I long for you so much I have even begun to travel Where I have never been before. ~ Hafiz. The Subject Tonight Is Love

At which threshold am I now standing? At this time in my life what am I leaving? Where am I about to enter? What is preventing me from crossing my next threshold? What give would enable me to do it? ~ John O’Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us

Now it is time to sit quiet alone with You and to Sing a re-dedication of my life in this Silent and overflowing joy. ~ Rabindranath Tagore, “A Moment of Indulgence”

These three quotes come from Christine Valters Paintner’s latest book, The Soul of a Pilgrim. You will find many more fantastic quotes there.

This book came at the right time in my life. I had finally accepted the need to leave a place very dear to me. As John Valters Paintner explains in Chapter One, “The Practice of Hearing the Call and Responding”:

“Pilgrimage … can mean the life journeys we take in response to unwelcomed circumstances… Any time life ousts us from our places of security, we are called upon to bring ourselves fully present to our experience. We honor that even unbidden journeys can take us to places where we encounter God more closely.” (21)

As some of you know, I have gone on pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela. I have spent days walking, sixty-eight days the first time, then thirty days, then fewer and fewer. I also made a pilgrimage once to Dharamsala to listen to the Dalai Lama. A seeker by nature, I have gone on inner pilgrimages most of my life. Also, next year, we will be taking our children and grandchildren on a short pilgrimage to Santiago to celebrate my 70th birthday. This book came as a preparation for it.

The Soul of a Pilgrim is meaningful on several levels, levels which are presented by Christine and her husband John. Those levels are identified as practices: hearing the call and responding; packing lightly; crossing the threshold; making the way by walking; being uncomfortable; beginning again; embracing the unknown; and coming home.

It has been a while since I have held in my hands a book that I found so seminal, so inspiring, so moving. Every page makes me want to write. It opens doors in my heart which I did not even know were there. It gives me courage…

“What if when life started falling apart, we opened our hearts to welcome in the grief and fear that arrived? What if we considered them as holy guides and windows into the immensity of God? What if all the painful feelings of loss and disorientation were invited in for tea? What if everything that turned our preconceived ideas inside out was precisely where we found God?”, writes Christine Valters Paintner (111).

This book is a result of two e-courses that Christine gave through the Abbey of the Arts . I have been privileged to take several others in the past, as I have been fortunate to read several of her books. They have enriched my life more than I can say.

In her latest work, I found familiar themes that I was glad to visit again, such as Lectio Divina, Midrash, Visio Divina, Creative Exploration through Photography, and a Closing Blessing. I also particularly enjoyed the many questions she asks throughout the book; I know I will return to them, again and again. The novelty here for me was the inclusion of Christine’s husband, John, who writes the eight reflections of biblical passages. He adds another voice, also filled with wisdom and kindness, bringing new angles to old stories.

This is a book I would love to discuss in a study group, to “walk” with some like-minded friends and explore our thirst to encounter our God within. It is a book I will offer, a book I will keep by my side, a book which is such an incredible gift in itself.

I will close this by sharing here the seven-word prayer which came to me at the beginning of the book. I started reading The Soul of a Pilgrim in Puerto Rico and finished it on the plane to France. The seven words which came to me were: Love Calls Me To Open To Life. This prayer, more a mantra maybe, has already operated magic in my life.

May this book bring joy and wonder in your life as well.



Thirty years ago in Dharamsala (India), while attending teachings given by the Dalai Lama, I met a Swiss Tibetan Buddhist woman who told me something interesting. I quit smoking, she said, because when I die I don’t want to spend my time in the Bardo Thodol (intermediate state between death and the next rebirth) looking for cigarettes.

Interesting thought. On what am I spending my life, my money? Where does my attention dwell? Which fears do I nurture? Which secret garden do I keep to myself? Were I to die tonight, which attachments would lead me away from where I hope ‘to spend eternity’?

