Roncesvalles to Pamplona

 

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I’ve taken a short break (stop judging me), and I am resting in Pamplona for the day. In fact the five of us have rendezvoused here and I have just returned from dinner with the others. The night life in Pamplona is fabulous, as is the food. Our injured compatriot and her husband caught a bus to Pamplona from Roncesvalles, and the good news is that she seems to be in good health with only a hamstring strain. So they will be joining us on the walk tomorrow, albeit carefully and gently. I’ve loved walking with the other couple and getting to know them, as well as sharing some of my story with them. Having said that, it is nice being all together again. I’ve also found myself making friends with other pilgrims on the way. A few of whom I have pretty much seen every day. Tomorrow, the others are planning to leave earlier and I will catch them up in the next day or two. Who doesn’t love a good sleep in? Only Communists and Presbyterians I say.

It is interesting that I am on a spiritual quest and that I have made two new friends who seem to have latched on to me who describe themselves as “Neo Pagans”. There has been some fun conversation to be had in there. There’s a fairly famous bit in the bible that says “if you seek, you shall find”, so I guess I find myself respecting anyone who is also on a seeker’s journey.

The walk over the last couple of days has again been quite intense. It is hot here, and there are still some pretty serious hills to cross. I’m taking in between five and six litres of water every day, and on the third day took in eight litres.

I’m loving the change in terrain, walking into villages, on mountain trails, past rivers. I’ve tried to get a few photos that show the beauty of what I’m experiencing. I am also developing some traditions, I make a point of sticking my head in any town fountains that I come across and I am swimming (sans clothing), in the rivers as I come across them here. I love it. Of course I feel for any who might stumble across such a scene.

Again, I have had plenty of time to reflect and pray and work my way through stuff. There are lots of things going through my mind and my head that are still in the early stages, and not much that I could clearly articulate here, but stand by.

One thing that has been interesting has been in dealing with some of the hills. It has not been uncommon to find myself trudging up a hill for hours at a time. I am by nature, and physique, a sprinter. I am built for strength, not endurance. My tendency when I have come to a hill has been to try and tough it out and hit it hard all the way to the top. This works on hills that are a couple of hundred metres, but trust me when I say that when you are going uphill for kilometres at a time, sprinting does not work!

This has caused me to reflect on how I approach life. I live in an instant dinner, instant entertainment, wait for nothing, world. The idea of tucking in, trudging through and toughing out a problem, from one side to the other purposefully over time, is a bit foreign to me. I tend to set a plan in motion and get to it. To learn endurance, persistence, stickability, even when it hurts every step, might be a valuable lesson to me. And in this instant gratification world, might be a useful and perhaps uncommon asset.

For those of you who I know as friends, thanks for having stickability with me. I know how lucky I am to have you.

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Basking With The Basques

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Today marks my goodbye to Paris, at least for now.  This morning I jumped the train to Bayonne and made a connection from there to my starting point St Jean Pied de Port, which means the foot of the pass of St John. It is from here that my friends and I will set off tomorrow. To be honest, I am a bit intimidated by the prospect, I am carrying more weight (both in my pack and …well,,,just me), than I had intended. The first day is considered the hardest and commences with the crossing of the Pyrenees. The thought of setting out in, what I assume will be my poorest personal fitness of the trip, to attempt a mountain crossing, frankly has worms. Still, what’s the worst that can happen?

 

The Basque country is a fascinating place, most would have heard of the separatist movement, and whilst I don’t condone violent means to achieve this, I can understand their position. They are a unique race of people. No one knows where their language came from, it is highly unusual amongst European languages, unrelated to any other, there is even one theory that it similar to the Sioux language. There have also been DNA studies showing that they have a unique heritage among Europeans. I can understand wanting to keep that kind of heritage alive.

 

The train trip in, particularly from Bayonne to SJPP was breathtaking. We rolled by a river most of the way, one of the most beautiful I have seen. Into the feet of the Pyrenees, the mountains looming up before us throwing out their challenge.

 

You’ll see some photos of SJPP in this posting, beautiful cobble stone (hobble stone as a friend of mine puts it), streets, a city wall, houses and shops that look as they would have in the middle ages. Having the 5 of us here is fabulous, we ate the pilgrims menu (salad, a mince stew, bread and ice cream),  and then used the bread and the wine to take communion together. It was for me a very special moment.

 

So in saying goodbye to Paris, I have been reflecting on some of the seriously fabulous wines that I have been lucky enough to sample. Amazing Bordeaux and a Chablis that was so good that if I saw you drink it and you didn’t weep I would think you a heartless scoundrel.

