Archive for May, 2014

“Marriage Isn’t for Me” (Covenant Love II)

No one has shown me better how to be in the world while not being of the world more than my wife Cheryl. My tribute to her is throughout the book itself. For her remarkable patience, quiet example, and unwavering love, I am eternally grateful.  (excerpt from the “Acknowledgements” in The Race Before Us)

[I will get back to the Camino, but today is my wedding anniversary.]

Recently, I offered a post – “Faith, Sex and Covenant Love” – that challenged readers to consider the biblical model for marriage by pointing them to a message by Tim Keller about “Covenant Love.”  That post also mentioned a number of “coincidences” that had suggested the topic to me.  (And, I know some will not believe this, but the evening after I made that post I received an email with a blog post from someone who had not read my post.  In her post was this quotation from C.S. Lewis:

“if you believe in God, there is no such thing as a coincidence.”

As I said in that earlier post:  “I am increasingly skeptical about coincidences.”  So, what’s the point?

A couple of days after the “Faith, Sex and Covenant Love” post – another coincidence – I ran across a news story about a blog post that told a story about a father’s advice and an exhibition of covenant love.  There’s little else I can say other than to urge you to read – “Marriage Isn’t for You” below.  (I think this is what Tim Keller meant when he spoke about covenant love.)

Marriage Isn’t For You

Having been married only a year and a half, I’ve recently come to the conclusion that marriage isn’t for me.

Now before you start making assumptions, keep reading.

I met my wife in high school when we were 15 years old. We were friends for ten years until…until we decided no longer wanted to be justfriends. 🙂 I strongly recommend that best friends fall in love. Good times will be had by all.

Nevertheless, falling in love with my best friend did not prevent me from having certain fears and anxieties about getting married. The nearer Kim and I approached the decision to marry, the more I was filled with a paralyzing fear. Was I ready? Was I making the right choice? Was Kim the right person to marry? Would she make me happy?

Then, one fateful night, I shared these thoughts and concerns with my dad.

Perhaps each of us have moments in our lives when it feels like time slows down or the air becomes still and everything around us seems to draw in, marking that moment as one we will never forget.

My dad giving his response to my concerns was such a moment for me. With a knowing smile he said, “Seth, you’re being totally selfish. So I’m going to make this really simple: marriage isn’t for you. You don’t marry to make yourself happy, you marry to make someone else happy. More than that, your marriage isn’t for yourself,you’re marrying for a family. Not just for the in-laws and all of that nonsense, but for your future children. Who do you want to help you raise them? Who do you want to influence them? Marriage isn’t for you. It’s not about you.Marriage is about the person you married.”

It was in that very moment that I knew that Kim was the right person to marry. I realized that I wanted to make her happy; to see her smile every day, to make her laugh every day. I wanted to be a part of her family, and my family wanted her to be a part of ours. And thinking back on all the times I had seen her play with my nieces, I knew that she was the one with whom I wanted to build our own family.

My father’s advice was both shocking and revelatory. It went against the grain of today’s “Walmart philosophy”, which is if it doesn’t make you happy, you can take it back and get a new one.

No, a true marriage (and true love) is never about you. It’s about the person you love—their wants, their needs, their hopes, and their dreams. Selfishness demands, “What’s in it for me?”, while Love asks, “What can I give?”

Some time ago, my wife showed me what it means to love selflessly. For many months, my heart had been hardening with a mixture of fear and resentment. Then, after the pressure had built up to where neither of us could stand it, emotions erupted. I was callous. I was selfish.

But instead of matching my selfishness, Kim did something beyond wonderful—she showed an outpouring of love. Laying aside all of the pain and anguish I had caused her, she lovingly took me in her arms and soothed my soul.

Marriage is about family.

I realized that I had forgotten my dad’s advice. While Kim’s side of the marriage had been to love me, my side of the marriage had become all about me. This awful realization brought me to tears, and I promised my wife that I would try to be better.

To all who are reading this article—married, almost married, single, or even the sworn bachelor or bachelorette—I want you to know that marriage isn’t for you. No true relationship of love is for you. Love is about the person you love.

