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Finding darshan on El Camino

Español: El Camino de Santiago en Logroño (La ...

Español: El Camino de Santiago en Logroño (La Rioja – España). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“. . . setting out on a walk whose purposes exceeded the purely transportational or the simply recreational, and whose destination was in some sense sacred,  —Robert Macfarlane in The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot.

Today four friends of mine leave to begin their pilgrimage on El Camino de Santiago de Compostela in Spain. They leave with excitement, concern, and curiosity stowed in their backpacks along with their supplies. They leave with plans laid but minds open to unexpected possibilities.

Feet have been pounding along The Way of St. James since the Middle Ages. For some, the walk begins and ends in a place of spirit. For others it begins in cultural curiosity and ends in personal reflection. Still others want nothing more than a good walk, but mystical moments catch them unawares along the way.

El Camino surprises people who gravitate there, for the mystical finds a home in people who choose to separate themselves from the everyday, and who let their minds roam free while their bodies fall into the lull of repeated footsteps, Whether they intend it or not, pilgrims stumble upon darshan, a Sanskrit term meaning  “a face-to-face encounter with the sacred on earth; with a physical manifestation of the holy.” (From The Old Ways)

I look forward to the stories they will have to share when they return. In the meantime, I plan mini pilgrimages of my own. I can’t replicate El Camino but I can go for a walk for more than transportation and recreation, and I can let my mind roam free while my body falls into the lull of repeated footsteps.

I wonder what sacred destination I will find along The Way?

Grace, gratitude, and birthday parties

A family story:

One day, when my son was 10 years old, we were returning home from a shopping trip. We pulled up at a stoplight behind a car similar to one belonging to friends of ours. When I noticed the Jesus fish above the bumper, it confirmed it as theirs. (They have a more conservative take on Christianity than I do.)

“Yep, that’s them, all right,” I said to my son. “They have a Jesus fish.”

He considered this for a moment.  He said, “When I went to his [the son of the family] birthday party, they said grace before we had cake.”

“Really?” I said. This struck me as surprising and funny, so I laughed. Then I realized I shouldn’t pass judgment on the religious practices of my son’s friends, so I said, “I shouldn’t laugh. That’s not funny.”

I couldn’t help smiling to myself. I sat there thinking about it and smiling. After a few minutes, I looked over at my son, who was also stifling a laugh and peeking out of the corner of his eye at me. We both cracked up.

My son said, “When he [the father] finished saying grace he said, ‘Amen,’ and most of the kids at the party were just like, ‘Huh?'”

“Did you say ‘Amen’?”

He gave me a scornful look, like I had asked him if he liked chocolate. “Yes,” he said. “I know how to say grace.”

“Maybe someday you’ll thank me for all your spiritual instruction.”

“Yes,” he said. “But I won’t say grace at my kids’ birthday parties.”

I grew up in a family that said grace every day, so the practice feels comfortable and familiar to me. My husband, my children and I don’t say grace every day, but we do at Sunday dinner, on holidays and at other times when it just feels right. Sometimes we have friends over who have a strong faith tradition, so they join in with no problem. Other friends don’t feel so comfortable with faith, so we make sure to phrase it as “Let’s take some time for gratitude.” I don’t address the grace to anything or anyone in particular. Even then, I can tell it makes them squirm.

An expression of gratitude shouldn’t be so laden with uncomfortable expectations and limitations. Grace should be just that: grace-full.

Everyone, no matter what they believe, benefits from taking time for gratitude. So, let’s peel off some of the layers that don’t need to be there. Take time for gratitude. Address your thanks to God, or the universe, or the farmer, or the cook—whatever makes you comfortable.

And at a birthday party, maybe a might shout of
“THANKS FOR THE CAKE!” would work best.


Buddha Board: Live each moment to the fullest

The past is over.
The future may never be.
The present is all that exists.
Live each moment to the fullest.

buddha-boardThose words came with my Mother’s Day present from my daughter: a Buddha Board.

