Tag Archives: Pilgrim

A pilgrim joins the march

I’m joining hundreds, perhaps thousands, of pilgrims walking to el Sanctuario de Chimayo in northern New Mexico today, Good Friday. It’s a tradition that many have followed every year for generations, but this is my first time walking to Chimayo.

Chimayo

Granddaughter and I visited Chimayo in 2014

On the side of the church is a little room with a dirt floor. We must bend low to enter the room, it accommodates only a dozen or so people at a time.

On the floor is an open pit of earth just over a foot wide. It is said to be healing earth, tierra bendita. Pilgrims touch it reverently to their heads and limbs, perhaps gathering a bit of it in a plastic bag, before moving on to make room for a few more of the thousands who wait their turn. The walls of the room just outside this chapel are covered with the canes and crutches of those who have been healed here at Chimayó. Tacked up among them are notes of thanksgiving, testimonials, and little paintings called milagros, “miracles,” depicting some particular story of grace and healing. “It is the faith, not the earth, that heals,” says the priest at Chimayó.

I’m carrying 4 small glass vials with me to collect some of this healing dirt —- one for each of my sons and one for me.  glass vials

This pilgrimage means different things to different people. For me, it’s a time to reflect on my family, my friends and my gratitude for everything that is good in my life.

I’m also thinking of my friends in Gaza who are marching to the border with Israel today. It’s the beginning of the #GreatReturnMarch with actions spanning 46 days. They’re pressing the international community and the State of Israel to acknowledge and comply with their right to return to the homes, businesses, villages and towns they were forcibly expelled from when Israel was created in 1947-48.  They’ve been waiting for decades for their right of return to be fulfilled. Many still have keys to the houses they left behind in present-day Israel.

Both of our journeys today (in northern New Mexico and Gaza) are journeys of faith . . . faith in the restorative power of community, and faith in the healing power of justice. I pray there is a milagro – miracle in Gaza today.

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Step-by-step شوية شوية

Camino map

Before the magic wears off, I must share “my Camino” experience in northern Spain.

I’ve been identifying myself as a pilgrim for the past couple of years on my quest for answers in the Middle East, but Israel, Egypt and the USA have denied me permission to return to the Gaza Strip so I decided to follow the path that thousands, maybe millions, of pilgrims have followed since the Middle Ages to St. James’ burial place in Santiago — looking for answers.

The most popular route is over 700 km long, but I didn’t have 4-5 weeks to walk it and probably didn’t have the stamina either, so I chose to begin my Camino at Leon. I walked six days to Pontferrada and then hopped the bus to Sarria, where I walked another 7 days to Santiago.  Step-by-step  شوية شوية.  In total, my feet carried me just over 200 km (about 125 miles) during the first two weeks in April. Believe me, I now have a heightened appreciation for my feet.

I averaged 18 km each day (about 11-12 miles) while most everyone else passed me going much faster and further, reminding me of the Aesop fable, the Tortoise and the Hare. I kept plodding along worried that I wouldn’t keep up. A few days into the walk, my concerns about the pace and whether I could finish the pilgrimage vanished when I realized — “This is MY Camino, not anyone else’s” — and dropping my competitive nature is part of the lesson I was meant to learn. This insight freed up my anxiety and I was able to appreciate just being on the Camino.

The numbers of pilgrims walking the Camino have skyrocketed in recent years, a local business owner in Leon told me. Good for the local economy, not so good for quiet introspection. They are coming from all over the world. I met pilgrims from Germany, France, Holland, the UK, Lithuania, Denmark, Japan, Korea, Brazil, Argentina, Spain (of course) and yes! — a pilgrim from Hebron, Al-Khalil, Palestine.

Early April turned out to be a very good time for my Camino. Although it seems like pilgrims are nearly tripping over each other during the summer months, competing for a bunkbed in the albergue (Camino hostels) in the next village, more often than not I found myself alone on the path — following the yellow arrow and the boot tracks in front of me — with plenty of time to observe and think. Step-by-step  شوية شوية.

“Why are you walking the Camino?”  – the most frequent ice-breaker when pilgrims stopped for a meal, drink or a bed. Santiago is an important Christian pilgrimage destination, along with Rome and Jerusalem. (I actually met a young man on the path returning from Santiago and now walking to Rome and Jerusalem.) My sense, however, is that many of the pilgrims are not Christians or walking for a religious reason. Instead, they often cite a desire to “get away from real life” to think and find answers, or to challenge themselves physically, or to cross an item off their bucket list.

