Archive for the ‘Travel & Pilgrimage’ Category

Arrival!

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We made it!

Lisa and I walked  into Chartres Cathedral early last Thursday afternoon. Still wearing our packs, we walked directly to Mary, Vierge du Pilier, lighting candles as our eyes blurred with tears of emotion.

I am writing this belatedly… in fact, we are both home and settling back into our daily lives, though I suspect we are forever changed by this past week. We needed to come home quietly, giving ourselves time to just be with our hearts, and to begin the process of integrating our experiences. Over the next few days, I’ll be sharing some of the images and stories that feel so precious to us.

But first, let me express our gratitude for all of you who followed us in thought and prayer, who wished us well, and who supported us in so many meaningful ways. We carried you in our hearts as we walked, and treasure the connections that transcend distance.

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In pilgrimage, one’s inner journey reflects the outer journey.  There are as many ways to make a pilgrimage as there are pilgrims, but a thread of sacred intent weaves through them all. My friend Sally Welch says it thus: The essence of pilgrimage is made in a spirit of searching, with an openness to what the journey can teach.

Clunyclams600We will be walking a traditional pilgrim route, an early stage of the famed Camino de Santiago de Compostela which winds its way from various points in Europe, gathering momentum as it crosses from France into Spain, and onwards to Santiago de Compostela. The road of St James, or the Milky Way as it is often known. The symbol of this pilgrimage is the scallop shell. Today, as in the Middle Ages, thousands of people walk the route each year, guided by a series of emblems which mark the route and point the way. Our feet will be joining their footprints.

The Paris to Chartres route is an early stage of the Camino, chosen because of its personal significance to us. We will be walking from Notre Dame de Paris to Notre Dame de Chartres, culminating with a walk on the labyrinth before we make our way to the High Altar. It is a pilgrimage to the Divine Mother.

Before leaving Paris, we will visit three places, the Basilica of Sacre Coeur on Montmartre,  the Tower of St. James, and Notre Dame,, where we will light candles to set our intention and dedicate our journey to Mother Mary, who represents the Divine Feminine.  Very early Tuesday morning, we will set out from the heart of Paris, walking towards the Porte d’Orleans, and out into the countryside.

We will walk for three days, hoping to arrive in Chartres on Thursday afternnon, where we will be met by a dear friend and spiritual mentor, Rebecca Rodriguez. We have been invited by Veriditas to join them in their special evening labyrinth walk that evening. We’ll spend Friday in the spectacular cathedral, enjoying and appreciating its treasures and beauty before heading back to London via Paris on Saturday aftenoon.

We are honored and blessed to be supported on this pilgrimage by many friends in various way. Some are lighting candles, some have given small tokens to carry, others are holding us in prayer.  Our altar tonight, as we prepare to leave at dawn tomorrow, reflects the love and support of dear friends.

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We ask you to keep us in your hearts as we journey….

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Ile400I tend to see life as a Hero’s Journey. For many years I taught a class on Myths, Dreams and Symbols at Sonoma State University, using  texts by Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung. Over time, it has become second nature for me to look at life symbolically, and my weight loss and quest for vitality has been a Hero’s Journey of epic proportions. This has been one of the hardest things I have ever done, not because of the dieting, but because of the inner work I have done to support it. I have had to become a new person, not only in my approach to food and exercise, but in how I think of myself and how I relate to the world.

This pilgrimage is a hero’s journey within a Hero’s Journey, a fractal. To not respond to this call to adventure when it stirred my soul would be to invite stagnation into my life. To accept it is to risk failure as much as to invite success. One of the hard truths I have had to face this year is my own stubborn perfectionism: I don’t want to try something  unless I have some guarantee of success. Shedding weight has taken away my main excuse for saying no to adventures, my main tool for buffering myself from failure and the world. I wore the truth of my fear rather than speaking it.

The truth is that I may not succeed in walking all the way to Chartres. The walk may prove to be too much for me… and all of you will know about it because I’ve finally chosen to break my silence and announce it from the rooftops of Blogland. And therein lies my success.

In my quest for vitality, I’ve had to come face to face with the demons of an aging (and sagging) body. I’ve had to learn for myself that vitality does not necessarily mean trying to look like a young supermodel, nor does it mean accepting every challenge on offer. It means honoring one’s hard-earned battle scars and accepting some limitation with grace.

