course when I'm not walking with anyone else, I'm still not alone. I'm walking with Jesus, every step of the way. We enjoy each other, and we are having a wonderful time.

I see Via de la Plata as the "Road less travelled" than the other two Caminos I've experienced. I think similarly about the modern pilgrim's journey with Jesus. Not too many people seem to choose this way nowadays. This is sad, for they are missing out on so much now and, of course, on a future that is out-of-this-world.

I couldn't be without Jesus.he is my constant companion,  not only on this Camino but in the whole of my life. I confess I have more time while walking to indulge myself in His company, and I do this unashamedly. I am ready to receive all He has for me. In doing so I willingly share it -and then He can bless me more.

Precious Lord Jesus,
There is something so special about sharing this walk with You. I thank You for Your presence with me, here on the Via de la Plata and in all my life.
I appreciate You and all You do for me. I enjoy your company and pray that You enjoy mine. Thank You. Amen

Monday, 19 May 2014

A New Way, A Fresh Start

Entering into this third Camino brings me to reflect on the two I have completed. They were quite different, each special in its own way, each giving me wonderful, lasting memories.

This present Camino, the Via de la Plata, is also going to be different, and I'm anticipating many precious experiences and memories for me. The Via de la Plata is truly a New Way for me. I have no prior experience of it, save for reading the reminiscences of others. I start off and I feel so fresh. I remember how, these days, I see each day as a new adventure in and with God. Every day He gives me a fresh started. Yesterday is gone and I need to leave it behind. Tomorrow promises for its own time. But today is my immediate gift from God. I need to put my all into this present moment. If I reflect, anad maybe regret, yesterday I rob myself of precious today. Likewise if I hanker in advance for tomorrow. No, I cast aside all distractions and give myself to the moment that is now. I plan to enjoy all the "nows" of this Camino, and then some in my life beyond.

Two very specific reflections hit me within the shortest time of walking. They are relevant to this walk particularly, but their significance stretches beyond the walk and Spain, speaking clearly to me of the whole of my life with God.

Early on in the walk I stopped for refreshment at Guillema. As I was leaving the bar I asked where I might get a sello (stamp) for my credencial (the pilgrim's passport which is stamped at each stopping place). I was told the Ayuntamiento (municipal offices) was the place and, yes, they were open. The office was literally just doors from the bar and I readily "got stamped". Following my request, I also got valuable information on the best way to leave town to continue on the Camino.

What I got from my reflection was how, in my willingness to ask, people readily responded, and I was helped. There was a time when I was too shy or embarrassed to ask anything of anyone. Fortunately that time is past. Now, if I need to know something, I ask. And my asking seems to prompt others into a willing response. How true the saying of Jesus is: Ask and you will receive. I am encouraged by today's experience. I will apply this revelation to the Camino journey and to all of life beyond. I will not hesitate to ask when I'm stuck. And I will receive what people have to share with me.

And so I found myself through the town and ready for the walk proper. Mostly the way is marked, sometimes by formal markers
 but more often by the means of yellow arrows painted informally wherever space allows.

These "yellow arrows" are not always easy to spot and it is possible to take a wrong turn, as I did a couple of times today. Occasionally, indeed very occasionally, a different marker will tell you where not to go:

The point I got in respect to the "yellow arrows" is twofold. Firstly, they're there. Someone has taken the trouble to position them. They show the way, they are to be heeded. Secondly, that they are not always easy to spot. As I learned to my cost today, I must be ever alert and looking for them.

I was well out of Guillema when I missed a turn. I had walked about 100 m past the turn when a gang of street light technicians stopped me and pointed out the right way. In this one occurrence both aspects of my reflection come together: I must listen when people help me, and I must not miss the yellow arrows.

And so to my reflection on life - God's way. God has given me the senses of speech and hearing. I am to ask if I need to know something. God can give me the answer directly Himself or He can speak through others. I need to listen. Then there are the "yellow arrows". God may set general or specific direction in my life. He may well give me pointers (yellow arrows). These might be prominent and clear, or they may be difficult to discern. I need to be ever alert.

I wonder how many more life lessons I'll get as I journey this Camino with Him!

