Friday, November 14, 2014


“Do you have a Living Will?” the nurse asked.
“Yes,” I said.
“Do you have a DNR clause? You know, ‘Do Not Resuscitate’.”
“Ah, yeah.”
“Have you had a heart attack?”
“Okay, good. Now relax while I take your blood pressure….Well…it’s a little high. But, that’s normal, given the circumstances.”

I thought I was fine. Jesus, it’s just cataract surgery. Why all the questions about DNR and a heart attack?

Welcome to sixty-one. I’ve crossed the barrier. DNR is a legitimate question, I guess.

Sixty was an awesome year. For one, I walked the Wicklow Way with my wife, daughter, son-in-law and some amazing friends. That was a hundred miles through the rugged Irish mountains. I put in another two hundred miles getting ready. And I carried my pack, fully loaded. I’m getting ready for another walk this coming summer.

Truthfully, sixty was great. My book was published. I spent an awesome four months on sabbatical, writing another book. Cathy and I started 2Wisdoms Way Spiritual Formation School. And some beautiful things are going on for our children. Our daughter-in-law and son are having another holy grandchild. Our daughter got an amazing promotion. Hell, I even got some extensive tattoos on my left arm and back. Sixty…well, was amazing.

Okay, the cataract and lens replacement surgery went pretty well. Actually, I didn’t realize how bad my eyesight was until I could see again.

So, what’s up for the sixty-one year? I don’t know. But, I feel good about it. And that’s the incredible part of it…every day I become more and more comfortable with, “I don’t know.” What I trust is my intuition. Maybe I should have answered the nurse’s questions by saying; “I don’t know, but I feel that all will be well.”

My grandfather used to tell me, “With age comes freedom.” At the time, I had no idea what he meant. He was a truck driver. I wasn’t sixteen at the time. I figured he was telling me, when I got a driver’s license I would have a lot freedom. Turning sixty-one, I realize now my grandfather was talking about the freedom that comes from being old enough that you don’t sweat the small stuff, but instead focus on the more important issues of life. A friend used to tell me, “Major on the majors and minor on the minors.” That’s been a good lesson for me to learn—and be reminded of, often, as I get older.

For me, one of those “majors” is the desire for wisdom. I used to think that simply by the virtue of getting older and having more experience, I would automatically acquire wisdom. What a naïve thought. Wisdom is one of those paradoxical virtues in life. According to the scriptures, we must seek the instruction of Mother Wisdom—while at the same time we pray that she finds us. We search for wisdom with the desire we will be found by that same wisdom (Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-20). You can’t find wisdom unless you search for it, but you can’t find it unless it finds you.

It’s like me wanting to see better—I had to go to the doctor—and I had to trust the doctor to cut open my eye. In the same way, if I desire wisdom, I have to go on the search for wisdom. Then trust Mother Wisdom to cut open my soul and pour in her light so that I might see the way of wisdom much clear. Paradoxical truths can bring the greatest rewards—and simultaneously an equal amount of risk and pain. No wonder my blood pressure goes up every time I contemplate what is the wisest approach to the problem confronting me.

Thursday, October 16, 2014


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.

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
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.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Shillalagh to Clonegal, The Wicklow Way Day 8

Five of our pilgrims walked the 14 miles from Shillalagh to Clonegal on sheer will. They were determined to finish the last leg of the Wicklow Way. Motivated by the year they had spent in preparation, the money it cost to go on pilgrimage, and their personal desire to drink deeply from the spirits of transformation, they walked despite being in severe pain. They also wanted to taste the best Guinness ever. No beer tastes better than one drank in celebration of the completion of the Wicklow Way at Osbourne's Pub. The pub has been in existence since the mid-1700's, right next to the public hanging stone. At Osbourne's, once you purchase your first pint of course, they will print an official certification of completion. As fine as the certificate is, however, the pictures in front of the Wicklow Way sign in Clonegal are the best.

My first complete Wicklow, which was in 2012, I finished alone. Then the next day I started the South Leinster Way and another 250 miles in my walk of Ireland coast-to-coast. My feelings that day were mixed. Yes, I had completed the famous Wicklow Way, but my journey still had 16 walking days ahead. While I was tired, I would not know what being fully spent was to mean.

Finishing the walk today was an unexpectedly emotional experience. For one, Cathy finished the walk that seemed near impossible. In the last few months she endured diverticulitis, then a broken toe. On this day she woke barely able to walk. Her knee buckled at every step. Somehow within the next few hours she gained enough strength to decide to walk the day's 14 miles. She finished in jubilation just yards behind the rest of our pilgrims. Our daughter and son-in-law became her full support team, telling her stories, jokes, and singing songs to distract her. I am deeply grateful for their love and caring spirit.

The other emotional part of the finish for me was to watch the delightful glee on the faces of our other pilgrims. Each carried their own burdens, heavy packs, blisters, painful feet that would have stopped most others, and damaged knees that would make the strong flinch, none of these obstacles was enough to deter these courageous souls. They walked their personal pilgrimage with steady determination. At the finish, they shouted in jubilation, gave each other bear hugs, high-fives, did push-ups in full pack, took pictures, and shed tears of joy. My tears felt good.