And, paradoxically, the more you truly love that person, the more love you receive. And not just from your significant other, but from their friends and their family and thousands of others you never would have met had your love remained self-centered.

Truly, love and marriage isn’t for you. It’s for others.

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Special thanks to Seth Adam Smith for these words of wisdom.  Even when we don’t necessarily realize it, God has written His rules on our hearts.  Our job is to recognize these truths and not suppress their full expression.

And, Cheryl – our marriage is for us, I pray that I show you it’s not about me.  Happy Anniversary.

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THY CAMINO: Pilgrims, Pilgrimages, and Indulgences

If you walk the Camino de Santiago, you will be referred to as a “pilgrim” or, in Spanish, a “peregrino.” You need to pick up a “Pilgrim Passport” in St. Jean (or from one of the many confraternity associations around the world), which document provides access to the various “albergues” (“pilgrim hostels”) set up along the way to Santiago. In most towns and villages along the Camino various bars, cafes, and restaurants offer a “pilgrim meal” at dinnertime, which consists of a starter, entrée, dessert, bread, water & wine for a modest price (usually 9 or 10 euros). And, when you finish the Camino in the city of Santiago, the evidence that you have completed the trip and are entitled to receive a “Compostela” is your pilgrim passport, which has been stamped at 30 to 50 (or more sites) you stayed at or visited on the Way. The point here is that the idea of being a pilgrim or being on a pilgrimage is at the very core of attempting to walk the Camino de Santiago.

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Historically and generally speaking, a “pilgrim” is thought to be someone on a religious or spiritual journey – typically an actual, physical journey. Most undertake some spiritual journey in their lifetime (examining the “big questions” of life, like – why am I here?), which can be thought of as a pilgrimage, but it is more common traditionally to think of pilgrimage as a physical movement involving a spiritual motivation. Think of the “American Pilgrims” – a religious group seeking to preserve their interpretation of proper worship, who travelled to Holland and then to “Plymouth Rock.” Thomas Merton said: “The geographical pilgrimage is the symbolic acting out of the inner journey. The inner journey is the interpretation of the meaning and signs of the outer pilgrimage. One can have one without the other. It is best to have both.”

In a very real sense, God sent Abraham on a pilgrimage. Christians and Jews have undertaken pilgrimages to the “Holy Land” (Jerusalem) for thousands of years. Other religious orders emphasize pilgrimage – one of the five major tenets of Islam is that Muslims are to journey to Mecca (the “Hajj”) at least once in their lifetime.

Originally (in medieval times), the individuals on “the Way” were out for much more than a physical challenge or a walk of spiritual discovery. One resource says, “A major motivation [for medieval pilgrims] was orandi causa – in order to pray, to seek forgiveness, to fulfill a vow, or to petition St. James for a certain blessing, such as healing.” Another source says, “in any case, the gaining of the plenary indulgence became a dominant motivation for the pilgrimage.”

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To understand the historical Camino then we probably need to understand what is meant by “gaining a plenary indulgence.” What is an “indulgence” (or a “plenary indulgence”) and why would someone want (or need) an indulgence? I grew up in a Congregational Church in Connecticut. For the last 28 years I’ve attended a Lutheran Church. Neither of those denominations to my knowledge discussed or provided indulgences. The historian in me recalls that one of Martin Luther’s major criticisms of the “church” included the idea and the practices relating to indulgences. In my next “Thy Camino” post, therefore, I will explore this idea of indulgences and how it fits into a life of faith and what it means for the modern-day “peregrino” on the Camino de Santiago.

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MY CAMINO – Burgos (Day 11)

As I have indicated before, walking or hiking (you certainly do both) the Camino de Santiago is a far cry from the Appalachian Trail or other more wilderness adventures.  The nature of the path on which you travel and the environment through which you travel are both quite varied.  After 10 days of hiking I had climbed over the Pyrenees on paved roads, rocky slopes and snow-covered trails.  I had followed a mountain stream through wooded terrain on a soft earthen path, walked through small towns and villages on quiet streets, climbed the Alto de Perdon on a hard, gravel surface, and walked through the streets of Pamplona where the bulls famously run each July.  So entering the city of Burgos on Day 11 by way of a long, earthen path following a river that turned into a park and eventually a city sidewalk was much like a microcosm of the first 10 days.