I love shopping for adventure clothes, love the gear, love the planning! I will always be a curvy woman, will never, ever have the trim stick figure I long for… but I now fit nicely into medium-sized clothes, which delights me no end. I love that I can finally wear zip-off trousers! I will confess to having spent many happy hours shopping for clothes and  trekking poles and rucksacks over this past month. But not shoes; no fancy new high-tech trail shoes for me.

I have a serious problem with my right foot. It’s one of those hard-to-explain problems that seems to defy definition and diagnosis, which persists despite having  had a toe-joint replacement in an attempt to address the swelling and pain. This foot worries me as it will no doubt trouble me on our walk. I have tried on literally dozens of boots and shoes, but in the end I will be wearing the running shoes I bought in California last spring. The enthusiastic and knowledgable saleswoman, Deborah,  spent over 2 hours with me, evaluating my feet, watching me walk and run, finally suggesting I think of my new shoes not in terms of any specific activity but simply as Going Forward shoes. I like that! I am honoring my body’s limitations by wearing carefully chosen shoes and using trekking poles for stability, but I am still managing to answer my call to adventure with a resounding YES, balancing my sense of adventure with a dose of common sense.

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I haven’t written anything for a long time… it’s not that I haven’t had anything to say, but rather that I’ve had too much to say, and I haven’t been sure about how much I wanted the world to know about the process unfolding deep within my soul… But I miss writing, and there are things I want to share here. So, where to start?

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On September 1, I will set out from Notre Dame in Paris and walk the 100 kilometers (60+miles) to the Notre Dame Cathedral in Chartres. My good friend Lisa Moriarty will be flying in from Minnesota, and we’ll take the Eurostar to Paris,  before setting out for Chartres. We plan to walk for three days and will be met in Chartes by several dear friends. This is a midlife celebration of our vitality, a pilgrimage in the deepest and most sacred sense of the word.

Pilgrim!

Last year, when I was in Paris, I had a hard time keeping up with my friends, and in the spirit of pilgrimage, I had an epiphany in the Sacre Coeur, high atop Paris’ Montmartre. Having spent the previous Christmas in a pediatric ICU in California with my grandson, Aaron, I sensed that my own life was about to change drastically in response to the experience of seeing these young children fighting so hard for their lives…. I was just waiting for the spark of  insight that would illuminate my next steps. Finally, amongst the tourists and mosaics of Sacre Coeur, something lit my heart on fire, and I promised myself, and God, that I would fight for my vitality, that I would do everything in my power to lose the weight I needed to lose and regain my fitness, health, and most importantly, my vitality. That was 15  months ago, and in that time,  I have lost an amazing amount of weight and and am ready to take to the road in a new way, making a pilgrimage that I’ve been harbouring in my heart for a very long time, a dream rekindled by seeing the pilgrims on the road to Compostela during our recent trip to Spain.

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This past year has been grace-filled. I have loved the weight loss process, the fitness, the new look. And on a deeper level, I have been thrilled by saying YES to life. Shouldering my rucksack and following an ancient pilgrim road is an old and cherished dream…

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The rain continued to follow us as we drove further south to Cashel in County Tipperary where we headed immediately for the famous, dominating feature on the landscape:

Cashel Rock

Cashel Rock

Jeff was eager to get a close look at St Patrick’s cross which was reported to have a labyrinth-like carving on the base. Could it be? Fortunately, the cross is now indoors, but it is extremely weathered after centuries of exposure to the elements. Nevertheless, as we circled it in the protection of its new home, the circuits could be clearly seen, though the paths were indistinct and difficult to trace, or even to count. There was something very moving about being able to gently touch the ancient carving as we manipulated the lighting and shadows to get a closer look so that we could gather the clues to the details of this rendition of the labyrinth symbol. Now that we are home, Jeff is working with the photos so that he can make a conclusive report in due time.

We then began our search for the other carving that was of particular interest to me: a Sheela-na-Gig set into the outer wall of one of the buildings on the rock.

