Archive for April, 2014

THY CAMINO: Gratitude II


The Walk Before Us – A Step at a Time on the Camino de Santiago 

I neglected to include one person to whom I very recently expressed my gratitude. It seems as though I was walking along the other day on the Camino (listening to my iPod) when I followed the path (which appeared very similar to the way marked trail) in a wrong direction, deep into some farmer’s fields of young growing wheat. After some 30 minutes or so I noticed a farmer on his tractor coming towards me. I waived a hello and moved out of the way. The tractor stopped. I glanced above. The farmer was gesturing that I had gotten off the Camino as he pointed to a point that was a considerable distance back. There was little for me to do but retrace my steps when the farmer tapped on the tractor and motioned for me to jump on. He took me all the way back to where the trail split. Thirty minutes later I came into Granon where my Italian friends were having lunch. They invited me to join them as they explained how they waved and yelled and whistled to me when they saw me going astray. But with earphones I heard nothing.

My tractor ride will forever be part of my Camino experience and I will forever be grateful to my Spanish farmer friend for giving me that ride.




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THY CAMINO: Gratitude & Contentment – Eric Liddell and Carmen on the Camino


The Walk Before Us – A Step at a Time on the Camino de Santiago 

This is the type of post under Thy Will I had intended to do sooner and more frequently. That said, better late than never. Hopefully, I will have time for more as planned.

Today, people walk the Camino for different reasons. This has been confirmed to me many times over as I have met pilgrims from Denmark, Australia, Poland, Ireland, Korea, Brazil and numerous other places. Interestingly, a fairly common reason (usually among other feasons) is to give thanks in some way for their lives, or as a Christian (and perhaps others) might say, for the blessings of their life.

This past week was “Staff Appreciation” week at our law firm, LeClairRyan. In a very real sense it was all about gratitude. In the same or similar vein as pilgrims along the Camino. For my purposes here, I note that the expressions of gratitude by a few of my partners were not some generalized statements of being thankful, but their sincere expressions were directed towards someone – here, the non-lawyers at the firm that help make us who we are and help us provide the kind of service critical to our mission and our success.

Coincidentally (for those who have read posts here before – I remind you of what C. S. Lewis said about coincidences), this very topic of being grateful came up as I walked many kilometers of the Meseta in northern Spain. As I left Burgos in the predawn light I ran junto Carmen, a 25year-old Spanish woman put on the Camino, as we tried to read the way markings out of the city. I walked a long day with Carmen and learned much about her and life in Spain. I was mostly taken and touched by her perspective – “I may have been unemployed for 3 years but I’m more blessed than most.” She continued, “I’m rich in so many things – I live in a wonderful community, I have a roof over my head and I have a wonderful family.” Even though Spain was continuing to suffer from a sagging economy and opportunities for her were few, she was content, happy, and comfortable that life would be fine.

I couldn’t help but recall a great scene from Chariots of Fire when Harold Abrahams looks at Eric Liddell and laments that – unlike Liddell – he had never been content. As he said, “when the gun goes off, I have 10 seconds to prove myself.” He lacked contentment because his hope, his sense of value was based upon his personal achievement.

For most then, it’s hard to have a sense of gratitude, if you are not content. You are always looking for something more. You are always wondering why some have more than you or some have achieved more – whether it be recognition or material success. My observations suggest that the inability to be content with whatever you have or with wherever you are is a function of where you place your hope – where you – like Harold Abrahams – place your sense of worth.

This then is prelude for my own thoughts about gratitude. Yes, I many “peregrines” I thought that time of the Camino would give me the generally uninterrupted time to consider seriously those things for which I have grateful – and make appropriate notation thereof.

When I think back on my first 55 years, I have an enormous list of people for whom I am grateful. Many would suggest that I have “succeeded” in life – however you may define that. I have had a successful professional career, I have achieved some things outside of the work environment, I have some great friends, and I have an extraordinary wife and children. So how do I assess that “success”? If I were to focus on MY WILL I’d say that I pulled myself by my own bootstraps. That I worked hard and that I created opportunities for myself and by the dint of my smarts and hard work I became a successful – all glory and honor to me.