Based on the age-old Zen “Be Here Now” or “Power of Now” principle, the board’s surface holds the water you paint on it, for a short time, and then it dissipates. The user lives in the present, values it, and then lets it go.

I love that it allows me to be creative. I love that if I make a mistake, I watch it disappear into the ether. I love that when I paint something beautiful, I cherish it even more while it’s there, because I know it won’t last.

I put it on my family room end table beside Ganesh. (We are an ecumenical household.) Perhaps using it, or just the sight of it, will help me to live each moment to the fullest.


Visit the Buddha Board site at

Don’t skip the intro. It’s beautiful, and the background sound soothes. I had the site open while writing this post, and the audio makes me want to leave it open all day . . .


The first Christmas gifts were not reciprocal

many-ChristmasesYou know the scenario: Someone you know and love, but don’t usually exchange gifts with, suddenly appears before you holding out a brightly wrapped Christmas gift. She beams with joy, because she has found the perfect thing for you. She saw it in a store, thought of you and just had to get it.

Do you receive the gift with unqualified gratitude? Or do you think, “Oh, no! I don’t have anything for her”?

My friend, Ellie, reminded me a few weeks ago that the gifts in the Christmas story were not reciprocal. In one of the Christmas parables, wise travellers brought gold, frankincense and myrrh to the baby Jesus. The Bible doesn’t go into detail about what Mary and Joseph might have said upon receiving such valuable gifts, but I don’t think it went like this:

Joseph: Mary, the wise men are on their way, and they’re all carrying something.

Mary: Carrying something? What could that be?

Joseph: I’m not sure, but one of them has something shiny. It looks like gold.

Mary: Gold! Oh, no. And I didn’t get anything for them. Do we have something in our baggage that we could wrap up quickly?

From what we can glean from the Matthew version of the Christmas parable (there are no wise men in the Luke version), Mary and Joseph received the first Christmas gift with grace and gratitude. To do otherwise would have made the whole situation awkward, and would have deprived the wise visitors of the joy of giving.

This Christmas, when someone beams with joy as he gives you that perfect something that he brought to you out of love, receive it with unqualified gratitude. Don’t deprive him of the joy of giving.

Religion, sexuality and mystery in one short story

There is no creator indicated, so I can’t give credit where credit is very much due—I would if I could.

I received this picture in an e-mail message, and I laughed at its brilliant simplicity.

Given this assignment, most of us would make things difficult. While scribbling an outline and plot chart, we would worry about rising action, climax and dénouement. We might even create character bubbles and scene sketches.

We should ask: What is the simplest way to do this?

Because sometimes the simple way is the most effective.


Darwin fish and Jesus fish: complementary, not contradictory

I drove my son to his baseball game on Wednesday night.

[TIME OUT FOR PARENTAL BRAGGING: He hit a home run. He is awesome. OK, BACK TO BUSINESS]

We pulled up at a red light behind a Toyota with a Darwin fish on the back bumper.

“That is excellent,” he said. (My son is all about science.)

“Have you never seen that before?” I asked.

“No, I’ve only ever seen the Jesus fish ones, but that is great. It must really irritate fundamentalist Christians, though.”

“It might,” I said.

Then, struck by inspiration, I said, “Hey, I should get one of each.”

“Oh, right. ‘Cause you’re all science and story.”

“Yes! Darwin and the divine.”

“People would just think that there were two people in the house who couldn’t agree, so they got one of each.”

“Hmmm . . . You could be right.”

My son had hit on the key issue.

He’s right. People would assume conflict. We’re still shaking off the age of reason, so people would assume these two ideas to be incompatible. It’s still a reflex in our society to separate faith and science, when they are really comfortably complementary.

More and more scientists speak openly about faith without fear of being called looney-tunes for their beliefs. More and more people in churches, temples or mosques reject calls for blind faith.

Now I think I will get a Darwin fish and a Jesus fish.

I’ll place them on my car so they kiss each other.

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