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Walking the Camino for Lasting Change

The board of Episcopal Relief & Development has generously granted me a sabbatical this fall.  As I was thinking about what I wanted to use the time for, I decided that I had a couple of goals for my sabbatical.  

First, I wanted a project with a beginning, a middle, and an end. So much of the work of relief & development never ends. There’s always another disaster.  Moreover, by some estimates, the pandemic has wiped nearly 20 years of progress in global development away.  That more than covers my professional life in this sphere.  I’ll keep plugging at it, as will many millions of others, but I need a sense of accomplishing something.

Second, I wanted a project that would challenge me physically.  I’m not exactly an elite athlete, or any kind of athlete at all, for that matter.  I live and work in my head and when I’m lucky my heart is engaged.  However, the challenges I face on a day-to-day basis call on my intellect and not my body.  For a little while, I’d like to switch it up.

Photo by James Wheeler on Pexels.com

Finally, I wanted to do something that would support Episcopal Relief & Development’s work with children, Moments That Matter®.  The work my organization does nurturing children around the world is some of our most important.  The first three years of a child’s life are critical and Moments That Matter focuses intensively on the physical and intellectual development of some of the most vulnerable amongst us.  I do this out of gratitude for all that Episcopal Relief & Development has done for me over the 17 years I have been its president.

Therefore, I have decided to use the time to walk the Camino de Santiago from Saint Jean Pied de Port in France to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.  I plan to start on October 10th and end on November 18th. The walk will be approximately 500 miles over 38 days.

I will be posting updates on this website and on my social media channels (@RobRadtke on both Instagram and Twitter).  If you would like to be notified when I’ve posted, please subscribe to my blog.

Please join me as I am Walking the Camino for Lasting Change!

Gratitude

Dear family and friends,

As I depart Spain this morning and return to the hustle and bustle of pre-holiday preparations, I want to take a moment to express my profound gratitude to all of you for joining me on my Camino to Santiago de Compostela.  

I am especially grateful to the board of Episcopal Relief & Development for granting me time away from my day-to-day activities to walk the Camino.  In addition, many colleagues at work have provided advice and support for fundraising and social media outreach.  Others have graciously stepped in to cover responsibilities that would not otherwise have fallen to them.  If I start naming names, I will surely leave someone out so I will refrain.  You know who you are and I know who you are. Thank you!

Over 170 of you have made donations to Episcopal Relief & Development.  I’m more grateful than I can express to everyone who has made a gift, especially the anonymous donors who kept increasing the match and those who gave not once, but multiple times to my fundraising campaign.

My website and social media have been beautifully designed and deftly managed by my daughter, Eva Warren. I got to focus on content while she focused on impact. (Point of parental privilege:  Although Eva is a full-time graduate student, she has a side gig providing website and social media support for people and organizations.  She’s terrific.  Check out her website for more information.). Thank you, Eva!

My ability to walk the Camino would not have been possible without the excellent training I received from Lisette Santa.  She worked patiently with me for over a year on building my muscle strength and balance.  It really paid off.  Sophia Chapman of Evenos Travel gave me invaluable hiking tips and advice on how to use the mystifying array of equipment I acquired for the Camino while guiding me along some of Crete’s most beautiful trails.  My dear friend Mary-Hart Bartley lent me her walking sticks, which have been my faithful companion for the Camino, just as she was during our weekly walks through New York City during the difficult days at the height of the pandemic and ever since.

My walking partner on the Camino, John Deane from the Anglican Board of Mission in Australia, did not hesitate to say yes to joining me, even as we planned our trip via Zoom and text message in the midst of the pandemic.  We enjoyed long hours of silent walking and lively conversation at the end of each day.  I cannot imagine a more congenial fellow traveler for this adventure. Thank you, John!

Finally, my heart overflows with gratitude and love for Mary Abraham, my wife, who has (the occasional arched eyebrow notwithstanding) unfailingly supported, encouraged, and loved me through this and every other adventure I’ve proposed.  I am blessed to have such a partner on the Camino of Life.

And now I’m signing off for a while.  Stay healthy, be safe, and have a wonderful holiday season!

Pax et Bonum.

With thanks and love,

Rob

One is embarking on a strange journey: Reflections after 500 miles (Part Two)

Now that I have completed my Camino and have started to look back on my experience for a few days, I have come to realize that the most important and, in Idle’s words, “strange” part of my journey is just beginning: the journey of reflection.

One could fill a small library with books of people’s reflections on walking the Camino de Santiago.  They vary tremendously from extremely earnest (Joyce Rupp’s Walk in a Relaxed Manner: Life Lessons from the Camino) to wickedly amusing (Bradley Chermside’s The Only Way Is West: A Once In a Lifetime Adventure Walking 500 Miles On Spain’s Camino de Santiago).  Most of the books fit firmly into the genre of the Camino is like life and the lessons you draw from walking the Camino can be applied to life.  It’s a time-worn cliché and like many clichés there is a ring of truth to it.