Cashel Rock Sheela-na-gig

Cashel Rock Sheela-na-Gig

Sheela-na-gigs are curious stone carvings of naked females who are usually squatting or standing in such a way as to accentuate the vulva. Found on medieval churches, castles and other structures throughout Britain, but especially in Ireland, these enigmatic figures compel interest and stir the imagination. We happily go out of our way to seek them out; the Cashel Sheela was the first of three we found on this trip. For some reason, I was quite startled to see the strange sideways orientation of this one.

We spent the night at Hill House, looking out across the valley toward the Rock of Cashel, but left early the next morning to drive down to  the walled town of Fethard, where there are two Sheela-na-Gigs. One is set into the city wall:

Fethard Wall Sheela-na-Gig

Sheela-na-Gig on the Fethard City Wall

And the other is on the wall of the ancient Augustinian friary, very close to the  modern priest’s house:

Fethard Abby Sheela-na-Gig

Sheela-na-Gig on the Fethard Abbey

Driving back towards Belfast, we had one last labyrinth to explore, a small carving mounted on the wall of a ruined chapel… and it was here that I had my most memorable moment of the trip. It was cold, very cold, and we could see the chapel out in a field quite some distance from the road where we had parked our warm and comfy car. Contemplating the barbed wire fence we would have to scale and the muddy field we needed to cross, my heart sank. I agreed to the excursion only because I knew Jeff would do the same for me… Bundled in two jackets and several layers of hats each, we climbed into our boots and set out into the rain. Halfway across the field, I realized that it was that moment for which I have been working so very hard for so many months. My slimmer, stronger body absolutely rejoiced as we slogged forward, in total comfort and confidence! Rathmore Chapel was a joy… I read the tombstones outside, then explored the nooks and crannies within, feeling the poignancy of the structure that had served the spiritual needs of so many for so long. I felt connected to myself, to these long-gone faceless strangers, and to the divine thread that weaves between us all.

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Jeff photographing the Rathmore Chapel Labyrinth

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The River Boyne

The River Boyne

We can tell you why Ireland is so green…. it rains. But somehow the dull skies and bitter winds contributed to the mystery and magic of the landscape. We had come in search of neolithic monuments and medieval carvings, and we were willing to leave the relative comfort of the beaten track to seek them out.

Our first stop was Newgrange, a popular pilgrimage destination that is all but deserted at this time of year. An architectural cousin to some of the sites we visit in Scotland, Newgrange was  built some 5000 years ago as a burial mound with a very precise solar alignment. Should you be fortunate enough to be standing in the chamber at sunrise on Winter Solstice, you would witness a shaft of light entering through a small window and lighting the chamber. Adding to its appeal, an elaborately carved stone stands guard at the entrance to the passage, and more spirals decorate the inner walls. Absolutely amazing… such an elegant reminder that despite our 21st century advantages, there are still mysteries left to explore and experience.

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Newgrange Entrance Stone

From Newgrange, we drove south to the small community of Laragh where we were booked into a lovely B&B, the Tudor Lodge. Too tired to bother with going out to get dinner, we fell into bed so that we could get an early start in the morning. Despite the ongoing rain, we were the first arrivals of the day at the Glendalough Visitor’s Centre where a boulder with a Medieval carving of a labyrinth is now on display. The so-named Hollywood Stone may be the earliest example of the labyrinth symbol known in Ireland. It was discovered in a nearby field in 1908  by a group of men chasing a stoat… when they turned over the boulder, under which their quarry had hidden, they saw the labyrinth carving on the underside. Originally a marker stone for the start of the long winding pilgrims path through the rugged Wicklow Gap, it stood beside a branch of St. Kevin’s Road, an ancient pilgrim’s trackway that leads through the Wicklow Mountains from Hollywood to the famous monastery at Glendalough, founded by St. Kevin in the mid-6th century.

Hollywood Stone, Glendalough

Hollywood Stone, Glendalough

Noting the vast but empty parking lots, we realized how fortunate we were to have the place to ourselves… while Jeff photographed, I let myself daydream my way back into history, imagining the people and the circumstances that might have drawn them to pilgrimage. Unfortunately, however, the steady rain discouraged us from exploring the entire Glendalough site with its magnificent Celtic crosses, carvings, churches, and famous round tower. Even the modern labyrinth in the field next to the visitor’s centre was too soggy to enter, though the standing water did make it quite picturesque!

