November 2013


The reflection I did for the staff briefing at Chevalier on Monday morning.

For nearly three weeks and 460 kilometres, I followed the pilgrim path of the Camino Frances, walking towards Santiago de Compostela and the shrine of St James in Northern Spain, and then onwards to the Cape of Finistera, which until Columbus was believed to be the end of the world. I went alone, but never was lonely, as there seemed to be always companions on the pathway and fellowship around the table.
The Camino seemed to promote something very profound in my fellow pilgrims. I met very few people on the road who were not open, friendly and welcoming. It was absolutely normal to walk into a bar and seem someone you knew vaguely and get invited over to share the table. There is a catalyst at work.
In the end, I think it is because most people are here with some spiritual goal. The statistics tell us that 40% or so do the trip for purely spiritual reasons, 40% for spiritual and physical, and 20% have no spiritual reason. I think that self-selects in a way, because there are many more beautiful walks than the Camino, so you walk because you want to end up at the Cathedral for the Pilgrim Mass; however, most people start drawing water from deep down in their lives, and it shows in the behaviour of people on the road.
The symbol of the Camino is the scallop shell. It is carried by pilgrims from the Pyrenees to the sea and it has a special place in the Santiago legend. It is used on signs and markers that guide pilgrims, and I saw my first shell on a pavement in Issoudun earlier this year. I think Father Chevalier would have been very aware of the Camino, and he would have understood its power to bring people together. There is an old saying, ‘Heart Speaks to Heart’(Cardinal Newman’s motto), and we know what that means at Chev. And even though every pilgrim must walk their own Camino, there is an old tradition that allowed pilgrims to carry another person in their heart.
Chev was very much in my heart, particularly my Year 12 students and you, my colleagues. I carried one of their graduation badges every step of the way. It may not have improved their HSC results, but they were in my heart every day. It may not have lightened your burdens this term, but you were constantly in my heart — except on the really big hills. Fiona has my pilgrim shell from Santiago, with the Year 12 graduation badge pinned to it, and as a token of my pilgrimage and what it meant to me, I am asking her to place it in our prayer space, as a sign that we are all on the Way with our God.
St James, patron of pilgrims, pray for us.
Sacred Heart of Jesus, I place my trust in thee.

image

Ok, campers, here it is, the Camino Competition. From the depths if my ear worms come the following categories of road songs, as best I can remember them. This list took one hour on a flight to Heathrow, so you have to remember more than me! Your challenge, should you choose to take it, is to add to the list! Any popular song of the 20th and 21st Century is eligible. The only qualification is that the road noun must occur in the title or as a significant part of the song. Suggestions via Facebook, of course, as a reply or tag me. The list is closed when the number of songs for any road noun reaches thirty. Let’s see how we go! I’m predicting Brendan, Kieran, Patrick and Michael will have a strong showing, probably Nici and Ciara too.

ROAD

  1. The Long and Winding Road (Paul McCartney)
  2. Crossroads (hah! Don McLean)
  3. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (Elton John, Bernie Taupin)
  4. Take it Easy (Eagles)
  5. Every Day Is a Winding Road (Sheryl Crow)
  6. Further Down the Road (Bernard Fanning)
  7. Lonesome Road (Madeline Peyroux)
  8. Love Shack (B-52s, just check the lyrics!)
  9. Middle of the Road (Pretenders)
  10. Seven Bridges Road (Eagles — must be a Californian Thing)
  11. Road to Nowhere (Talking Heads)
  12. Woodstock (Joni Mitchell)
  13. Telegraph Road (Dire Straights)

HIGHWAY

  1. Highway to Hell (AC/DC, but I think it was written by Vanda and Young
  2. Born to Run (Bruce Springsteen, but this may be pushing the rules too far!)
  3. Hotel California (Eagles)

