Thursday, October 16, 2014

42

Cathy and I love to try out new restaurants. We like a funky setting that offers fresh and surprising food. Because I’m a vegetarian, unique entrees are a rare find. Usually, we check out the menu on line, or call, before we head out for some new place, just to be sure there is something I can eat. So, when we do find some new place, it’s a real treat for us.

If the vibe is good, and the server asks, “Can I answer any questions for you?” I just can’t help myself. I have to ask, “What’s the meaning of life?” Typically I get a smile, as in “I’ll oblige you because you’re the customer.” Sometimes the server says, “Wish I knew?” I’ve asked the question more than a hundred times. Rarely do I get an answer worth keeping. Until a few months ago, we were in Tucson visiting my sister. We went to a unique place we hadn’t been before. The server asked my favorite question, “Can I answer any questions for you?” I said, “The meaning of life?” He said, “42.”

Of course, the server’s answer was from Douglas Adams’ book, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. At a pivotal point in the book, two alien beings ask a giant computer “The answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything.” The computer tells the questioners to come back after she has had 7.5 millions years to work on the answer. Upon their return, the aliens receive their answer, “42”.

There are hundreds of speculations as to why Adams choose “42” as the answer to the meaning of life. He skirted around the question from interviewers most of his life. At one point, apparently bored of being asked why he selected 42 as his answer, he said he was staring out the window, over looking his garden, pondering his book, and the number popped in his head. Being a writer myself, I am fascinated to read biographical stories of the authors I’ve read and enjoyed.

Admittedly, Adams’ book dates me—but so do a lot of other popular cultural references. They are awfully hard to avoid, because life is exponentially more time sensitive with each passing day. While the answer “42” is time relative, the question is timeless.

Adams was an atheist. Scientist and atheist Richard Hawkins acknowledged Adams at his death as a man that scientist, atheist, conservationist, and the animal kingdom would dearly miss. The fact that Adams was an atheist is germane to his question about the meaning of life. He was poking fun at religion’s weak attempt to provide an answer to every unanswerable question.

Apparently, most religious leaders believe they have found the simple answer to unanswerable questions. They proclaim an absolute undeniable answer to the meaning of life and how to find eternal purpose. While those types of questions haunt most of us, religion in general, and especially Christianity, demands that its followers accept their version of the correct answer. Without regard to the fact that the answer seems fleeting, out of context for the culture, or worse, irrelevant, Christianity (and I think most religions) holds onto to their illusionary ideas of the truth.
In the twenty-first century, more and more people in Western culture, Americans, see religion, especially Christianity, as out-of-date and meaningless. To make matters worse, recently we have witnessed betrayal, hypocrisy, and an abandonment of the faith from prominent leaders.

In a most recent article in Huffington Post, Bart Campolo, well known in his own right and son of the famous Evangelical academic, writer, and speaker, Tony Campolo, announced he was no longer a Christian.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/06/bart-campolo-humanist_n_5941232.html

He left Christianity to become the humanist chaplain at the University of Southern California. The younger Campolo left Christianity, he said, after deconstructing several of the tenets of the faith, most prominently, the sovereignty of God and the authority of the Scriptures. The final blow to his faith came at the hands of a near fatal biking accident in 2011. It was then he decided that when the body dies, that’s the end.

Since Christianity is “my tribe,” to quote the elder Campolo, I have to wonder if Bart ever felt safe in a community of Christians, aliens in a foreign land, to discuss his doubts and to wonder about the writings of Origin, Clement of Alexandria, Meister Eckhart, the Gnostics, Carl Jung and the likes of Marcus Borg. I wonder if having a safe community where he could be an atheist and still be a part of tribe was in reach for him?