Before setting out on the Camino I spoke with a number of people who described the experience as “life-changing.”  To be honest, I was skeptical.  I was not embarking on the Camino because I wanted to change anything about my life.  I have a loving and stable marriage to a brilliant and generous woman who deserves much better than me.  I’m fiercely proud and in awe of our daughter, her incisive intellect, and her many accomplishments. We have a strong and loving relationship.  I’m on affectionate and good terms with my extended family.  I have a wide circle of close and supportive friends.  I have a job I love and colleagues I like and respect.  I’m a lucky guy and I know it.  By accident of birth I have immense privilege, none of which I’ve earned. I don’t take any of it for granted, but why would I want anything to change?

And yet…

When you are walking the Camino you have a lot of time to think.  And, as I mull over my experience, there are a few lessons that stand out for me.  I won’t be so presumptuous as to assume they will mean anything to anyone else, but I share them so that I can be accountable to myself for some of what I’ve learned and some resolutions I want to make as I continue on my strange journey through life.

Travel lightly and give up shame

I come with a lot of baggage.  I mean this both figuratively and literally.  

For a small fee, there is a daily luggage transfer service that will move your gear from one stopping point to the next along the Camino.  The luggage limit for this service is one bag of no more than 20kg.  Try as I might, I just couldn’t do it, so I paid extra for a second bag.  Honestly, I’ve used just about everything I brought or shared it with others along the way, so no regrets.  

However, I’ve also been using a daypack every day.  On the first day I jammed it full of power bars, extra bottles of water, changes of clothing, and God knows what else.  By noon, I regretted that choice. By the end of the trip, my daypack was just the essentials: a first aid kit, one bottle of water, and a chocolate bar, with nuts if I was in a health-conscious mood.  Oh, if it was going to rain, some waterproof pants, if I wasn’t wearing them already.  Because you know what, you’ll muddle through, you can get it along the way, or someone else will have what you need.  

We all have figurative baggage as well, about which I thought a lot.  For me it is shame.  I won’t bore you with the details, most of which I’m too ashamed to even mention.  Clearly, I have work to do.  

Brené Brown speaks eloquently about how shame warps you and what to do about it in a marvelous TED talk.

So, my resolution is to try to travel more lightly and give up shame.  

Accept what has been put in my path and navigate through it 

Robert Frost’s poem “A Servant to Servants” contains the lines:

the best way out is always through. 
And I agree to that, or in so far
As that I can see no way out but through

I’ve always found the profound simplicity of these words deeply moving.  They speak to a flinty New England practicality and fatalism.  Practicality and fatalism are essential for walking the Camino.

Most of the trails making up the Camino are extremely straightforward and well-marked.  They take no special physical prowess to navigate.  However, some days there were a lot of stones on the road and sometimes even in my shoes.  

My initial reaction was frustration and irritation.  Why on earth, with literally hundreds of thousands of people walking the Camino, couldn’t someone groom this section more carefully?  Did they really need to snake this trail across these sharp rocky stones?  I know I tied my shoes carefully, so why then are these pebbles rattling around in them?  Did the shoe manufacturer leave holes in the soles?

By the umpteenth time I faced a rocky trail, my reaction was much like the narrator in Frost’s poem: accept what has been put in my path and move through it.  Don’t try to negotiate or assess responsibility.  Some things just are.  There is no way out but through and it is often the best way.

So, my resolution is to accept what is before me and navigate through it, cheerfully, if I can.

Make space for faith formation

I am a conventionally observant Christian.  I don’t claim any special or deep relationship with God.  We’re on speaking terms, usually when I am under duress. Mostly I embrace Christianity as a system of values and beliefs that help me shape my life. 

Despite being a “professional Episcopalian” leading Episcopal Relief & Development, The Episcopal Church’s international relief and development organization, my practice is generally to worship only on a Sunday, at a full Eucharist, which takes place in community and is usually followed by a nice lunch with friends.  I’m blessed that at my home church for the last 30 years, St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in New York City, we have had consistently excellent preaching and world-class musicians and singers.  The liturgy is beautiful, the welcome is generous, and I am surrounded by friends.  I look forward to it every week when I am not out of town traveling.

As I set out on the Camino, I decided that I wanted to make faith observance part of my daily routine and so undertook to read Morning Prayer each morning before I got out of bed.  Thanks to Forward Movement’s terrific app, Day by Day, I could turn on my phone first thing and, with a few clicks, pull up a full Morning Prayer order of service with the correct readings and psalms all selected, sparing me the hitherto mystifying process of trying to figure it out for myself.

The solitary reading of Morning Prayer every day was quite a change for me.  During the first few days on the Camino the readings were from the Book of Jonah recounting the story of Jonah and the Great Fish (one of my favorites since I was a child) and the Acts of the Apostles, recounting Paul’s voyage through the Mediterranean, including along the southern coast of Crete, where I had been hiking just a few weeks before.  Both the Jonah story and Paul’s experience resonated with me on several levels as I was starting out on my own pilgrimage.  

Later on, the readings shifted to the Book of Ecclesiasticus and specifically to the Wisdom of Ben Sira.  I’m embarrassed to admit that I was not familiar with the Wisdom of Ben Sira.  To quote Wikipedia:  

The teachings are applicable to all conditions of life: to parents and children, to husbands and wives, to the young, to masters, to friends, to the rich, and to the poor. Many of them are rules of courtesy and politeness; and a still greater number contain advice and instruction as to the duties of man toward himself and others, especially the poor, as well as toward society and the state, and most of all toward God.