Most Precious Father,
I thank You for this wonderful start to my Camino: Via de la Plata.
I believe You have spoken most clearly to me. Let me receive all You choose to share with me along the Way. And may I be so willing to put it into practice, and to live life to the full - in You.
GraciasSe├▒or. Hallelujah! Amen. 

PS. I apologise for the lateness in posting this entry. As you may have seen from my earlier attempt, I'm not too good at inserting photos. The first picture came out mush larger than I wanted it. I have no idea how big the pics in this entry will be. Also they are not positioned as I would like. But I will not delay further, else you'll get no news this side of Santiago. So, here goes. I will post. If you know what I need to do with the pics please drop me a comment. Gracias y adios.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Pilgrimage 2014. Wednesday 14th May 2014

The Lord God loves them (us) all...

I am still en route to my pilgrimage start point of Sevilla. I've just boarded the Renfe AVE train at Atocha station in Madrid. 

The last three days have seen some precious experiences since I temporarily farewelled my home on the beautiful east coast of Australia.

My first people connection occurred on the leg of the international flight between Melbourne and Abu Dhabi. I was allocated a seat in a row of three (A,B & C). My companion travellers were an elderly Greek couple from Melbourne. Though elderly, the 90 year old man was alert and very intelligent. His 80-something wife was also extremely alert. Both spoke reasonable English and I was to find out how surprisingly different they were as individuals, and characters.
For some reason I didn't understand, he had installed himself in the window seat (A), while she had taken the aisle seat (C). I was the meat in this Greek sandwich, having seat B. We made a most unlikely trinity! There were two main aspects to our association. First was my interaction with them both in separate conversations. The other was their domestic interaction with each other across the divide between them, which was me!
Both husband and wife liked to talk. His conversation covered a range of diverse and well-informed subjects,though I was somewhat taken aback when, suddenly, he dived into the unlikely travelling topic of political elections in Scotland! I was often touched with mild embarrassment when, due to his quite obvious deafness, my remarks and responses seemed to be broadcast to all within earshot in our section of the aircraft!!
His wife was equally active in her conversation, with her questions being more personally probing than his. What a precious couple! I resigned myself to the hope that I could catch up on relieving tiredness at a future time . This present, and unexpected, interaction was to be maximised and enjoyed. How blessed we are to meet. Some of God's precious children.

My next encounter came after I had successfully negotiated myself on to the train from the airport to the city in Milan. A man took the seat opposite me in the compartment. He asked me something in Italian. I could only guess at what he'd asked. I assumed he was enquiring what time the train was departing. I faced the departures board out of the train window. I tried to convey 4.19 pm to him when he continued, in reasonable English, to tell me that he was asking if there was a toilet on the train! After this unusual but memorable ice breaker we were soon in brief but exciting conversation about sharing God's love in practical and helpful ways. He was a teacher working with a lay Catholic organisation. He had spent time teaching in South Korea but the ministry had reached fulfilment. He was home for a brief visit but also exploring opportunities in Indonesia. Although our time was brief of necessity, I hope we've started a connection that will continue. Who knows, there may be a future visit to Indonesia in the offing.

Other,briefer encounters included the young man who, with the use of his phone app helped me find the right direction to the hotel in Milan and later, the couple at the pasticceria where I stopped for coffee and a sweet treat.

There are many beautiful people on this earth. I've been privileged to meet more than a few. God has opened this pilgrimage by introducing me to some of His lovely children. I expect to meet many more in the coming weeks. I am most appreciative and grateful for this.

Lord God and Loving Father,

I thank You for the wonderful start You've given to this pilgrimage. I give myself into Your keeping for the duration. I pray You will take me to amazing places and introduce me to wonderful people. But most of all, may I know Your presence with me in the most tangible and intimate way. Thank You, Lord. Amen.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

I will sing

I will sing of the LORD’s great love forever;
with my mouth I will make your
faithfulness known through all generations.
                                    Psalm 89.1

The psalmist is eager to celebrate God’s love and faithfulness. What a witness is contained in this one sentence. The world generally seems more ready to condemn than to commend. And this is true in respect to God. The world has lost its way with God.