But, I now know that that is not true. Rather, I am exceedingly aware of an extraordinary number of people that helped me become the “success” that I may have achieved. I touched on this in my book The Race Before Us, but allow me to expand. Whatever I have achieved, whatever people point to and suggest that I have “succeeded,” I now know was the work of many people, and inevitably the grace of a God. So, when I take the time to carefully think about how I have been so blessed beyond measure, I recognize that a great number of people did a great number of things to get me to where I am today. When I think back upon it I have to acknowledge that I am grateful for –

– my parents, who communicated and inculcated values
– my patents, who sacrificed so I could attend college
– Judge Shelley, who served as my first professional mentor, and encouraged others to take a chance on a brash northerner
– Butch and Burt, who thought I might be a reasonable associate
– Tom, who provided an extraordinary amount of wisdom in two years, lessons from which I have repeated for almost 30 years
– Tom and Slate, who thought I might be able to contribute to a new practice team at a marquis law firm
– Bonnie, who worked tirelessly for many years to see that my work product was complete and first rate
– Stan and Frank, who thought I might be able to stand on my own two feet and develop a practice
– Stan and Gary, who took in as a partner a cocky 35 year-old who thought he could conquer the world
– Bill, who advanced our practice and supported my ego, while showing me true intellect and true humility
– Vern for stepping up whenever I needed support
– Chris and Kirk and Bill and Mike and Brandy for handling matters better than I could
– Kim, who handled so many matters and otherwise covered for me
– Rob, who has consistently made me look better than I am
– Jeff, who asked me to be co-counsel, who always trusted me as co-counsel, and who supported me as a candidate for the most important professional role in my career
– Carl and Mike, who have been along side (with extraordinary patience) for most of the journey
– John, Wally, Giff, Ned, and Kevin, who have provided me with more fun and camaraderie for which anyone could ask

And I am grateful to those other friends, acquaintances, and colleagues who I have failed to mention.

And, of course, I am eternally grateful for an extraordinary wife, for whom I’m sure I could have been a better husband. Thankfully, With God’s grace, I will have many years to try to make that right.

So, when I think about THY WILL, I’d like to think that I have been blessed beyond measure, not because what I have done, but because what He has done. Like our law firm, we are not happy or thankful or grateful in a vacuum, we are grateful to people. Likewise, when I look back on 55 pretty good years, I’d like to think that I am grateful, but it too is not some generalized, unspecific sense – but a recognition that I have been blessed by God beyond measure by wonderful parents, an incredible family, generous colleagues and great friends. Why – I have no idea, but I still have a few weeks on the Camino. X





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Thy Camino: The Walk Before Us III


The Walk Before Us – A Step at a Time on the Camino de Santiago 

This will be my last “introductory” or general post about “Thy Camino,” which I guess is good since I’m already over two weeks into the trip. Hopefully, there will be more specific and more frequent “Thy Camino” posts as well as the more “travelogue” – My Camino posts.

With Easter still a near memory, it is useful to look at the most important reference concerning our obligation to follow “Thy Will”. It was of course in the garden (on the eve of his crucifixion that Jesus said: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”

The other important and obvious (so obvious I wonder how often I said it and did not take to heart what it really means) reference to “Thy Will” is in the “Lord’s Prayer.” Jesus said: Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be down.

If you are a Christian, every time you repeat the Lords Prayer you are acknowledging that your plans (“My Will”) are secondary. For me, one of the “epiphanies” for me in analyzing issues of faith was realizing how much MY PLANS and my objectives had overwhelmed or suppress what might be God’s Will – God’s plan for me.