Because I was not a regular worshiper at Morning Prayer, I had not read much, if any, of this part of the Bible.  It offers thoughtful and practical guidance on how to live a “good” life, almost all of which is applicable to today’s world, which is saying something for a book written between 200 and 175 BCE.

The second lesson was usually from the Book of Revelation.  Again, this is not a part of the Bible I know well.  I’m not sure I know it better today than I did before engaging it through Morning Prayer, but being confronted with it first thing in the morning, before coffee, is a bracing way to start one’s day.

As I write this, I am working my way through the books of the prophets Joel and Malachi along with the Letter of James.  I’m sure my Jewish friends and clergy friends are rolling their eyes, but because I am not a habitual reader of the Old Testament or a daily reader of the New Testament, I had not engaged much of this content in my own faith formation.

As I walked, I would find myself mulling over the lessons of the day, letting my mind wander into new and interesting places I had never been before using the daily readings as my map. 

So, my resolution is to make more space for faith formation in my life.

Dwell in gratitude

Prior to walking the Camino, most of my memorable dreams were firmly in the anxiety category.  Typically, they involved racing through airports to catch planes that I was about to miss.  There would be complicated obstacles I would need to overcome and unexpected twists in the plots that would wake me with my heart racing.

An interesting thing has happened over the last 500 miles.  The anxiety dreams have faded away and been replaced by what I would describe as gratitude dreams.

They often involve real situations in my life and my desire to express my gratitude to someone for a burden they have taken on, often on my behalf.  There is still an element of anxiety in the sense that I urgently want and need to express my gratitude and sometimes there are obstacles to doing that.  Overall, however, I wake up with a heightened sense of well-being and thankfulness, and let’s be honest, at my age, needing to go to the bathroom.

So, my resolution is to dwell in gratitude.

Support others as they make their own way

In preparation for and in the early days on the Camino, I had very fixed views about how to walk the Camino.  You need to use this piece of equipment in this way.  You need to prepare your body and mind in this other way.  You need to deal with your blisters by doing this.  You need to be sure you visited these places in this order.  You need to wear this kind of shoe and you need to walk at this kind of pace.

No sooner had I walked out of St. Jean Pied de Port than all these rules I had very meticulously crafted fell apart.  Everyone I encountered on the Camino had their own way of doing it.  It made me very uncomfortable.  If I or others didn’t follow this way of walking the Camino, surely disaster would strike.  It did not.  

I realized very quickly that my role was to support others in walking the Camino in their way.  It was not to impose my way.

So, my resolution is to support those who are walking through life with me in their own way of walking and not try to enforce my way.

The strange journey ahead

These are just some of my preliminary reflections on my Camino experience.  As I’ve said earlier, I don’t want to change my life.  However, there are some things I want to change about myself.  It’s too early for me to know what the impact of these resolutions will be or even if I can stick to them.  I’m excited to see what the rest of my life will be like if I am able to 

  • Travel lightly and give up shame
  • Accept what has been put in my path and navigate through it 
  • Make space for faith formation
  • Dwell in gratitude
  • Support others as they make their own way

When I was designing the fundraising element for walking the Camino, I called it “Walking the Camino for Lasting Change.”  It was a play on Episcopal Relief & Development’s tagline “Working Together for Lasting Change” and was meant to inspire people to donate to support Episcopal Relief & Development’s work with children.  (It seems to have worked.  Thank you everyone for your generous contributions.)

I hadn’t intended “Walking the Camino for Lasting Change” to refer to change in myself.  Yet, if I’m able to do just a little bit of what I have resolved to try to do I will indeed have walked the Camino for lasting change, if not necessarily in the way I’d initially thought.

This summer one of Episcopal Relief & Development’s board members, Mike Carscaddon, died from a very aggressive form of cancer.  Executive Vice President at Habitat for Humanity International, he was beloved by many.  He was one of God’s living saints on earth.  I knew him only a short while and came to treasure his friendship and advice.  He was unfailingly kind in all his interactions.  I admired him deeply.  Before his diagnosis, I’d entertained the thought of inviting him to walk the Camino with me and as I thought about him while I walked, I felt he was with me in a way.  Selfishly, I grieve not only his death but also all the time he would otherwise have shared with me and many others.

As Mike was nearing the final days of his life here on earth, he said he wasn’t fearful about what came next.  He was curious.  I hope I can be that alive when my time comes to die.

Mike ended every email communication with the words of St. Francis of Assisi, “Pax et Bonum,” which roughly translated means “Peace and Goodness be with you.”  

Thank you for accompanying me on the Camino de Santiago, and as I turn to the strange journey ahead.

Pax et Bonum.

One will be named: Reflections after 500 miles (Part One)

We walked into Santiago de Compostela on Wednesday afternoon.  500 miles done!  

I set out on the Camino with two goals.  First, I wanted to take on the physical challenge of walking 500 miles.  Second, I wanted to raise money for Episcopal Relief & Development’s work with children.  Both of those goals have been achieved with the support, prayers, and good wishes of hundreds of my family, friends, and colleagues.  It’s been a wonderful, challenging, and deeply rewarding pilgrimage.  Your love has sustained me throughout. Thank you.