But I don’t consider that I have lost my way with Him. I have experienced both His love and His faithfulness. These are realities for me. Furthermore, I like to sing and, seemingly, I am able to talk quite easily as well. Therefore, it seems reasonable to sing and speak forth of God’s goodness. What’s more, my love for God urges me to honour Him. May I not remain silent if He is ever criticised ridiculed or blasphemed.

May I sing of His great love for ever. May I declare His faithfulness to generations.

Lord God,

I know Your love and Your faithfulness, and these are but two of the wonderful qualities You have shown me. There are many more besides.

I love You, Lord, and I want to share both the love I have for You and the love I receive from You. One way I can do this is to sing out of Your love. I am grateful that You have blessed me to sing. I thank You for the many opportunities You give me, not only to sing but also to lead others in praise and worship to You.

You also make ways for me to speak of Your faithfulness.

Holy Lord, may I long continue to sing and to speak of the wonderful ways in which You demonstrate Your love for all of creation.

I know not how long my singing voice will last in reasonable condition. My heart knows that it wants to sing of Your love forever. So, take me please, and let my heart and my voice sing out to You in glorious tone. May I never hold back from proclaiming the wonder of You. May my every word bring honour to Your glorious name. I ask these things in Jesus' name.     Amen.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Wait patiently

I waited patiently for the LORD;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
                                             Psalm 40.1

What a precious picture these words paint. And what a lesson they present. The psalmist waits for God. Likely he has some need that he wants God to help with. He might even be desperate for assistance, like, “Help me now! Where are You, Lord?” He has to wait. We are told he waited patiently. If this is true, it is possible that it came after some impatient waiting. I know this to be so from my own experience.

There have been times when I have been so ready for God to do something. But God hasn’t! It has seemed as if He has no interest in me. At other times God has moved, but not in the way I might expect. At yet other times He seems to leave me to my own devices. His word says that He works for the good in all things, for me! – for I surely love Him as the Scripture conditions, and I certainly feel called according to His will.

Well, good has come forth but, often, it has taken a long time for me to be able to see this. I think this is part of God’s cultivation of patience in me. Do I now wait patiently for the Lord? Not entirely, but perhaps a little more patiently than previously.

The other, wonderful aspect that this verse reveals is that God heard the psalmist’s cry and, furthermore, He turned to him. This is good news par excellence. God hears! Again we have his promise for this:

“Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.
You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be
found by you” declares the LORD.
 (Jer. 29.12, 13)

God will hear me. I must persist. I must never give up. I must be patient. When I am, He turns to me, He hears my cry. But, more than this, He responds. The psalmist tells us what God did for him:

He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear
and put their trust on the Lord.
(vv 2, 3)

God delivered the psalmist out of his strife. He gave him a sure foothold. He introduced a new song into his life, a song of praise and joy.

Furthermore, the psalmist’s experience was an example to many. It was an example of the very practical way in which God demonstrates His amazing love for us.

Praise God! Praise Him to the highest heavens!

Lord God,

I sometimes struggle with the issue of patience, with my waiting patiently on You, that is. I am sorry and I seek Your forgiveness. I ask You also to strengthen me and lead me further in You. I know Your way is the only way for me. Give me, if You will, whatever I need to sustain me as I wait upon you.

I thank You that You hear me. You have promised to hear me always when I earnestly and diligently cry out to You. May I never forget this.

I have this present picture of a theatrical set up. I am centre stage, playing out my life, whilst You stand unobtrusively in the wings, ever ready to prompt me and to furnish me with the next piece of material to proceed with my life’s story. I thank You for this image. I pray that I will see You always, waiting there, attending me in the wings of my life.

You raised the psalmist out of grief into a glorious new place. You have done this also with me. I thank You . I press into You that this will continue.

What You did for the psalmist was seen by many .They responded in holy fear and in placing trust in You. May my experience with You likewise be a witness. I don’t want my life to be hidden. Rather, I want it to speak clearly of Your goodness and Your love. May my story witness to many! May I be granted opportunity to touch many lives with Your love, to draw many people into deeper relationship with You. Fit me, if it pleases You, to do this.

Lead me in every venture. Give me whatever patience I need to wait on You, and on Your perfect timing for the rest of my life. Receive this prayer, with my love, in Jesus’ name.              Amen.