Monthly Archives: July 2014

On the Camino


My sixty-fourth birthday. I was on my way to join my son and his cousin who were doing the Camino de Santiago.

They had already done 700 kilometres. I was going to do the last 100 with them, having done the first 100 a few years ago. Perhaps I’ll do the middle bit sometime.

I arrived in Sarria, 118 kilometres from the end. My son had walked 40k that day alone.


We set off at dawn-ish. Like a great conflux of rivers a tide of humanity seemed to carry us forward, all trying to get to Santiago de Compostela before St. James’ feast day on the 25th July. By 2 and 20k only the heat had wiped me out. As one plods on thoughts, even prayers, seem to vanish. The world revolves around the path. We made it to just short of Portmarrin.


Perhaps we stopped too soon. Perhaps we would not make St. James’ Day now. No mass in these out-of-the-way places but restful moment watching a priest give a great Eucharist to one pilgrim, framed by the evening light of the green fields of Galicia.

You stay in hostels in dormitories and people start banging about to leave at 5am in the pitch dark. Thus far they are bizarrely on Central European Time and it doesn’t get light until 7am.

The boys say now that they want to do a final great push to get there by the evening of the 24th.


We spend the night at Melide. Once again the heat has finished me by 4. But the boys make a great pasta dish in the hostel and by great good fortune we have a room to ourselves.

There is an evening Mass. In these country Spanish churches there are the most amazing statues, almost living in their depiction of the bleeding wounds of the dead Christ. The effect of the long walk and singing is overwhelming.


The boys have left at 4.30am for their great 60k final walk. I am too lonely on my own so I also get up and set off in the pitch dark. I have no torch and stumble on the broken path. I have no way of seeing the yellow signs but some kind Italians take me in hand. I follow in their wake at a great pace, for me, for an hour behind their kindly light.

The dawn happens imperceptibly in these woods. A great mist hangs over the land and seems empty save the pilgrims plodding on.

The convoy principle has not applied to our pilgrimage, the tough get going and the weak get left behind for the U-boats. In my case a Spanish white van driver travelling at 60 mph in what for me is the wrong side of the road but I plod on. I am now determined to get there by the pilgrims mass on the 25th.

I arrive at 7pm in Arca, only 20km short of Santiago. The 36k has taken 15 hours – a snail’s pace. But with great joy I get there in time for the evening mass. It is packed with pilgrims weary but happy near the end of their quest. The priest asks us to call out where we have come from; from Mexico, from France and Spain and Germany, they call out.


I set out but 20k in five hours is a big ask so I pile on and get to the Cathedral as the bells strike noon. The boys have made it, camping out in the packed city in their tent.
The doors are tightly closed and a huge queue stands proudly in front of them. Is this it? But they do open and we went in.

At the end of mass the giant incense holder – the “botafumeiro” – smoking box is swung above our heads, achieving a dizzying speed of up to 80kph it is said. It is only swung on feast days. We have made it.


We go to the pilgrim office with our credencial (pilgrim passport to get our compostela). It is a bit unfair that I get the same as the boys for having walked a measly 118k as them for having 774k but I suppose there are always vineyards and late employed workers and all that.

We queue up in the Cathedral to climb the narrow steps behind the high altar to hug the apostle and see his casket in the crypt. Is it him? Who knows, does it matter?
Tens of thousands have certainly believed it for over a thousand years.

Of course, the real camino is the way the medievals do it, you walk out of your front door in England, France, or Germany and trudge the whole way there and back, probably racked by disease and dysentery and poverty.

We can never obtain their faith. For us this is an act of faith rather than a belief in a reality. But one can only belief in what one can.

Do I believe St. James’ body was taken in a stone boat miraculously after his martyrdom in Jerusalem in around AD 44 to the most westerly top of Europe? No, I probably don’t. But do I believe that when you kneel in front of his casket under the high altar you a feel profound emotion. Yes, I do, because I have felt it.

Fifteenth Week


It was the final of the World Cup. Curiously I have got into football during this tournament, even after England’s early eviction. Perhaps the endless passing forward which frustratingly most time end in nothing are like the throwing of the seed on to the path in today’s Gospel, but maybe not. This, after all, is only football.

What can compare with and produce the majesty of this line:

“others fell on rich soil and produced their crop, some a hundred, some sixty, some thirty, listen anyone who has ears.” (Matthew 13:1-21)


We had a statement on Gaza, perhaps the Israeli government should heed Isaiah of today:

“search for justice, help the oppressed, be just to the orphan, plead for the widow.” (Isaiah 1: 10-11)


Re-shuffle day. I feel like the Flying Dutchman. I have seen so many reshuffles, people going up and the same people going down. Some so long ago, before 1991, that everybody who figured them has now left or is about to leave parliament.

