Slowing DOWN for Advent


The tree limbs are bare, the rocks look cold as they stand watch over the valley. The change of season has arrived. Some of us are struggling with the shorter season of light, some of us are wondering if the kids will ever settle down, some of us are filled with grief as the holidays are approaching because our situation has changed, others of us are busy with the hustle of the Christmas season. Whatever it is, it seems like the Christmas season has been filled with everything except Jesus. Enter in the season of Advent.

Advent is this beautiful gift that gives us pause–Advent helps us slow down. Advent means “the coming,” and we remember both that which has historically happened in the birth of Jesus, and we look forward to that which is to come; Jesus promised that he would come again.

Advent gives us pause to remember the words of the prophets who remind us that God will be with us, and remind us that God’s word will be fulfilled, “..So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11) John’s gospel reminds us that Jesus is the living word. Jesus is the word made flesh, Immanuel, God with us, God who became one of us.

So what does this season of Advent mean for you and for me? We have been given a “pause button.” We have been given an opportunity in Advent to look more deeply. Maybe this is a time for you to pause by spending some time with God in reading the word, or spending some time praying for the promise of Jesus to come again, or maybe this can be a season of inviting the Holy Spirit to give gifts for the building of God’s Kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven.” Whatever it may be, know that we are given this season as a gift to grow in our relationship with the One who became flesh.

The cookies, gift buying, card sending can wait, use the pause button of Advent to preparing your heart for the One who is, and who was, and who is yet to come again. The tree limbs are bare from leaves, but our hearts can be opened wide for the coming of the Christ Child once again.

What is your favorite way to pause in Advent? Here is a song that might help in your pause.

The Broken Angel Wing

The Broken Angel Wing

angelThe angel was given to me by the family of a dear friends of mine who passed away this year. No sooner did the angel come into my possession than her wing broke off. At first I was devastated, this was part of Phil and Norma’s collection that had been gifted to me, and I remember well the years they had collected these figurines, especially the angels that played horn. But, as I reflected on the broken wing it occurred to me that we all have brokenness in one way or another. Maybe this broken wing was a reflection of who we all are as created beings. Do angels get broken wings?

I cannot answer if angels get their wings broken, but I do know that we humans know brokenness. Humans have brokenness all around us. These days it seems that everywhere we turn we have hurt or loss or health issues or unwanted changed situations. Change is hard, brokenness is hard.

And yet, we also know that even in the midst of brokenness and broken wings, we can look to the God who created us who says, “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:19) Even now while we are in these 12 days of Christmas we remember the light of Jesus Christ that has come into the darkness, and “the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5)

For me, this broken wing has become a symbol of hope in the darkness. This has become a symbol to remind me that God cares for all of the created order of the universe; humans, angels, those who have gone before us, and the earth and all that is in it. God cares for us in the midst of our brokenness, loss and changed situations.

God cares for you too. There might be hurt, there might be a broken wing or two, but God still empowers us to fly in new and unexpected ways.

As we look towards the new year, may you be able to see hope in a new ways in spite of broken wings, and remember that God has new ways of teaching us how to fly.

Camino de Santiago ~ Lessons Learned ~ Overcoming Fear

Camino de Santiago ~ Lessons Learned ~ Overcoming Fear


Courageous living is a learned art. The opposite of courage is fear. Fear stops us in our tracks. Fear can prevent us from going forward, fear can literally prevent us from being all that God created us to be. How do we overcome fear and learn to live courageously?

Walking the Camino de Santiago has helped many people face their fears head-on. It has empowered people with courage when they were filled with fear of the unknown. Just taking the “steps” to walk the Camino is in and of itself a huge leap in overcoming fear. The potential fears one faces are too numerous to list: Fear of not being physically able to do the walk, fear of meeting people, fear of not meeting people, fear of the mountains, fear of what is around the corner, fear of not speaking the language, fear of not finding a nearby restroom, fear of not finding a place to sleep, fear of not being able to sleep in a crowded room, fear of sharing too much, fear of sharing too little. The list is exhausting.