In recent weeks, I have fled ‘reality’. I just did not want to look at it. I anesthetized myself by closing down and watching TV series on line. I stopped praying, I stopped meditating. I stopped doing my evening examen. I entered the virtual world of Korean drama and hid there. Mind you it has introduced me to an entirely new world, both real and virtual, which has brought new life to my life…

Still, last night, as I was fighting jet lag and trying to find sleep, I called Godde for help to get me out of this self-induced trance. And the question came: How do I want to spend eternity?

Would it be possible to take with myself, as I walk across the threshold between now and the hereafter, all that has seized my mind while I was alive, the good and the not so good. For instance, were i to be into sex, or clothes, or losing weight, or money, or travel, or power, would I just continue being seized by the same obsession for all eternity?

Like my ex-smoking friend, are there areas of my memory which I need to clear so as to create space to welcome the Ultimate Awesomeness which is there awaiting everyone of us? Do I want to hide myself ad vitam eternam in TV reruns?


When I lived abroad, the minute I realized that I was deep in culture shock, my life started improving. I am in a similar situation today: I see what I am doing to myself by numbing myself so that the only feelings I experience come from romances thought up by skilled writers and played by delightful actors — thus avoiding to deal with my own reality.

Godde and I are writing my life together. It is a remarkable adventure in itself. It is time for me to get back to it.

Photo: Sky in viejo San Juan, Puerto Rico

A long time ago, my mother-in-law told me that she saw life not so much as circles (or ellipses maybe), but as a spiral for ever revolving upon itself, moving along, whether upward, downward or sideways, as you choose. Thus, we revisit events that happened long ago, drawing the fruits from the experiences lived then.

Walking along the beach with the waves and the clouds, I remembered something [Sri Sri] Ravi Shankar told us thirty years ago during a weekend retreat in Delhi. “You choose the experiences in your life.”

At the time, these words had felt liberating: I had not been the victim of events; I had chosen the experiences to learn something from them. Life, after all, is to be, to experience, to receive, to cherish, to let go, to move on…

I feel blessed these days, grateful for all that Godde has given me and keeps giving me, grateful also that I am approaching 70, with Death waiting for me at the end of the journey. This thought of the end of my journey (it might still be twenty years away, I know) fills me with peace.

A peace, strangely enough, that I have already experienced. Nearly fifty years ago, one evening, I felt very depressed and slit my wrists. I was not very good at it and I did not end this ‘me’ which drove me to despaired. I did think I was on my way out, however, and I experienced the most incredible peace. This is the peace which is with me today when I think of the time I will be moving on.

You may find this morbid, but it is not. Especially when I link Ravi Shankar’s words to it. My life is inviting me to revisit major events, both joyful and painful, but especially those which have left bad memories — those wounds, grudges, scars that Life distributes as we move along.

As I walk along the beach and remember events that have left me like a deer caught in headlights, as I remind myself that I chose them, I ask myself the question: What did I learn from them? How would they have impacted me had I been different? What did they help me become?

The woman I am today cry tears with the woman I was then. How hard those days seem! The woman I am today welcomes the woman I was then. I can hug her as long as she needs. I untie the knots in her stomach and her heart. I kiss her bruises. We have so much to tell each other.

I wish I could do cartwheels on the wet sand to thank Life for this life of mine… The waves wash my feet of old anguishes and sadness. Loneliness dissolves in the foam. My soul stands naked in front of the One who creates me moment by moment.

Bless Godde my soul…

The other day as I was walking in viejo San Juan, my mind whispered to me, “Adios to all that” as in, Goodbye to all that. These words have a familiar ring, so I checked. Robert Graves wrote an autobiography by this title in 1929. In 1967, Joan Didion published an essay with the same title. In 2013, a book on writers loving and leaving New York used this it as well. More recently still, in 2014, a movie was entitled this way. For me, however, it is just more Adios than Goodbye.

My time in Puerto Rico is coming to an end. We arrived in 2001 when Paul had just retired. All these years, we have been able to  spend several months with our older daughter and her family (this left our younger daughter somewhat in a lurch; we found other ways of spending time with her). We discovered a small apartment in viejo San Juan, facing the ocean. What fabulous years we spent there!

