A Cup of Kindness

teaI didn’t think I’d make it through that Tuesday. There I was, sitting in my car as the Fremont Bridge was opening to let a yacht pass through. This was not an occurrence I had planned on, as I’d never known the bridge to open on a winter morning in all the years I’d taught at Seattle Pacific University. And it meant I’d be late to class.

I hate being late, so much that it rarely ever happened. Still, the few times it had, I’d been able to keep my cool. This time, though, was different. I screamed and cursed at the bridge, pummeled my fists on the steering wheel, felt like crying.

I’d become a discombobulated mess.

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Seeing and Being the Face of Christ

jesus-face11The Catholic church I attend is lovely. A wine brick building with a copper steeple in the English Gothic style, it is not only a city landmark, but listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Perhaps it’s because of this pedigree that the sanctuary is maintained in a way that exudes warmth and welcome, but vigilantly avoids the cute, sentimental, or kitsch—the Christmas trees have no drug store baubles, the paschal lilies lack purple foiled pots, and the ambo is never hung with felt banners fashioned by kids.

This is why I was surprised to encounter a man-tall sandwich board in the nave last Sunday: white with large black letters—“Seeing the Face, Being the Face”—together with a line drawing of an androgynous cloaked head.

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The Iron Cross: An Observation from the Way of Saint James, Part 2

CruzdeFerroContinued from yesterday

The Way of Saint James—El Camino de Santiago—is a pilgrimage that began in the Middle Ages and remains popular today. Each year pilgrims from all around the world walk from points throughout Europe to reach the tomb of Saint James in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Some do it for sport, others for contemplation, others to pray for miracles.

In September 2013 my husband and I were among the pilgrims. We began our walk in León, trekking 200 miles in twelve days.

Our first day ended in Hospital de Órbigo, a village with an arched Gothic bridge, our second took us to Astorga, a small city with a gorgeous Gaudí palace, and our third finished in Rabanal del Camino, a stone village with a tiny central square.

On the fourth day of our Camino, we rose before dawn and departed Rabanal. As we walked a country road beneath the moon and stars, I could feel the grade increasing, straining the backs of my legs. We were ascending the pass of Irago. Soon the sun rose lemon-yellow, revealing iridescent mountains, releasing the scents of heather and gorse.

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The Iron Cross: An Observation from the Way of Saint James, Part 1

LaStoriaI didn’t know Julia well.

The first time I saw her, she was sitting at the far end of the table around which our language class met. Although I knew the instructor, Chiara, it was my first day with this group of students who for years had gathered in Chiara’s dining room to discuss classic books in Italian.

That day I was the last one to arrive, and when I entered the room the group was already engaged in friendly pre-class conversation. As I took my seat, six pairs of eyes looked up at me, six mouths chorused “Piacere” with American twangs, and six hands reached across the table to shake mine.

But the person I noticed most was Julia, a trim woman about my age with a strawberry bob and a smile like a lamp.

Since I was new to the class, Chiara asked the veterans to introduce themselves: Filippo, Becca, Davide, Laura, Carla—all genial, interesting people who loved everything Italian.

But again, it was Julia who drew me. A psychologist with a PhD, she seemed warm, spoke Italian perfectly, listened to others with attention, as if they were the center of her world. Of all the members of the group, she was the one I hoped to make my friend.

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Surrendering the Lead: An Observation from the Way of Saint James, Part 2

Vallone photo part 2Continued from yesterday.

On our seventh day walking El Camino de Santiago, my husband and I rose before dawn and departed O’Cebreiro, a Celtic mountaintop village with cobbled streets and numerous pallozas—round, stone houses with thatched roofs. We walked beneath the moon and stars, soon joining a group of eighteen young adults we’d met a few days before.

Guided by a few pilgrim headlamps, we headed down a wooded track. It wound around the hill before descending to the hamlet of Liñares and ascending again. The sun began to rise, revealing an ethereal horizon of green hilltops floating over morning mist. This is where Megan caught up to us, and my husband walked on ahead so the two of us women could talk.

Megan is a blue-eyed Millennial, a genial girl-next-door with a graceful stride. She told me nothing makes her happier than teaching and working with kids. Just a few months before the Camino, she completed a MEd in educational psychology. Through the summer she worked as a camp coordinator. She enjoyed it very much, but the job was seasonal and had ended. On the Camino she was pondering her future, worried that she’d found no other job and scared that she never would. [Read more...]


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