One blogger aptly summarized the walking and hiking as follows:

Modern-day pilgrims on the Camino Francés pass through Basque country and right by the site of a battle in the French epic The Song of Roland. They walk through Pamplona (right up the street where the bulls run every July), Burgos and León (both of which have stunning cathedrals laden with images of St. James), and Ponferadda (which boasts a castle built by the Knights Templar). They also cross over mountains and a vast plain known as the meseta, pass by cornfields, sunflower fields, vineyards, and even a free wine fountain, ramble past groves of olive, fig, almond, walnut, and chestnut trees, and trudge through the mud on rainy Galicia’s frequently flooded roads and hills.

 

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Both for modern as well as medieval pilgrims, the “magnet” drawing walkers into the city is clearly its famous cathedral.  After traveling through a a variety of villages with simple, 12th century Romanesque churches, the architecture displayed by the cathedral reminds the pilgrim of the march of architecture as well as the refinements to the Gothic style, which replaced the Romanesque.  The Catedral de Burgos, in fact, is a UNESCO World Heritage site.  Architecture historians remark how Our Lady of Burgos is a living exhibition that summarizes the evolution of Gothic architecture.  The more obvious elements of the cathedral (the spires) exhibit a “high” or later Gothic with significant ornamentation.

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Prior to the Gothic style, architects had to use much thicker walls to support the structure.  Such building methods permitted only modest windows.  The genius of Gothic architecture was the ability to build taller structure, but with simpler walls – this allowed for the large and long windows – which permitted much more light into the churches – emphasized by the use of stained glass.

 

Romanesque Church

Romanesque Church

Romanesque Church

Romanesque Church

 

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Run, Don’t Walk

I usually do not blog about my running – mostly because its slow and boring, but today I had my first run in two months.  It was certainly the longest stretch of time without a run since I started running in 2007 (which, of course, is part of my story in The Race Before Us).  The reason for my absence from hitting the streets, of course, was my long walk in northern Spain on the Camino de Santiago as mentioned in my Walk, Don’t Run post.  (More from the Camino in my next post.)

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I was a little apprehensive as to how this “first” run might go, but it was a great experience – four easy miles around the neighborhood on a magnificent spring morning.  I’m not only back from Spain, but I’m back to running.  I am enthused now to tackle a marathon training program and get prepared to challenge the New York City Marathon in November.

The Richmond Marathon is two weeks after New York.  Next week Richmond runners who are part of the Sports Backers Marathon Training Team (“MTT”) will start on a 24-week program to hopefully complete the 26.2-mile run through Richmond on November 15.

It’s still not too late to sign-up.  As I wrote in my Faith & Values column, I know I could never have completed my first marathon without the help of the MTT program and the great coaches that volunteer their time to get slow, boring runners across the finish line.  It’s not too late – run, don’t walk to the Sports backers website and sign-up.

http://www.sportsbackers.org/events/marathon-training-team

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My Camino – Thy Camino: The Rest of the Story

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

As I mentioned in my last post, I have failed to blog timely about my trip on the Camino de Santiago.  I finished the journey when I arrived in Santiago de Compostela after 29 days of walking and hiking.  I rested briefly in Santiago and then visited Muxia and the “end of the earth” at Finisterre.  I safely returned to Richmond and am back at work.

In my efforts to discuss the “people, places and things” on the Way (“My Camino” posts”) I only got to Day 12.  In my efforts to record my reflections along the Way about life past and life future and the “walk before us,” I also have a disappointing record.  My WordPress “dashboard” has a number of unfinished posts about My Camino and Thy Camino.  Thank you for your interest in this journey.  Even though I have returned, I will be finishing by posting many more blog posts about my time on the Camino.  They will continue to use the “My Camino” and the “Thy Camino” titles and themes.

