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Archive for December, 2016

The Portuguese Way: Fatima

This past October, my friend Mary and I walked the Portuguese Way, one of the ancient pilgrimage Camino paths that St James followed on his ministry, from Porto, Portugal to Santiago de Compostela, Spain.   And, on boardwalks and sand dunes and cobblestone streets along the northern coast of Portugal and then into Spain on ancient Roman roads and bridges and through villages and eucalyptus and pine forests, we were gifted with stories and kindness and magical moments galore.  We opened our hands and our hearts and our souls and the gifts landed gently and soaked in deeply.  And during an especially mild November back home here in northern Michigan, day after day, I sat on the shore of Lake Superior and allowed these stories to flow through me and onto the page.  And now I’m typing them up to share with you in the coming weeks as I allow them to soak in even deeper.


I don’t know exactly what a prayer is but I do know how to listen.  Mary Oliver

The world is in truth a holy place.  Teillard de Chardin

In my ideal world, it is all prayer, the moment to moment living, the intention to allow myself to be filled up with the wonder that I know is available.  This type of prayer requires no memorization, no formalities of place and time, just a willingness to pay attention, to be present.  And it comes naturally when I relax into it — the way dressing with flair and fun also comes naturally.  But give me a formal occasion, say a wedding, an art exhibit, a holiday party, and I freak.  What to wear?!?  My flip flops will never do, and the layers I usually don with delight suddenly seem juvenile, like something a five-year-old might have thrown together.  An invitation for dressing up or for formally praying throws me into a tailspin.

And I was feeling it a bit, the not knowing quite how to do this, when Mary, my dear friend and soon-to-be partner for two-and-a-half-weeks of walking on the Portuguese Camino to Santiago de Compostela announced that members of her very Catholic family had their hearts set on us stopping at Fatima on our way up north to Porto the day before we officially started the Camino trek.  Fatima is a holy place in Portugal, the nearest town to the village where three shepherd children, while playing in the field in the spring of 1917, first saw a great flash of light and an apparition of the Virgin Mary who spoke to them, and showed herself to these three children and to many others in that same field throughout the summer and fall of 1917.  And ever since, it has been its own pilgrimage destination for the people of Portugal and for Catholics throughout the world.

My friend Mary is from a family with ten siblings, many of them practicing Catholics who were cheering us on to pray for them in this sacred town.  And other friends also jumped on board the prayer bus when they heard that we would be stopping in Fatima.  “Say a prayer for me!” many a friend exclaimed with excitement.  And that’s what threw me into a tizzy.  I don’t know the formal rituals.  Should I buy a rosary and clutch the beads, one by one, the way I do my Sanskrit strands of gemstones? And what do I say?  I don’t know the rosary.  I don’t know the Catholic prayers.  I don’t  even know whether to stand or kneel.  It was a weight of prayerful responsibility  I was carrying that felt as heavy as my Osprey backpack as we stepped off the bus from Lisbon and into the clear blue noontime sun of Fatima on that October day.  Our heavy loads, the physical ones, at least, were lightened considerably and almost immediately when we discovered a storage room in the bus station where our backpacks would be safe and sound for the two hours of this Fatima adventure before picking them up again and boarding the next bus north to Porto and the start of our Camino walk.

And we were still at the bus station, outside at one of the kiosks asking directions to the cathedrals, when the weight of my prayer-tizzy began to dissipate, too, and my comfortable every day spirituality took over.  It was the children who put me at ease, the three little shepherd cousins who were the reason that Fatima has become this pilgrimage site.  There they were, life-sized, the two little girls in their peasant skirts and scarf-covered heads, and the boy in his baggy pants and stocking cap, staring back at Mary and me from a poster behind the woman giving us directions. Their gaze was relentless, their faces filled with energy, their bodies alive with spunk and sparkle.  I loved these kids.  And I wanted to know them and the world that they inhabited.  “I want to go to the fields where they saw Mary!” I exclaimed to my friend Mary.  And Mary, transfixed by the kids, too, agreed.  So, that’s what we did.  In the bright afternoon sun on this glorious October day, we flip-flopped in our look-a-like Tevas past the center of Fatima and the sacred courtyard square of churches and out onto the road that would lead us to the little shepherds’ village and the field where Mary had made herself known.

“We have less than two hours!” one of us called out.  “We had better start praying!” one of us added as we walked as fast as we could toward the village.  “How do we do it?” was our call into the brilliant blue sky.  We fumbled; we stumbled; and we found something we both — the lapsed Catholic and the pagan Swedenborgian — could do.  And, on the country road, we did it, we said it, to the best of our ability, the Catholic/Swedenborgian version of the Lord’s Prayer.  And we were moved by our prayer, and we were moved to what came next as we walked along — and I’m not sure which one of us started it, or maybe neither one of us did.  It didn’t matter and it felt inspired, as natural as breathing.  One of us called out a name, clearly into the rose-scented air, adding an appreciation, a prayer for that person, and then the other did the same.  We took turns, during the few kilometers of walking, calling out the names of siblings, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends all the way to the village, to the home of the children and the field that is now an olive grove.