Now as a humanist chaplain, Bart Campolo ministers to people who don’t believe in God but are looking for community. Maybe community where people seeking the answer to life’s illusive questions gather to find solace in the face of the dark void? Maybe 42 is the answer to the meaning of life? Four, the number of wholeness, plus two, duality, equals the complexity of simplicity—maybe that is the answer? No, too simple. Anyway. Healthy communities can, and do, exist to provide a safe place for us, atheists and Christians alike, together, to work out our stuff. The keys are that the community must be safe, let us do our work without providing the “answers”, and allow my stuff, no matter how wyrd, even if I do believe 42 is the answer to life, in the room. Religious, humanist, atheist, agnostic, we’re all probably searching for a place of safe community to work out our wonderings. Isn’t 42 a card game? Or is that dominos?

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Who is Jesus Christ for us, today?

This week Kirk Smith, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona, my bishop, wrote this on his Facebook page.

“Doing some research this afternoon for my convention talk, I came across this great quote from the always thought-provoking theologian Leonard Sweet: ‘Let me say first of all that for me, New Age rhymes with sewage. I have such a low threshold for Gaia worship that in the middle of the movie "Avatar" I had to take a break, so severe was my attack of Gaiarrhea. In fact, I have challenged "new age sensibilities" (which now are known as "integral spirituality" or "Enlightenment," not "New Age") for the way in which they goddify the self and expect others to orbit in a Youniverse that revolves around them as if they were a god. "The Secret" of the universe is not that you can have life your way. "The Secret" is that Jesus is The Way (Colossians 3). Jesus did not come to make us divine. Jesus came to show us how to be authentically what God made us to be--human. Because of the culture in which we live, I have encouraged the daily ritual of starting the day by standing in front of a mirror and saying: "God is God and I am not."

Indeed, Leonard Sweet in thought provoking, however, I think his quote is a sad commentary on the current state of the church universal. His comments of negation, what he is against, are in response to criticism from some evangelical Christians. They say he is a heretic, a “New Age” mystic. The largest amount of arrows being flung at Sweet, are quotes taken from his book, Quantum Spirituality, which he wrote in 1991. In his post, he writes, now twenty years later, he would have not written the book. That is unfortunate. His early books, along with Brian McLaren, Marcus Borg, John Shelby Spong, Matthew Fox, Meister Eckhart, Teillard de Chardin, and others, kept me in the Christian tribe long enough to find the Episcopal Church. Our Church has allowed me to continue my pilgrimage. Traveling with the likes of J.A.T. Robinson, Rowan Williams, Evelyn Underhill, Martin Thornton, William Countryman, Cynthia Bourgeault, Thomas Keating, Richard Rohr, Carl Jung, Ken Wilber, and many many others. They have shined a light on my path. We are all mystical pilgrims in a new age.

Sweet’s critics accuse him of “New Age mystical heresy” simply because he quoted a few writers they have determined are not orthodox. These same critics have also declared that Sue Monk Kidd, Richard Foster, Rick Warren, and Rob Bell are also heretics. Going to war over what others call you is a losing battle.

Sweet’s response sounds too much like a recantation while standing in the flames of the Inquisitor’s fire licking at his feet. Leonard, my friend, it’s too late. No matter what you say, they will not put out the fire. You are a threat. You made Quantum Spirituality available free on your website. The congregants of your naysayers are reading your books.

My humble advice to you is to walk away. Let it go. We are all someone’s heretic. If you want to repeat something daily in the mirror, try this on for size. “God is God, and I am called to be who God created me to be.” Living into who God calls us to be, can liberate others to be who God has called them to be. You wrote your books to set people like me free. You did. Thank you. Keep writing your heresy.

At the end of Sweet’s post, he quoted an old German (unnamed) schoolmaster, who carved these words over his door. “Dante, Luther, Goethe, Barth, Heiddeger, live here.” Sweet says, “I only want to write one thing over the doorpost to my heart and life, “Jesus Christ lives here.” That’s sweet, Sweet, but doesn’t say much.

We are living in a new age. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who is also not well liked by those in the anti-Sweet crowd, wrote that we are living in the “World Come of Age.” We live in the age when the world is changing so we cannot keep up with the Tsunami Sweet wrote about twenty years ago. Daily, I would prefer to ask Bonhoeffer’s simple yet complex question. “Who is Jesus Christ for me, today?” The emphasis is on, today. My answer to that question, as was Bonhoeffer’s, evolves continually. Because I learn something new every day about my self and about God, Jesus Christ, and the world in which we live, move, and have our being. I learn from scripture, as well as from those who espouse eco-spirituality, feminist spirituality, and Celtic-spirituality, and yes Gaia spirituality, just to name a few.