Of course I would have liked to have figured in one of them but not at the price of saying what you don’t believe in or not at the price anyway of saying what you don’t believe in and still getting nowhere. I have seen many like that, of course it is disappointing never to have me given anything but …

“Pay attention, keep calm, have no fear, Do not let your heart sink” (Isaiah 7:1-9)


I remember staring up at the sails of my small boat. I was alone on the sea. Everything, rudder, wind, tide, sails were perfectly balanced. The sails themselves while up were in perfect form against the blue heavens and way beyond Spithead a deeper line of blue washed a distant horizon. Water flowed unthreateningly beneath the boat. What would be more in tune often simplicity is the best way:

“I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth for hiding these things from the learned and clever and revealing them to mere children.” (Matthew 11:25-27)


I was talking to a friend of mine, a Hindu, about his concept of reincarnation. It seemed to make quite a lot of sense to him that our soul was broken away from the divinity that a bit of this divinity is always seeking a way back, that in our next life we are placed according to how we have behaved in the last.

We had this conversation on a houseboat on the Thames in the midst of a political conversation. It seemed much more interesting than the rest of the evening’s political conversation.


Perhaps like Hezekiah we should not worry so much. He was at the point of death and told to put his affairs in order. This he did only perhaps because of his acceptance to be given another fifteen years of life.


The heatwave has broken and the dog retreats from waves of rain, thunder and lightning.

In the local church I read Psalm 28 although sometimes for me Psalm 10 today is more appropriate:

“Lord, why do you stand far off.
And hide yourself…”

Fourteenth Week


A similar feeling in the small upstairs church at Osgodby staring through the window at the distant line of the Wolds.

I always love this passage from St. Paul to the Romans:

“Your interests are not in the unspiritual, but in the spiritual… ”


Tolle says that most people completely identify with the voice in their head. We are unaware of it.

I think the thinker is me. I am the thinker. But I am not. The soul is me.

Because the thinker is framed by its past and present position and hopes and resentments around it – many of them keep repeating themselves.

From boyhood I have very occasionally slipped out of this identification with thought and wondered if I was something separate. But I have never been able to follow this trail very far.

Tolle thinks the ego lives off identification and separation. Me & You. I have always wondered however if this sense of uniqueness is not false. If in fact we are not ourselves and others. That all of humanity is in some strange way us.


One reason why I only occasionally keep a personal diary, which I suppose would have to be completely honest is that I would just complain in it constantly.

Tolle thinks that id others irritate us, we should view it as their ego acting, not them, and this fewer good advice to lessen irritation and complaining. Other people are kinder and nicer in reality than they often seem. Of course they are.


We had a debate on the Srebrenica massacre in Westminster Hall. I spoke. Some people complained about the Dutch and the Belgians. To me this misses the essential point that the evil lay in the massacre and this contagion of otherness is part of the human condition that given the right conditions, feelings of irritation at another’s ego can quickly dissolve into murderous intent.

I believe the only antidote is to remind of the fact that we are one humanity.

I suppose the gospels of Tuesday & Wednesday this week are about witness we are all in our different ways enjoined to bear witness

“The harvest is rich bit the labourers are few.” (Matthew 9)


Tolle rightly says that trying to get rid of a grievance by being good will rarely work. The ego is too strong. But recognising them as the work of the ego will start to put them in perspective it is entirely impossible for the ego to obey today’s Gospel:

“You received without change, give without change” (Matthew 10:7-11)

But we can recognise resistance to it as a thought of the ego?


As Tolle says when I assert light travels faster than sound, I am not asserting the ego, but when I say I know this because I see lightening before I hear thunder, the ego is creeping in. It always does. You can read or write something like this and in a second it is back.

But Tolle is wrong in thinking if he does that he can make real progress if we try this alone, outwith of ordinary religion:

“Have mercy on me God, in your kindness.
In your compassion blot out my offence” (Ps 50, today’s psalm)


Tolle quotes Jesus – “I am the way, the truth and the light” – to illustrate his contention that the truth is in every one of us. This must be true.

But if several billion of us state ‘I am the truth’ not my ego but my soul is that not moral relativism and a recipe for chaos to an extreme order.

Perhaps not if it is the soul and not the ego that is the way, the truth and the light. But on a practical level do we not need organised religion as a guide?

