Sunday, January 16, 2011

Day 97 - It's a question of faith...

16 Days into the new year. How did that happen? I blinked an eye and life just ran away at a speed that threatens to take my breath away. In three days time it will be exactly 100 days since I started writing this blog. One part of me wants to fast forward to July 2012 and another wants to press the pause button.

The past couple of weeks saw the ending of one year and the start of another. I've been fortunate to have my dearest friend in the world visit after the new year's festivities and now life is falling back into a familiar pattern again.

 Or so I thought.

For the last couple of weeks I've been thinking about priorities. Sometimes one has to be still and evaluate. Evaluate what you want from life. What is important and what can wait. What is negotiable and what is not. What makes you happy and what doesn't. What to keep and what to discard.

No matter in which direction my thoughts have taken me in the last few weeks, I keep coming back to one realisation. The one constant, the one reliable factor and the one saving grace in all of our lives, whether we acknowledge it or not, is our faith. Without my faith in God and everything it represents, nothing can ever really work.

We spend so much time and energy on other things/areas of our lives that growing our faith and understanding the impact thereof on our lives is often the one crucial thing that we neglect. A neglect that can cost us so much more than we realise.

So in 2011 my energy is going to be directed towards building on my faith. Understanding how I'm supposed to implement it in my life and how I can ultimately contribute best to this world and be the happiest I can possibly be as a person.

I once heard the Dalai Lama say that the ultimate goal of his religion is 'to be happy'. So simple, and isn't that what we all want? To be happy.

So with all of the above in mind, I started reading what other people had to say about how they experienced religion or 'spirituality' on the Camino.

This is what Tony Kevin had to say in his book 'Walking the Caminino': ' ...there was no magic,revelatory moment in Spain; rather, it was a series of little steps forward, towards a slowly opening door. My pilgrimage opened my heart wider to God; it washed away my emotional constrictions and defence mechanisms; it enabled me to pray more freely and unforcedly than ever before in my life. It gently but insistently urged me to confront my life, warts and all. Everyone I met on the pilgrimage played a part in this: the Mother Superior in Granada who put the first stamp in my passport, and all the priests on the way to whom I introduced myself in churches after Masses and who blessed my journey; Juan, the innkeeper in Alcaracejos who was the first person in Spain to hail the inner significance of what I was trying to do; the hospitable lay brothers at Alcuescar; Marit and Karin; Tim and Liz; Richard and Aldo and Nigel; the woman at the lavanderia in Rionegro; John and Marcelino in Laza; the man in Albergueria who hung up my scallop shell on his ceiling; and every fellow pilgrim or villager or innkeeper or hostalero I met who wished me 'Buen Viaje!' on the way.'

He goes on to describe how he often went to evening Masses in the little Spanish villages and how different it was to going to Mass as a young man when it was simply part of an obligatory daily routine. He even bought a little Spanish prayer book so that he could take part in the congregation's spoken prayers.

'In Spain on the camino, I was living my religion rather than thinking about it on an intellectual level. The pilgrimage wasn't a mental exercise in theology on the move. I was not working through ideas about religion and politics, or religion and society. I was giving that part of my brain a rest. What was happening to me was a felt thing.'

'Now, as Santiago was finally approaching, I felt that my heart was as cleansed and refreshed and open to God as it was ever likely to be in this life on earth, and I was happy'

I accept that not all people have the same experience on the camino. Some of the blogs I have read simply relate the experience that the writer had walking from point A to point B, never touching on anything spiritual. Others spend pages on that particular aspect. I hope that my experience is going to be similar to what Tony experienced. In fact I know that is what it's going to be like. I can't wait.

In fact, we might be going to Portugal in the next few weeks and I am seriously thinking about doing a walk from Porto to Santiago either before or after our trip. It's just a thought at this stage but in December of 2009 I had a very strong thought pop in my head as well and six months later I stood at the summit of Kilimanjaro...

So just when I thought things have fallen back into the familiar pattern I'm discovering that this is going to be a year packed full of surprises. And I plan to tackle 2011 with a renewed commitment to my faith and everything that it represents. This is going go be a good year, I just know it!

In keeping with today's theme I've decided to post some of the photos that I have taken in and of churches, both in Cape Town and in Portugal.

If you've walked the Camino I'd love to hear if your experience was similar to Tony's or was it totally different?

One of my newest pilgrim friends has just completed his walk to Santiago and I have asked him to write a guest post that I'll publish here as soon as I receive it. It's not the first time that he has walked 'The Way' as the Camino de Santiago is also known and I am very interested to hear all about his amazing journey - undertaken during one of the coldest Decembers that Europe has seen in many years!

Here's wishing you all a wonderful 2011 - may all your dreams come true this year!