The Wicklow Way is a mighty test of endurance, strength, and will. The mystic trail lures many but few take the challenge. The unpredictable weather and the grueling hills are not to be taken lightly. To my fellow pilgrims, I love you, one and all. Be well. Travel home safe. Know that the work continues. The pilgrimage is not over. Keep walking.

Erik Bolt
Jenn Botham
Blair Braden
Rebecca Brinkman
Alicia Escobar
Phil Escobar
Nick Ellis
Rhonda Kelso
Candace Lewis
Danielle Lowe
Cathy Stafford
Becky Williamson

Moyne to Shillalagh, Day 7 of the Wicklow Way

Most of our group stayed last night at Kyle's Farm House. The B&B is the home of the owners of a true working farm. When the hostess told us the eggs were farm fresh, it was easy to imagine she gathered them this morning. The evening dinner and the morning breakfast were exquisite. We needed those calories for the day ahead.

Father Sky was gentle with us today. The temperature dropped ten degrees, the sun was hidden behind beautiful white, blue, and purple clouds and we were covered with a constant breeze. Today's sixteen miles, while exacting their toll, were much easier to endure.

The path took us directly out of the farm house and up the side of a sweeping hill covered on one side with pastures of sheep and the other side with waist high ferns and grass. We walked through more hues of green than any giant box of Crayons could contain. The trail took us through the dark woods, down across more fields, this time populated with milking cows. We even encountered a peacock who seemed curious about our journey. We rested on a hillside to eat our lunch and take in a panoramic view of where we had walked the first half of the day.

The miles have taken their toll on our pilgrims. Blisters, sore knees, stiff backs, a sprained ankle, lots of aching and sore feet are accumulating. The last five of today's sixteen miles were over tarmac roads, the hardest surface for distressed legs and feet. Every morning we spend thirty minutes bandaging feet and taping ankles and feet. Our group has been been troupers in the face of their challenges. But, as we face the final day of the walk, I am concerned about the physical wear and tear on our group. Tonight I have been praying for healing grace and mercy for those who are struggling with the worst of the injuries. All the while, from experience, I am also praying for what the new day will bring. Fresh experiences and more challenges. Such is the Way of the pilgrim.

Thank you to all of those many who have praying for us. You will read these last two posts a few days after the fact. Internet has been very spotty.

Glenmalure to Moyne, Day 6 of the Wicklow Way

Could it be too hot in Ireland? Evidently. Especially for walking 17 miles. While today was great tour bus and picture taking weather, I think a bit of Ireland's beauty and mystique were obscured by the sun.

We began the day by poising for a picture at the official halfway marker of the Wicklow Way. Each morning we pray for Father sky to be gentle with us as we make our journey through the Wicklow Mountains. The cloudless sky and 70 plus degree heat and high humidity was almost too much. Making three elevation ascent and descents of 1300 feet each didn't help much either. But our group persevered.

The unpredictable weather and the constantly changing terrain are parts of the challenges of the Wicklow Way. This is my third walk across these mountains and this is the first time I have experienced five days of walking without any precipitation. Indeed, I had told our group to anticipate wet and windy weather. So far, they only been wet from their own perspiration while they have given thanks for every simple breeze.

Every pilgrimage is unique. I have walked these roads before, but the "path of pilgrimage" is much different. The trail has changed in some places. The weather has been a surprise. I am not traveling alone. Each day brings new challenges and something important for me to learn. Pilgrimage is a living alchemy for the soul. We risk putting what is valuable to us in the pilgrimage's vessel of transformation. Then the vessel is heated by the walk. On hope is the weight of our burden's are metaphorically burned away by the heat, while at the same time, something new emerges. I am experiencing this process once again. But we are not finished.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Glendalough to Glenmalure Day 5 Wicklow Way

The trail out of the Glendalough valley follows up the rapid flowing Lugduff Brook passed the Poulanass water fall. We walked up the steep Derrybawn Mountain to climb the Lugduff Gap at Mullacar Hill. Our walk took us up 400 meters (more than 1200 feet). The scenery continues to surprise and delight us. Magnificent forests, sweeping hills of green luxurious grass. At one point of few of our pilgrims broke into "The Hills are Alive," from the movie, Sound of Music. It was a cute moment to lighten the load of the day.

The weather has been strikingly unusual for Ireland. Each day more so. The sun shone brilliantly without a cloud in the sky for the entire walk. Fortunately, we walked under the shade of the forest and a breeze seemed to always arise at the most needed moment. The forecast for the next few days is equally sunny, possibly rising to 70 degrees, which here can be warm when carrying a pack.

The weight of the pack is an issue when walking up and down the Wicklow Mountains. I made several decisions about what not to bring based on how many ounces it weighed. Even the slightest increase or decrease in what you carry on your back makes a big difference. Every pound in the pack increases the pounding on the knees and feet by about 7 pounds.