 

As some of you closer to me would know, I come from a long line of alcoholics. My father and his father before him, it is a proud family tradition that goes back generations.

 

As a result I am easily given to reflecting on such things, and I have been thinking a little about the nature of wines and viticulture.

 

One interesting thing about French wines (and lots of others), is that many of  them are grown in what would traditionally be considered uncomfortable environments. Either chalky or gravelly or low nutrient soils. In fact quality viticulturists will sometimes “stress” the vines on purpose. This results in less overall yield but a much higher quality, concentrated juice with which to make the wine. It is an art. To anthropamorphise a grape, which I’m sure you’ll agree to be highly sensible, I wonder if the grape thinks it worth it. To be stressed and go through hardship, and then to be crushed, but ending up an utterly exceptional wine, unique in the world, something aspired to and even copied by others. The thing is, there is no other way to get there, no shortcut, no cheat. It is either do the hard yards or be ordinary.

 

I know what I would choose. I do choose. I want to put myself in the hands of the master winemaker, trust Him to lovingly work with me, to make me the unique wine He planned me to be from the beginning of creation. Time to buckle up and try and enjoy the ride.

 

If you see me grimacing, you may want to remind me of this temporary insanity. Still, it beats dying of old age as the Vikings say.

 

Save up your hugs for the next time you see me. Remind me to bring a bottle of my favourite wine.

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Reunions

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The reunion planned back around Easter in the Dog’s Bar in St Kilda between the Butsons, the Pates and me in front of Notre Dame Cathedral at 1100 on the 26th August, has taken place. You’ll see one of the photos with the five of us standing together. It has been great to see members of my tribe. We’ve been catching up, eating together, speculating about the big walk coming up. I’ve loved it.

Those of you who know me well would know that I have a penchant for the quirky, and that I can do just enough magic tricks to be annoying at parties. So I was lucky enough to be shown the Magic Museum here in Paris. Fun times. Now if I could only find the juggling, stilt walking, unicycling and fire eating museums I’ll be set.

A couple of other photos of note, there is a statue of Joan of Arc (again my special crush), one of the Paris versions of the Statue of Liberty and some great early morning photos of the Louvre. Taken had a very unsensible hour, but no people around and great light.

I have been reflecting a lot on the nature of love. Of course being in “The City of Light”, it was only a matter of time. Not only romantic love, although make no mistake this is interesting to me as well, but love for my family, my neighbor, my tribe, humanity.

So, this brings me to a life well lived, at least for me. I know I have been asking the question of others in previous blogs, and received some quite brilliant responses, please keep them coming, but here is one that is important to me.

To love courageously.

There are a few things I have learned over the years (imagine how smart I’ll be when I learn a few more things). Firstly, sooner or later love hurts, I don’t want that to sound bitter or broken, it most certainly isn’t. Indeed the realisation is liberating. What I mean to say is that people will let you down, I let people down, I try not to do it on purpose but I do. It will hurt because people make mistakes, because the ledger won’t always balance in your favour in a relationship, if it does you’re probably not in a healthy relationship. It will hurt because that person might say bad things, they might leave you, they will eventually die, they will fail you. And if you love, you will get hurt. If you love hard it may hurt more.

Having said that, the very nature of love, even a great romantic love, is to put the other person before yourself. I have realised that one of the things I have a tendency to do is to move toward and away from a person according to how much they move away from and toward me. This is fear, some may call it common sense or stewardship of the heart, but I really do think it is fear and with me at the centre. What if I could be free from fear enough to say “I will love you, how you are toward me is no longer a part of the equation of my loving you”. I suspect if I could get past this fear I might even hurt less when someone lets me down.

I wonder if this is what happens to some great loves over time. A couple set out passionate and in love, but one lets the other down who pulls back a bit, then the letter-downer pulls back in response, and so forth. Soon they find themselves in this cool relationship and what was once great is now just a convenience, or worse still a prison.

There is a passage in the bible that says “perfect love casts out fear”. I think that says to me that GREAT love cannot coexist with fear. That fear is a mortal enemy of love.

Of course God knows how to pull off this perfect love business, but we are made in His image, surely I can at least aspire toward this love. I mean really, what have I got to lose? Hopefully I am just giving away fear and ordinary, vanilla flavoured, uninteresting love, and setting out to love amazingly. I am on a pilgrimage after all.

And on that note, my efforts at courageous love to you all. Pray for me on my quest.

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Versailles and Motorbikes

 

 

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What a fun day yesterday was. I rode my (hired), motorbike down to Versailles and spent the better part of the day hanging out in the gardens. For lunch I took a baguette and a bottle of my all time favourite wine down to the huge ponds at the bottom of the gardens and had my favourite kind of quiet time. Eat fun food and drink good wine until God speaks to me.