My American accent gave me away as soon as I opened my mouth, and the conversation inevitably turned to the U.S. elections and Donald Trump. I wasn’t surprised that foreigners are so well-informed about politics and the candidates in the United States, but time and again they shared their fears with me if Trump is elected. America’s power and influence worldwide has probably now exceeded our collective IQ. Several pilgrims — only half jesting — offered me a place to live overseas if I felt the need to emigrate.

I started thinking about walking the Camino after I saw Walking the Camino at The Guild in Albuquerque a few years ago. My interest increased after viewing Martin Sheen in The Way and reading about Ernest Hemingway’s connection to the Camino and his first novel The Sun Also Rises. Friends in Albuquerque who’ve walked the Camino were also very encouraging. Step-by-step  شوية شوية.

After waiting unsuccessfully in Egypt and Jordan for months (October 2015 – March 2016) for access to the Gaza Strip, and feeling angry, bitter and unsure about my next steps, I thought I might find my answers about Gaza on the Camino de Santiago.

I didn’t.

At least I didn’t find the answers I was searching for. How do I return to Gaza? Why is Gaza the faultline in the Middle East? What should I be doing personally to educate myself and other Americans about Gaza?

Instead, I found a beautiful landscape (walking is the best way to learn about a place). I met amazing people (gaining new insight about Yahweh, God, Allah in the process). And I found peace when I was able to say “goodbye” to loved ones who have died.

Landscape:  The photos don’t capture the beauty of sunrises, the ringing church bells, the treacherous descents, and the sound of running water everywhere. Nearly every house has a vegetable garden and small acequia, and every village has a church with above-ground burial crypts or nichos. The juxtaposition of the very old stone pathways with the ultra-modern windmills on the hilltops showed that Spain is adapting and transitioning into the future with a deep respect for its past.

People:  Before I left Cairo on April 1, a devout Muslim friend urged me to continue reading about the Prophet Muhammad and the Qur’an. While I was on the Camino in northern Spain, a devout Christian missionary from Canada asked if she could pray for me. Holding me, she asked Jesus to provide the answers I was seeking.

While I was walking, I thought alot about the people I’ve met in recent years who possess such certainty about their faith and their deity, Yahweh for the Jews, God for the Christians and Allah for the Muslims. Religion binds people into groups, or as Jonathan Haidt writes (The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion – 2012): ‘Whatever its origins, the psychology of sacredness helps bind individuals into moral communities.’ I respect their certainty and their devotion but I question whether Yahweh, God or Allah would approve of the divisions that have evolved – “Us and Them” or put another way, the people like us and the people not like us. Does the dehumanization of the “other” — which we find so much evidence of in the world today from believers of all three faiths — really win the blessing from Yahweh, God and Allah?

Certainly not.

During my solitude, walking the Camino, I found the profound spirit of the diety in the people I met. This was truly a personal revelation — that the diety is not outside of us, not sitting on a throne or in a Mosque or in heaven. Yahweh, God, Allah is not apart from us, but inside each living creature, including me.

This insight gives new relevancy to the rule I try to follow — the Golden Rule — to treat others as I wish they would treat me, because when the spirit of the diety is in each person, I must treat each person with respect, honor and love to manifest my respect, honor and love for Yahweh, God, Allah.

Easier said than done. Can I really respect, honor and love the fat man waddling down the village lane? or the young boy who wears his pants below his buttocks? or the wino sleeping on the park bench?  The faithful might find it easier to rock and pray at the Wailing Wall while wearing their tefillin, or prostrate themselves in the direction of Mecca, or kneel in church with hands clasped in prayer, but I believe that Yahweh/God/Allah is sprawled on that park bench. Step-by-step  شوية شوية

Goodbye:  My Camino was an unexpected place for me to say “goodbye” to loved ones who have died. Some were family members I never got the chance to see when they passed. Others were special people whom I’ve carried with me for many years with great sorrow. On my Camino, I thought about each.  Step-by-step  شوية شوية

At some point along the way I realized that each spirit is with me, and will always be with me. I was able to say “goodbye” and ended my Camino on Sunday, April 17th in Santiago with greater peace. Watching the botafumeiro swinging in the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral was very special. The following day, I returned to the Cathedral and joined a mass honoring new Spanish Naval graduates.