The same can be said about the amount of burden we carry. The more intense the situation, the heavier the grief, the greater the concern, the more pounding our soul takes. Walking pilgrimage grants us the privilege and the challenge of thinking about burdens over the long trail of the daily walk, day after day, step after step. The hope is that at some point along the way we will decide to set down as much weight as possible. Deciding what are the things we can really make a difference about—and letting go of those we have no control over. This kind of work is one of the reasons we choose to walk the way of the pilgrim.

We have now reached the halfway point in the Wicklow Way. But, the walk is not downhill from here. Tomorrow holds another 15 mile day beginning with another steep climb. Every day we begin again, on pilgrimage and in life.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Sabbath in Glendalough, Day 4 of the Wicklow Way

Three days, 40 miles, we were ready for a day of rest. So, what did we do? Walk ten miles journeying around the Glendalough area. Ah well, a stretch of the leg to shake out the soreness and good for the soul as well. Well, maybe.

We gathered in the ruins of St. Mary's chapel just outside the walls of the Glendalough monastery. The walls of the chapel were built a 1,000 years ago as a refuge for mother's whose babies had died, unbaptized. The church probably existed centuries before under a less permanent structure. Here, the story goes, women served as priests until the Celtic Christians finally yielded to the Roman Church authority. Today, we celebrated our service under the guidance of the women in our group. I could feel the joy of the spirits in the place as they celebrated with us. The communion of saints gathered around the ancient holy altar as we called upon the divine to be present.

Indeed, today was a day of rest for the body, the soul, and the group. Making a pilgrimage with 13 is obviously much different than making a pilgrimage alone. We must be mindful of each other's needs, those physical, emotional, and spiritual. I could make a sports analogy here and say that we are much like a team. While sports teams have the common goal of winning, conquering their opponent, we, however, are not trying to conquer the path, nor the mountains we walk over, nor to achieve some result. Our goal is to be present to the path, one with nature, and open to the spirit.

Group dynamics are at play when 13 people walk together, eat together, spend almost every waking, and in some cases every hour together. But, being on pilgrimage together is like standing around an altar in the ruins of 1,000 year old church that existed to serve the grief of the broken hearted. We share one bread of life because we nurture one another. We share one cup of transformation because we open hearts, our souls, to the experience of one another. We walk with the pain of one another. We listen to the woundedness of another. We pray for the hurts of one another. All the while, confident our own troubles are gently cared for by the love of our fellow pilgrims.

Don't get me wrong—we are not holding hands and singing kum-ba-yah—the rawness physical stress of the pilgrimage is a mirror of the struggles of daily life. But, I pray, that the pilgrimage is a learning laboratory for how we can better live together in community. Not just for the 13 in our group, but as we return into the world we can share what we have learned in how to live, work, and play with our families, friends, work colleagues, and church. But those are days ahead. Now we have to get to the Wicklow Way. Four more days. 50 more miles.

Roundwood to Glendalough, Day 3 of the Wicklow Way

Each morning our group gathers for a prayer before we leave. The litany breathes our prayers to the Eternal. We pray for Mother Earth to guide us through the four directions and we pray for Father Sky to be gentle with us. Our prayers find root within us and we share the blessings of a good walk through brilliant weather. We pray for others, that they may experience gentleness on their own pilgrimage.

We also know others pray for us, our families and our community. Our pilgrim group has been blessed in prayers from our friend Rob, who has posted his prayers for us each day on Facebook. Thank you Rob. To see your prayer and encouragement each morning is spiritually empowering. The words are as if the Divine is speaking them into our bodies and souls. Prayer is powerfully carried and passed like a loving embrace. The imprint of our prayers rests gently on the hearts of those for whom we pray.

Our walk from Roundwood to Glendalough was 10 miles over rolling hills and through the beautiful ancient forests of pine and cypress. From the peaks we could see the miles of pastured fields where sheep and cattle nestled. Across a field where a black and roan horse were munching on the luscious grass, two dear stood near them just long enough to get a picture.

The payoff for today's hike was standing on the eastern ridge above Saint Kevin's monastery and the two lakes of Glendalough. The view can only be seen on the walk from the particular path we were on. I have seen the monastery from other vantage points and in my opinion, none are as spectacular. To see the monastery's high tower and the two dark lakes from the same perspective of pilgrims for the past 1500 years connected me with those fellow spiritual travelers. Foot to earth, burden of sweat dripping to soil, pounding of heart in rhythm with others, seeking the spirit of the divine, all shared with thousands who have walked this way—the Way of Pilgrimage.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Knockree to Roundwood, Day 2 of the Wicklow Way

This was the third time I have the walked the 16 miles from Knockree to Roundwood. The walk encompasses the valleys, the mountains, the forests, the fields of Irelands. The glorious Powerscourt water fall and sweeping pastures are spectacular. And then there is the dreaded White Hill, the highest point in Ireland.