Ten years ago this month, we both left on our first Camino, the longest one, from Le Puy to Santiago. It took us 68 days to walk 1,500 km, or 900 miles. We had trained for it walking around the Laguna in Condado. We caught the Camino bug and went back pretty much every year, seven or eight times in a row. During these years we spent our time in Puerto Rico, in France, and walking the Camino. How fortunate we have been.

More important maybe, from 2002 until 2010, Paul and I worked at Las Duchas with Ramonita and her crew, receiving the homeless and drug-addicts living in viejo San Juan. We got to know pretty much everyone of them, loving some more than others, getting to understand their story, their hardship. Jesus was one of us at all times. This may well have been the most intense time in my life.

Still more incredible, we left our life in Geneva, Switzerland, heavily involved with Ignatian spirituality. Right away, as if by chance, we found ourselves invited into a CVX (CLC) small community of Puerto Rican women and men. All this thanks to two couples: One who invited us to their Tres Reyes party that first January. There we met a Jesuit father who invited us to a CVX day with theologian Maria Clara Bingemer.  At that same workshop, another couple invited us to join their small CVX community. With all of them, we have shared our life in prayer every time we come back to the island. Our CVX involvement led us to retreats in Barranquitas with the Sisters of the Sacred Heart, then to Manresa, Spain, for its Ignatian Immersion Course and more recently a 30-day retreat.

When we returned in February, we found out that our children are leaving the island for a while to take care of an elderly relative. Our grandsons will go to school on the mainland. In the coming years, we will return to Puerto Rico, of course, but for much shorter visits.

Life transfers us. Once again. With Paul’s UN job we grew accustomed to transfers. They were both sad and exciting. Saying goodbye to lovely friends and hello to new adventures. It’s still a bit this way now.

Like the boat above (all the way from Stockholm), on the beach, waiting for the tide, we too will sail off in a few weeks.

I have so many reasons to thank Godde for all that we have received here. For this wonderful island and its wonderful people. For its culture, its music, its beauty, its fantastic coffee. For the friends who welcome us, again and again.

It does feel like the end of a chapter, with the knowledge that I don’t have that many more chapters left. Next year, I will turn 70 and this feels both wonderful and awesome. On the horizon, faintly, I can guess my final transfer, a liberating take-off into eternity.

I have not written much in recent weeks. My heart and mind are usually at peace, something odd for me. I don’t feel particularly drawn to ‘religious feelings’ as I did in past years. Organized religion, right now, irritates me more than inspires me.

Like the sailboat on the beach, I bask in the sun, waiting for the wind to catch my sail, wondering where it will now take me…

(While I know where my future will geographically take place, I wonder where my inner life will lead me.)

Where the Spirit will blow, I will go.

Photo: A Swedish sailboat on the beach

When I say … “I am a Christian”
I’m not shouting “I’m clean livin’.”
I’m whispering “I was lost,
Now I’m found and forgiven.”

When I say … “I am a Christian”
I don’t speak of this with pride.
I’m confessing that I stumble
and need Christ to be my guide.

When I say … “I am a Christian”
I’m not trying to be strong.
I’m professing that I’m weak
And need His strength to carry on.

When I say … “I am a Christian”
I’m not bragging of success.
I’m admitting I have failed
And need God to clean my mess.

When I say … “I am a Christian”
I’m not claiming to be perfect,
My flaws are far too visible
But, God believes I am worth it.

When I say … “I am a Christian”
I still feel the sting of pain.
I have my share of heartaches
So I call upon His name.

When I say … “I am a Christian”
I’m not holier than thou,
I’m just a simple sinner
Who received God’s good grace, somehow!

– Maya Angelou

poem seen on simply-divine-creation.tumblr.com

She thought it was the gardener and said to him,

“Sir, if you carried him away,

tell me where you laid him,

and I will take him.”

Jesus said to her, “Mary!”

Jn 20:11-18

In his shadow I delight to sit,

and his fruit is sweet to my taste.

He brought me to the banquet hall

and his glance at me signaled love.

Song of Songs 2:3-4

The recurrence of biblical passages year after year in our liturgy offers an inner exploration of the many interpretations one can give to the same passage. Take today’s. Jesus and Mary Magdalene in the garden.