PATH

  1. Path of Thorns (Sarah McLachlan)

STREET

  1. Where the Streets Have No Name (U2)
  2. ‘A’ Bomb in Wardour Street
  3. Carlton (Lygon Street Blues) (massive cheat, but great Skyhooks)
  4. Dancing in Street (Martha and the Vandellas originally)
  5. Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is? (Chicago, just check the lyrics)
  6. Mercy Street (Peter Gabriel)
  7. 52nd Street (Billy Joel)
  8. Moon Over Bourbon Street (Sting)
  9. Out in the Street (Springsteen fans win this section hands down)

WAY

  1. On My Way to You (. )
  2. Find a Way to my Heart (Phil Collins)
  3. She Will Have Her Way (a cheat, but Neil Finn anyway)
  4. So Far Away (Carol King, only cheating a bit)

AVENUE

  1. Girls on the Avenue (Dickie Clap, of course!)

LANE

  1. Penny Lane (Lennon and McCartney)
  2. Mitchell Lane (Ben Folds Five)

FREEWAY

  1. Ol’55 (Tom Waites)

20131112-183512.jpg

I made a conscious decision not to write poetry on the journey, leaving it perhaps for a later time, but I tried to find a verse or song for each day to borrow words for the experience of the road. I hope to use the experience to write poetry, perhaps imitating the amazing example of Paul, the Irish poet I met. For what it’s worth, this is my record of the journey, my attempt to share with you the amazing last eighteen days. I am truly not unchanged by this journey.

Today has been a day in waiting, wandering around the harbour enjoying the autumn sunshine that, perversely, has decided to reappear now as I leave Galicia. The water shone and reflected the little boats while fisherman told stories and argued among their nets and the seabirds called.

20131111-211041.jpg

20131111-211049.jpg

20131111-211103.jpg
So now I am back in Santiago, having shopped and with no inclination to be a tourist. I write my blog for one last time on the journey and wait for my washing to be delivered, for dinner (they have a cheap Galician menu which saves me a cold walk into the centro), before a final pack and, I hope, a good nights sleep.

I tried to think of a poem to conclude this attempt at journalism, something wise that captured the bittersweet sense of ending, but nothing seemed to suit. Probably the appropriate response would be to go and get roaring drunk with some mates, but my companions are scattered, some on their way home, some on the road to Finisterra. And then there is the song that became an ear worm yesterday as I catalogued all the music that had references to roads, streets, avenues, highways, byways and Ways. You won the Mars bar if you came up with more than one song for each noun, but you might be surprised at the words that followed my footsteps up the hill to Finisterra. Helen would understand, perhaps, for it is a song that speaks of all roads being, ultimately, about a road home to those you love. To live in love is, as best we can, to live without regret and to love without restraint. If I’ve learnt nothing else in life, it is that.

And so, as trite as popular music can sometimes be, but as deep, here is a truth about all journeys. I’m on my Way to you. Read it as you will.

So often as I wait for sleep
I find myself reciting
The words I’ve or should have said
Like scenes that need rewriting
The smiles I never answered
Doors perhaps I should have opened
Songs forgotten in the morning

I relive the roles I’ve played
The tears I may have squandered
The many pipers I have paid
Along the roads I’ve wandered
Yet all the time I knew it
Love was somewhere out there waiting
Though I may regret a kiss or two

If I had changed a single day
What went amiss or went astray
I may have never found my way to you
If I had changed a single day
What went amiss or went astray
I may have never found my way to you
I wouldn’t change a thing that happened
On my way to you…

If you want to hear Streisand sing it, it’s on YouTube, just don’t watch the slideshow!

20131111-210452.jpg

I bade farewell to Brun and Tobias and headed down the main road towards Cee and Corcubion, which my iPad has attempted to autocorrect to Concubines. I wasn’t unhappy to be on the road as several showers interrupted the fog and drizzle which I have come to expect as the Galician version of an ordinary autumn day, but my spirits were certainly lifted by the kindness of a local who turned his car and trailer around to make sure that I was not trying to get to Muxia in the wrong direction.

I felt very odd, knowing that I was counting out the last footsteps of an experience that, even were I to repeat it, would be completely different next time. Knowledge changes things, and however well prepared I was for this trip, I had the sense to know that every day was a song to be played by ear. As I grew into the journey, so much became routine that the unexpected became the norm. These last kilometres to the coast were like an oasis of neutrality, as I let my feet walk and my mind grapple with all the meetings, conversations, encounters, sights, thoughts and prayers of these last three weeks.