Now, those of you who are particularly observant have noticed that I am wearing the same shirt every day, and as the day progress, people are standing further and further away from me. I should explain. I come from a very poor family, when we were growing up we were so poor that we had to wash our clothes and reuse them. Often many times over. It is a shame that I try to keep hidden but I am afraid that it is a habit that has stuck with me. In less than a week I am heading out on a 1000Km trek, so the less weight I carry the better, this shirt and the other one I have are no iron, quick dry and it is my habit to wash my clothes when I get home at night. Thanks for your concern.

 

So Versailles, the gardens are amazing, and should you come to Paris I would highly recommend seeing them. Even if you’re like me and the highlight of your personal gardening experience was the time you felt pride in buying that really nice four stroke Honda mower. The palace at Versailles is fascinating too, but did not really engage me as much.

I kept wondering what it would have been like in the days leading up to the French Revolution. Indeed there have been a few times in which I have reflected that the political climate of the time has some uncanny resemblances to our own, at least in Australia.

A lot of the politic was based on stirring up fear and spreading lies and half truths. The peasantry were feeling progressively more and more squeezed, and the upper classes were getting richer and further out of touch with the plight of those less fortunate. I found myself feeling a bit sorry for Louis the XVI, it feels to me like he was demonised a bit more than he deserved. And to go from being a Monarch to prisoner and finally going to the guillotine seems a bit of an unkind road. Imagine if we treated our current politicians like this if they failed our expectations.

I was also reflecting on how we as a current society seem to have lost our value for art and beauty and replaced it with efficiency and cost effectiveness. How is it that we once were able to produce so much beauty and now we are reduced to skyscrapers and shopping malls. It seems with things like computers and robots and nail guns and automobiles that we should have more time and capacity to put toward exploring creativity and beauty and even spirituality. Instead we work longer hours than our parents and seem to produce things of less quality and beauty. We seem to have been consumed by consumerism of the cheap and tawdry.

Well that all sounds very sad and sorry. So let me finish by saying that I have hope. I have hope that there are better days coming and that there are good people stirring. I have hope that God has an interest in us finding our best. His word says that if we seek, we shall find. Well I’m out here seeking.

 

My Love and big bear hugs to you all.

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Parisian Rambling

Yesterday was a bit of a slow day in terms of getting out and about, but it was a fun day in other ways. I went to a Protestant church and I made some new friends, which is nice. In fact it is a bit of a dilemma, these are nice folk, but I think a big bonus of my time here has been the really alone stuff (unless you count God…maybe).

Today was a different story, clocked up some real k’s. My church today was a pond in a park with a fountain. Everywhere you go in Paris there are these amazing parks, with beautiful sculptures and gardens and water features. Really soul feeding stuff. I sat down beside one of these ponds and gave myself time to ruminate on ….well things that need ruminatin’.

So, a couple of photos. The Arc de Triomphe. It’s big. Built in the early 19th century, it was built to commemorate those who died in the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars. I then walked the Champs-Élysées, actually I did a couple of laps, stopping for coffee a couple of times. Then onto Place de la Concorde, this is the place where most of the guillotine work was done during the French Revolution, around 1300 people were beheaded here. Pays not to get the peasants angry is my feeling. There is a story that the stench of human blood was so strong here, that cattle could not be made to cross this stretch of land.

My friend Michael has asked me to reflect on my spiritual experiences in different places. It’s an interesting question. I found today was a lot of processing things form my past, pondering my future, thinking about purpose and a lot of this business of really trusting God. This faith stuff is really interesting to me. It seems such a big issue in the kingdom of God, phrases like “without faith it is impossible to please God” yikes! It can’t just be about choice of who you will follow I don’t think. If it was just that, why wouldn’t God turn up, spread His arms out wide, yell “TA DAAAA!! Here I am, now choose if you’ll follow me or not.” That would be how I’d do it, of course I’m pretty sure I’m not God. Instead He leaves it so that we have to trust in something not thoroughly apparent, something not material.

Something I find interesting about this life is that, if I have my theology correct, it will be the only time in all of eternity that I will be able to live by faith. Take risks, make choices, spend my days, by faith. I’m guessing after I die there’s probably not going to be much doubt one way or the other about God’s existence. My time now is a different story, don’t get me wrong, I believe in God enough to bet my life on it, but He’s not here like my bed or chair or food, in plain view. So in all of eternity, this will be my only time to make faith based decisions. I think choosing to live by faith takes courage, that perhaps fear is the antithesis of faith living.