The final day with less than a 10K to go

The final day with less than a 10K to go

The last few steps - through the portal and into the plaza at the Cathedral de Santiago

The last few steps – through the portal and into the plaza at the Cathedral de Santiago

Cathedral de Santiago

Cathedral de Santiago

The Cathedral and the "Pilgrim Mass"

The Cathedral and the “Pilgrim Mass”

A month earlier

A month earlier

Muxia

Muxia

The "End of the Earth"

The “End of the Earth”

Finisterre

Finisterre

 

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FREE! — THE AUDIO VERSION

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Until the end of May my publisher is offering the audio version of The Race Before Us: A Journey of Running & Faith for free.  If you’d like a copy, just follow the link below at ChristianAudio.  Please share this with anyone else who you think might be interested.

 

https://christianaudio.com/the-race-before-us-bruce-h-matson/?utm_source=HomePage&utm_medium=InternalBanner&utm_campaign=RaceBeforeUs

 

ChristianAudio

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MY CAMINO: A Day in the Life of a Pilgrim

A have failed miserably in my plans to blog (“often” I told friends) during the Camino. For some aspects of the journey, I planned well. For other, my expectations were inaccurate. By far, my biggest miscue was overestimating the time for writing blog entires. Perhaps the best way to understand this and, at the same time, to better understand the adventure is to gain some insight into a day in the life of an individual on the Way of St. James.

You awake early, typically whether you want to or not when you are staying in an “albergue” (a dorm-style overnight quarters where people sleep on bunk beds (in rooms of two to ten bunks a room). People are waking and rustling their packs and visiting the communal (and typically co-ed) bathroom facilities around or even before 6:00 a.m. Many like to hit the Camino early to enjoy the quiet and cool of the mornings or just to get an early start on the day. [In the summer months I understand this is particularly true because the weather is warmer and the greater numbers makes finding a spot (a bed) in an albergue (or at least your preferred or planned albergue) more challenging if you do not finish your walking early.]. Not surprisingly, people have different notions of being quiet and/or discreet. Hence, if you are sleeping in an albergue and you are still asleep at 7:00 a.m. you are an accomplished sleeper. I really enjoyed early walking and typically arise early so it mattered little to me. In fact, some mornings I have been among the first out the door.

People on the Camino “hike their own hike” so some are planning to walk 15 or 20 kilometers and others are looking to go further – 20 to 30 or even 35 kilometers a day. (And a few, based on my experience, will go 35 to 45 kilometers.). Considering that a healthy, fit individual can walk 5 or 6 km an hour under perfect conditions, everyone plans accordingly based upon ability, terrain (there are many hills and some small mountains), and daily objective. (Oh, and keep in mind that most carry a backpack with 15 to 30 pounds on your back.). AND, most people are injured or hurting. Yes, it was astonishing the number of people in the first week (and many for the entire trip) who had blisters, sore feet, shin splints, plantar fasciitis, knee injuries, sore toes, and/or Achilles problems. It’s hard to overemphasize the number of people who had some amount of blisters. And just about everyone had general muscle stiffness (especially in the morning or after any rest) and some back pain (from the backpacks). Such maladies had to be factored into daily distance objectives as week – and often those issues were controlling.

For most of us, breakfast was a stop at a “bar” (in Spain, the bars are not only important socially, but they serve some similar and many different functions from what most Americans think of a “bar”) after a couple of hours of walking where we would get “cafe con leche.” Literally, “coffee with milk” – but practically, we were drinking what Starbuck’s sells as “latte” – expresso with and an equal, or larger, portion of hot milk. (Although some would have Cafe Americano – expression with hot water.) With coffee we would usually have some combination of bread (you purchased the day before), toast, a croissant, orange juice (almost always fresh-squeezed), eggs & bacon, and/or tortilla (Spanish omelet – eggs, potatoes and onion, typically). I had eggs occasionally, coffee always, and an alarmingly amount of bread/toast/croissants/etc. As the days moved along I missed fresh foods and often bought oranges and/or strawberries (exceptionally good) to add to a breakfast of bread and coffee.

