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.