Wednesday, 24 June 2015

We are rich

Fr. Gerard preaches in Spanish in Moratinos Sunday morning

Life is rich, we are rich. The sky is full of sun, the fields full of grain, larks, lizards. Our house is full of pilgrims, builders, wanderers, dust, dogs.
It is busy here, busy all over town, busy up and down the camino.
The new mattresses finally arrived at Monasterio San Anton. Lots of you blog readers contributed to that, and I thank you. We bought some new cookware, and fly screens, too. The people who've stayed at San Anton are generous as well -- with the donations left there in the month of May, Ovidio bought a small propane-powered refrigerator, so the hospitaleros can keep milk and cheese and meat for longer than a few hours. Things are going well there. I am very pleased.
Here at Peaceable, the latest Big Thing is the Camino Chaplaincy, a Catholic outreach that aims to open up understaffed churches and offer pilgrim Masses in English. Father Gerard Postlethwaite, an English priest with missionary credentials, has been here for a week, staying in our guest room. He opens our church early every morning and meets and greets the pilgrims. He hears confessions, songs, stories until noon. He is a great listener. He loves these people.
At about 4 p.m., even in the blistering afternoon heat, he walks 3 km. east to Terradillos de Templarios, a village with two good-sized pilgrim albergues and an accommodating church. He visits each of the albergues to invite the pilgrims to come, and then he sets the table for Mass.
Meantime, I round up pilgrims here in Moratinos, and bring them in the car.
Pilgrims at Terradillos, waiting for the Mass to begin

We sit them all down up 'round the altar, and at 5:30 we do a Mass. In English, mostly, depending on how many townspeople turn up.
Gerard is priest. I'm the reader and "eucharistic minister," which means he gives the communion bread, and I serve the wine. (This is a rare sight in rural Spain for several reasons, but it is perfectly legal, church-wise.)
It's the same service every day, but every day is markedly different from the others. The ever-changing mix of nationalities, languages, weather, exhaustion and energy levels, spirituality, and comfort zones makes it all fascinating.
And every day I have to study up on another set of scripture passages, another Psalm. I get to declaim them, read them out, fill up the church space with that ages-old poetry. I love it. And when you love what you do, people notice. You sometimes can touch their hearts.
We are doing well. Our numbers are very good.
In the great cathedral at Santiago de Compostela, 50 to 80 people crowd into similar English-language Masses every morning. Out here in a tiny town on the plains, we draw 16 or 20 each evening. Not bad.
Construction continues in the front end of our house. The place is still cluttered with items waiting for new homes in the new storage room. The dogs are displaced into the back yard, where they've wcked the vegetable garden. Ollie is here, helping with whatever pilgrims arrive, helping Bruno build a wall, cutting brush, mopping floors, biding time til he goes back to San Anton.
Frederic, aka "Popeye the Sailor Man," is back on the scene, too -- we have him shifting tons of scrap lumber and cutting them into firewood. This is his third time working here. He works long and hard and well. I think he may be an angel of some sort. He is a scruffy hobo, really, but there is something innocent and child-like about him. He finishes a 10-hour day with chainsaw and hatchet in 90-degree heat, and at the end he thanks me.
Soon everyone will finish up and go home. The plaster will dry, we'll put everything back where it belongs, we can have our dinner out on the patio again. I will be very glad to get things back to something like normal, because all the hubbub gets tiresome.
I will look back on this and say, "wow."
I will sigh, and relax, and kinda miss it all.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

I Am Honored

About 300 of us schmoozed in a moldy grey cloister, sipping white wine. I tittered with George from William and Mary, and Mary from Vancouver. It all was international ooh-la-la. 

We were in Santiago de Compostela at an international convention of people in charge of pilgrim organizations. (I am not in charge of much of anything, but they let me go anyway, because I know a lot of them. This happens if you stick around a few years.)

An important lady from South Africa stood near, and Mary introduced us.  “You are Rebekah?” she said, incredulous. “Rebekah Scott?”
“The very one,” I said. The lady took my hand. She looked into my face.
“It’s an honor to meet you,” she said quietly. “An honor.”

She reads the blog, she said. She reads my comments on She said thank-you for writing what I write and saying what I say, that I am wise and inspirational. Maybe it was just the wind in her eyes, but it seemed like she started to cry.

I looked at George, and he only shrugged.

“Just another Rebekah fan. It’s the biggest fan club around,” George said. “I used to be president, but the membership was just too big for me to keep track.”

Now, George Greenia is a man with his own fan base. He’s a medieval scholar, published worldwide, head of his department in a highly respectable college, a pioneer of pilgrimage studies and camino history, and a beloved and gifted teacher. A couple of years ago he was named a Commander of the Order of Queen Isabel, one of Spain’s highest civilian honors. George is, in short, The Bomb.
And despite the flattery, George loves me, maybe as much as I love him. We go way back. We are kindred spirits. We are very good for one another. It still amazes me that someone I respect so much really likes me.   
And here this South African lady really likes me, too, or so it would seem.

I was embarrassed, and flattered, and rendered somewhat speechless. This is only ME, I thought – look at the way she’s created this lofty image! I cannot be all these things. I am only myself. And myself is really nothing remarkable.  

Today someone sent me a photo they took, right about that same moment. 
We are privileged white people, standing in a fabulous place, in one of the world’s unique shrine cities. We are sipping superb wine, nibbling on delicacies, dressed in nice clothes. We have good haircuts, we’re smiling, laughing. We are educated, witty, tasteful, successful people from successful, powerful places. We have leisure enough to come to this faraway place and hobnob together for a few days, to meet more people like us from other faraway places.
We’re do-gooders, all of us, in one way or another. Mary trains Canadians to be volunteer hospitaleros – hosts in pilgrim shelters.  She travels all over her vast country, and brings a cheerful energy to the job. She doesn’t get paid for it. 

Me? I live here, in the dusty part of the camino. I put people together with other people they need to meet. I ask people to come and be hospitaleros in inhospitable places, and they say “yes.”  I let people sleep in our spare rooms, and share food with them sometimes. I write stories, I clean house, I tell dogs “No.” I let priests stay in our spare rooms, and I ask the locals if we can open the churches and offer Masses in English. And they say “yes.”
I asked people to help pay for new mattresses at San Anton, the ratty little albergue in a ruined monastery. They said “yes.”  I pick up trash along the trail and in the street, because I don’t like seeing it there and nobody else will pick it up. I ask other people to help me, and some of them  do. Some of them fly all the way from England each December to help pick up trash. (Other people keep throwing trash on the ground anyway.) 
All I really do is ask people for things, and then I put them – people and things -- to work. Because I rather enjoy work. I do lots of work, most of it unpaid. But I do not think the work I do is particularly angelic or saintly or even remarkable – maybe because I enjoy it, because I choose to do it, on my own terms.  
Still, like George says, nobody else does what I do. I am the only one who does this particular mix of things.
So that is unique. It is special, because my setting is special: I live among the cloisters and pilgrim trails and ruined monasteries. They give my hard work an air of mystery and sacrifice it wouldn’t have if I was just running a non-profit do-gooder agency in Iowa.  
And I have really impressive friends who love me. Not because I do things. They love me because I am me, and I inspire them to do good things.
I need to learn to love myself the same way they do. I need to learn to accept praise without feeling I somehow don’t really deserve it.   
As a very wise woman called Macrina Weiderkehr wrote:

“I will believe the truth about myself
no matter how beautiful it is.”