As I’ve indicated before, once someone comes to faith, the task “set before them” is how to live more as a disciple – how is it that conform our lives, how is it that we have been changed? I have written earlier (during my time in Oxford) about how coming to faith really involves – not a “blind leap,” but the placing of trust in something (someone) you have acknowledged to be real and true. The premise of the blog then is that a Christian has already chosen between “My Will” and “Thy Will” when they believed in (“who shall ever believe”) accepted Jesus (when they “trusted”). It seems to me that by definition that if you have come to faith – come to trust – you have acknowledged that God’s will (“Thy Will”) is primary and paramount, but the task (“the race before us”) – the very hard job – for each of us is (1) to discern God’s will and (2) to follow Thy Will.

While perhaps I will spend some time on discernment, the major point here, the “final” introductory” point, is that we actively resist Thy Will – rather, we are so confident in our own abilities or we are so driven to our personal desires and objectives that we ignore or suppress Gods will. The process we need to go through – a major topic of my thoughts along the Camino – is how to more regularly and more automatically look for Thy Will and at the same time recognized that My Will may be focused on more personal or selfish agendas, if not the pursuit of other idols ( in my book The Race Before Us, one way to look at the three “Ps” was to see them as false idols.

Not to lose heart though – the process (a fancy word might be “sanctification”) takes time, which is why Paul used the race metaphor so much. He knew we would slip and fall (when “My Will” takes over) and that we would have to get up and “press on.” In fact, we are never likely to win the race, but we hope that when the race is over, we are greeted by “well done, good and faithful servant.”










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MY CAMINO: Walking, Wine and Golf

A few of my favorite things – and on the Camino. (Days 7 – 9)

The pleasant monotony of beginning a days hike in the cool of the morning while the sun is rising at my back continued. I had enjoyed my first non-hostel room in Viana the night before and was enthusiastic to move ahead on the journey.  It was largely a solitary morning. For the first time I used my iPod and listened to James Taylor. While some find his music depressing, I’m a big fan and he often delves often into life’s big questions. (“The Secret of Life,” “Shed a Little Light,” and others. Maybe more on this in a later post.) And sometimes his tunes just fit the mood (“Wandering”). It was particularly useful to have music to distract me from the depressing or at least uninspiring, light industrial landscape approaching and entering Lagronos. The tempernillo grape and Rioja wine dominates the business of the area and this city – headquarters to over 500 wineries. Before doing that though I ran into sisters from Florida and cousins from Holland and Minnesota, both pairs hiking the Camino together.

In contrast to Pamplona, Lagronos is a very modern city, little of its older heritage (other than a few churches, naturally) remain. I stopped for a break and an early lunch at a bar/cafe and within minutes was joined by a 25 year-old Korean woman (Inae – “Eena” – Choi), who recognized me (and me her) because we had crossed paths and stayed in the same hostels a few times since starting in St. Jean. We left together and made the long walk out of the city on sidewalks and through parks together until we finally escaped the suburban outskirts. The afternoon was warmer and we had some hills to climb on our way to Naverrete. Inae started to fad at the end but we finally made the final climb into this very old village. The cynic or critic might note that everyday seems rather the same – walking through fields and vineyards and the spotting a village with a church tower or two and then climbing up into such medieval villages (often more than a couple a day). There is considerable truth to that, but I’m still enjoying everyday and have not had any sense of boredom or monotony (other than the perfect morning sunrises).  We checked into the first hostel we came to and got settled. I headed out for supplies and to see the church.

Naverrete was built into a hill, in a semi-circle around the church in the center of town. The 12th century, Romanesque church features a front piece/retablo from later centuries reminding us not only of the enormous wealth amassed by Spain particularly in the 16th and 17th centuries, but of their extraction and export of gold itself from central and southern America.

Day 8 proved to be a fun day for a variety of reasons. Up early again and out of Naverrete just behind a large group (and I could see Inae just up ahead).  Seven kilometers on my own – a wonderfully peaceful time. I rolled into the first town and joined friends from Australia (husband, wife and 25 year-old son) for eggs and bacon. Inae joined us. We also spoke with a young couple from New Zealand and single Spanish woman doing the Camino with her dog.