What struck me this year is how much their encounter reminds me of the Song of Songs. How much Mary Magdalene’s soul and love for Jesus want to become one with the One she has followed for several years.

Another aspect of the Triduum and of this morning in the garden in particular which has impacted me: how much the women and men disciples of Jesus must have not only feared and trembled for Jesus and themselves, but also how much they must have wept during these days of trial and crucifixion and loss.

It is thus a very teary Mary Magdalene whom I see coming to the tomb, inquiring from the angels, and turning to the gardener. Anyone who has felt “filled” by a time in a retreat can imagine and feel how Mary Magdalene’s heart and mind were full of love and longing for Jesus.

I sense the intensity of their encounter: the faithfulness of the woman, Jesus no longer the man who walked the earth. The woman’s hunger for his presence, his comforting touch, his soothing words. An encounter both in time and out of time. Out of time in the sense that anyone who wishes to join them and experience their connection can.

For years, I felt desolate for Mary when Jesus tells her, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father…” This morning, I realize that her possible desolation at having to let him go is replaced by the energy she feels when she hears his command, “go to my brothers and tell them…” Her love for him sends her into action, the way Gabriel’s Annunciation to Mary has her immediately leave to visit her cousin Elizabeth.

Is it really possible to love Jesus and not feel sent on a mission?

Mary Magdalene will rush out of the garden and announce the good news to the others. I choose to stay in the moment before she goes, when Mary Magdalene hears a beloved voice call her name, that instant of recognition, of connection, of oneness, however ephemeral, that moment she will surely revisit again and again till death brings her back for all eternity to the One who loved her and saved her.

Illustration: Rembrandt, Noli Me Tangere, 1638

Anointings in Bethany. Jn 12:1-8

Solemnly, Mary entered the room,

holding high the alabaster jar.

It gleamed in the lamplight as she circled the room,

incensing the disciples, blessing Martha’s banquet.

“A splendid table!” Mary called with her eyes

as she whirled past her sister.

She came to a halt at last before Jesus,

bowed profoundly and knelt at his feet.

Deftly, she filled her right hand with nard,

placed the jar on the floor,

took one foot in her hands

and moved fragrant fingers across his instep.

Over and over she made the journey

from heel to toes, thanking him

for every step he had made

on Judea’s stony hills,

for every stop at their home,

for bringing back Lazarus.

She poured out more nard,

took his other foot in her hands

and started again with strong, rhythmic strokes.

She felt her hands’ heat draw out his tiredness,

take away the rebuffs he had known —

the shut doors, the shut hearts.

Energy flowed like a river between them.

His saturated skin gleamed with oil!

But she had no towel!

In an instant she pulled off her veil,

pulled the pins from her hair,

shook it out till it fell in cascades

and once more cradled each foot,

dried the ankles, the insteps,

drew the strands between his toes.

Without warning, Judas Iscariot

spat out his anger, the words hissing

like lightning above her unveiled head:

“Why was this perfume not sold

for three hundred denarii

and the money given to the poor?”

“Leave her alone!”

Jesus silenced the usurper.

“She bought it so that she might keep

for the day of my burial.”

The words poured like oil,

anointing her from head to foot.

Incarnation: New and Selected Poems for Spiritual Reflection

page 88

Art: Table in Bethany, Refektorium des Aletti-Zentrums, Rom

In an era when women enjoyed little protection under the law and little consideration by church authorities, beguines were claiming their fullest humanity through the eucharist: if God could become human. if Christ was fully present in the eucharist, then women were worthy. Thus beguines ardently believed that Christ’s presence in the eucharist was an act of liberation for them, and in their contemplative devotion they could “bypass” priestly authority — especially in times of corrupt clergy and politically motivated quarrels between popes and kings.

Laura Swan, The Wisdom of the Beguines, 106

Godde gives each one of us a specific vocation, whether we know it or not, believe it or not. One often looks for an answer in a specific religious order, hoping to fit into it. These orders came about over the centuries, each developing a particular charism, each one of the many facets of Godde’s goodness. But Godde’s goodness goes way beyond all that can be imagined.