Dear Bishop, the anti-Sweet crowd would think you are actually a worse heretic than he is. You’ve vocally supported women’s ordination and gay rights. The list could go on, but that’s enough for many to light their fires (including some in our own Church). My Southern Baptist Christology professor, J. Niles Puckett, would say to his critics, “You may believe whatever you like.” I find his words are often my best response. Instead of defending my faith by identifying what I don’t believe in—I continue to do the hard work of learning and trying to communicate, who Jesus Christ is for me, today? Bishop, at the Convention, I would rather hear you lead us into a twenty-first century exploration of Bonhoeffer’s question, much more than hear you quote Leonard Sweet’s desperate confessional attempt to hang onto his readership.



Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Mainliner's Survival Guide to the Post-denominational World

The Mainliner’s Survival Guide to the Post-denominational World
by Derek Penwell at http://derekpenwell.net/
Chalice Press 2014


I had never heard of Derek Penwell until I read his book, The Mainliner’s Survival Guide to the Post-denominational World. Now I’m a fan. He has something vitally important to say to the mainline church. Actually, he lays down the gauntlet and challenges its leaders to “embrace (denominational) death as a liberation from having to succeed, and learn how to live,” by “rediscovering the radical Jesus of the Gospels.”

As a seasoned pastor of a Disciples of Christ Church and a lecturer at the University of Louisville, Penwell is well qualified to speak his prophetic word to the mainline Christian church at large. I’m a pastor in the Episcopal Church and I am a part of the community Penwell is addressing. His words are timely.

This book is a response to the overwhelming “vortex of doom” that is consuming the mainline church as it continues to decline towards extension. His ideas will make most denominational leaders cringe. Some will look for a way to dismiss his work. He boldly states that, “Whether mainline churches survive is largely beside the point.”

His point, he writes, is that the church’s constant focus on the problem is feeding the negative downward spiral. Penwell challenges his readers to move their focus beyond an over-reaching desire to save the church and instead to pour their energy into doing God’s work in the world. He says the church should “start celebrating the work of the faithful, and let God worry about the finish line.”

He doesn’t avoid the question of the missing “Nones;” the largest growing segment of young adults who declare they have no faith tradition. Instead, he offers excellent current research as to what the Emerging generation is seeking. He says they have a hunger for a “commitment to theological inclusivity,” that is “suspicious of a universalizing meta-narrative that imposes orthodoxies.” The Emergents have a passion for equality, mission, social justice and a radical distrust of established religious institutions. The younger generations seek community, embrace diversity, and want to explore new spiritual frontiers. Penwell is quick to cite a variety of interfaith sources. He says it is time for the church “to move past ecumenism (and) recognize we live in a pluralistic world.”

His “Survival Guide” challenges the church to create spaces of community by moving beyond their walls and provides practical means to do so. He says, though, it’s less about bars and coffee shops, and more about being authentically present among the people of our towns and cities wherever they hang out. He speaks frankly to church leaders, challenging them to create a theology of inclusivity, embracing the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgendered, and Queer person. Including them in all aspects of church life. He challenges the church to develop a meaningful theology of creation, which is truly green and relevant. He also questions the notion of certain church leaders who are unwilling to tackle these difficult issues, for fear of losing members by stating, “The church must be more concerned with relinquishing any idea of success that doesn’t begin with death, sacrifices, and laying down. The church must focus on letting go of the need to ensure its future more than on grasping for its survival.”

My only critique of the book is personal. I could have done without the church and American history lesson, harkening the church to the post-American Revolutionary days and the Second Great Awakening. I get it. I understand it. I even enjoy history. But, I doubt it was necessary for him to build his book on the premise that the mainline church has been in this situation before, and confirming God continues to do God’s work despite the climate of the church.