Mid-morning to mid-afternoon was typically a time of serious walking, interrupted by brief stops in towns and villages for re-supply, rest, water, and/or sight-seeing (typically, a 600 to 700 year-old church, or a remanent of a Roman wall or bridge). For whatever (or obvious) reasons, this time of the day was among my most productive as a typically felt very strong and eager. Lunch would consist of more bread, typically with some type of pork (ham, salami, chrizo, etc.) and/or cheese slipped into the middle of the baguette – called bocadills (“sandwiches”). There were a few other things possible at the same bars you’d stop at for breakfast, but – for me – not the most compelling items. Suffice it to say, there are no salad bars, Pizza Huts, or NYC delis on the Camino. This is where it became important for many of us to get create with stopping at supermercados (“supermarkets” that were anything but “super” – the breakfast cereal selection at WalMart takes up more square footage than most rural supermercados. And, just so my flippancy or attempt at humor is not misunderstood, this is a comment about how appreciative and grateful we should be and not an arrogant criticism of the way life is in most of northern Spain. Many of us would buy bread and nuts and fruit and chocolate and fashion a reasonable midday refueling so we could skip a few days of ham and cheese bocadillas.

Between 3:00 and 5:00 each day (but obviously sooner for some and later fir others), we would settle on a town for the evening and find an albergue. Some small villages had one, others had two or three and bigger town might have four or five. These albergues might be run by the local or regional government (a “municipal” albergue – almost always the least expensive: 5 to 10 euros a night), or by the church or other Christian organization (a “parochial” albergue – these often involved some communal activity and often more spartan conditions, but were typically as inexpensive as the municipal albergues, and often requested only a donation), or by a for-profit individual or business (a “private” albergue – typically 5 or so euros higher in price per bed). Many of these towns would also have inexpensive hostels or hotels or pensions (I’m still trying to distill the finer distinctions among the three) that offered private rooms with private baths – typically for about 30 euros a night (40 euros for a double).

Once an albergue is selected the pilgrim needs to check-in (which often involves a line, but not too long), get a bed, figure out how to get settled in their bunk area, keep a watchful eye for an empty shower stall, and consider whether clothes cleaning is a high priority that day and, if so, clean the offending items by hand or by trying to figure out how to use the washers and dryers at the albergue – not all had them. Or, by dropping your laundry off with a service at the albergue, which would cost 3 or 4 euros to wash and another 2 to 4 for drying.

With the basics of shelter and clothing hopefully under control, attention would turn to another basic need – food. There is not enough space here to discuss the nuances of eating times, siesta, business hours, and the like. Suffice to say that when pilgrims need food, restaurants and bars in Spain typically aren’t ready to prepare a meal. Thankfully, the volume of pilgrims spilling regularly into these town (as well as the potential for making money) has “encouraged” a number of establishments not only to be open but to offer a “Pilgrim Menu” most nights. I could spend an entire post on the Pilgrim Menu, but for our purposes here, many of us would go out and eat from these Pilgrim Menus, which offer a “first” plate or starter (“entre,” which makes much better use of the word than American dining traditions), which might be salad (“ensalada” – another whole post”), soup, pasta (I learned early that a menu that offered “macaroni with tomato” was offering spaghetti as a starter), etc. the second plate might be pork, or chicken, or (sometimes) beef, or fish – almost always served with fries. These meals almost always came with bread, water, wine and dessert. Dessert might be an apple, a nice cream novelty, flan (usually a good choice), yogurt, or rice pudding. As you can imagine, some were better than others. Some were quite good. As a number of people said, “it’s fuel, not food.” As a rule the food improved with each step west (Galicia was clearly the best in quality and variety), but for 9 or 10 euros (all in), it was hard to complain.

After dinner there was limited time for socializing, touring the town (the sun didn’t go down until 8:30 or 8:45), calling home, and/or getting organized for doing it all over again the next day. With a fairly strict “lights out” policy you had to have finished with your turn in the bathroom and settled in your sleeping bag by 9:45.

Then – up at 6:00 the next day and begin again.

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