It filled us; that’s what I want to tell you, this conscious act of appreciation.  We felt as fragrant as the roses that lined our path.  In fact, we felt the presence of Rose, Mary’s only sibling who has passed.  We felt her spirit with us, and we felt the children too, the little shepherds who brought us to this place.  And on the way back to Fatima, as we scurried along, we continued our turns, and the circle grew and it grew and it grew.  We prayed for Hillary, our candidate and we prayed for Donald too.  Under that blue blue sky in the presence of the three children and Rose and our parents and our loved ones, no one, not a soul, was left out of our circle.  Before we left northern Michigan, Mary, as she contemplated the pilgrimage, boldly had proclaimed to our women’s group that her intention was to love everyone.  Oh my!!!  What a tall order that is!!!  But I can tell you that under the watchful eye of the three children in Fatima and the tiny village a few kilometers down the country road, it was easy.




Fatima, Portugal: October, 2016

Clear Vision

If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.  Wayne Dyer

I’m telling you this for a reason, how Thanksgiving weekend with family in Idaho left me with an after-glow of happiness, how the five days my husband Cam and I spent with our sons, their wives and our two grandchildren was rich and nourishing and funny and fun.  And I’m adding that it’s not about perfection — there was the glass that broke in a daughter-in-law’s hand that led to an emergency room visit on Thanksgiving evening and the moments of tired little kids spinning out of control and the lost toddler boot on a trail around a reservoir; there was all of that — and, yet, there was something magnanimous and sane and loving underlying the whole delicious feast of a weekend.  There was a clarity of ground rules — a working out beforehand of which of the two houses Cam and I would call home on particular nights and the knowing that we, as a family, were going for ease and not an overload of fancy holiday trimmings.  And there was a groundwork of respect, the belief that we all were included in the five-day-party even when the party members were going about their separate activities.  And finally there was the underpinning that held it all up, an attitude — a choice it was — of love among us all.

And there was one evening that especially stands out in my mind, an evening in which I was conscious of an overflow of happiness within and around me, that had me pushing the save button even as I was living it.  We were all present, the eight of us, at one of the two homes, and dinner was over, and the gathering had moved to the living room area and a game of charades was in process, a game that somehow was both working for the four-year-old, who was present and remarkably good at acting out his words, and for the rest of us as well.  And at first, we all seemed to be paying attention to the person center stage, to the guessing game at hand.  Except there was Addie, who is one and a couple of months, and could care less about the purpose of charades.  She was out to find her own good time and ended up behind a couch where we had hidden the crayons and colored pens and pencils and paper until a later moment when one of the adults would be ready to supervise.  And there was the four-year-old Viren who only had so much passion for this guessing game we were playing and ended up behind the couch with his cousin.  And there was me, Grandma Helen, who discovered them both and squeezed her Grandma body into the crack and joined in the unsupervised art fun.  Addie had already colored her cheek and Viren was creating exotic swirls across a sheet of white paper with a bouquet of colored pens when I arrived in the crevice between couch and bookcase, and Addie and I added to this palate of swirls as the game on the other side of the couch continued  — until it didn’t continue anymore because life is in constant motion like the swirls on the paper and there is always something new in the moving forward.

So, when the three of us crawled out from the crevice, things had changed.  One daughter-in-law was making tea.  Another was sprawled out on the couch napping, and Grandpa Cam’s eyes were closed too.  Our sons still seemed to be playing charades or conversing loudly, the two of them deep into a brother game of their own.  Meanwhile, Addie squirmed herself free from my arms and climbed up on the low-to-the-ground coffee table and proceeded to do what she does so well, skitter herself in a move her parents call “fast feet” while shrieking with glee.  And Viren grabbed the Piggie and Gerald book and sat on my lap ready for the story.  That was the moment I pushed the save button, the moment I felt the life of it all, the thrill of the almost-out-of-control creative thrumming that was palpable in the space we all inhabited mingling with a sense of safety underneath, that it was okay to freely be who we were in that moment — perhaps sleepy and needing a nap, or loud and brotherly, or wild and fancy-footed — that the groundwork beneath us was secure, that we were all a part of the party.

I’m telling you this for a reason.  I’m wanting you to know that I’m carrying this memory forward, that the feeling, the thrumming-with-life-yet-somehow-peaceful-and-safe-to-be-who-we-are-in-the-present-moment-feeling is embedded in my cells.  It is with me now — I pushed the save button, the sane button.  And I am intending to let this memory and the feeling it evokes spread out into a wider vision, a vision that I am holding for our country and the world.  Why not?!?  Why not feed a vision that feels good to me, one that I know is possible because I felt it last weekend?!?   Why not envision for our country and our world a party where we all have been given invitations, one where we do our best to lay out some ground rules,   knowing that flexibility is a part of expansion, and that it is okay to be busy or not so busy with our separate games and projects and lofty ideas, and that fun can be an acceptable priority and mutual respect something to strive for?!?   Why not envision a country and a world where you don’t have to be on the same spiritual page to be a part of the universal book of inclusivity?!?  Why not envision with heart and soul and all the clarity a gal like me can muster a country and a world where the love is palpable and the feeling in the air is safe and filled with a goodness, even when the party is tipping almost-out-of-control and someone is dancing on the table?!?





Thanksgiving Weekend: Moscow, Idaho    November 2016

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