Aside from my own minor pique with Penwell’s book—when I finished it I had a long list of people I hoped would read this excellent work. I wanted “them” to read it because I knew he wrote it for “them.” I didn’t think his book was written to me. I agree with what he wrote. But, by the time I was at the end of writing this review, I realized, indeed, his book was written to me. First, by encouraging me that I am not alone in my thoughts about the church. Second, and more importantly, Derek Penwell has challenged me to dare and be as bold and prophetic. When my resolve gets weak, I’ll need go back and read the book again.


Friday, July 18, 2014

I Guess I Will Always be a Tourist

This was our fifth trip we've made to Ireland. I've spent more than a month here on each of four trips. I have another month trip planned for 2015. Still, I feel somehow I'll always be a tourist. The people of Ireland are very hospitable. Most everyone is willing to chat. I’ve some of my best conversions while riding in taxis and at the pubs. Of course I get the obligatory question, "Where are you from?" I used to answer, "America," but then I got tired of the, as the Irish say, 'You taken me for an ejjiot' look, translated, "Yes, Yank I can tell your from America." Kindly, though, they ask, "What part?" One night in Ennis I told the woman asking, “Arizona.” "Aye," she said, "You're used to the dead heat." Arizona, does indeed have dead heat. Though, I am not used to it—in fact, I despise it. Then, she, like most curious folks, asked how was our stay. Telling people we're staying for a month always receives a pleasant response. They seem to appreciate we're taking the time to really see the country. Then, when I told her we've been here five times, the next question is typically, "So what keeps drawing you back?" That question gets to the heart of the matter.

Why do I keep coming back to Ireland? For one, both sides of my family has identifiable roots in Ireland. One side of both my mother's paternal and maternal families have Irish roots. My father's family, the Staffords, also has its roots in Ireland. I just haven't gotten all the family research completed, but I am making progress. When I give my name along the eastern coast and down into the southeastern counties, especially Wexford and Waterford, I usually get the response, "I know some Staffords, are you related?" The English drove the Staffords off the British isle in the late 17th century. Most all of them settled in Ireland. Maybe I'll find a distant cousin someday?

I've also made continued trips to Ireland for a paradoxical reason; to get away from the "dead heat," of Arizona. While at the same time, to place myself into the alchemical heat of transformation, a "dead heat," which I find readily available to me in Ireland. Four times, I have been here on pilgrimage, the last three, walking. The experience of trekking through the ancient forests of Erie moves me into deep psychological reflection—the work necessary for alchemy of the soul.

The alchemical process has four stages; blackening, the red, the yellowing (or multi-colors), and the white stage. The goal is to create psychic gold, or the philosopher's stone. In Jung's term's, individuation or the complete integration of the personhood into their Self (the center point of the psychic circle). This long and complex process requires "dead heat." A heat that is managed and well tended. Hot enough to bring about psychological transformation. Not so hot as to totally incinerate the psyche.

Blackening brings the dross to the surface where it can be scraped away. Those things in our life that have been suppressed and need to come to the surface for us to deal with and then let go. The reddening turns up the heat every so slightly. What remains, begins to congeal, now in a more healthy way. Much like having a jigsaw puzzle where we had forced some pieces to fit in order just to move on—now we are able to go back and slowly rework the puzzle so that the pieces fit nicely in their appropriate places. It feels and looks better. Next, in yellowing (or multicolor like the peacocks tail), more heat is added in order for something beautiful, which has been hidden deep within, to now emerge. This is the stage where the work of individuation could possibly become visible to others. The person going through the alchemy of the soul is allowing the Self to be the center and not the ego. These stages take careful, intentional, risky, and time committed work—a lifetime. The white stage, well, is as difficult as making gold. Maybe such is the reason I still feel like a tourist in life, no matter where I am—just not quite home.

Obviously I've over simplified the alchemy of the soul. Jung has written at length about the work. I'm working on these ideas in more detail as they relate to the book I'm writing, Pilgrimage: A Way of Life. Any feedback and questions would be greatly appreciated.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Driving on the Left Side of the Road

Cathy and I have rented a car to do a bit of touring around western Ireland. This is the third time we have rented a car in Ireland. Admittedly, the first time we drove while here in 2006, I was the one who scrapped off the passenger's side mirror. A common mistake by Americans I was told when I turned in the car.