Twice before I walked over White Hill, known so because of its vast reservoir of quartz. Both times I had made my way over the bald hill, the weather was horrid. The wind blew 40-50 miles per hour, driving the rain sideways from the ocean coast in the east. The fog was so dense I could barely see my hand in front of my face. Frankly, the walk was miserable. In both cases, I dragged myself off the hill, drenched and glad to be past the experience.

Today was a brilliant contrast. Overcast skies with a peeking sun. Lovely breezes. Perfect temperature. It was so hard for me to imagine what I had been unable to see walking over White Hill. And today, there it was, the vast panorama of Ireland's eastern coast, miles of luxurious emerald greenery, a granite sheer mountain, and Guinness Lake all bathed in a misty the misty moving clouds. What was unseen was now seen. The mystery of what was behind the thin veil was now revealed. The paradox of the opposites of the divine had made herself known. Brilliant. Just brilliant.

Pilgrimage continues to do her work in my life. I've walked the Hill three times. I pray to walk it a fourth. Each time, I did not know what to expect. The fourth will reveal another side of the Hill's majesty and yet another unfolding in my own life. To pilgrimage is to hold lightly the possibility of surprise, that which is discovered in the Creator and the Creation—to find newness in both the divine and her the world she created—and in myself. Today's experience will take years for me to unpack the power and mystery that has been worked in my soul.

Today was also a day to be privileged to journey with others. To watch them experience the holy, the mystical, the divine. To witness them stand on open edges of the heights and open their arms to embrace the clouds move to kiss their faces. Tears filled my eyes and joy flooded my heart. Their stories make my story complete. I, indeed, am humbled by their courage, perseverance, and gleeful joy at seeing the majesty of the Hill, for the first time, as did I. Just brilliant. Blessed be.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Dublin to Knockree the Wicklow Way

Our thirteen pilgrims gathered in Marley Park at the western edge of Dublin. The day was perfect for walking, overcast, 65 degrees, and a slight breeze. We stood in a circle under a tree at the beginning place for the Wicklow Way. There we prayed prayers from the Pilgrim's Prayer Book, a book in its most primitive stages that I hope to complete of the next few years. My hope is to gather prayers written by other pilgrims who have walked Mother Earth's many trails.

The climb out of Dublin provided a panoramic view of the Bay of Dublin. The sky was clear enough to see completely across the bay. The climb is a bit over 400 meters, about 1300 feet. A signed along the trail warned hikers that this trail is a "muscle builder." The first few miles are usually the hardest, adjusting the pack, getting orientated to the trail, balancing excitement with pace.

Our trail took us south over Fairy Castle Mountain, a wide sweep swath of bald boggy grass. The view of the surrounding plush dark green valleys is spectacular. The hard part is choosing which of the boundless opportunities to stop and take a picture. Between the group we will have a countless number of photos.

Our group began to spread out within a few miles, everyone finding their own pace. Those ahead would stop a key points to make sure those in the back where making their way without too much difficulty. We stopped at seven miles, the half way point, on Baranaraltry Bridge for a breather and a snack. The clouds drew darker, the wind picked up, the temperature dropped, by the rain skirted us.

The climb through up the Glencullen Mountain affords the opportunity to look into the deep dark forest, trying to imagine that someone had to journey this way first to cut a trail. Under the ancient trees, the ground is barren from the absence of light for centuries. We walked in the light of an open path, but stopping to look into the darkest forest, we had to let our eyes adjust just to see ten feet under the trees. Truly an eerie and haunting sight.

Of course every pilgrimage will have a "little story." The sign which had directed me the Knockree Hostel two years ago was missing. We crossed the road the hostel is on and walked down the trail about 200 yards. I could feel something was wrong. We stopped and called the hostel, indeed we needed to back track a bit. When we arrived we asked about the three of our group that had walked out ahead. Unfortunately they had not arrived. We began trying to call them. Made several failed attempts and waited anxiously. They showed up about an hour later, they too had walked past the hostel. But they had traveled about 3 km, 2.1 miles, before seeing a sign posted map. Realizing they had walked too far, they cut through the fields and created their own short cut back to the hostel. Not too much worse for the wear.

This morning I am looking south over Glencree and the Crone forest, preparing to walk over White Hill, a gain of 500 meters. The sun is shining, a rare day. But I can see the clouds gathering in the south. We shall see what lies ahead.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Finger of God

I made my third visit to Newgrange and Knowth, both which are near the Boyne River fifty miles north of Dublin, Ireland. The 5,000 year-old sites are two of 40 burial mounds in Ireland. The mounds were built 500 years before the pyramids and 1,000 years before Stonehenge. Newgrange is the most famous. Nearby is Knowth, the largest of the mounds, containing the most substantial collection of paleographic art. Visitors are led on guided tours around and inside the tombs where the ancients buried cremains, presumably of their chiefs and shamans.