We see so many parallels in our daily lives of the fears that we might also face. Yet, when we look at the list, we are reminded that fear in and of itself is something that can be conquered. It is not conquered by our own might, but rather it is conquered by the power of the Holy Spirit working and and through us, and moving forward with the help of God by our side, into courageous living.

Walking the Camino takes courage, and it empowers us to face that which is unknown–because we are practicing facing the unknown with every step. It is often the future of the unknown that grips us in fear. Getting up every day and walking into the unknown is one way of moving forward even in the midst of uncertainty. It is a way we have of letting everything else go, and trusting that God can care for the rest, while we put one foot in front of the other.

Daily life also gives us opportunities to walk into the unknown. How can we, too, put one foot in front of the other in moving forward? The reality is that every day, no matter how routine it might seem, has us facing the unknown. Today is different than the next day will be. We do not know what will be around the corner, but we do know that God promises to walk with us.

Here are some steps that can be helpful in letting go of our fear, worries and anxieties of the unknown:

  1. Name your fear, anxiety or worry. Acknowledge it before God.
  2. Self-awareness. What are you saying to yourself about this fear? How can you change your own self-chatter.
  3. What are others saying about your fear, how can you block them out or take a different path from the nay-Sayers?
  4. What does God say about your fear?
  5. Confess your fear to a few trusted friends and before God.
  6. Have people of faith pray over you and for you.
  7. Chose a passage of Scripture that will be your new mantra before God. (Maybe Psalm 46, Psalm 71, Psalm 121, Romans 8:37, Joshua 1:6)
  8. Trust that God is faithful to God’s promises of never leaving us, of walking with us, and of a future that we cannot see.

Maybe you will not be walking the Camino in the near future, but where can you walk or sit and meditate on these things? God empowers us through the Holy Spirit to put one foot in front of the other to move into a new future, a new possibility, a new paradigm and overcome our fears and past hurts.

Here is a song by Casting Crowns that speaks to me in my moments of fear and worry.

You can find many of these ideas stated in our sermon series entitled, “Time Out.” Find the message speaks of courage in the midst of fear here.

Camino de Santiago ~ Lessons Learned ~Kindness and Hospitality

Camino de Santiago ~ Lessons Learned ~Kindness and Hospitality

My time on the Way of Saint James is already fading into memory. The lessons learned, however, are something that I am trying to apply on a daily basis. One of the basic practices on the Camino is the practice of hospitality and kindness. Wikipedia says that “Kindness is a behavior marked by ethical characteristics, a pleasant disposition, and a concern for others. It is known as a virtue, and is recognized as a value in many cultures.” kindness and hospitality go hand in hand.

This seems like a basic idea, but unfortunately, where I live in North America, the practice of kindness and real hospitality is slowly disappearing. It seems like people are too busy, and too wrapped up in “self” to pay attention to “other life travelers.” Theologian William Barclay once said, “More people have been brought into the church by the kindness of real Christian love than by all the theological arguments in the world.” Hospitality, for the most part, is alive and well practiced on the Camino de Santiago.

Hospitality, the practice of caring for another person, has been part of the Christian heritage since the beginning of the Hebrew Bible. One of my favorite stories of hospitality is in Genesis 18 when Abraham is visited by the three strangers. He offered hospitality and discovered that he was entertaining the ambassadors of God.

My experience on the Camino was filled with hospitality, welcome and wonder. Small gestures empowered those of us who were pilgrims to go the distance. First, there was the language barrier itself. I do not speak Spanish, I wish I did. While I have a few words under my belt, there were many times when a shop owner or someone I met in the street would patiently try to help me out, in spite of the language barrier. I saw more than one shop keeper go outside of their shop and show directions to an inquiring pilgrim.

The host at the Auberge in Saint Jean Pied de Port was another one who went out of his way. He and his wife not only made us dinner, for a small fee, but they had all of their guests share some of their story. That evening the owners turned us into family, which was a gift as we began our walk on the Camino. All along the route we would run into other “members of the family” from our first night; that all happened due to great hospitality.

The man collecting garbage in Pamplona exhibited another act of kindness when he called to me and my walking friend asking, “Are you pilgrims?” We replied yes, and he told us we had missed the turn a block beyond where we were. He went out of his way to ensure we would not get lost.