As I wrap up my Camino, I have a lot on my mind.  Accordingly, I’ve decided to divide my 500-mile reflections into two parts.  This is part one.  Part two will come in a few days.

One of the most moving aspects of my pilgrimage has been to see the memorials to pilgrims who have passed away.  Sometimes these memorials have been put up by friends and family as a tribute to their loved one who made a regular practice of walking the Camino.  Other times, these memorials are for someone who passed away in the midst of their Camino, either from natural causes or an accident of some sort.  As Idle predicts, these pilgrims are both named and remembered. 

All throughout walking the Camino we’ve been part of a cohort of pilgrims who more or less started at the same time in St. Jean Pied de Port.  Our interactions began with silent nodded acknowledgments, moved to pleasantries, and, in some cases, light friendship and exchanged tips and commiseration over a shared meal.

There is an unspoken understanding that what happens on the Camino stays on the Camino. Accordingly, I will refer to members of my cohort of pilgrims by nicknames.  I’m not sure this is what Idle had in mind when he wrote one would be “named”  in the Epiphany hymn I quoted in my first blog post from the Camino. Perhaps so.   I’ve also altered personal details and, in some cases, created composite descriptions.  I don’t flatter myself that any of my pilgrim friends will find my blog, read it and recognize themselves, but I still want to respect everyone’s privacy.

While walking the Camino, we didn’t usually see our entire cohort every day.  Sometimes, we’d be in sync for a day or two and then lose track of each other for a few days, or never see each other again.  Part of the pleasure of the pilgrimage was the serendipity of finding one another after a few days and exchanging tales of our trials and tribulations.

These are just a few of the more memorable characters who have populated our world as we’ve walked, much like in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.  

The Reluctant Romeo

On the night before we set out from St. Jean Pied de Port, we were eating dinner in a local restaurant.  It was very busy and two young women arrived.  The only seats were at a table already occupied by a good-looking, solitary, and shy Italian man in his early twenties that I nicknamed the Reluctant Romeo.  The hostess asked if the young women could be seated with him.  He graciously invited them to join him. By week three the Reluctant Romeo had an entire harem of lovely Juliets vying to join him at meals.  He looked a bit overwhelmed by the attention.  If he’d set out on the Camino for some solitary time and private reflection, that didn’t look likely.

The Duke and Duchess

One fashionable Argentinian couple, whom I referred to as the Duke and Duchess, always turned up at meals immaculately groomed having just attended the local Pilgrim Mass.  We would stagger in, barely able to walk, never mind groomed. The Duke and Duchess had an aristocratic air about them and invariably knew which restaurants were good and what to order.  We saw them only once actually walking the Camino.  They were posing for photographs in front of a church.  Uncharitably, I suspected them of secretly taking taxis between stops.

Archie and Edith

One afternoon an irritable British couple, who I came to think of as Archie and Edith from the US television series All in the Family, was checking into a hotel just ahead of us.  They spoke not a word of Spanish.  They made the rude mistake of assuming that if they just spoke more loudly and angrily, they’d be understood.  It didn’t work.  One day the wife and I fell into step and talked pleasantly for a few minutes.  Her husband bent my walking partner’s ear with endless unsolicited advice and strongly held opinions about every topic under the sun. After that we tried to avoid them. By the third day, the couple didn’t seem to be speaking to each other.  The last time we saw them they had contracted COVID and were headed home.  I pray for their recovery.

Daddy Long Legs

We were routinely overtaken by a young Frenchman, who I nicknamed Daddy Long Legs because he had VERY long thin legs.  It didn’t always look as if he knew where he was putting his feet.  Combine that with poles that he would flail about and it was quite a sight.  We’d catch up to him at the next village and invariably he’d be entertaining a cohort of lovely young women, regaling them with tales of his adventures in at least three different languages over beers and food.  And yet, he always walked alone.

The Gritty Granny

One day we passed an elderly and very dignified Korean woman who was slowly inching her way along the Camino in bandaged feet and bedroom slippers.  She very sweetly wished us a Buen Camino as we apprehensively watched her gingerly make her way down the trail.  Three days later we passed her again.  How did that happen?  Did she walk all night?  She’d managed to put on sneakers, but she wasn’t moving a lot faster.  She had amazing grit. She was not unusual.  There was a surprising number of Korean and Japanese women of a certain age making their way to Santiago.  They each traveled by themselves, moving slowly and steadily towards their goal.  Their resilience, determination, and grit were inspiring.

The Merry Musketeers

For a few days we were accompanied by a group of Italian guys, probably in their late twenties or early thirties.  They each had an impressive number of tattoos and an alarming array of piercings.  I was worried that one of them would get snagged on a branch and lose a body part.  These young men partied hard and long into the night at the local bars and yet every morning they were out on the Camino bright and early teasing and laughing with each other.  Every so often they would get separated and they’d frantically phone one another shouting in Italian until they were together again.