Newgrange sits majestically on a hill like a three dimensional mandala. Forty feet high and approximately 250 feet in diameter, the mound can be seen for miles. The construction of the Stone Age monuments took hundreds of people decades to finish. The engineering was genius. The will and labor of the people is hard to fathom. Thousands of tons of dirt rests upon a circle of ten ton curb stones, which are etched with spirals and other archetypal art. The quartz facade reflects the eastern sun, almost blinding on a sun drenched day.

The focal point of Newgrange lies 96 feet deep within the mound. Fifteen visitors at a time are guided into the entry way, a sacred space, by crouching below a four foot guardian stone down a very narrow path. Not recommended for the clausterphobic There, deep within the dark tomb is a fifteen foot circular space with three niches in cruciform. Twenty feet above the floor is a stroke of engineering genius, the stone roof that has kept the structure intact and dry for milllinea. Within the niche crypts rest a bowl like stone that held the cremains. Each niche is complete with its own art etched in stone.

The uniqueness of Newgrange is the light box above the entrance. On the Winter Solstice the rising sunlight streams into the tomb's center like the finger of God. For sixteen minutes the solstice light pours down the light box onto the floor of the tomb's holy circle like molten lava, lighting the interior stones with an iridescent glow. Then, as the sun continues its arc, the finger of god moves slowly out of the tomb taking the souls of the departed. The tour guide's description and the simulation while in the tomb was better than the best liturgy in the finest sanctuary of any religion. For the Winter Solstice, 120 fortunate people are drawn by lottery to enter the tomb on one morning during the six days the light shines down the box. Along with my name, 30,000 other hopefuls placed their entry form at the Visitor's Center.

This is my fifth sojourn to Ireland. I'm already planning to lead another pilgrimage group in 2015. I know I will return to Newgrange because my soul is drawn to this place like a dry and thirsty body aches for cool fresh water. i doubt I will grow weary of feeling like I am home in this divine space.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Agile Transformation

Over lunch yesterday, my son-in-law Phil, talked about business strategy. In a passing comment he mentioned the idea of agile transformation. I was attracted to the term and after awhile went back and asked him what exactly that means.

In software development terms - the old school way of doing things was to have an idea, then spend 6 months thinking about all the ways you and your team want that product to look 2 years from now, all the bells and whistles. Then spend 6-12 months developing the product. Then 6 months testing the product. And then produce, package, market, sell. The customer is at the end of flow - a waterfall affect he said.

Agile transformation style, however, is when someone comes up with an idea and then develops a simple product, not focusing on a three year strategic plan. In the earliest stages the producer engages the customer for feedback. After which, the developer goes back and adds the next levels of the product based on customer feedback. Much like a small business, Phil said. You have to put the customer first seeking feedback constantly to stay in business by meeting the customer's needs. Product and process are more important than industry standards.

Listening to Phil, it dawned on me that the idea of agile transformation has lots of implications for pilgrimage and for the Church.

For pilgrimage - it is one step at a time, constantly monitoring one's progress and then adapting to the path, the body, the experience. Like when Cathy was training so well and then broke her toe six weeks before the trip. She had to change her strategy, be agile. And actually the whole experience, I believe, was agile transformation for her - for me - and I believe will be for everyone else who will witness the pilgrimage experience with her. The individual who has a dream or encounters a problem can be agile and work on the issue on step at a time. Often times we imagine the end result and let that hold us captive. Cathy could have said, well, that's it, I'm done, dream of walking the Wicklow Way is over. She could have thought that even if her toe healed she would never be fit enough to walk the 90 miles. Instead, she used alternative ways to bring quick healing to her toe and in the meantime found different ways to improve her training - she used agile transformation.

For the Episcopal Church, it is using the waterfall process while giving tacit lip service to transformation of any kind, agile included. What if the church were more responsive to the tides of societal change and the needs outside the Club? Of course, that is difficult because we are required to use the "new" 1979 BCP for worship. If I walked out on the street and tried to sell anyone a "new" anything that was developed in 1979 I would be mocked. When will new and alternative means of worship be allowed in the Church? Anyone's guess. Indeed, ancient is instructive, and that's why I love the Church. But's that also why I grow weary of the Church's waterfall method of developing new strategies. The death of the Church of Ireland is a foretaste of what lies ahead for the Episcopal Church. Museum churches serving the dying elderly, while charging tourist to keep the boat float. There must an ancient/future way of thinking, agile transformation thinking, where to two walk side by side. Admittedly, the concept does seem to be cumbersome, maybe near impossible, for an institution, especially one so deeply steeped in the past. So, maybe the idea works better individually and on smaller scales, like the local church? I'll have to keep playing with the idea.

I do see though a good piece in my book on pilgrimage being related to the idea of agile transformation.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Pilgrimage begins

Going through airport security is always a hassle. As my hair has gotten longer and the tattoos have emerged out of hiding I got searched more and more often. I've gotten so sick of it that Cathy and I went through the process of getting Global Entry cards. I thought for sure that would solve the problem. Not quite. The second time I went through the special line I got pulled out and sent through the other line for more scrutiny. When I handed my identification to the person they said the ID didn't look like me. "In this picture," he said. "You looked like a banker. Now you look like a biker. What happened?" I told him I didn't like that person. The person in the picture was a wall keeping people from seeing the real me—this person you now see. He smirked and waved me on.

