Category: Guest Blogs


Camino: A Heroes Journey

I had the privilege of meeting Liam Cullinane from Galway (Ireland) in Spring 2012 while on a retreat in the Aran Islands run by Greg Muller, human conditioning and performance coach.

Liam has a remarkable story to tell from the wild freedom of the French Foreign Legion to the inconceivable strictures of meningitis.  Liam choses daily to take action to be a fully functioning human being.  Despite or perhaps in spite of a bleak prognosis Liam has engaged his will over 20 years to inch his way back to being physically able and engaged in the world.

Last Autumn  it was a serendipitious surprise to bump into Liam again in the midst of a milling crowd on Oxford Street;  a million miles away from the lonely outcrops of rocky land off the western most reaches of the land of Saints and Scholars where we first met.   I was about to head off to walk the Camino Francais.  Obviously that meeting planted a seed for Liam as he has been inspired to walk the Camino for himself and is locked in on being able to do that in April 2014.

Liams story will be documented by David Souto, a basque filmmaker based in Galway for the last decade. David is choosing to tell Liam’s story because of his admiration for him as well as being compelled to document a life changing event and an adventure that ends in Galicia where his roots are.  They are working together to raise funds to create a documentary to inspire and serve.  Liam is now focused on enhancing his physical fitness even further and the first round of funding to faciliated Liam to travel to Atlanta USA for specialist treatment and for the filming of his trip has exceeded the funding target so he is on his way.

I am learning that the Camino is less about a walk and more about life.  Our lives are Camino stories;  starting with conception and winding on to the day we leave this mortal coil.  The journey from the lead of our human-ness to the gold of our spirits.  Be inspired by Liam’s story to see your story.  I look forward to sharing more about Liams journey here over the next few months.

Spring Camino 14 June 2013: Wading Into The Ocean

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Harvest apocalyse on the Camino

I met Dan McCarthy last Autumn – or Fall as Dan from Rhode Island would call it, when I was walking the Camino Francais. On May 6 2013 Dan left home to walk El Camino de Santiago for the tenth time. Having tried but failed to set up a blog for this landmark Camino he decided to share his journey by email. I have loved Dan’s insights and am honoured that he agreed to allow me to guest edit his entries and share them here on my Crossing Frontiers blog. Dan started on the Camino El Norte but after 7 arduous days switched back to the Camino Francais.

On 14 June 2013 just 3 days before he completes his tenth Camino Dan writes about the subtler but deeper realities of the Camino.  I too experienced the magical connections of dining with other pilgrims that Dan shares but walking the fallow land of the Meseta in Autumn after the apocalypse of harvest was quite a contrast to Dan’s rich experience of Spring growth.

Several weeks ago I was walking the marvelous, the magnificent meseta, the high plane that inserts days of quiet, flat, meditative walking into the struggles of the Pyrenees of the beginning of the Camino and those of the mountains of Leon that make up the greater part of the last third of the Camino. The Way was passing through fields of grain  that I could not identify, having for some time lost contact with Tracy the jolly Welshman and grain expert.

The grain was very fine, just a slender stalk, no leaves like the very green sprouts that support wheat, but tall and thin reeds, light green color at base but a rich blue green in their head with well formed kernels. I waded into the grain field to get a sense of the height of the grain. It was up to my chest. But standing in this  field with its dense growth, light green below, almost blue on the surface stretching for acres brought a sudden memory of wading into the ocean at Scarborough* on a bright calm day.

And I had an impulse to lower myself into this immensity as I do in the ocean. I resisted the impulse but was overcome with the sense that I have at the ocean of giving myself to something greater than I, the ocean, somehow the force of life, immense, beautiful, awesome. I felt the Camino as large, as forceful, as full of life as the ocean, as full of life as the mountains I had walked over, as the rivers who had gurgled and raced along side me as I walked the valleys, as the bird song and wild flowers that had gladdened my days. And I found that life in the pilgrims I walked with and, truth be told, in myself. I have felt alive on this Camino, strong, well, my body like a walking machine, my mind empty (nothing new there some will say) and at peace, alive!

Night before last I had the usual pilgrim cena (dinner) with people I had gotten to know along the way, Marcelo from Brazil, Deidre from New Zealand and Neil from Ireland. Neil apparently has made enough money on the Irish Tiger and kept it so that he can live 6 month a year in Ireland “to keep in touch with my roots” and live in India for 6 months ” a place where spirituality is alive, where you can always find people who take spirituality seriously”. and then he added that that Camino was like India in Europe.