In 2012, Cathy drove for six weeks down the M roads (the few four lane highways), the N roads (two lane roads with a stripe down the middle), the R roads (supposed two lanes roads with no stripe down the middle), and farm roads (one lane roads where all cars must back up when farm equipment approaches). I too have driven these roads but with less experience than Cathy. This year I am doing the driving because of her knee problems.

I find it off putting when Americans talk about "driving on the wrong side of the road." Personally, I find driving on the left side of the road more appealing and natural. Shifting gears with the left hand has been no bother. The clutch, brake, and gas are the same. All the gadgets around the steering wheel are the same as well. I do pay more attention than when driving in America, something I should take home with me. Being too familiar with driving causes us to take much for granted. Evidently a danger to avoid.

I used to think driving on the left side of the road fit my personality, spirituality, religion, and politics. Maybe in the institutional senses it does because religion and politics define themselves in rights and lefts. Those institutions are linear and most likely to find their end in the near future (next 50-100 years). Regarding personality and spirituality, not so much is that clear. There are no rights and lefts in either of personality or spirituality—the Self, the being of personality and spirituality, is itself, spiral in nature, held in boundaries by the nature of the great Circle, the Mother of the Earth.

The personality, as defined by Carl Jung, is the inherent combination of the pair of four opposites, extrovert/introvert, sensing/intuition, thinking/feeling, judging/perceiving. Because the pairs are preferences, we can move towards integration of the completeness of each side of the pairs into our personality. We can learn to best to be an extrovert while accessing our introversion. An integrated person, Jung would say, does so through the process of individuation, accessing all sides of the pairs. Something that can happen, with intentional work, in the second-half of life. Such work creates a spiral effect towards maturation. We move from our basic preferences as children towards a full acceptance of all the preference pairs into the full action of life. Of course, that could be considered driving on the left. Jung, as well as others, have said that the majority of humanity never moves from the first half of life into the second, nor do they individuate. Too much work, I suppose?

The spiral of spirituality, in my opinion, is less easily identified. To be spiritual, is to seek a relationship with the world of the unseen—where that which is greater than the Self is the Divine of all that was, is, and will be. We know little of the unseen. Some crave to intimately know more. The relationship between the divine and the individual is a dance that can be playful and the same time, extremely dangerous (a pair of opposites). The dance takes place as the individual and the divine reveal their pair of opposites to the other. I expose my shadow and my light to the divine. The divine is equally as vulnerable.

In order to understand all of creation, the divine has the completeness of all the pair of opposites. Not just the personality pairs, but all the archetypal pairs, good and evil, light and dark, male and female, including the pairs of which we have no concept. How else would the divine be The Divine without all of it? As humans we only contain, or relate to, or understand, some of the pairs. We are individuals and have our own pair of opposites, some we share with others—yet we do not have all of the pairs—that is simply too much for the human spirit. We wrestle with our shadow and light in front of the divine—the individuation process of becoming an integrated person. Notably, in Answer to Job, Jung writes that God is in the process of individuation as well, wrestling with God's own work with the pairs. (I'll have to write about his book another time.)

May be, the experience of the spiritual spiral, the self, the integration, leading to individuation and the Self, is the most real of all experiences, the ethereal manifested in the tangible. To breathe, taste, smell, feel, touch the divine is to know the true Self in the second half of life. Such, says Jung, is alchemy of the soul. To begin the alchemical process of the soul, start by driving on the left side of the road.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Holding Hands and Singing Songs

In 2012, I walked the first-half of the Wicklow Way with a few companions. The second-half of the Way and then across Ireland, I walked about 300 miles by myself. This year I walked the Wicklow, about 100 miles, with a group of twelve fellow pilgrims. A walking pilgrimage by myself as opposed to walking with a group has some obvious differences, while some are more subtle.