Good thing he didn't ask me how I got to this point. That indeed would have taken more time than he or the people behind me would have tolerated. Actually, I'm writing a book about that story. The book title is Pilgrimage: A Way of Life.

Walking, taking one step at a time, is transformative. Place the walking in a mystical forest like the Wicklow Mountains and the transformation begins to work the whole person, body, mind, soul. That's what a pilgrimage is—walking for the sake of being shaped by the experience. This is my fourth pilgrimage. I've learned that I don't know what's going to happen to my body, or my mind, or my soul. I just know to be open to whatever will happen. I trust the pilgrimage itself to know what I need. I trust the path, no matter how difficult. I trust the weather, no matter how unpredictable. I trust the forest, no matter how dark. I trust the trees, the birds, the animals to speak their word, for I will listen. I trust all because all of it, and more I have yet to see, is the pilgrimage.

Thirteen of us begin walking the Wicklow Way on June 26. The pilgrimage has already begun. Pilgrims are making their way here. Bags have been delayed. Pilgrims have been delay. But no one has been deterred, for the lure of the pilgrimage and her ever fetching of us never ceases. We hear and our feet respond.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

When Leadership and Spiritual Direction Meet

Surreal. Just plain otherworldly. I feel like a dream has materialized into my reality. Writers write to write. To express feelings. To live into the images they see in their mind’s eye. To bring to life the world in which they live. True writers write not to be published, but to be heard. Still, writers have that deep need to be published, as a way of throwing their words into the universe. Much of what writers write ends up buried in a closest, hidden on a thumb drive, or worse yet, deleted. Yet, every once-in-awhile, for a wanta-be writer like me, it happens. The baby, the damnation of the blank page, the desire of heart, finds the light of day. Someone, for some reason, believes in your work. Those years of sitting in front of a screen, materializes into a book. Published by a credible publishing house. And there is it. You hold it. You see it for sale on Amazon. The imagination becomes tangible.

Almost four years ago I submitted a query letter to Alban Publishing. I’ve done that dozens, maybe a hundred times before, nothing. So, I was shocked, in disbelief, when I received a personal email asking for a proposal and three sample chapters. I had to re-read the email three times. Then I asked my wife to read it. Just to make sure I wasn’t projecting some misplaced hope onto the request.

For two years, I worked with Beth Gaede, a meticulous editor and wise guide. I will forever be grateful for her patience and insight. She challenged me. Made me angry. Forced me to delete whole sections. Then she inspired me to write again. To work. I got better with every re-write. Finally finished, then to the copy editor. Off to the proof-reader. Almost ready.

But wait! Something was happening—actually something was not happening. Nothing was moving. Beth didn’t know what was going on. I couldn’t get anyone at the Alban Institute office to talk to me. A few frustration filled months went by. Then an email from an Alban editor—the publishing arm of the Institute was being sold to another company. All will be well, he told me. Oh shit, what will happen now. Will my book get buried? Lost in transaction? More months of silence.

Then, late one Friday afternoon I received an email from Rowman and Littlefield. One of the ten largest publishing houses in the US now had my book and they were ready to move forward. That was the best Friday afternoon email I think I’ve ever gotten—nope, I’m sure of it.

Now When Leadership and Spiritual Direction Meet: Reflections and Stories for Congregational Life is in print. When I return from Ireland we’ll plan a few signing parties. Writing that is weird. Saying it out loud sounds strange. Reading it makes me smile.

Yes. I’m writing another book. Working title—Pilgrimage: A Way of Life. Still waiting for a response from another publisher. I love this way of life, truly I do! Keep writing.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Saint Brigid's Community comes to close

Saint Brigid’s Community began as an idea while I was on a retreat in Glendalough, Ireland. In 2004 The Rev. Daniel Richards and I were rooming together on an eight-day retreat. We had stayed up very late and drank way too much from a bottle of Jameson.

One of us said, “Hey, when we get back to Phoenix, we should start a group.”
The other one said, “Yeah, for young adults.”
“We should name it something provocative.”
“Yeah, something Irish.”
“And it should be about questions.”
“Yeah, even, the God question. You know, is there a God?”
“And when the thing, the group, is over, done, dead, we’ll know it.”
“Yeah, and we’ll let go.”
“Yeah. Good night man.”
“Yeah, good night.”

The next day we learned that the Gaelic word for pilgrim is peregrini. A new group was born. We started meeting once a month at Fair Trade Café next to Trinity Cathedral in downtown Phoenix. Soon we were meeting once a week, cooking a meal, and gathering pilgrims who placed their stones in the water of transformation.

In 2005, the bishop hired me to be the chaplain for the Episcopal Campus Ministry at Arizona State University, Tempe. Chad Sundin and I started a Sunday night worship service on campus at Danforth Chapel. Daniel and I continued Peregrini for a while at Fair Trade Café. Then Daniel decided to take his stone out of the Peregrini water. He moved on, but left a stone as a marker of being with us on the journey.