People say that these focus and rules create persecution but only if we allow it. I can say I practice Christianity, I do not need to say another cannot practice Islam and that is equally valid for him.

Amongst all the dross in the papers this week are pictures, it was only a picture which caught my eye. It was of a monk of Pluscarden. He looked serene. His surrender of all his liberty, of all his ego, his grinding daily vocation starting at 4 am, of singing 150 psalms every week has given his real I, not his ego, almost complete freedom. Then if we “assume” the rightness of rules and liturgies, then I can be freed from the ever restless ego.

Thirteenth Week


I am reading Eckhart Tolle at the moment – “A New Earth”. I buy some of his arguments that spirituality has become too buried in form and dogma. And his criticism of the ego as the dominant motivator in all our lives has resonance. But for most people, spirituality is hard to sustain in a vacuum. One can contemplate a flower and empty the mind – but for what, and where to?

And the Psalms do not need to sing of a religion of form and intolerance. They can sing of themselves.

“I will sing for ever of your love, O Lord
Through all ages my mouth will proclaim your truth
Of this I am sure, that your love lasts for ever
That your truth is as firmly established as the heavens.”


Tolle is right to identify the ego as the source of many of our problems. He is wrong to want to blanket it out. Of course exercises to still the mind, to rest it from its innocent worrying are good, but to what purpose?

I believe the point of emptying the mind of the material ego is to seek the soul within. Mindfulness is a technical secular body-based thing. Religious spirituality is then conducted for a purpose.

“Mark this, you who never think of God.”


I was thinking of the time I went sailing. I was in a day dream. I noticed a large buoy and sailed next to it. On the way back, to my horror, I realised I had sailed without realising it at exactly the right place through the submerged submarine cable in the Spithead. I hadn’t even directed the boat, I just let it sail where it wanted with wind and tide balancing sail. I couldn’t believe that I had forgotten about this hazard, a nasty one. On the way back I noticed even small boats carefully making for the marked gap. I was fighting against the wind, drifted to leeward, had to desperately start my engine being on my own. The tiller slipped, the boat did a violent jibe. I just made it through the gap. Yet going at it had been so happily unconscious that I had rested by back, gazed aft, and let the boat steer itself.

I was thinking of this when I read today’s reading:

“’Save us, Lord, we are going down!’ And He said to them, ‘Why are you so frightened, you men of little faith? And with that He stood up and rebuked the winds and the sea, and all was calm again.” (Matthew 8:23-27)


With a friend I was reading a passage from Escriva’s “The Furrow”. In the chapter on cheerfulness, the author says something like ‘In life, if you try to be happy, you won’t be.’ The implication is that happiness can only come in the next life. I don’t know that this hard-work Christianity really appeals to me. Why not try and be happy here? Who knows what will happen next? But to be fair to Escriva, he does make plain that we should at least attempt to look cheerful. I suppose if you look morose you are focussing too much on the tribulations of the ego. Switch off and try to look cheerful.

Look at this lovely poetry from today:

“Let me have no more of the din of your chanting.
No more of your strumming on harps.
But let justice flow like water
And integrity like an unfailing stream.” (Amos 5:21-24)


Tolle mentions Decartes’s famous phrase “I think, therefore I am.”

In the context of the ego, being mistaken for reality, our thought is not reality. Only when we recognise it as separate from us, when we look at it from afar instead of being ruled by it, can we find any peace.

As Tolle explains, Sartre hit upon this distinction when he wrote “The consciousness that says ‘I am’ is not the consciousness that thanks.”

I would take this further. At the back of my mind I have always felt but not been able to articulate that we are not our thought. Part of me thinks we can be everywhere. In that sense all of humanity is a unity. But this is still too all-encompassing a thought. I now think that “I think therefore there is a thought. I am because there is a soul.”


Tolle reminds us that it is only with some great loss that the ego can be freed. This is what he thinks St Paul meant by “the peace that passes all understanding”. We can lose a ring or have it stolen but memory of it soon eases, but sometimes the ego finds relief in resentment at feeling that we are a victim, or fate has been unjust or God has forgotten us or that given this catastrophe he clearly doesn’t exist or at least care.

So the ego no longer really cares about the loss of the ring or a job or reputation or a relationship, it cares about unkind fate.


I sat in our local medieval church and continued my slow passage through the Psalms.

Dominus me salve (Ps 26)
Lord save me

It is rather nice going through this literature framed on some blazing desert over two thousand years ago, in a land of intense heat and battle in this quiet English country church.