Walking for eight hours in silence is wonderful and at the same time daunting. Sometimes it's good to have another person to talk to; especially to share thoughts about the magnificent scenery, the tough walking, the unexpected surfacing of emotions. I'm an introvert, so walking alone is easy. But making pilgrimage with this group touched my soul in ways in which being alone could never have happened.

I found it very helpful to have other eyes looking for the Way markers, "the yellow hiking man," particularly those times the marker was hiding in the overgrowth. Having someone else looking at the map with me was assuring we were indeed going in the right direction.

At the end of the day it was fantastic to hear each other process the walk. Reflecting on the day's hike while exhausted shed new light on my own experience. Everyone brings their own perspective.My story is incomplete without their story.

Each morning we gathered to tape up sore knees and bandage blistered feet. Fortunately, we had a nurse and a former athletic coach along to do a lot of the tending to injuries. Caring for the walking wounded builds a bond between pilgrims like few other experiences.

The last two times I've walked the Wicklow Way, I walked over White HIll with other people. Both times we walked in dense fog and a driving rain. We could barely see the path we were walking on. That experience built a camaraderie of shared misery. This time we walked across White Hill on a perfect day, billowy multicolored clouds, light breeze, cool temperatures for a steep climb. The view was heavenly. I saw things I could not see before. And I was able to share the experience, fresh and new, with fellow travelers. I am so happy I could be with others on that day. I couldn't imagine that my joy was so obvious except that several of them commented about the big smile on my face.

The thing that brought the most laughter to my heart was listening to two couples sing their own lyrics to familiar tunes about the Wicklow Way. God, they made me laugh. And that feels good when you've got three more hours of grueling hike ahead. Of course, watching them then walk on ahead holding hands brought a tear of joy to my eyes. Love is power in so many ways. Holding hands and singing songs. Sounds so simple and child like. I like it and plan on doing it more myself with my love.

This trip was the first time I have reached the end of the pilgrimage with other people. I had my own sense of completion. Yet, that personal feeling was nothing compared to the immense satisfaction I enjoyed in watching others accomplish a goal who many thought was not possible. Even if some of them never doubted they would finish, all of us had spent a tremendous amount of time and money in preparing to go on this journey together. In witnessing those folks realize their achievement of a rare feat, I felt a glow in my soul that was matched on their faces. I want to hold that moment in my mind's eye for the remainder of my life; it feels that good.

I'm glad I walked on pilgrimage in solitude. The experience gave me new perspective about myself. Still, I am overjoyed that I went on pilgrimage with this group. Their experiences enriched my walk, touched my soul, made me laugh, brought tears to my eyes, taught me much about life and myself, and stirred within me the continued desire to keep living life as a pilgrimage.

Walking with others in pilgrimage is a microcosm of community building. We shared an experience that we each must do alone. We must carry our own pack. But, there are times we need help. Those times, we need others to step forward and do more than feel sorry for us—we need someone to carry a part of our load. We need others to care that we are hurting and then do something about it—bandage our wounds and check in with us on a regular basis. There are times on the trail when you run out of water and food. At those times we count on someone else to share what they have with us. There are times on the trail you want to be left alone—we all must sensitive to those moments. And there are times we need someone to listen to our complaining—we pray others will listen. Walking a hundred miles through the Wicklow Mountains in eight days is the compressed experience of living in community. I know I learned a lot of during those 100 miles.

As the walking of the pilgrimage ended, there was another dramatic learning for me. Within hours we began to go our separate ways. Some went home to Phoenix. Others to Seattle. Cathy and I stayed in Ireland. The walking pilgrimage community came to an end. All communities come to an end. While that may be something we don't want to face or acknowledge—it is a fact of life. We each will continue to live with what we learned, cherish what we experienced, and will be better people for being with each other. Because this community existed and has ended, now, new opportunities for community will emerge. Those communities will also be better for what we learned while being in this pilgrimage community.