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#GoingtoGaza – March 2015

My previous posts in this series are Sept. 2014, Oct. 2014, Nov. 2014, Dec. 2014, Jan. 2015, and Feb. 2015.

Day #181 – Karen Armstrong writes that war is a psychosis caused by the inability to see relationships. Seems to me that Israel is trying its best to keep its citizens blind to what’s going on the occupied Palestinian Territories. Building a separation wall. Forbidding Israeli citizens from visiting the oPT.  Deleting the history of the Palestinians from Israeli textbooks. Is it official Zionist policy to nurture this psychosis?

#GoingtoGaza

armstrong

Karen Armstrong

Day #182 – Never before have I had any interest in Israeli elections. That’s changed. With the election about 3 weeks off, I’m pleased to see that Netanyahu’s polling numbers are dropping. A 4th term would be appalling. Netanyahu prides himself as the guardian of Israel’s security. He needs another assault on Gaza to help his polling.

#GoingtoGaza

Day #183 – Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu disagrees with Obama’s negotiations with Iran. So Netanyahu will try to persuade Congress tomorrow. So imagine President Obama stopping by the Knesset tomorrow and sharing his two cents about the illegal settlements.  No disrespect intended.

#GoingtoGaza

Day #184 – Watched Netanyahu’s campaign speech to Congress this morning. My thoughts:

1) too bad members of Congress can’t vote in Israel – I lost count of the # of standing ovations.

2) Bibi must think Obama, Kerry, and most Americans are stupid. He recycled his previous scare threats from 2002 onward about the evil monsters devouring Israel. Looked like members of Congress proved Bibi right — they ARE gullible.

3) The lightbulb turned on for me when Bibi mentioned Moses and other religious passages. We have 2 leaders in the Middle East threatening an apocalyptic vision.  One has nukes and the other has global recruits. #Bibi #Isis

4) Pleased to see that the Editors of The New York Times and The Washington Post and others have panned Bibi’s speech.

#GoingtoGaza

Benjamin_Netanyahu_portrait

Day #185 – Watching members of Congress yesterday genuflect . . . er give standing ovations . . . to the Israeli Emperor . . . er Prime Minister, I was struck with how WHITE, MALE, and OLD our leaders in DC are. They were fawning all over the old, white, male lecturing them from the podium. Heaven help us!

#GoingtoGaza

Day #186 – After reviewing these graphs and charts about exports/imports and the movement of people and goods into / out of Gaza, how can the Editors at The New York Times claim with a straight face that “Israel doesn’t occupy Gaza”? If they are that myopic about Israel/Palestine, in what other ways is the NYT warping reality for its readers?

#GoingtoGaza

Day #187 – Thinking about the women in my life and that I’m a very lucky gal.  So many have had such a profound impact on the path I’ve journeyed. Especially thinking about Kay who turns 80 next week. She came into my life about 30 years ago and opened the entire spiritual universe to me through Beyond War. The key that unlocked the door.

Thinking about Luria who died in December. She came into my life about 20 years ago and shared with me her gift of listening without judgment, the first time I’ve experienced that. I hope I can model that with my friends and family. Thinking about Pam. She came into my life last year. She has shown me how the spark of an idea coupled with a ton of good will can make a big difference.  I’m looking forward to learning more from Pam.

#GoingtoGaza

Day #188 – News posted today that the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza will be open for two days in both directions. And an American friend reported that the Erez crossing between Israel and Gaza is now open, at least for people trying to exit Gaza. Are things improving?

#GoingtoGaza

IsraelMidEastPrint

Middle East

Day #189 – Feeling the weight and burden of all of the mistakes I’ve made and — having reached 61 years — there are many, many mistakes to remember. I wonder if the State of Israel was a sentient being, would she be feeling the burden of her mistakes? 66 years old — she has made many. She acts like a teenager telling the world she knows everything and refuses to listen to anyone. Hopefully, I’m a bit wiser and have learned from my mistakes.

#GoingtoGaza

Day #190 – I really, really, REALLY want to meet Raja Shehadeh from Ramallah. Palestinian Walks – Notes on a Vanishing Landscape | لماذا غزة؟ Why Gaza?