In 2006, I went on another Irish pilgrimage. This time I walked from Dublin to Kildare, the home of Saint Brigid. I fell in love with all she stood for—strength, bold inclusion, and service. When I came back from Ireland, Chad and I morphed the Sunday night gathering with Peregini and changed the name to Saint Brigid’s Community. In the meantime, I was also appointed vicar at Saint Augustine’s Episcopal Parish. Saint Brigid’ Community was moved to the parish. We experimented with several types of services, formats, days, and times.

For the next few years, Saint Brigid’s Community grew in vibrancy, mission, and number. Often we had over forty people show up for worship and conversation on a Thursday night. We had outreach ministries to children, the homeless, and immigrants. As with all young adult communities, the group was transient. People moved on, got tired, confused at times, even angry. Those who left took their stones out of the water of transformation. Those stones joined Daniel’s as a marker of walking with us on the journey.

Then in 2012, I went on yet another pilgrimage. This time I walked across Ireland, 353 miles. My soul went through significant shaping, intense transformation, a soul-morphing. As I walked, I listened to Spirit about what life would be like when I returned home. In the dark forest of Ireland I heard the word that Saint Brigid’ Community would come to an end. Honestly, I didn’t want to hear that word. I ignored what I heard and kept doing the work. I was violating the commitment Daniel and I had made in 2004. I could not let go.

Now its 2014, and in a few weeks I will leave again to walk the Wicklow Way in Ireland, this time with some of the Saint Brigid’s Community. The trip will be a part of a four-month sabbatical for me. I decided a month ago that while on pilgrimage in Ireland I would walk with the question of whether to let go of Saint Brigid’s Community and let it come to its end. But, I had already been given the answer two years. Now is the time to let go.

As I prepared for the final gathering of Saint Brigid’s Community I walked around the church grounds gathering stones for the closing ritual. I got a five-gallon bucket. Listened to the stones and put the ones who wanted to be a part of this ending ceremony into the bucket. I found a very large bowl to set on our altar in which I was going to place the stones in water. I counted the stones as I took them out of the bucket to make sure I had plenty. 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9…44. Synchronicity. Without knowing it, I had gathered 44 stones. Four—the four directions—completeness—44—double completeness. Indeed, this would be the final night. The work was done.

Thursday night, Saint Brigid’s Community prayed and celebrated the Eucharist together for the last time. We prayed the prayers of Saint Brigid. We remembered those who have been a part of our journey. We gave thanks for those who had discerned their call within our community. We wept over those who had died among us. We took our stones out of the waters of the transformative work of this community and we built an Ebenezer, a reminder that we have walked this way with God. God changed our lives. While God is not done with us as individuals, the cycle of life has come to its completion in Saint Brigid’s Community. Through this ending, something new will be born. This we do believe. It is time to let go. Good night.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Pilgrimage of Wisdom

Pilgrimage is about the journey not the destination. Pilgrims embark on the Holy Grail in search for the archetypal images found on the path. Seekers wander in the world of imagination gathering the elemental symbols of transformation. The seven symbolic elements, the archetypal images, to be poured in the pilgrim’s vas are knowledge, courage, perseverance, patience, self-discipline, humility, and gentleness. From the alchemical vas, properly tended, will eventually emerge—Wisdom.

Wisdom, many traditions teach, is representative of the Tree of Life, a tree that has thirty-two different paths for discovering the inner divine within us all. Not every path is for every pilgrim. Yet, no one path is the only way. Pilgrims walk their path in order to ignite the tender fire needed for the alchemy of the seven symbolic elements, yielding the philosopher’s golden stone—Wisdom.

My experience has been that rarely are all archetypal elements found on one solitary pilgrimage—instead, hundreds of miles of walking across several journeys are necessary to gather all the elemental metals needed to produce Wisdom’s golden stone.

The correct amount of the seven elements, often are determined through experimentation.
The elements heated at a gentle temperature over the glow of an ember’s fire will deliver, in time, the aura of Wisdom within the soul of the pilgrim. The felt effect of the Wisdom emerges almost as a surprise. Too much attention to the vas causes either the application of too much heat, or the cooling effect of fear, that which halts the process of coagulation.

The gold stone resulting from the Pilgrimage of Wisdom has nine facets, a spirit of generosity, the ability of healing, a vision of insight, a heart that bears light, hands that are open, words that are gracious, feet that tread lightly, a life of efficacious prayers, a calming presence of peace. The pilgrim may need to spend an entire life learning the mythic symbolism etched in the nine faces of the stone. But the pilgrimage stone will yield a deep Wisdom that benefits the souls of other pilgrims as they travel their own journey. For Wisdom only exists for the sake of the other when they desire it. For Wisdom is never for the gratification of the old wise soul.