One of the advantages of so many people walking is that every evening you will have several choices of which table of pilgrim to join for dinner. And so the wine will be poured and the intense conversation will begin, the day’s experience, what the Camino means to me, personal reflections on the meaning of the Camino etc, etc. And so the Camino gives life, experiences life, comes alive around the common meal, generous with wine each evening. The meal nourishes life, brings life. Pilgrims transmit life to each other.

Each of us will label this life source out of our own tradition. For Christians it will be the Spirit sent by the Lord Christ. Jesus knew what he was doing when he made wine the sign, the Sacrament of his sharing of life. That life is in all everywhere but more vividly available in sacred places as on the Camino de Santiago.

*Scarborough State Beach is in Narrangansett, Rhode Island, USA

You can contact Dan directly on daniel_m_02921@yahoo.com

Spring Camino 6 June 2013: Wild Flowers & Murder

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Bucolic British wildflowers

I met Dan McCarthy last Autumn – or Fall as Dan from Rhode Island would call it, when I was walking the Camino Francais. On May 6 2013 Dan left home to walk El Camino de Santiago for the tenth time. Having tried but failed to set up a blog for this landmark Camino he decided to share his journey by email. I have loved Dan’s insights and am honoured that he agreed to allow me to guest edit his entries and share them here on my Crossing Frontiers blog. Dan started on the Camino El Norte but after 7 arduous days switched back to the Camino Francais.

One month in to the walk around 7 June Dan writes:

I walked 15 miles to arrive in the small city of Villa Franca de Bezeiro, about 110 miles from Santiago. These last 2  weeks have been as good as any I have walked over the previous 9 walks, great weather, stunning scenery – now in the mountains brilliant with wild flowers, days alive with the most interesting walking companions.

Although I may not have actually have met THE most interesting. The local paper this morning had an account of the arrest of a man from Barcelona who was wanted for murder. The paper noted that he had spent last night in the same albergue (hostal) as I had. I did speak briefly with a man from Barcelona but there are many from there. 

All of the above legitimately in the category of the unexpected.

You can contact Dan directly on daniel_m_02921@yahoo.com

Spring Camino 1 June 2013: The Green Robes Of An Irish God

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Lounging in Leon

I met Dan McCarthy last Autumn – or Fall as Dan from Rhode Island would call it, when I was walking the Camino Francais. On May 6 2013 Dan left home to walk El Camino de Santiago for the tenth time. Having tried but failed to set up a blog for this landmark Camino he decided to share his journey by email. I have loved Dan’s insights and am honoured that he agreed to allow me to guest edit his entries and share them here on my Crossing Frontiers blog. Dan started on the Camino El Norte but after 7 arduous days switched back to the Camino Francais.

On the 1st June 2013 Dan writes from Leon:

I started on 9th May.  I have walked about 250 miles with about 200 to go. Weather for the last week has been glorious sunshine but cold. It was 32F (zero degrees C) in Leon yesterday.

I have spent the last 6 days walking across the Meseta, the high flat plane, planalto, that covers the middle of Spain. The meseta is high and flat as its name implies. It dips down here and there for a small town to nestle in the hollow and provide a place for a pilgrim hostal. I have stayed in several.

But up there on the plane I feel in a world apart, walking through huge patchwork quilt of greens and tans and browns, the greens being grain fields, tans where the grain has been cut and is drying, the year’s first crop, and the browns plowed for the planting of a second  crop.

My meseta walk was made much more interesting this year by the company (part of the way) of Tracy, a jolly Welshman who says he is just a farmer, but travels around the world advising on the planting of grains.

On a given day the way will be bordered by a rich dark green growth with a strong straight proud head of perfectly formed kernels. This is the elite wheat, tall and strong but hardly gives me a slight nod, even in a hefty breeze. Across the road another, light lively almost Kelly green. This is rye, but rye it isn’t. With the slightest breath of wind  rye gets silly, spinning and shimmying and waving at everybody. Rye is welcoming. As les zephyrs dance over this sea of happy green, the more sedate wheat sways with dignity. The whole scene proclaims life and its Source. If God is on the meseta–and most pilgrims will acknowledge a special presence there–if that is so then God must be Irish for She/He has chosen robes of exquisite green.