#GoingtoGaza

Palestinian Walks

Day #191 – A felony, charge these 47 Senators with treason.  We clearly have at least 47 members of Congress who are aligning themselves with the extremists in both Iran and Israel — they are threatening the security of the U.S. Their letter to Iran is a violation of the Logan Act. How should Obama respond?

1) ignore them and hope that the public’s condemnation will bring them to their senses.

2) publicly rebuke them and hope that is enough to bring them to their senses.

3) direct Attorney General Holder to investigate and bring charges if he deems appropriate.

I’ve never been so embarrassed to be an American.

#GoingtoGaza   #GettingthefuckoutoftheUSA

Day #192 – A friend shared a thought-provoking article that points out the danger that many social activists on the left succumb to – a sense of self-righteousness! I’m going to keep it and mull over it because there are valuable tidbits to digest.

I’ve been surprised and shocked by the attitude of some activists working on peace & justice issues in the Middle East. Never thought of it in terms of “self-righteousness” but it fits. Now I’m worried if I exhibit some of the same behavior and attitudes.

#GoingtoGaza

Day #193 – There are international travelers getting across the Rafah border into Gaza. I wish I knew how they did it. I can’t think of another international border that is as difficult to cross. The border between Mongolia & China requires the train car be lifted by a crane and different gauge wheels be installed. But the government bureaucracy is a piece of cake compared to the two crossings into Gaza.

#GoingtoGaza

Day #194 – #AskHamas is Hamas’ attempt to use social media to answer questions from the civilized world. Uncivil Zionists are spewing venom and hatred on Twitter, exposing their deep ignorance about Hamas, Palestinians and the Occupation. People don’t realize the power their own words have in creating their reality.  I feel great pity and sadness for those Zionists.

#GoingtoGaza

Day #195 – Walked only 4 miles today. Planned to walk 8 miles but forgot to bring water and it was a hot 82 F. Also need to remember to wear sunglasses because the sun is bright. Maybe tomorrow.

#GoingtoGaza

Day #196 — About to board a plane. Leaving California with mixed feelings. The last 18 months have been some of the hardest, yet most fulfilling. I couldn’t have done it without the lessons I learned in Gaza. #Samud thank you!

#GoingtoGaza

Day #197 – I’m a Pilgrim in my hometown and it feels a bit strange. Good friends have taken me in and I accomplished some important tasks today. Felt very honored when one friend asked me if I was interested in putting my name in the hat to fill the vacancy left by Senator Griego’s resignation. The only vacancy I’m interested in filling is the one in my heart left when I departed Gaza in May 2013.

#GoingtoGaza

Day #198 – Election Day in Israel and I’m watching it closely this year. The exit polls say it’s very close. Commentators on public radio say it may be weeks before we know who the next Prime Minister is. But Netanyahu has already declared victory. Just like his delusional rants about the Hamas “terrorists” … he believes if he says it often enough, it will be the truth. On another note, a Hamas official has provided answers to questions about the #AskHamas Twitter campaign that Hamas launched 5 days ago.

#GoingtoGaza

Day #199 – Netanyahu has won either by the skin of his teeth or by fraud. Was anyone monitoring this election?

1) Bibi drove the nail in the coffin of the two-state solution

2) A single, bi-national state is the future for the Holy Land.

3) The only question remains: by violence or peaceful means? Given Bibi’s leadership—I predict the former.

#GoingtoGaza

Day #199 (again) – Couldn’t sleep last night because my mind won’t turn away from the Israeli elections. WAR CRIMES and WAR CRIMINALS get elected.  The institutions that I once had faith in bringing peace & justice to the Middle East (UN, ICC, EU, U.S. Congress) are incapable or uninterested.

#GoingtoGaza

palestine_oslo_areas

Day #200 – I must be back-tracking just like Netanyahu. The day before the election he said unequivocally that there will be no State of Palestine while he is Prime Minister. Two days after his election, he says he still supports the 2-state solution.

Likewise, before the election, I said it would be unbelievably horrible if Netanyahu won reelection. Two days after the election, I’m convinced his re-election was the best thing that could have happened for the prospects of long-term peace & justice in the region. Netanyahu has been unmasked. Alhamdulillah!