The Bicycling Beauties

On several occasions during our walk we would come across groups of between five and six young Japanese or Korean women walking together.  They spent a lot of time giggling and making funny faces while taking pictures of each other in front of churches.  By the time we reached the final days of the Camino, one of these groups had decided they were done with walking and rented bikes for the final stretch of the Camino.  Much to the disappointment of the Merry Musketeers who were often trying to buy them beer at various rest points, they bicycled off to Santiago de Compostela never to be seen again.

The Lost Lawyer

One of the most poignant characters on the Camino was the Lost Lawyer.  They were mostly young men, although there were some young women, who were between jobs.  Many, but not all, were lawyers.  All were in demanding professions.  One night while I was waiting for my clothes to dry in the laundry room of our hotel, I sat and chatted with a young man who was at the end of a three-month hiatus between finishing a clerkship with a judge and starting at a major Wall Street law firm.  He was struggling with how to balance what he knew would be the demands of his job with his desire to maintain an active and engaged life of faith as a gay Catholic.  I resisted pitching him on The Episcopal Church and mostly just listened as he rationalized his way through the career choices he’d made and the tension between his Catholicism and his sexuality.  It broke my heart to hear him say that he viewed walking the Camino as a way to prepare for the burnout he knew was coming.  When I asked him why he didn’t take more time to think through his options, he said he couldn’t go without health insurance any longer.  Clearly a bright and thoughtful young man, my sense was that he’d been on an escalator of achievement his entire life and even though he knew what lay ahead wouldn’t fulfill him and might actually harm him, he didn’t know how to get off.

The Modest Mountaineers

Our favorite pilgrims were a very nice and very fit couple from New Zealand in their early sixties.  We would often sit at adjacent tables and chat over meals.  They oozed good health and clean living. In contrast with us, they carried their gear in packs on their backs from hotel to hotel.  They were very much “on task” planning every move and securing healthy fruit at various stops while we worked on our second beers and ate potato chips.  The Modest Mountaineers were on the lookout for waifs and strays and on more than one occasion I saw them take one of the Lost Lawyers under their wing for a meal and conversation.  They were deeply caring and generous people.  Most of the hotels we stayed in were perfectly clean and utilitarian establishments.  The décor tended to the spartan and the rooms were designed to be hosed out after smelly pilgrims had moved on.  On the one rare occasion when we were booked into a nicer hotel than was typical, I met the wife at the lavish breakfast buffet.  She seemed embarrassed to be staying at such a fancy hotel.  I felt sad that her enjoyment of the amenities was curtailed by her discomfort.  Here was a generous and lovely woman, who spent an inordinate amount of time looking after Lost Lawyers and yet she felt she needed to apologize for what I considered basic self-care.  I thought this over as I ate a second chocolate donut, which if you’re walking at least ten miles a day counts as self-care in my book.

When I was preparing for the Camino, I focused on my physical and spiritual preparation.  I had not thought much about who I would meet.  I’d framed my experience as a solitary one, albeit with a supporting role for my walking companion.  It hasn’t been like that at all.  As in the Canterbury Tales, everyone has a story to tell.  Each person on the Camino is here for their own reasons and at the same time one is engaged in an intensely communal experience.  Seeing how people react to that experience and sharing my reactions has been deeply enriching.

At one point during the Camino a young Korean man approached me to take a selfie.  He told me he was taking selfies with everyone he met as he walked the Camino and that he was going to put them together into a film showing the face of God.  Initially, I was perplexed by his project.  But as I thought about it and the people that I’ve met, each one of them made in the image of God, I realized that he is on to something.

God is made manifest in the lives of the Reluctant Romeo, the Duke and Duchess, Archie and Edith, Daddy Long Legs, the Gritty Grannies, the Merry Musketeers, the Bicycling Beauties, the Lost Lawyer, and the Modest Mountaineers.  It has been a privilege to encounter God in each one of these people.

One is searching: Reflections at 400 miles

As I cross the 400-mile mark, I’ve been reflecting on Idle’s idea that on a pilgrimage one is searching.  Certainly, the Three Magi were searching for the baby Jesus.  What are other people searching for as they walk the Camino?

One of the surprising aspects of walking the Camino has been the number of young people doing it.  I fully expected the world-weary wizened cynics like myself.  We’re here in force.  However, I did not expect to see the hundreds of young people from all over the world in their twenties with their backpacks on, walking the Camino either alone or in small groups of friends.

At first, I assumed that most were here on a lark, out for a few days of fun.  That is probably true for some of them, particularly those who are walking for a week or so.  However, there is a large number of young people who are clearly walking the entire Camino as part of their spiritual formation.

A few days ago, we stopped mid-morning at a café for water and to rest our feet for a bit.  At the next table over there was a young German guy flirting with a young Spanish woman.  I watched them banter back and forth.  English was their common language, so I listened in as I drank my water.  The conversation was light and amusing—exactly what you’d expect from two twenty-somethings getting to know each other.  Eventually, I decided it was time to leave and I headed out, leaving the two young people to their fun.  

As I staggered on to my next stop, the German guy booked passed me (that happens a lot) with a heavy pack and a light step.  Perhaps his flirting had not resulted in the outcome that he’d hoped?