In yesterday’s sermon, the preacher talked about belief, he inferred that belief has to be more than intellectual ascension. It has to be making decisions and taking risks consistent with what we claim to believe, perhaps against the “common sense”. I like that thought. Of course it’s scary and confrontational, but I’m guessing that’s faith.

And on that note Beautiful People, I am headed out for my dinner. My love to you and big hugs,

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Beating Off The Jetlag

The horrors of the 30 odd hour plane/transit journey are behind me and I have spent the day, including this post, fighting to stay awake so that I can sync my body clock with the  locals.

You know it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity. Those of you who know me know that I am a gifted perspirer. As I was exercising this gift on the plane after having taken a shower at Hong Kong airport, a fellow traveller tried to reassure me by saying “once the pores are open, there’s naught stopping it” in a serious north England accent. It occurred to me that my pores must have opened somewhere in the late seventies and haven’t looked back since.

The thoughts that I had promised to make time for are already misbehaving and attention seeking. About a life well lived, what do I want it to have looked like at the end. If you’re reading this and you have some thoughts on the matter, I would love to hear them. I’ll share some later, of course if yours are good I’ll steal them and claim them as my own. About my life so far, what I believe. A surprising amount devoted to economics and social justice.

I spent the afternoon scoping the local area. Irish pubs that I can avoid, cafes that I can practice looking deep and reflective in. In the late afternoon I walked up to Montmartre, the highest point in the city, and attended mass at Sacre Coeur. It was a genuinely special experience to do church with other people who might also think that Jesus might be the answer. Afterward I sat and looked reflective in a cafe.

The Bible says that every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord, I figure I’ll just get in early and avoid the rush.g

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At The Start

And so begins the journey. I’m sitting in the Qantas lounge at Melbourne airport, alone. I’ve said my goodbyes to the people I love and I don’t expect to see any of them for at least four months.

I’m in a sea of interesting emotions, I feel lonely, excited, uncertain and I’m kind of second guessing my current decisions. Why am I doing this?

Most of my Melbourne friends would know what I’m up to, but for those who don’t, let me catch you up. I’m heading out on a pilgrimage. The primary focus is to walk the Camino de Santiago (Professor Google will give you all you might want to read about it), the path I am taking will be somewhere between 900 and 1000 Km. It is an ancient Catholic pilgrimage through the north of Spain that ends in Santiago where James the half brother of Jesus is allegedly buried. Some pilgrims will then walk to the western most point of the Spanish mainland and burn their clothes. Apparently I get one third off my time in Purgatory too, which would be rather a lot for me. I’m not banking on this too much.

Most of you would know that I am not Catholic, but I do think that I want to put time aside to focus on the spiritual. I don’t know about you, but I get so busy (often with stuff unworthy of my days), that in the end I have an abundance of half cooked thoughts. All of them sitting there in my head, looking at me accusingly and wondering when I’m going to pay them any further attention. I suspect my stuff with God is a bit the same. I dutifully pray, read my bible, sing the occasional happy song, and I feel that often I do these things like I pay my bills. Dutifully, occasionally overdue and without much passion or enthusiasm.

I’m meeting with four friends (two couples….how fun for me!), in Paris in a couple of weeks. We’ll walk some of the Camino together. There will be photos, but I figure you don’t want to see the airport lounge.

So the (very fluid and flexible), plan is this. I’m spending a couple of weeks in Paris on my own. Actually catching up with a couple of colleagues there, but this will take up less than a day in total. I meet my friends and we catch the train south to Basque country where we begin the walk. I walk, meet God, we hang out for a bit. Then I pick up a motorcycle in Madrid (already organised BMW R1200 GS, for any petrol heads). Portugal, Gibraltar, Morocco and potentially other bits of North Africa. Rome, Italian coastline, then work my round to Jerusalem. Yes, I know there are lots of bits in between.

Why? Well mostly ’cause I’ve felt that I am called to. Don’t really know what that means, but I guess we’ll find out one way or the other. I really am interested in the spiritual, whatever that looks like. It has been a tricky few years and I want to give myself some genuine alone time to play mercilessly with my thoughts.

So, if you are the praying type, please remember me. Prayer is good. If you’re not the praying type….well, prayer can be good. As I said earlier, photos will follow. Forgive me if this opening post is too self indulgent.

If you see God, tell Him I said hi and I’m out looking for Him.

A quick amendment: After much debate and discussion, it seems likely that the “James” in question is in fact not the half brother James, but the James brother of John “Sons of Thunder” James.

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