#GoingtoGaza

Day #201 – A good Arab-American friend and I were talking this morning about the Israeli election. Although she is very curious about my travel to Gaza and learning more about the occupation and the plight of the Palestinians, she admits she is not particularly political. But she says she now feels it’s time to go into the streets and protest. Bibi’s racist comment about “those Arabs coming by droves to vote” was the RED LINE for my friend.

#GoingtoGaza

Day #202 – Is there a “right” way and a “wrong” way to open one’s heart and mind to the injustices in Palestine? Are some pro-Palestine activists more worthy than others?  I’ve observed Palestinians condemning international activists. I’ve heard American activists criticizing their fellow activists and newbies. Seems to me, we need to treat each other the way we wish to be treated, and recognize that everyone has compassion in their hearts even if we don’t see eye-to-eye with them.

#Respect #GoingtoGaza

Day #203 – Friends today suggested I take a job teaching in Cairo so that I could be closer to lobby the Egyptian authorities for permission to enter Gaza. They also suggested I try to join an NGO like Doctors Without Borders who might be traveling to Gaza. Have you ever heard of anywhere else on the planet where visitors had to make such convoluted plans just to enter?

#GoingtoGaza

Day #204 – Smoking was considered acceptable in public at one time not so long ago. I recall sitting in the back row of an airplane with 3 middle seats for me and my two young children. On either side of us were men smoking! It was perfectly acceptable to smoke on planes and I couldn’t ask them to stop.  Same with Zionism I hope.

Today it is perfectly acceptable for people to proudly announce they are Zionists, and the community accepts it (even applauds them in some circles).  I hope in the not-too-distant future, Zionism will be a stigma and no one will make a public announcement even if they continue to believe such things privately at home.

#GoingtoGaza

sumud_logo_summer_2010

Days #205-206: As a wandering nomad / pilgrim, my friends and family may find it challenging to keep track of me. We want to tie people to a place — and that is one reason “place” is so important.  Today, Bernalillo County Commissioners will consider a proposal which I believe will irretrievably ruin this place in central New Mexico.  I hope they deny Santolina Master Plan.

#GoingtoGaza

Day #207 – Feeling very frustrated. ABQ-Bernalillo County screwed up and commingled “planning” and “zoning” many years ago. We’re all paying the price today. This #Santolina master planning process is so screwed up. And those who should know better (the public planners) are clueless because they grew up with this dysfunctional system. Years ago, I tried to educate key players. Now, I just want to throw up my hands.

Thankful I’m #GoingtoGaza

Day #208 – The colonoscopy went well. Same doctor who performed it 10 years ago was my doc today. He told me he’s grown older. I told him I have too. Lolol Glad I’m in good health for my pilgrimage to Gaza.

#GoingtoGaza

Day #209 – Sometimes I feel sorry for myself when I tell people how difficult it is to get into Gaza. Then I think about Palestinians in Gaza who have been unable to leave, and I feel ashamed for my own troubles.  Middle East Children’s Alliance is arranging a U.S. speaking tour for Dr. Mona, including Albuquerque and Santa Fe, but she may not be allowed to leave Gaza. This situation is so diabolical. I want to scream.

#GoingtoGaza

Day #210 – I must be very, very careful (and probably a lot more circumspect) about jumping to conclusions when I read the “news” from Palestine/Israel.

Case in point: several different sources are reporting that an aide to President Abbas announced that Arab countries should attack Gaza. The “aide to Abbas” is a Muslim cleric using his bully pulpit to rouse antipathy towards Hamas. Yikes!

When I was in Gaza (2012-2013) I remember hearing about the political sermons coming from the Mosques every Friday. Since nearly every male goes to listen to these Friday sermons, I wonder how much influence/power/authority these clerics have over the population.

#GoingtoGaza

Day #211 – When I decided to become a pilgrim months ago, I thought my travels required that I leave behind many of my passions and interests. I realized this week that that’s not true. I don’t have to physically be in ABQ to remain actively engaged in some of the issues I’m concerned about, like the Santolina master plan. It’s much easier to be a pilgrim in the 21st century than it must have been in the 18th or 19th centuries.  Al-hamdulillah!

#GoingtoGaza

Day #212 – I’m hearing reports that a third flotilla will be sailing to Gaza during the first half of 2015.  I wonder if I could join it.

#GoingtoGaza

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