At the next town, the local parish had turned their church into a place for pilgrims to pray and meditate.  Soft music was playing.  They’d helpfully provided bibles in most major languages.  They had also created a prayer space designed for people of all faiths.  The welcome and hospitality were generous.

As I made my way around the nave, I saw someone in the first pew of the church deep in prayer.  Not wanting to intrude, I kept my distance.  To my surprise, it was the young German guy I’d seen not so long ago flirting at the café.   He prayed for about fifteen minutes and got up, hoisted on his backpack and walked down the center aisle.

We smiled and in hushed tones wished each other a Buen Camino.  

He’s turned up in several churches along the Camino, most recently at the Cathedral in León.  

I’m not sure what my German friend is searching for, but I hope he finds it.

Thank you to everyone who has generously supported my walk with a gift to Episcopal Relief & Development.  If you haven’t yet done so and would like to make a donation, you can do so by clicking “Support my Journey!”

Fundraising is $73,292/75k and walk progress is 416.1/500 mi

One needs to be full of zeal: Reflections after 300 miles

I have now officially crossed the 300-mile mark.  I’m amazed.  How on earth did that happen?

Growing up, I was certainly no athlete.  In high school my squash coach (sports were required) was aghast when I told him I liked the game because it didn’t require a lot of extraneous running around and sweating.

As I grew older, however, exercise became part of my daily routine.  It started in college with early morning lap swimming.  Now it usually involves cardio workouts at the gym on the elliptical machine and strength and balance exercises with a trainer.  Some days I even enjoy it.  

However, the zeal with which my body has responded to walking the Camino has astounded me.  To be sure, I was very diligent in my physical conditioning. I did that more out of fear than desire. I knew I couldn’t just set out on a 500-mile trek without preparing.

And, I’ve noticed some things along the way. 

First, your feet are everything.  To state the obvious:  you can’t walk the Camino without your feet.  Mine have their quirks, which I will spare you.  I’m glad I have a good podiatrist.  He’s given me great advice on their needs and how to care for them.  Each day it takes less and less time for them to recover and be ready for the next stage of the Camino.  If you are good to your feet, they will be good to you.

Second, you build endurance.  It doesn’t deplete.  I’m sure all the athletes among you are rolling your eyes at this.  For me it was a revelation.  This is the first time in my life I’ve done something physically challenging day after day after day.  Somehow, I was under the impression that I had a limited amount of endurance and then it would give out.  Sure, at the end of the day I wonder how on earth I will get up in the morning and do it again.  But, miracle of miracles, I can and I do.  In fact, on the few rest days I’ve taken, I’ve felt restless, as if my body is saying to me: “move it lazybones.”

Third, listen to the aches.  With all the focus on one’s feet, it would be easy not to pay attention to the other twinges and pangs elsewhere.  A precautionary Ace bandage wrapped around a wobbly knee has seen off worse, I’m quite certain.

It has gotten to the point now where some mornings my body has more zeal for walking the Camino than my mind does.  It’s happy out there on the trail, moving.

That zeal has inspired me.  I feel about my body like I might about an eager dog.  It needs training, discipline, care, love, and most of all forgiveness.  

As Christopher Idle writes in his hymn about the pilgrimage of the Three Magi, you need to be full of zeal.  Thank goodness my body is!

Thank you to everyone who has generously supported my walk with a gift to Episcopal Relief & Development.  If you haven’t yet done so and would like to make a donation, you can do so by clicking “Support my Journey!”

Progress bars showing fundraising at 68,036/75k and walk at 302.2/500

One will be claimed: Reflections on making it halfway

Today I officially passed the halfway point on my Camino to Santiago de Compostela.  There are fewer than 250 miles to go. 

As I’ve been walking, I’ve been stopping at churches along the way.  When I stopped at Nuestra Señora de Monasterio Chapel, I was welcomed by a sister from the Daughters of Charity.  She asked me my name and if I would like a blessing.  

As she reached up and held my shoulders, tears streamed from my eyes from this ancient and simple act of kindness.  She claimed me, as she does every pilgrim she blesses, as one of God’s children.  She gave me a small symbol of her order to wear around my neck as I walk the Camino.

She then asked if we could take a picture for Facebook and we laughed together!

It reminded me of the many blessings of my life and about how grateful I am to everyone who is following and cheering me along the Camino.  It means more to me than words can express.

The outpouring of support for my Camino and Episcopal Relief & Development has been extraordinary.  Over 150 of you have made donations.  We’re 88% of the way to the $75,000 goal. Thank you.

BUT, we’re not there yet.  We still have $8,701 to go before we unlock the full match and $150,000 to support Episcopal Relief & Development’s work with children.

If you haven’t already given, please do.  (Second and third gifts are welcome too!)

I don’t want to cross the finish line of the Camino before crossing the finish line on the fundraising.  

You can make your gift here.

Thank you to everyone who has generously supported my walk with a gift to Episcopal Relief & Development.  If you haven’t yet done so and would like to make a donation, you can do so by clicking “Support my Journey!”