Why am I saying this?

Well, I have just finished Laura Swan’s book on the Beguines and I have been parabled, turned upside down if you wish. Here are laywomen who, maybe thanks to the Crusades and so many men leaving them to fight, had to fend for themselves. They stepped into the breach and, out of the experience, some discovered a new way of life which fitted them.

Over the centuries, mainly from 1200 on till the 1600s, but continuing nevertheless till the 18th c. and even into the 21st c. (with the last ‘known’ beguine passing away in 2013), the beguines shared a common way of life, usually in communities (from two to a thousand), chaste and simple. The beguines were known for their business sense, their organizational and trading skills, their commitment to God, the poor and the marginalized.

They were lay ‘contemplatives in action’ (to use an Ignatian term). Their way of life went straight against the norms of their times: they were lay, self-supporting, single, or widowed women, living on their income, paying taxes, spiritually and personally independent, preaching in public and debating with select theologians and biblical scholars. (11) Yes, some ended up burning at the stake.

Reading Laura Swan made me realize that the beguines had found a way to emulate Jesus and his first disciples, all the while being remarkably counter-cultural.

It was a women’s movement where rich women helped poor women and together they saved girls and women from prostitution, taught poor women marketable skills, opened schools, ran hospitals, and fed the poor. They offered a safe haven to women, the poor, and the lepers.

The taxes they paid to the towns were they lived protected them from the arbitrariness of the hierarchical church. They were a financial assets to the towns and a spiritual and economic help to the surrounding communities.

In many ways, the beguines remind me of the US religious sisters who go to the margins to help those left behind by both society and church. Beguines experienced “visitations” as well, when the Inquisition tried to rein in these independent women who did more good that the clerics of the times.

I am struck by how the beguines were simultaneous within and outside the Church. They did not depend on the hierarchy, for funds or authorization. They were free women who went about their business, praying and taking care of those in need, copying manuscripts, writing liturgies and hymns, ‘reading souls’ and giving spiritual direction. At a time when Christians were so afraid of God’s judgement, they proclaimed His goodness, compassion, and love, and incarnated those gifts wherever they ministered.
The beguines answered their call, choosing to live it in the world, a continuation of the first women disciples who accompanied Jesus on the dusty roads of Palestine, — before patriarchy reasserted itself.

I would love to read this book with a study group. I suspect that many ideas would come out of it, both exploring all that is already being done and of all that is left to be discovered.

Happy reading!

See also Phyllis Zagano’s article in NCR, Beguines Carried Forward Women’s Ministry

‘Algarete’ is a great word that I discovered in Puerto Rico, shortly after we joined our small CVX (CLC) community. I usually go to the meetings with a small notebook on which I enter new words or expressions. Algarete was one of the first ones I wrote down. It means ‘adrift’, as in a boat going adrift on the sea. Our meetings always start with the best of intentions. We have an agenda, developed over the years. It always begins with an opening prayer, then we move to sharing bits of our life since we last met.

When we introduced the idea of sharing, it came from Adult Children of Alcoholics where I remember everyone started the meeting with one or two sentences on how we each felt at that moment. No comments were expected or allowed even. Today, I feel really angry. Today I feel really sad. Today my life sucks. Today I feel really good. Each one thus had a basic idea how everyone felt and we could move to business, which was the exploration of one of the Twelve Steps.

Our CVX members rarely can fit how they feel into one sentence. We like to elaborate. Some interrupt to comment. Pretty soon, most of the meeting time has been about life sharing, which is heart-warming and truly important. I am sure that Godde is very pleased with it. St Ignatius may be as well, as listening is an art in Ignatian spirituality. At some point, however, someone exclaims, ‘We are algarete. We are adrift.’ And indeed we are.

For a while now, I have been algarete. I usually pray the daily readings. I even look at them the night before so that they can work on me. I come up with an idea or two for a blog. But my mind and life drift to some other activity, which I faithfully relate in my review of the day before I go to sleep.

Apart from the daily readings, two streams of thoughts have been with me these past few days.