Walk slowly. Gather the seven elements. Let them age over a gentle heat. Tend the vas as needed. Let the golden stone emerge, as it will. Share the gold of Wisdom when asked.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Epic Dream

Ever had one of those epic dreams? The kind of dream you can’t forget. Even though maybe you would like to? A dream that was on one hand alarming, yet on the other hand filled with addictive fascination. What do you do with such a dream? Run to the “Dream Symbols Lexicon?” Does such a thing exist? Not for Jung. He explored his dreams and those of his patients through the lens of alchemy and the tool of mandalas.

I had another one of those dreams last night. The dream is too raw for me to share now. And I have yet to process the dream yet through amplification, mandala, or analysis. But, the power of the dream drove me post another reflection about Jung’s work.

C.G. Jung’s biographical Memories, Dreams, and Reflections, includes forty-two of his key life dreams. Jung’s dreams and his own interpretation of dreams can be best understood through Jung’s paper, “Individual Dream Symbolism in Relation to Alchemy,” found in Dreams (Bollingen Series XX) wherein he analyses twenty-two dreams and subsequent mandala drawings of a colleagues’ patient.

If you know of an easy guidebook or primer to alchemy—please share. I have talked to a few learned friends and scholars. They told me the alchemical works are arcane, intended to mystify and confuse the reader. I am obliged to concur, especially after reading Jung’s volume 13 of his Collected Works, Alchemical Studies. Still, even though my head is swimming with obscure references to ancient mythical beings, I am being fetched to continue my studies. I have found Patrick Harpur’s novel, Mercurius: The Marriage of Heaven and Earth, like a flickering light from a spent candle on a blackened night. I have come to imagine for nothing more—other than for Jung to appear in a visionary moment and become my guide. I am patiently in anticipation.

There are several interviews with Jung and documentaries about his life available on YouTube. I found them biographically interesting but lacking in the depth found in his writings, especially regarding alchemy and the mandala. That is, however, to be expected. As a novice, though, I found these films a good place to supplement my Jungian pilgrimage. A close friend loaned me Gerhard Wehr’s Jung: A Biography. The work is readable, candid, and somewhat balanced in presentation. Still, without studying Jung’s own writings about dreams, alchemy, and the mandala I would be left without the master’s voice speaking into my imagination.

The more I work, the more I hear, the more I see, the more shocking and vivid the dreams, the more colorful the mandala, and the less I know. More reflections to come later—I need to get back last night’s dream.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Following The Red Book dream

Several boxes of my journals are stacked in the garage. I probably should burn them sooner than later—I’m not getting any younger. Those journals go back to my high school days. I really should burn them. But, they come in handy once in while. On those occasions, when life circumstances cause me to spend considerable time in deep reflection, I often wander through my old journals—looking for dreams. Thumbing through pages looking for when the unconscious was prompting me to be aware or to go on a journey. One such dream appeared a few years ago.

I was walking through a vast ancient library, much like the library at Trinity College, Dublin. The walls were high, filled with great books. I walked down the hall of ancient and rare volumes and turned into a corridor where the lights were very dim. Along one side of the mahogany wall was an inset. A bright light shone from the glass case. When I got to the case I saw a red book. I knew the title was in an ancient language that I didn’t understand. A curator came and lifted the red book out of the case and gave it to me. I could tell the book was very special. But, I didn’t want to look in the book. I felt it would lead me into a frightening place. The curator insisted I take the book.

In the fall of 2013 I began to discover the meaning of that dream. A friend who is a Jungian therapist recommended I take a close look at C.G Jung’s The Red Book. I have subsequently purchased both the illustrated copy (made available in 2009) and the reader’s edition (released in 2012). Recently, I finished the reader’s version (and the in depth preface and countless footnotes) for what I know will be the first of many times through. I have spent hours studying Jung’s mandalas and paintings in the illustration copy. I am just getting started.

Beginning in 1913 Jung engaged in a self-experiment with the “confrontation of the unconscious.” He recorded his fantasies, visions, and dreams, first in several black notebooks. Then in a red leather book using calligraphy, he transcribed his experiences including his personal art. In 1930 he left the experiment and the book unfinished. Jung died in 1961. While it was common knowledge the book existed, it was kept from publication. In 2000 the family trust decided to enlist experts to prepare the book for publication.

I have read Jung’s Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Man and His Symbols, Psychological Types, Answer to Job, Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle, several papers including “Introduction to the Religious and Psychological Problems of Alchemy,” and am now working my way through Modern Man in Search of a Soul, Dreams, and Alchemical Studies. All of this reading and study became much clearer after diving into the deep end of the unconscious through The Red Book.

I have no interest in reviewing Jung’s books or writing my own book on his work. There is no need for such a monumental effort that has already been well documented by many who are vastly more qualified than me, a simply devotee of Jung. My desire is to simply offer my reflections about the impact of Jung’s work on my life. I do this in order to follow out the direction of my dream a few years ago; a dream that I did not know the meaning until my friend pointed me in the direction of Jung’s The Red Book. Both, I believe, appeared in my dream before I knew of the book’s existence. More to follow.