Or, there was the woman who sold me an orange in the heat of the day, and she came outside of her shop where I was sitting to ask if the orange was good! (Yes, it was delicious.) Over and over again, from the ones who hosted in the hostels to the food servers to the law enforcement riding their horses in the Basque country, people went out of their way to be kind.

Another hostel is run by the English Society of the Way of Saint James. Volunteers come there to serve for two weeks at a time. They volunteer to run the place, and they offer to massage sore feet as well! There are hostels that run just from the donations you are willing to give, and others that help you all make a meal together. Hospitality is astounding and welcoming.

 We have lost this art of hospitality in the busyness of our societies. While it is true that some say walking the Camino is like living in a bubble, we can at least take these lessons learned and apply them to become changed lives in our own neighborhoods and work places. In order to make these part of our daily routine, we have to slow down, and take time to talk to people, and hear their stories.

The very of nature of exhibiting kindness to another person makes that person have a sense of worth and usefulness. By exhibiting kindness to another person we are affirming their worth as a person, we are telling them that they are important enough for us to be inconvenienced, by them or that we would give them special attention. It is also closely related to being gentle.

Jesus modeled the practice of welcoming the stranger and the practice of hospitality to those who felt unwelcome, and unworthy. How can we bring this practice back into our own lives? I think a challenge is in order. What would it look like to “outkind” your friend, or your family members? What would it look like to have a “kindness contest” on a regular basis? I believe we can change the course of our future by offering hospitality and kindness, and it can begin with us. Where can you begin to plant those seeds of kindness?

Camino De Santiago ~ Learned Lessons-1

Camino De Santiago ~ Learned Lessons-1


(Above, descent from the iron cross~ season, late May.)

It has been three months since my return from El Camino. While the time spent there seems so distant, it also seems so near. Perhaps, that too, is a life reflection. As we get older and wiser, it seems that our “childhood days” were just yesterday, when in reality, it is usually much farther away. How can we put the brakes on so that we can enjoy the moment that we are experiencing? One way, is to take “time out”, such as a walk on the Camino de Santiago.

It is long since overdue the areas of wisdom that I learned from my hike on El Camino. Each learning point will have a separate post. In each case, I also preached about the correlation between my own learnings during the journey and the story of the Israelites’ deliverance from slavery in Egypt. Here is the first sermon on lesson’s learned called, “Time Out.”

One of the first things that I relearned is that life is about the journey. So often we are eager to get to the next “thing” in our lives. We are eager to finish this class, we are eager to get our license, we are eager to graduate, we are eager to start our career, we are eager to get married, have kids or retire. How can we simply enjoy the present moment, and the people whom God has placed in our path to enjoy?

In my own life I am constantly on the run. One of the things I have been trying to do in this year is be an “abiding presence” with the people who are around me. I am not always successful, but at least I am trying. El Camino helped me to slow down and enjoy the people around me. The people around me were fascinating and engaging. They came from all over the world. Each life encounter truly was a treasure. For me, I was intentional about the experience of walking the Camino. I did not need to finish, I did not need to be first each day, I was intent on the experience. Not everyone walking felt that way. Some wanted to go as far as they could each day, others wanted to be first. I just wanted to “be.” In fact, I rarely used my I Phone headset as I wanted to hear the sounds of the Camino. You can hear and see a four minute sound byte of the Camino here at this recording I made. (Honestly, the cuckoo bird’s call makes me laugh.)

After my walk, I am more convinced than ever that God wants us to learn lessons on our life journey. God places people in our lives for a season or longer from whom we can learn and whom we can teach. Sometimes they speak life into us, and sometimes we speak life into them. But most of all, it is about how we build those relationship along the journey. El Camino taught me to listen to those around me; taught me that I can learn from them. How are you building the relationships in your life journey that God has put in your path? Are you leaning into them, or are you tearing them down? This applies to all the ones on your journey: There are ones who are hard to love, and there are ones that you would like to spend more time with. Lean into the relationships that God has placed before you. They are part of your learning in your life journey. Before you know it, your life journey will be near its twilight years. What relationships will you have spoken life into during your life journey? It is not too late to begin!