To reach the coast was to change mental gears entirely. The Atlantic has a different beauty to the Pacific, and even though I saw superficial resemblance to the area around Port Stephens, the reality was a sense of coiled threat, a moving thing that had been wrestling with the land and with the fishermen who inhabited it for thousands of years.

20131111-201853.jpg
I didn’t rush along the coast, but my feet led me inevitably along the beach, littered and, for me, ruined with the plastic detritus of the weeks bad weather and human carelessness. It was not until I came closed to Finisterra town, clustered under Cape, that I began to appreciate that, love it or hate it, this was the end of the journey and good and bad were part of the lesson.

Unlike the beaches, the harbour was a-bustle with activity and, as I climbed the last kilometres to the lighthouse after dumping my bag in one of the many albergues, I could see the little boats working in the shelter of the bay or setting out into the ocean, tiny dots against the immensity of the sea. It put pilgrimage into perspective, for I was engaged in recreation, while for those setting nets and pots, letting down hooks or diving to the bottom, it was a wrestle between life and death. Maybe the pilgrim’s lot was like theirs once, but all the dud bunks, cold showers and sore feet were as nothing to this elemental struggle.

20131111-202751.jpg
And so to the lighthouse, past what I thought was the last signpost of the journey, but the Camino was not done with me yet, because as I created the climb and walked into the lighthouse car park, there was a cry of “My God, it’s Chris”, and Bianca and Maria were there, having bussed down from Santiago. It was only the briefest of meetings, because they had been convinced that they now needed to walk to Faro rather than the ‘easy way’, but it reinforced the lesson that the Camino is not the road, the signs and the yellow arrows, but the people along the way.

20131111-203244.jpg

20131111-203712.jpg
So there it was, the end of the world for the Celts, both as pagan and Christian, and amidst the vain efforts to emulate the old pilgrims and burn an article of clothing — vain because most of us wear nothing natural these days and it would be ritual melting — were signs of memorials to the journey and, in contrast to the tourists who seemed completely out of place, pilgrims sitting or standing in mute contemplation of the end of all things.

20131111-203810.jpg

20131111-203822.jpg
The brass boot was a nice touch, the thing by which all pilgrims live or, if not die, certainly suffer pangs. Thillo turned up, another Camino sign, and we ended up having dinner together and conversing in a mixture of German and English.

And so there it is. Perhaps you will think this a complete anti-climax, because I can give you no revelation from the end of the world. On the other side is America, maybe a vast idea for Western Civilisation but as nothing compared to the awe that the endlessly moving ocean must have instilled in our ancestors. But I am not unchanged, because Finisterra is the same experience as the Pilgrim’s Mass in the Cathedral: an encounter with something so nearly beyond words as to challenge prose and force use back to poetry, to song, to art.

For the record, I walked 459 kilometres. I am not game to add up the hours I spent on the road, and to my shame I cannot I recall all the conversations I shared, but the more vivid memories will not be of sore feet, but of moments exchanged with pilgrims on the same road. Buen Camino!

20131111-201722.jpg
And so, because all of us must end our pilgrimage in the same way one day, there is only one poem for the end of the world.

Crossing the Bar
— Tennyson

Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;

For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar.

20131111-205541.jpg

This has been Toby’s last day of sharing my journey, because he wants to go to Muxia — which is becoming something of a fable among the Camunists (which is how I describe the really fanatical peregrinos). It’s not enough to go to the end of the world, you must go to the most beautiful spot on the coast, blah blah. Somehow this misses the point, for me, but Toby is almost at the 1000 km mark and has a day in hand, while I have set my goals and I also know that I can only push my body so far. Ironically, he broke down this afternoon with shin-splints and we couldn’t blame the brilliant lunch of slow-cooked lamb that was such a delight.