Currently I am planning on walking with another group in the summer of 2015. I pray my body holds up for years and more pilgrimages to come. There is so much more to experience and learn by being on pilgrimage. Keep walking.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Afterglow or Hangover, the Day After the Walk

Van Morrison's song "There'll be days like this," was playing on the taxi radio as we made our way from the bus station to our B&B in Dublin. Seems like a year since being in Dublin while it's only been 8 days. Those 8 days were spent walking the 100 miles of the Wicklow Way with 12 fellow pilgrims.

Today, I can't distinguish the overwhelming feeling of the afterglow of walking in the quiet of the forest from the hangover of doing the hard work of pilgrimage. While you might think I had too many Guinness last night in celebration with my companions, I did not. My heart is overflowing with the light of joy that comes from being with 12 other people who completed the walk and the work of their own personal pilgrimage. Seeing them shout in jubilation, leap into each other's arms with gratitude, share tears of satisfaction, and beam with a new found confidence from doing something they feared not possible, makes my heart flow with love for what the experience has brought them. The hangover feeling comes from my own sense of having worked hard to create this space for them and for me, yet knowing the work continues. The hangover comes with the depression of leaving something I love so much, maybe to return another day. Too much reflection, however, the day after the walk, is dangerous. Holding spiritual space for others while they do their work exacts a toll of soul energy. I feel much like I felt when I was a new parent—ecstatic with being a new father, exhausted from too little sleep. Like most first time parents, I was both excited and frightened by the future for my child. I know that each of my fellow pilgrims will have to spend some considerable time renegotiating with themselves how they will now live their lives after making such a soul trek.

They will return home to family and friends changed from the work of pilgrimage. Each will have left part of themselves on the trail, while at the same time, they have picked up something new. The experience of unpacking the pilgrimage will take weeks, months, maybe years. I know for myself, I am still working through my Ireland coast-to-coast walk two years ago. Now I have compounded that pilgrimage with this one. Each person who walked has been affected in a different way. While we shared the same path, we walked alone with our own burdens. What we each learned will be unique to our own experience. Still, at the same time, walking together, we gathered new insights from one another. Pilgrimage is as complicated as life itself, you are alone and at the same time, not alone.

Of course, some things we wish we could have left behind, we could not. Just this morning, while trying to purchase a train ticket to Limerick, I became very frustrated and angry with the machine that would not take my credit card. Then it demanded cash in exact change. I got so flustered that I made a costly mistake of buying a roundtrip ticket for today, which I did not intend to do. I didn't realize I bought the round trip ticket until I was on the train. I later asked the conductor, but was told it was too late for a refund. You would think after five trips to Ireland and several train trips I would have enough experience not to make such a blunder and especially not to get so upset. Yet, wherever you go, there you'll be. So, what's all this talk about pilgrimage transformation? Was all that walking for nothing? Have I not changed one bit?

Part of transformational work is to be transparent and vulnerable. Being honest about my frailties is a matter of being changed by the work of living life as a pilgrim. Pilgrimage forces the pilgrim to leave behind our identities of veneer we use as defenses and enter into the process of letting the pilgrimage strip away the pretense of whatever mask I am wearing. The face is unshaven, the make-up has disappeared. The nearest restroom is right behind the next available tree. The same sweaty, dirty clothes are worn days without washing. The pain brings out the complaints. The weariness strains the social tolerance. Somewhere along the way, I am who I am, there is no hiding me from myself or anyone else. There, at that moment, I can truly see myself. Then the work of pilgrimage begins. I must accept myself. Work on myself. And keep walking. The pack has not gotten lighter nor the road smoother. And I must deal with it all. Such is the reality of life and the demanding work of transformation. For me, this kind of work is worth the payoff, a dynamic charge of the soul, anamorphosis. Doing the work, over time, in small increments, a significant change begins to happen and a new part of myself begins to emerge.

But for the transformation to happen the pilgrim must continue the work long after the walking has stopped. Patience is required. And the ugly truth about who I am must be confronted by my own self. There in the light and heat of the day, change can and most likely will take place.

To my fellow pilgrims—be gentle with yourselves. Walk slow. Take time to rest. Breathe. Process. Be well. You are loved. Until we walk together again, we are always walking with the souls of one another.