Fundraising progress is $66,299/$75,000 and Camino progress is 255/500 mi

One will be known: Thoughts after 200 miles

Shortly before starting out on my Camino, I had dinner with former colleagues from the Asia Society, where I worked before coming to Episcopal Relief & Development.  It was hard to leave that job and the people I supervised.  I consoled myself with the idea that now that I didn’t have to be their boss anymore, we could be friends.  Indeed, we have become good friends and remain so.

As it happened, one of these friends was herself going to be walking part of the Camino about a week ahead of me.  We lamented that we weren’t going to overlap.  I left it at that.  To my surprise, delight, and amazement, she very sweetly left me welcome messages at several stops on the Camino with her reflections and recommendations.  

As it happens, I am walking the Camino with a friend and colleague from the Anglican Board of Mission in Australia.  We’ve travelled together in our professional capacity many times.  As a result, we have developed an easy rapport that permits us each to walk in silence for hours on end and then to unwind over a couple of beers at the end of the day commiserating and sharing observations on the walk and some of the quirks of our fellow pilgrims as we plan for the next day.

I am deeply ambivalent about social media.  However, it is permitting me to share this experience with people who have known me for my entire life.  From my family to friends from all chapters of my life, acquaintances, and colleagues across The Episcopal Church.

My closest friend from high school likes almost every one of my posts.  It’s a small thing, and I’m surprised by how touched I am that he’s even watching.  Another friend, who I have known since we were students in China together 40 years ago, almost never fails to offer encouraging words.  Those are just small examples of the connections too numerous to count sustaining me through InstagramFacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn.  Keep those likes coming!  I do see them and they encourage me.

I don’t think of myself as a particularly social person. I’m a bit of a loner and keep myself to myself.  Some of that is just my nature.  Some of it comes from feeling safest and happiest with clear and healthy relationship boundaries.  At the same time, it can sometimes leave me with a pervasive and underlying sense of aloneness. 

This summer my wife and I went to the Shaw Festival in Canada and saw Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ play, Everybody.  We liked it so much we saw it twice.  In the final scene where “Everybody” is led to their death, the only thing that goes with them is love—nothing else in life abides.  I was moved to tears each time we saw the play.

Now, as I enter what is likely the final third of this life on earth, I am realizing that despite the aloneness that I experience on a superficial level day-to-day, I have deep and lasting friendships from all chapters of my life so far.  All any one of us will have at the end of our lives is the love of those friendships.  What a gift. 

I need to pay more attention to those relationships. It is through them (as Christopher Idle writes in his hymn about the Three Magi’s pilgrimage) that one is known.

Thank you to everyone who has generously supported my walk with a gift to Episcopal Relief & Development.  If you haven’t yet done so and would like to make a donation, you can do so by clicking “Support my Journey!”

progress bars for fundraising (63,614/75k) and walking (210.3/500 mi)

One will be lost: Reflections on the first 100 miles

Between Los Arcos and Logroño, I passed the 100-mile mark on my Camino.  I’m officially at 110.4 miles.  That feels good.  If I can do this much, I think I can do the entire thing.  

As I’ve been walking, I’ve thought quite a bit about Christopher Idle’s Epiphany hymn, mentioned in my previous post.  In it he predicts that one will be lost on a pilgrimage.

Between the various online apps that are available with satellite imagery and the abundant signage, you’d have to be pretty absent minded to get physically lost on the Camino. (I know I’m tempting fate here.) All you really need to do is follow the human trail of pilgrims spread out across Spain like ants on the march.

However, my first pilgrim experience was, in fact, of being lost.

No sooner had I landed at the Paris Charles De Gaulle (CDG) Airport last Monday morning than I was lost in the strange labyrinth of immigration, security and transferring flights.  

It didn’t help that I had, by then, spent two nights on redeyes, but honestly CDG has to be among the most user-unfriendly airports of the modern era.  I’ve traveled in and out and through CDG on multiple occasions, most recently less than a month ago, and it never fails to disorient and confuse me.

First, there was the mystery of identifying the terminal and gate for my next flight.  The designation of terminals and gates at CDG follows a mysterious numeric-alphabetic format understood only by those who designed it. 

Then there was the confusion over passing through immigration.  First, through the automated gate system (which only worked one out of three times).  And second, presenting oneself before a supremely disinterested immigration officer.  Why two immigration checkpoints?  

Next, there was an aggressive security rigamarole that would put TSA to shame. 

Finally, there was the uncertainty of how to get to the next terminal and gate. It ended up being a combination of trains and buses, none of which explicitly led to the designated terminal.  One needed to intuit the right combination, no small feat at six in the morning after no meaningful sleep for two nights. 

By the time I made it to the departure lounge for my connecting flight, I was well and truly flummoxed because there was no gate posted.  Air France assured me that I was indeed in the correct terminal and a gate would eventually be posted, but no more than 30 mins before departure.  And so, I waited.  Finally, a gate was announced, setting off a stampede to board the plane.

By comparison, walking the Camino is a piece of cake.  

Idle probably wasn’t only referring to being physically lost, however.  

Over the first one hundred miles, I’ve been impressed by the motivations of many of my fellow pilgrims.  Many are indeed lost, or at least on a quest.  