I must mention the boarders of these robes. The field’s edges, outside the reach of the giant harvesting blades but beneficiaries of some of the natural fertilizer spread on the fields, have given birth to a absolute riot of wild flowers. The Camino, at one point winds around a 6 or 7 ft high knoll whose side appeared as though a blanket of color had been thrown over it. The royal poppy, the more than royal poppy, “For not  even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed as one of these” (scholars tell us Jesus was looking at these Mediterranean poppies when he spoke these words) the poppies flood these wild patches, often springing up in dense clusters of small white daisies. Then there are several shades of purple, of yellow, of blue. It creates an almost complete cover of the ground, a veritable Giverny in the wild. I wonder did Monet make the Camino Francais?

I’m off to 6PM Mass now in the magnificent 1000 year old Cathedral of Leon which is famous for an early use of stained glass. I wonder if the inspiration for those  brilliant reds and rich blues came from the wildflowers of the Camino, which is a couple of hundred years older than the Cathedral.

Ultreya to us all!

You can contact Dan directly on daniel_m_02921@yahoo.com

Spring Camino 24 May 2013: An Ecumenical Encounter

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Love, Peace, Joy on the Camino

I met Dan McCarthy last Autumn – or Fall as Dan from Rhode Island would call it, when I was walking the Camino Francais. On May 6 2013 Dan left home to walk El Camino de Santiago for the tenth time. Having tried but failed to set up a blog for this landmark Camino he decided to share his journey by email. I have loved Dan’s insights and am honoured that he agreed to allow me to guest edit his entries and share them here on my Crossing Frontiers blog. Dan started on the Camino El Norte but after 7 arduous days switched back to the Camino Francais.

Pentacost Sunday, which celebrates the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles 40 days after the Resurrection was on 19 May this year in 2013. On 24 May Dan in his own words:

On Pentecost Sunday I stayed in an albergue which was made up of several large rooms in a huge several centuries old stone monastery, Abadia they call it, of Cistercian nuns, monjas in Spanish. It was a day of grace.

On signing in the hospiteleira asked me if I was a priest. A bit taken aback I asked her why she thought so. The tradition of the indelible mark sort of shook me in this ancient holy place. She said she did not know why she thought so. I did acknowledge my past. Whether for that reason or not I was assigned a choice room, a small room with 3 single beds,no bunks, while the rest crawled into uppers and lowers in the cavernous dormitories.

Sometime later the hospitaliera came to sort of ask my permission to assign the remaining 2 beds to a married couple Kirk and Sue from Oklahoma. They worked for a Methodist mission society recruiting volunteers for missions in South America.

I found Sue and Kirt to be very bright and witty. The bathroom in this place was co-ed with a couple of shower stalls on one side and toilet stalls on the other. As any pilgrim will tell you taking a shower in one of these places, while keeping your clothes dry and your dignity in tact requires a bit of acrobatics and some contortionism. In my phone booth size shower stall I undressed and carefully placed my clothes on the floor outside the stall door to keep them dry. For some reason wall hooks are quite unknown in many albergues. Shower done, but tyle floor wet with soapy water, conscious of modesty, quickly opened the stall door and tried to modestly retrieve my cloths only to lose my footing and go rocketing through the door out into the middle of the bath room. Sue in the next stall yelled “Dan are you all right?” to which I immediately answered, “Yes” and scrambled back into stall cloths in hand.

Later Sue said that she was so thankful I answered so quickly. “I was in no condition to rescue you” she said. “Well”, says I, “I was in no condition to be rescued.” So I guess there are limits to ecumenical brotherly (or sisterly) help, even on Pentecost in the Abadia.

Later Sue said wouldn’t it have been an awful way to end 10 Caminos…I broke my leg in the shower! At least there was ecumenical humor at the Abadia on Pentecost.

You can contact Dan on daniel_m_02921@yahoo.com

Spring Camino 19 May 2013: And Each Heard Them In Their Own Tongue

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Monasterio Santa Maria de la Real, Najera, La Rioja

I met Dan McCarthy last Autumn – or Fall as Dan from Rhode Island would call it, when I was walking the Camino Francais. On May 6 2013 Dan left home to walk El Camino de Santiago for the tenth time. Having tried but failed to set up a blog for this landmark Camino he decided to share his journey by email. I have loved Dan’s insights and am honoured that he agreed to allow me to guest edit his entries and share them here on my Crossing Frontiers blog. Dan started on the Camino El Norte but after 7 arduous days switched back to the Camino Francais.

Two days in to his walk on the Camino Francais he has walked 31 miles and on Pentacost Sunday 19 May at Mass in a 700yr old Cathedral he contemplates the Pentecost experience of the Camino. He talks about sharing meals with Linda, a German, Troy from Florida, Sung a Korean woman, Alfred and Juan are Spanairds, Kathleen is from Australia, Fatima a Brazilian and Michele from Quebec. 8 people, 6 languages.