Modern Labyrinth at Glendalough

Modern Labyrinth at Glendalough

From Glendalough we travelled up along the pilgrim route, stopping to see the field where the stone once stood… it is fairly unremarkable now, but it gave us pause to appreciate the many pilgrims who have passed by over the centuries, using this spot as a milestone on their spiritual journeys.

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Passed by Pilgrims

to be continued….

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We’re home from Ireland…. and that in itself is the miracle. For those of you with access to the international news, you’ll have heard about the snowstorm that brought London to its knees yesterday. Apparently it was the worst snowstorm in 20 years, and the first time since the Blitz that London’s bus services were completely cancelled. Since the Blitz!!

We were supposed to have been laying out a labyrinth near Belfast during the day, flying back to London yesterday evening. Although the worst of the snow hadn’t yet come across the Irish sea, we quickly realized that it wasn’t a day for painting labyrinth lines onto frozen ground, so we headed to the airport immediately after breakfast, in hopes of catching any available flight out.

Twelve hours later, a single flight headed out for London, and Jeff managed to get us seats… I’ll never know how he so consistently manages to work his travel miracles, but I’ll hitch my wagon to his star anytime. The official word from the airport was to simply go away and come back again in a couple of day… but the persistent hung out for a daylong blur of chance encounters with fellow travellers, interviews with BBC reporters looking for stories about travelling woe, and endless cups of coffee. I knitted, of course, nearly completing the cabled Irish socks I had selected to accompany me on this journey.

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Our Easy Jet captain, Chris Trevelyan,  came out into the cabin before takeoff to describe the travel chaos in the London airports. Warm and safe in the nearly flight-less Belfast International Airport, we had clearly escaped the worst. The flight was uneventful and even the drive home was easy, though eerie. The roads, even the motorways were absolutely deserted, a sight rarely seen. The only other vehicles out on the snowy landscape seemed to be the busy gritters.

Was the trip worth it? Absolutely… later this week I’ll post pictures of the labyrinths, megaliths, sheila-na-gigs and wintry Irish countryside.

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In the wee hours of the Friday morning, we’ll be leaving for Ireland on a journey that is part business, part pleasure, and part spiritual pilgrimage. For three days we’ll visit labyrinths and sacred sites that have been calling out to our pilgrim hearts. In some ways, I have to laugh at the ridiculousness of our timing. At the time of year when most of the British populace is dreaming of heading to warmer climes, we are trading our grey skies for the blustery winds and leaden skies of Ireland where we’ll undoubtedly shiver despite wearing our warmest woollies. But we don’t mind braving the January darkness and wintry weather if it means we have the space to wander and experience without being crowded by hordes of camera-clinking tourists.

One of my greatest joys is choosing and preparing the knitting project that will accompany me as we travel. I’m a knitterly pilgrim, so what I carry with me matters both practically and symbolically; I would no more dream of leaving home without my knitting than without a journal. And I don’t take just any knitting… I carefully listen to the quiet voice of my intuition as it whispers guidance for the trip ahead,then choose patterns, colours, and project that will support my journey. I don’t always knit much when I’m away, but I keep my knitting close at hand, always, using it as a touchstone and a companion.  By the time I return home, the familiarity of the yarn and my needles remind me instantly of my pre-trip dreams, the planning process, and the events of the journey itself. It may take months before I actually complete the knitting, but even that delay often speaks to the time that it takes me to fully integrate my experiences.

This week I’ll be travelling with a beautiful skein of hand-dyed blue-green wool that I received as a birthday present last year. Before we leave, I’ll cast 72 stitches onto a beautiful pair of wooden circular needles to start a cabled sock. Both the colour and the pattern seem as though they’ll fit with the Irish countryside through which we’ll be travelling. I wonder if sock-making appeals to me so deeply because of the importance of one’s feet when walking labyrinths?