20131109-202927.jpg
I don’t really like Dumbria, although the albergue is new and attached to a really great sports centre. I haven’t bothered with dinner after all that food, and the wifi is dodgy but good enough for wordpress, but the people are very Galician: serious, hardworking people who are not directly connected to the real Camino and see few pilgrims. Only Brun, Toby and I are here, drying out after another wet day, but the boots stayed pretty dry (wet feet are a potential disaster even at this stage) and we appreciated some amazing natural beauty. Rushing streams of crystal water, wild rivers, green fields, forests and the promise of the sea just over the horizon.

20131109-203404.jpg

20131109-203424.jpg

20131109-203440.jpg
Tomorrow I take the road south, back to the Finisterra path and a solo 25 km to finish my journey, while Brun and Toby head northwest to Muxia and a short day, before walking south along the coast to Finisterra and the bus back on Tuesday. I think on that touching moment in The Return of the King (the book, of course) where Gandalf meets the hobbits at the Grey Havens and says farewell one last time. I can’t guarantee my recollection, but I think he says, “well! here at last is the ending of our Fellowship in Middle Earth.” I have been saying hola and adios so often on my journey, and with a light heart, but these last partings bring back all that I have gained in the last three weeks and what I must, inevitably, lose. Buen Camino to all those whose lives have touched mine.

This is such a pagan journey, worshipping the setting sun. Only Yeats really gets that Celtic Twilight stuff. We are, in the end, dishevelled wandering stars, in the hands of a power much deeper, more profound and more mysterious than we can ever penetrate. The Camino is a constant process of revelation, because you never are certain what the moment will bring, who you will meet, with whom you will break bread, what revelation may be made to you that opens your eyes to another human story. You think you walk the Way, but from another perspective you are walked in and out of other peoples’ stories, and their lives are embroidered on your own. Life outside the Camino should be like that, but so often it isn’t. Was that why Jesus was a wandering holy man, weaving his revelation in and out of the lives of many?

Who goes with Fergus?

WHO will go drive with Fergus now,
And pierce the deep wood’s woven shade,
And dance upon the level shore?
Young man, lift up your russet brow,
And lift your tender eyelids, maid,
And brood on hopes and fear no more.
And no more turn aside and brood
Upon love’s bitter mystery;
For Fergus rules the brazen cars,
And rules the shadows of the wood,
And the white breast of the dim sea
And all dishevelled wandering stars.

20131109-203531.jpg

We have marched much further than the Brierley map suggested, making the most of a fair day to put some miles under our feet and finishing with the grand total of 37 km. Villaserio is a tiny dot in the map and much less of a place than Negreira, which was my intended destination, but there have been some lovely sunny moments today to balance the swamp that sometimes was all we had as a path, so we make the most of the weather and hope for the best tomorrow.
20131109-195053.jpg

There are just three more pilgrims here tonight as many stayed in Santiago for an extra day, or could only consider the trip by bus. I am a third of the way here, and with me is Toby, Brun and Toby’s German friend whose name I have no idea how to spell (it’s Thillo). The meal at the bar was no more than adequate, but the company was wide ranging and I am left again with envy at Brun and Toby’s multilingual talents.

We have all struggled in our different ways with why one would go on to Fisterra after the highlight of the mass. I thought about it deeply during the day as Toby wrestled with the dream of completing a 1000 km by forging ahead and walking to Muxia and back, something I am not keen to do at all. I think the popularity of these last steps in the Camino lies in the dual symbolism — apologies if this verges on a tautology. Burning clothing at the end of the world was the symbolic completion of the pilgrim journey and an echo of the placating of the sun as he went down in the sea, a supplication that the sun would once again rise. I thing for modern pilgrims, the journey is in some way the commencement of a commitment to take the Camino back into one’s real life, to dedicate oneself to the Way even when one’s steps are not pointed towards Santiago. Perhaps also we engage with the symbolism of death, that makes real all pilgrimages. To face the endless ocean and assert that one’s insignificant life has meaning and therefore is not merely transient but of great weight — this is a very Western approach to the mysteries; but from an Eastern perspective, we must also accept that we are ultimately submerged in a greater reality.