In his own words: “Each understood in their language.” Ironically, the instrument of the Spirit in this case is English. I wanted to point out that one of sources of the extraordinary sense of community that develops on the Camino is the shared experience of the difficulty of the day’s walk. This realization came to me as I was approaching the town of Santo Domingo at the end of a 15 mile walk. I was approaching one of those “heartbreak hills”. A long, steep hill that you can see a long way ahead. I was watching pilgrims way ahead of me, appearing like little ants slowly moving up the climb. I was particularly wanting to determine whether they were walking in the center or along the sides. If along the side there was sure to be mud, the bain of walking pilgrims. To avoid the mud you walk in the vegetation along the side. As I was thus observing those I realized in about 20 minutes I would be one of those ants and others way back on the trail would be observing me to attempt to determine their own fate. And when I got on the hill I imagined others back there observing me and it struck what an intensely shared experience this is. When later that evening at Mass I heard that description of those who listened to Peter and the others I was back at that climb and felt indeed the spirit is at work here. And then at dinner, as at many Camino dinners, I sensed the special communion of the Camino again. “Each experienced what the others had”

You can contact Dan directly on daniel_m_02921@yahoo.com

Spring Camino 16 May 2013: Expect The Unexpected

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The scallop shell tells you are on track for the Camino

I met Dan McCarthy last Autumn – or Fall as Dan from Rhode Island would call it when I was walking the Camino Francais.  Dan invited me to join him for cena, the evening meal, in Puenta La Reina.  A two-bottle wine evening during which I discovered that Dan was an ex missionary priest and that at the age of 78 he was walking his 9th Camino.  A spiritual journeyer of substantial mettle and consistent will Dan slowly moved ahead of me over the coming days but by the magic of email he snuck me little gems of useful guidance from ‘the albergue in Ventosa is delightful, welcomes with Mozart and wakes us with Gregorian chant and Vivaldi‘ to ‘I always get the bus from Mansilla das Mulas to Leon. I think it costs 2 or 3 euros‘.

On May 6 2013 he left home to walk El Camino de Santiago for the tenth time.  The difference this time is that Dan is going to have a go at the less well known El Norte along the Atlantic coast.  Having tried but failed to set up a blog for this landmark Camino he decided to share his journey by email.  I have loved Dan’s insights and am honoured that he agreed to allow me to guest edit his entries and share them here on my Crossing Frontiers blog.

Dan’s daughter, Kirstin made for him, when she was about 15, an awesome photo album make up of pictures taken of her up to about the age of ten with one or both of her parents.  That album, given as a Christmas present, inspired him in a brave move to chose the Expect The Unexpected as the theme of this Camino.  In his words:

She titled each entry with enigmatic sayings taken from a book we had of pictures of Buddhist practices and sayings the practice implied. The book was A Monks Bowl, portraying that monks live on what is put in their bowl in alms each day.  One picture shows me holding a 3 or 4 month old Kirstin, obviously diapered. We are gazing adoringly at each other. The title she chose was “expect the unexpected!” Typical of  Zen, this has any number of meanings. I chose that title as the theme of  this Camino.

I wanted a new experience and it has been unexpected:
I expected the route to be poorly marked. It is well marked.
I expected few people to be walking. The hostels are full to over flowing.
I expected it to be difficult. Difficult imagined is worlds away from difficult experienced.

I walked 70 miles in 7 days, a rate much less than earlier Caminos.  This is a much more mountainous region as the guide books warn. Every day there are several long strenuous climb ups followed by steep treacherous descents. The trails are poorly maintained and turn to terrifying mud slides when it rains as it did 3 of the 7 days I walked the Camino del  Norte. Yesterday, after I fell 5 times trying to get down a particularly difficult area I decided to bid farewell and return to the Camino I know.

There were lots of positives to these 7 days: many interesting people, a stop in Gernika, but by far the highlight was the 6 hrs I spent in the Guggenheim. It  was truly one of the most exciting museum experiences I have had. There are not a lot of master pieces there. They do have a great i.e. tragic holocaust display especially the Vichy government’s part in it.  But the building itself is the master piece.

He finishes up – I am tapping this out on the little screen of my “smart” phone,  not made for my stiff 78 yr old fingers and as announces he is heading to Logrono by bus to walk a more reasonable way he wishes us ULTREYA a funny little Spanish word that originates from the Latin to mean onward! It has all the punch of capitals and an exclamation mark.

You can contact Dan directly on daniel_m_02921@yahoo.com