After breakfast, Inae and I walked together and ran into three families from Barcelona doing “spring break” for their fourth year on the Camino. I walked for an hour with the ringleader mom, who spoke excellent English.  (It is not unusual, especially for individuals, families and/or other groups in Spain, to do the Camino a portion at a time (like a “section hiker” on the Appalachian Trail). The families formed two spirit lines on either side of the trail and cheered “bueno Camino” (with appropriate arm movements) as Inae and I passed between the lines. I continued on and enjoyed another two walking among the vineyards – after all, we were now in Rioja.

After a 23 km day, I settled into the only albergue in town. My new friends from Boston were there as were my Australian family. Two to a room (which is very unusual) and – who was my roommate? – but Mike from Wales, a 55 year-old I had met the prior day in a town 30k east. Dinner with Andy, Jan, and Matt (the “Aussies”) and Mike joined us at the end of the meal.

The next morning, I was out before sunrise once again. This time following my friends from Boston. At times we needed our torches (flashlights for North Americans) to find the way markings in the dark fields and vineyards. We had a 10k climb into Ciruena – a true ghost time. Not unlike abandoned towns after the gold rush ended in the American west, this town features completely constructed, fairly high-end single family residences, apartments, condos, and various flats. In a town with 131 people, it was odd – to say the least – to see perfectly good housing for another 4,000 just sitting there, completely unoccupied. And, perhaps even more out of place is the Rojo Alta Golf Club – a course that was described as the Augusta National (or the Independence Golf Club) of northern Spain.

I enjoyed my walk through Santo Domingo de la Calzada – a town named for Saint Dominic who is credited with greatly improving and expanding services along the Camino in the 11th century – which is something we have to keep reminding ourselves, that these cities and the route (this Way”) carried and cared for Christian pilgrims over 1000 years ago. I finished a very aggressive hiking day of 38 kilometers** by climbing up and down three more of these hilltop villages and settling in for the day in Belorado.

[**I actually hiked an additional 2k (not in this day’s total) when – a little too engaged with the music on my iPod – I missed a turn and headed deeper into a farmer’s fields. As luck would have it (and we know I’m lucky, I mean blessed), the farmer came along, pointed out my mistake, and then had me hop up on his tractor and get a ride back to the point where I missed the turn.]



















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Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleluia!
Our triumphant holy day, Alleluia!
Who did once, upon the cross, Alleluia!
Suffer to redeem our loss, Alleluia!

Hymns of praise then let us sing, Alleluia!
Unto Christ, our heavenly King, Alleluia!
Who endured the cross and grave, Alleluia!
Sinners to redeem and save, Alleluia!

But the pains which He endured, Alleluia!
Our salvation hath procured, Alleluia!
Now above the sky He’s king, Alleluia!
Where the angels ever sing, Alleluia!

Sing we to our God above, Alleluia!
Praise eternal as His love, Alleluia!
Praise Him, all you heavenly host, Alleluia!
Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, Alleluia!









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MY CAMINO: Finding a Routine and Finding (and Refinding) New Friends

As we have each morning, on Day 4 we headed out of the albergue (“pilgrim hostel”) in Pamplona at or before the crack I’d dawn. We walked through old city, taking note of the streets and the turns where the bulls run in July at the xxx festival. Leaving Pamplona we walked along the old citadel and then headed west out of town. This was a day of another major climb – not quite like climbing over the Pyrenees – but a substantial climb up the Alto de Perdon. (Historically, pilgrims that made it at least this far on the Camino were considered to have been pardoned of their sins.). A sculpture capturing a scene of ancient pilgrims along the Camino see photo below) has been constructed at the top of the high ridge (where also numerous windmills have also been constructed). [In fact, the sculpture apparently was commissioned by the energy company responsible for the enormous windmills.]