20131109-201023.jpg
On a lighter note, we have solved one of the great mysteries of Galicia, thanks to Brun! We have been looking at these structures and wondering what the hell they are.

20131109-200034.jpg

20131109-200048.jpg
Our theories reveal much about the effect of prolonged walking on the brain: we have suggested that they are good places for bringing up children, somewhere to stash grandma when the dementia gets out of hand, home cemetery kits (well, there are no graves as such in Galicia, only mortuary walls) and even somewhere to keep your pet hermit (before Vatican II, of course). It turns out that they are structures for drying maize, which is about the only cereal that will grow in this damp. They are mouse proof because of the stone capping on the supports, the older ones are drystone and so rainproof but not airtight, and the steps finish two feet from the door, so not even a ninja rat could jump in? Problem solved.

Lunch today was a triumph: a beautiful little restaurant beside an old Roman Bridge at Ponte Maceira. For €10 Euro we had the menu de dias: an enamel mug full of creamy vegetable soup, char-grilled sardines with baby spinach and balsamic, cheesecake and cafe cortado, all with a really good vino blanco. What more could you ask of life (well, being home with my beloved, family and friends is probably the answer, but I am on my way home.

20131109-201131.jpg

20131109-201231.jpg

20131109-201247.jpg
The More Loving One
W.H. Auden

Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
But on earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast.

How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.

Admirer as I think I am
Of stars that do not give a damn,
I cannot, now I see them, say
I missed one terribly all day.

Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky
And feel its total dark sublime,
Though this might take me a little time.

20131109-201302.jpg

And so we are all here, so many faces from the road turning up at the mass, Toby predictably wandering off and finding his own space, but so many faces from the last two weeks actually present, and many more in my heart as we celebrated the Pilgrims Mass in the Cathedral.

20131107-190323.jpg
Maybe the weather is designed to make me search deep in myself for the meaning of the moment, because the grey days have continued. I’m in my hotel now, in some luxury, my laundry is being done, and I am physically and emotionally exhausted. The experience of arriving in there cathedral, receiving the Compostela, attending mass: all too much after a pretty tough couple of weeks. You really can’t do joins no trip without rest days, and I had reached the limit, something even the old hands who started at the Pyrenees have found.

20131107-224608.jpg

20131107-224624.jpg

20131107-224643.jpg

20131107-224716.jpg

20131107-224728.jpg

I have done my shopping and had dinner with Paul and Paige, with all the deep and meaningfuls thrown in, but perhaps now is not the time to share the moments. Each step from today is one closer to those I love, and to my home with Paula. The Epistle for today is a challenge and a comfort.

7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

13 It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.”[b] Since we have that same spirit of[c] faith, we also believe and therefore speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. 15 All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.

16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

For a long time I have reflected on these words of Denise Levertov, a poet whose work I know only a little but which often ring true at special moments. This is my prayer for tonight.

To live in the mercy of God
– Denise Levertov

To lie back under the tallest
oldest trees. How far the stems
rise, rise
before ribs of shelter
open!

To live in the mercy of God. The complete
sentence too adequate, has no give.
Awe, not comfort. Stone, elbows of
stony wood beneath lenient
moss bed.

And awe suddenly
passing beyond itself. Becomes
a form of comfort.
Becomes the steady
air you glide on, arms
stretched like the wings of flying foxes.
To hear the multiple silence
of trees, the rainy
forest depths of their listening.

To float, upheld,
as salt water
would hold you,
once you dared.

To live in the mercy of God.

To feel vibrate the enraptured

waterfall flinging itself
unabating down and down
to clenched fists of rock.
Swiftness of plunge,
hour after year after century,
O or Ah
uninterrupted, voice
many-stranded.
To breathe
spray. The smoke of it.
Arcs
of steelwhite foam, glissades
of fugitive jade barely perceptible. Such passion—
rage or joy?
Thus, not mild, not temperate,
God’s love for the world. Vast
flood of mercy
flung on resistance.

Tomorrow, my face is west to the setting sun and walking to the end of the world.

Next Page »