Camino de Santiago ~ May 28, 2017, video of the sounds of the Camino and my favorite question. 

Camino de Santiago ~ May 28, 2017, video of the sounds of the Camino and my favorite question. 

I came to walk the Camino for several reasons. The Camino was calling me to “be” instead of constantly “doing,” and it was calling me to listen. Most days I woke up not knowing where I was going, where I would eat, or where I would sleep. That was a very different rhythm of life for me. It was exciting, it was adventurous, most of all, it was trusting God for my daily needs. 

I also came to listen. I listened to stories from the mouths of people who literally came from all over the world. We humans really are so alike. I also listened to the sounds of the Camino itself: I listened to the birds, and the wind, and  the church bells that were calling. Click here to listen to a four minute video of the sounds of the Camino. (The scenery is pretty nice too!)

Previously, I spoke of the question that I likeed to ask, “Why are you here?” Another fun question I posed was, “What luxury item are you carrying in your backpack?” After all, each item weighs something, those items get pretty heavy by the end of the day! My own luxury item is a blow up camping pillow, very lite weight, because I like to have two pillows when I sleep. (One is provided by the hostel.)

Some of my favorite answers to that question are as follows: John from New Jersey; a collapsible, plastic wine glass which was used at the wine fountain, amongst other occasions. Swiss woman,; small bottle of shampoo- backpackers recommend taking one  bar of “camping soap” that can wash clothes, body and hair. (Ok, truth, I also had a small shampoo.) Another woman from Maryland had a puff ball scrub wash thingy. (After experiencing all the dirt on the trail that seamed like a great idea.) A young man from Germany confessed his luxury items were a third pair of socks and underwear. (Now I am in trouble, because I also had a third pair of each.) When it rains it takes too long to dry the first pair of socks. Socks are one of your most important items. I am proud to say that I did NOT get blisters thanks to great socks and good shoes from the trail house in Frederick. (I give them a little shout out here as they outfitted me well with the big items, lite weight hiking shoes, pack and great hiking poles.) Another favorite answer was a German/Canadian who said, “I do not have a luxury item.” His wife immediately piped up and asked, “What about that heavy book you have.” He responded, “That is not luxury, I must have my book.” One person’s  luxury is another person’s requirement. Finally, my favorite answer was a man from Holland who literally walked out of his front door and was taking many months to reach Santiago. He left home with some shoe polish and a little brush for his boots, which he confessed that he threw in the trash can three days into his journey.

While Santiago is the usual destination, many continue on a few days more to get to Finisterre , which apparently is a beautiful coastal community and considered literally the end of the earth. Some pilgrims arrive at the beach, burn their clothes, and jump naked into the water. I cannot testify to that reality as I did not get to “the ends of the earth.”

I can testify to my experience, which, as mentioned earlier, I will be preaching about lessons learned beginning June 11. Finally, this is a huge thank you to the folks at Middletown United Methodist Church who allowed me this time of  learning and “being” on sabbatical, with an extra special thanks to Pastor Beth who did a great job of preaching and covering all pastoral duties during my absence. 

 I am considering making one longer video of the entire trip. If that actually gets accomplished I will post it on this blog. Meanwhile, this blog will continue to be used for helping us all grow in discipleship. Thanks again for joining me on this adventure!