Some of the most difficult climbing of the trip has been coming down from this high ridge. Loose gravel and a severe slope. I went slowly and carefully. I navigated the hill successfully, but would discover the next day that the constant stress on the steep incline caused swelling and a minor injury to my right knee. After the Alto de Perdon the travel rolled smoothly through some small villages until reaching Puente La Reina – where (thankfully – because I was worn out for the day) I found a hostel for the night near the famous 12th century bridge.

I rose early and started hiking with Clara (who I had met and walked with the prior morning) in the pre-dawn light. (She had promised her father she wouldn’t hike in dark alone.). Because we are early to bed and because we are heading west to Santiago, we watch the sun rise and have it at our ack most if the day. The cool mornings have been exceptional for hiking, but as the sun gets hotter the day seems to provide a constant cool breeze. Once again, a magnificent day for walking as we. Enjoyed the songbirds and numerous other signs of spring. Pete from Cornwall, England joined us for the walk.

We stopped by a famous stop along “the Way” – the Irache wine fountain, where monks, and now a commercial producer, has offered wine free to pilgrims for hundreds of years. After that refreshment, we journeyed another 7 km on to the small village of Villamayor de Monjardin, where we stayed in old albergue run my Christian volunteers from Netherlands. It featured a communal meal – at my table of ten were people from England, Germany, South Africa, Netherlands, Canada, and Richmond – yes, there was sitting across from me Jen from Richmond, who teaches at VCU. It was a great meal, but the conversation and camaraderie made the evening special (which is a good thing because 12 of us shared a room about the size of my office at work for the evening).

Day 6 had the pilgrims at the Dutch hostel enjoying breakfast of fruit juice, coffee, salami, cheese, and bread. The walking crew from the previous afternoon started out together at 7:15 as the sun was rising on another perfect day. It’s not surprising that Clara wanted to stay close to me, I owed the recent German high school grad 23 euros she had to front me for dinner, bed, and breakfast at the Villamayor hostel. (I have not yet found a use for a credit card and only 20 percent of the villages we pass through have ATM machines – and some of those have never heard of Bank of America). After 12.5 km of easy walking we reached Los Arcos, where we enjoyed coffee con leche (coffee with hot milk – much like a latte) and Clara enjoyed watching Santander provide me with my next allowance if euros. I let Pete and Clara move on so I could enjoy some alone time on the Camino.

Almost two hours later as I entered the small village of Sansol I stopped to take a photograph of the local vineyards. A Spaniard came up to me and motioned that he would take it so I could be in it. When he finished I offered my best “gracias” to which he pulled a piece of paper and said what someone had written for him:”it is nothing.” We both laughed. I mention this mostly because I am writing this on Day 13 – Juan checked into the same albergue today as I did and it was the sixth time we’ve run into each other since that photo session – that is one thing that happens to everyone almost everyday on the Way to Santiago. (Ten minutes later I ran into Jen from the night before and we shared some rest time over soft drinks in Sansol.)

In the afternoon I hiked up some pretty good hills, including the climb up and into Viana. (As the photographs should reveal, many of these older villages are located on hilltops for better defense in earlier times.). It was time to have some privacy and my own bathroom, so in Viana I stayed in a modest, two-star hotel for the evening. Good timing – I was ready for the quiet and the rest. (It was in this town where I took the photograph for the Good Friday post.)

After hiking out of the Pyrenees and it’s foothills, the terrain for the second three days was more level (yet it had numerous hills that caused your heart rate to rise), the landscape was more open, and the trails less protected by tree cover. A different look and feel as we left the piedmont for wheat fields and vineyards punctuated by medieval villages many with Roman walls and all with Romanesque or early Gothic churches. )















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One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise”


Note: I saw this sculpture on the side of the Church of Santa Maria in Viana, Spain – a town I stayed in and walked through on the Camino de Santiago. I was notable because it is rare that I have seen such artwork of the crucifixion where Jesus is presented with the robbers to either side. It thus reminded me of one of the most encouraging and one of my favorite lines of scripture — “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”>

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