Some are trying to discern their next professional direction.  I met a Spanish language teacher from New Jersey who, post-Covid, needed to take a break to reassess his vocation.  Another young man has left a high-paying legal career to transition to becoming a high-school teacher himself.  One gentleman was sent here by his wife to find himself.  He cheerfully engages anyone who will talk to tell them about his quest.

I feel a bit of a fraud, as I don’t really feel as if I’m on a quest in any profound or spiritual sense.  Mostly I just want to prove to myself that I can do this.  There is something about the physical challenge of walking 500 miles that has captured my imagination.  Perhaps I need to think more deeply about my motivation and what it signifies.

One part of my motivation is to raise money for Episcopal Relief & Development’s programs that support children, especially Moments That Matter, our integrated early childhood development program. So far over 135 of you have supported the fundraising aspect of my Camino.  THANK YOU!  If you haven’t already given, I hope you will consider doing so.  Every gift will be matched up to $75,000 (yielding $150,000) and we’re currently $12,800 from the goal.  To make a gift go to my fundraising page.

I’ll write again once I’ve crossed the 200-mile mark.  Buen Camino!

Editor’s Note (from Eva!): If you’d like more frequent updates, my dad is posting daily summaries on his Instagram. You’ll be able to track his milage totals and take a peek at some of the sights he’s seen on his journey as a way to stay in the loop between blog posts.

Thank you to everyone who has generously supported my walk with a gift to Episcopal Relief & Development.  If you haven’t yet done so and would like to make a donation, you can do so by clicking “Support my Journey!”

Progress bars showing fundraising at $62,200/$75,000 and walking at 110.4/500 mi

In Pursuit of the Three Magi

Greetings from St. Jean Pied de Port in France.  Tomorrow morning, I set out walking the Camino de Santiago.  

Over the last several months, I’ve had occasion to think about what it is to be a pilgrim.  The first pilgrims in the Christian tradition were probably the three Wisemen, or Magi, who traveled to visit the Christ child.  Their journey was fraught with danger.  Moreover, they had to outfox Herod and, to protect the baby Jesus, return home by a different route than the one they took following the star to Bethlehem.

As it happens the Adoration of the Magi is one of my favorite subjects in art.  Early in our marriage, my wife and I traveled to Budapest.  We were there in the days leading up to Christmas.  On our first night, in the window of a shop, we saw a beautiful painting of the Adoration of the Magi.  We hemmed and hawed and ultimately didn’t purchase it.  

It was early in our trip.  It cost more than we should spend.  Surely, we would find something later in the trip we liked even better.

Well, we didn’t.  To this day, we regret not purchasing that painting.  We try not to impulse buy souvenirs and mementos when traveling, but we do ask ourselves, “will this be a three Wisemen situation?” when we eye something of beauty as we wander.

When my parents were downsizing my mother gifted me three hand-painted hanging wooden Magi which they acquired in Mexico the year I was born.  We fondly call them the “Three Wise Guys” and they grace our dining room from Advent through Epiphany.  They remind me of the many gifts given to me by my parents.

The chapel at my home parish, St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in New York City, has an altarpiece that depicts the Adoration of the Magi.  I’ve contemplated it on many occasions during services and musical concerts.

For many years I have been searching for an icon of the three Magi.  Finally, this summer, in a shop in Chania, Crete, I found one.  The proprietor of the store said that while there are many nativity icons, it is rare for them to include the three Magi.  Having learned the lesson of Budapest, I didn’t hesitate to purchase this one.  I meditate on it daily as I prepare for my Camino.

Recently I came across an Epiphany hymn by Christopher Idle (1938-   ).  The second verse describes the three Magi as pilgrims and reads:

Pilgrims they were, from unknown countries,
searching for one who knows the world;
lost are their names and strange their journeys,
famed is their zeal to find the child:
Jesus, in you the lost are claimed,
aliens are found and known and named.

Christopher Idle (1938-   )

For me, Idle’s words sum up the essence of a pilgrimage.  One is searching.  One is embarking on a strange journey.  One needs to be full of zeal.  One will be lost.  One will be claimed. One will be an alien. One will be found.  One will be known.  One will be named.

I’m excited to see what happens over the next 500 miles!  Thank you for joining me on this journey.

Thank you to everyone who has generously supported my walk with a gift to Episcopal Relief & Development.  If you haven’t yet done so and would like to make a donation, you can do so by clicking “Support my Journey!”

Fundraising progress is 74% of 75k

My Cup Runneth Over

Each day, as donations in support of Episcopal Relief & Development roll in and I prepare to walk the Camino de Santiago, I am more moved by your unbounded support than I can possibly express.

Late last week, just as we were closing in on the new goal of $50,000, friends stepped up and increased the match by another $25,000 to $75,000!  

If I meet this match (and complete the walk!) we will have together raised $150,000 to support Episcopal Relief & Development’s work with children.

As King David writes in the 5th verse of the 23rd Psalm: “my cup runneth over.”

Thank you, thank you, thank you!
(If you’d like to hear a beautiful musical rendition of the 23rd Psalm, click here.)

Thank you to everyone who has generously supported my walk with a gift to Episcopal Relief & Development.  If you haven’t yet done so and would like to make a donation, you can do so by clicking “Support my Journey!”

Progress bar depicting fundraising progress (49,049/75,000)