This tweet of Fr James Martin has been rolling in both my mind and heart. I could only ‘favorite’ it. I could not pass it on. Why? When Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio was elected Pope two years ago, I was filled with joy. My prayers had been answered: our new pope was coming from Latin America. On top of it, he was a Jesuit! Who would have thought?

I remember tweeting that I was praying for someone who came from Liberation Theology. While it may not be the case of Pope Francis, he has not hesitated to beatify Archbishop Oscar Romero which has been a saint for me for many years. Pope Francis stands also for the poor, repeatedly. In my heart, he stands as a prophet, while in some other people’s hearts he is a communist (the last Communist was Leon Trotsky and he was shot decades ago).

When I tweeted my hope for the next Pope, I forgot to mention that I was hoping he would be women-friendly. A bit like when I made a pink bubble for our next home, thirty years ago, I forgot to mention that I wanted a view. I got everything I had asked for; it’s only afterwards that I realized I would have liked a view. Well, it’s only after the fact that I thought of a feminist Pope… Oh well.

Still, I am extremely fond of Pope Francis. When I read today in an article on a speech he made, or an interview he gave, in Mexico that he expected to be Pope for two to five years, I felt a great sadness. I would like him to live much longer. Then I wondered whether in the time he sees allocated to him, he will be able to do all that he wants to do, for he has started so many changes. For his intentions, I pray.

The second stream of consciousness with me these days comes from an article I read in the New Yorker. Break-in at Y-12.

It’s a great piece on the Plowshares movement, Dorothy Day, Phil Berrigan, Elizabeth McAlister, and many other invisible heroes who face jail for the sake of nonviolence and US disarmament. This brought back to my mind an important moment in my thirty day retreat when looking at the world and the Two Standards of Ignatius, I saw that I was part of the problem (i.e. with the rich folks — most white folks are rich, whether they know it or not, compared to those who earn two dollars a day). The question which sprang to my mind then was, “Can I be part of the solution?”. And I have no answer yet.

I mentioned two thoughts, but in fact I would like to add two more:

— one, by the great Ilia Delio, a reflection entitled, Why the earth won’t green without us. It’s really worth reading. Her mind and heart soar above mine, and lifts me up to spheres and concepts which are obvious but so often unseen or unthought of; and

— finally, because I spend so much time on Twitter, sifting through the news for the pearl that will explain it all, here is a short video of Eckhart Tolle, The news is the deepest manifestation of unconscious. This is delightfully true once I give some thought to it.

As you can see, I am indeed algarete, all over the place, adrift on the ocean of life, not doing much, trying to love mainly, floating along in Godde’s arms.

Blessings on your own journey.

Though your sins be like scarlet,
they may become white as snow;
Though they be crimson red,
they may become white as wool.

Is. 1:18

It is not easy to imagine my sins crimson red. I cannot be that bad, O Godde. I have a friend who refuses to look at sin in her life. Too much of it has been pushed down her throat over her many years by priests from the pulpit.

I find that in my life sin likes to go unnoticed. It makes itself small, harmless, innocuous. If I look at the span of my life, however, all the small, standard, and serious sins I have accumulated over time, I might as well face the crimson of my sins.

So here I am, Jesus, standing in the midst of my sins, sins that seep in every corner of my life, looking away so as not to face the pain they caused to many, but to You most of all. “Let us set things right,” You tell me. “If you are willing, and obey, they may become white as wool.”

You, Jesus, are on the cross, breathless, with no strength left. Your crimson blood shows the lashes of the whip; pearls of blood bead from your crown of thorns. You, the innocent one.

What have I done for You, Jesus?

What am I doing for You?

What will I do for You?

As I ponder the question, I walk with the Risen Christ on the beach. We talk of sin and love. I ask Him to change my heart, to help me obey, to become more willing. To follow you, O Risen One. Gently, He places his scarred hand on my heart and I feel His warmth, His life, a new life coming into me.

May the crimson of Your love beat in my own veins, Beloved.

Illustration: Autumn Lane, Kassel, Germany photo via fobsta, found on Pinterest.