Camino de Santiago ~ May 25, 2017, Santiago de Compostela and community 

Certain life experiences are difficult to describe. For me, walking the Camino is one of those times. I had done research, read books, read other people’s accounts of their journeys, in fact I had attempted to prepare physically, mentally and spiritually, (I even wrote a daily prayer which I used, well, daily,) but none of that was enough. There are so many parallels here to our life journey. (Some of a those will be brought forth in our early summer sermon series entitled, “Time Out.” You can listen to those messages, beginning June 11 at this link. Just click on the sermon link.)
Perhaps the sense of community on the Camino was one of the most profound. Community was formed not only out of the common purpose of walking to Santiago, and of being “away” and in this “bubble,” but community is also formed because of the nature of the Camino itself. One always greets another with the words “buen Camino.” The People who live here also want you to have a good experience. One day Paul from Ct and I were walking out of one of the larger cities together. Suddenly the trash man ahead asked if we were pilgrims, we said yes, and he told us we had missed a turn about a block earlier. 
This sense of community is what Jesus was forming in the world. It is found here. One is never alone unless one wants to be alone. On the nights where there were not big tables of pilgrims for meals, smaller groups naturally formed. It’s natural to invite someone to sit with you. So one night I ate with a woman from Bombay, the next night a guy from Sweden, the next a French woman, the next night a woman from Poland, and the next evening a guy from Ireland. (Yes, I did tell him how many American women love the Irish accent.) In each of these cases, deep, profound conversations took place. 

The sad part is that some of that feeling of community already began breaking up in Santiago, the very place we were destined to walk. Santiago is a big city and also has many tourists. The pilgrims become very spread out, that sense of community becomes lost very quickly. Even though I had a nice conversation with a woman from Australia at the Tapas bar, the conversation was different; less personal, less deep. 

The cathedral itself at Santiago must be one of the largest cathedrals in which I have ever placed my feet. Saint James sits above the alter, his body is in a casket underneath in the crypt. You can actually go up behind the altar and wrap your arms around his golden neck and tell him “thanks” or whatever you want to tell him. 

The pilgrim’s mass is at noon. They give a blessing over the arrival of the pilgrims and they announce their arrivals. Yesterday there was a big group of Germans, Italians, Koreans and people from all over the world. I wish I could have understood the sermon, but my 100 word Spanish vocabulary is not that good. Usually the giant incense burner called the “botafumeiro” is used only on Friday. It takes about 8 guys to swing it back and forth. It was originally used to get rid of the smell of sweat and odor of all the pilgrims. (I can assure you, that is needed for me and my clothes about now.) In any case, we were blessed and they used the botafumeiro. What an exciting experience! The Spanish woman next to me did lower her head a few times for fear of being hit! By the way, they are doing work on the cathedral, so there was no going through the famous door and seeing “Jessie’s tree.”

The pilgrim’s office is about two blocks away from the cathedral. It is there that the pilgrims await to receive their Compostela, or certificate of completion. A certificate is only given if you have walked the last 100 km. While I have walked 200 km, I was not eligible for the certificate. I knew that when I made the decision to walk in the mountains instead of the busy and crowded last 100 km. It’s a decision that I do not regret. I did wait in the 1 1/2 hour line of other pilgrims in order to receive my last stamp in my credential “passport.” It is the stamp from the cathedral itself. 

Finally, the food in Santiago is amazing. Any weight loss that I might have had was instantly gained back here! There are a few places here that still serve “pilgrim meals” for 11 €. (I ate with a Frenchman who had just completed his third Camino, this time for him was the Portugal Camino.) We had an awesome meal of octopus, a delicacy of the region and fish. After that, for dinner, it was Tapas all the way!

I should explain that there are many different routes for the Camino. All paths lead to Santiago. Perhaps the one I did, the Camino Frances, is the most well know. There are many paths from France, one from Paris too. There are different paths in the North, one from Portugal, and one that is called “primitive.” As stated in an earlier post, pilgrims from the Middle Ages walked out of their front door to arrive to Santiago. They also had to turn around and walk back home! (A few pilgrims walk back home today, but only a few. There were many more Europeans walking from their front door to Santiago. Some do the walk over a course of a few years, a few weeks at a time.) many also continue a few days more to Finisterre, which was considered “the ends of a he earth.” It was here that the miracle of Saint James happened, and there are two different tales of how his body, which was being transported from Jerusalem to Spain, went into the sea. A storm caused the body to be lost, the miracle is that he came out alive, covered with scallop shells, hence the symbol of the scallop shell for all the pilgrims. 

I am currently in the airport in Santiago about to return to Paris where I will spend some time with my girlfriend and her family. Then the end of my sabbatical will be a week with my extended family and grandchildren in the states. I have one more post that I want to share within a few days, along with a few other pictures and a video of the sounds of the Camino. Thanks for joining me on this amazing journey.