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Eiffel Tower

I spent this past weekend visiting with good friends who have rented a flat in Paris for the month… France was celebrating Pentecost while we enjoyed the revivifying effects of special friendships. Our travel usually ties into work of some kind, lecturing or research, but this weekend away was purely and simply a much-needed holiday. We spent hours lingering over leisurely breakfasts and came home to simple suppers of fresh tomatoes,french bread, and cheese accompanied by good wine and deep conversation. During the days, we visited Paris landmarks and wandered comfortably through shops, cafes, churches, and cemeteries. My friend, Erwin, wrote this morning that Pentecost reminds us that “Spirit is blowing everywhere.” When I read his post this morning I thought about how well our weekend fit into the spirit of Pentecost.

And, of course, labyrinth enthusiasts that we are, we made a quick trip to Chartres on Friday, realizing late Thursday evening that the famous Chartres labyrinth was likely to be open and that this was a rare opportunity for us to make a mini-pilgrimage together. What a joy to be able to simply catch a train to take us to a place that looms so large in our hearts and imaginations!

I’ve been to Chartres enough times now to feel at home with the streets, the shops, the cafes — and the Cathedral. Inside, the splendid windows soothe my soul while the candles and statues welcome me home. Memories of past pilgrimages weave through the cool air as I revisit the stones and treasures I know and love so deeply… new memories in the making!

While the cathedral prepared to receive its Pentecost pilgrims, we arrived less officially, but in good company nevertheless.Within moments of disembarking from the train, we walked straight into a group of CSJ’s from Minnesota, including several good friends from my spiritual community there. Later in the day, other friends from far-off places drifted into the cathedral and we enjoyed that incredible sense of belonging to an international family where an unexpected rendezvous is always a heartwarming delight.

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Another highlight of the trip was our Saturday evening pilgrimage to Montmartre. Despite having visited Paris numerous times in the past, I had never gone up to Montmartre, and really had no idea of what to expect. It being a holiday weekend, there was a party-like atmosphere on the crowded streets, and I loved the sense of easy comfort as we listened to music drifted into shops, and rode the funicular to the top of the famous steps.

MontmartreSacre Coeur was crowded, and I was somehow surprised that everyone who had gone up seemed to be making a visit to the church; it was such a party atmosphere out on the steps and streets that I wouldn’t have expected many people to take time to walk around the church. How wrong I was! Despite the crowds, I could feel Spirit blowing through — and in a moment of quiet inspiration, my own heart opened to answers I had been seeking. I left with a new sense of purpose and direction…

Women need to spend time with other women — unstructured time to allow hearts to open and stories to flow. Paris provided a wonderful backdrop and gave us unforgettable memories (as well as luscious cappuccinos and great wines), but it is friendship that heals the soul and renews one’s zest for life!

To share our memories, I have posted an online photo album here . Enjoy!

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London TixMy good friend, Pauline, and I went into London yesterday for a long-awaited Girls’ Day Out. After purchasing our tickets, we warmed ourselves with cups steaming of hot chocolate while we waited on the platform at Rayleigh Station. Transferring to the Docklands Light Railway at Stratford, we passed bustling construction sites for the 2012 Olympics and headed into a part of London I’d never seen. Sparkling new building are set into the old Docklands where the train stops still bear the names of the area’s interesting and colourful history… West India Quay, Mudchute, Island Gardens, Canary Wharf.

FanMuseum

We had a destination, a place that sounded perfect for a day out with no husbands in tow. From the outside it looks like just another Georgian townhouse set in a Greenwhich neighbourhood of discreetly lovely homes….but inside is housed The Fan Museum, the only museum in the world dedicated solely to showcasing fans from around the world. The museum is beautifully and artistically laid out, reflecting the refinement and elegance of a bygone age. Even the warm welcome at the front desk seemed an invitation into another world.

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As chance would have it, the current exhibit is A Touch of Dutch: the Royal Fans from the House of Orange-Nassau containing dozens of exquisite fans on loan from the Netherlands. As two of my dearest friends are Dutch, I have a great interest in the Netherlands, so I was thrilled by this glimpse into the Dutch Royal Family at time when the women would give each other beautiful fans, sometimes set with diamond and other gems, for special occasions. These fans would then show up discreetly in various portraits and court pictures, giving a sense of the importance they held for the recipients. I felt I was being given a peek into not only the fashion, but also the relationships that wove through these women’s lives. I found myself wondering about their long-ago days out together…

Time moves on and fashions come and go,
but the magical thread of feminine connection
endures as it sustains us
through the journeys that are our lives.

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