Category Archives: Pilgrimage

Some highlights – Way of St. Francis 2022

A typical switchback, cut-back, whatever, of which there were plenty on “The Way…”

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As noted in the last post (From Jerusalem to Assisi), I flew over to Rome last August 27, a Saturday. On Tuesday, August 30, I took a train up to Assisi and met up with my brother and his wife. On Thursday, September 1, we started hiking back to Rome, via the Way of St Francis.

But not before I got a &^%#$ ticket – costing 30 Euros – for not validating my bus pass, in Assisi. It happened on the ride back from the Basilica of San Francis, at right, on the 31st, but it wasn’t my fault. Two knuckleheads in front of me had trouble making change (or whatever). A long line started forming behind me, so the driver told us – starting with me – to “go to the back of the bus.” That’s where, supposedly, there was another machine to validate your bus ticket.

For whatever reason I didn’t validate the pass, possibly because I didn’t see any such machine. So, when we got back to the train station in Assisi – a short walk from our lodging – an officious-looking official magically appeared and announced the aforementioned fine for failure to validate. I protested long, hard and loud – “but the driver told me to go to the back of the bus!” – but to no avail. It was all, “No comprendo,” or however they say it in Italy.

Not a good start to what was supposed to be a pilgrimage to enlightenment.

But this post is supposed to be about some highlights of the trip, so I’ll move on. Which is another way of saying that now that the project is over, it’s time to start the post-mortems.

For starters, the original proposed route was 154 miles, from Assisi to Rome. Specifically back to St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, in Rome. But after our night spent in Piediluco on September 7, one of our party developed a temporary (GI) health problem. Aside from that, the weather forecast for September 8 was for really heavy rains. So instead of hiking that day we had to take a bus back to Trevi, then a train to Rieti – our destination for Friday, September 9 – then take a bus back to Poggio Bustonne, our reserved lodging for September 8.

That took off the 13.5 mile hike scheduled for that day (9/8/22), which was another good reason for the bus-train-bus alternative. (Along with the really heavy rain.) The net result was to round down our total miles hiked from 154 to 140 miles. Which we did in 18 days, from September 1 to the 18th. But we took days off from hiking on September 4, September 10, and September 15. Of course we didn’t hike on September 8, but that wasn’t what you could call a day off.

That is, the bus-train-bus travel day wasn’t what you could call a day off.

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Some other observations: Much of the Way of St. Francis is like the Appalachian Trail. Except that it’s over, up, down and around the Apennine Mountains, not the Appalachians.

Like the Appalachian Trail, there were many days with very few places to stop for refreshment during the day. It wasn’t that unusual to go a whole day’s hike, of 10 or 12 miles or more, without any of those stops so prevalent on the Camino Frances (French Way). (On the other hand, in Italy you could still always look forward to a hot shower and a cold beer at the end of the day.)

I suppose there’s a chicken-and-egg question here. The Camino Frances is big business. Lots of places to stop and refresh because there are lots of pilgrims hiking. But such a cafe would have a hard time surviving on the Way of St. Francis, because of so few pilgrims. One suggestion to improve things: Construct shelters every five or ten miles, with picnic tables – or one at least – so weary pilgrims could stop and at least put our feet up and our packs down.

Also, my 8th grade math teacher taught us that the shortest distance between two points was a straight line. However, that rule doesn’t apply to the Way of St. Francis. And that led me to wonder, “Why did St. Francis follow this ‘path?‘” Back and forth, up and down, full of zig-zags, switchbacks and cut-backs. And why wouldn’t he take the smoother route along the valley that beckoned down below? (The smooth path that the train takes from Rome up to Assisi.)

As best I can tell, Francis never actually hiked this one path all at once. Instead “the Way” seems to be an amalgam of trips he took during his lifetime, often responding to requests from a nearby village or town, to help out in an emergency. (Including one literal “wolf at the door.”)

Another note: Earlier this summer, before leaving for Rome, I read that Europe was having a severe drought. But we seem to have brought some rain with us, at least in Italy and at least along the Apennines between Assisi and Rome. Which often turned the Trail into a deadly combination of gumbo-like muck, caking around the bottom of your shoes, and slippery-slick rocks and gravel, especially treacherous hiking down one of those many switchbacks or cutbacks.

Which raises the question, “What kind of fool would put himself through such an ordeal?” And that’s a question I found myself asking quite often on the Trail, especially during the early days of the hike. The answer I came up with? The idea on such a trek is to push beyond your limits. To ask yourself at least once a day, “What the heck am I doing here?” Or in my case, “What sane 71-year-old would spend good money just to put himself through all this?”

And then keep going…

On the St. Francis, the hiking is often rugged, rocky, sticky and/or slippery, like after a torrential rain the night before. Zig-zag, east, west, north, south, repeat, up, down, round and around. Whereas on the Camino Frances, once you get past Pamplona you’re heading straight west. It’s much harder to get lost, and there are a lot more friendly locals to help you get back on track.

Another feature of such a pilgrimage, sleeping in a different bed pretty much every night, and having to figure out a different shower set-up every late afternoon. Which made Rome such a great place to reach: Getting to sleep in the same bed four nights in a row.

Then there was our one 15-hour day. There was a mix-up in addresses for our rental. One note said Ferrentillo, the other said Macenano. We passed Macenano in the dark and hiked the extra three miles to Ferrentillo, only to find out the rental was back in Macenano. (The closest I came to crying the whole trip.) By that time it was 10:30 at night, and nobody relished hiking back the 90 minutes or so, in the dark. Fortunately, one of our party approached a group of three local ladies, and through some combination got us a ride back to Macenano, free of charge. That could well be the biggest highlight of the ordeal, seeing how nice Italian people can be.

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There’s more to come in later posts, but this is supposed to be a spiritual blog. On that note, while hiking in Italy I faithfully kept up with my Daily Office Readings. And in September they included three major feast days: Holy Cross Day on September 14, St Matthew, Evangelist on September 21, and St Michael and All Angels, on September 29. You can see a quick take on these feast days at October 2018’s On Holy Cross, Matthew, and Michael – “Archangel.”

That October 2018 post talked about the Book of Common Prayer used by the Episcopal Church, and how it says the idea of purgatory is both a “Romish doctrine” and “repugnant to the Word of God.” On the other hand, there’s the painting below, of the Archangel Michael reaching to save souls in purgatory. Which brings up the fact that without purgatory, your dying day turns out to be a pass-fail test. You’re either in or you’re out.  You either go to heaven or “down, down the down-down way.” But with purgatory you get another chance. 

You get a chance to enter that “intermediate state after physical death,” where some of those “ultimately destined for heaven” can first undergo “purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.” Which to me, means another chance of getting to heaven. And who knows, maybe a challenging pilgrimage like my recent hike on the Way of St. Francis is, in its own way, a form of purgatory. And who knows, maybe that hot shower and cold beer at the end of each day’s hike was – in its own way – a metaphor, a foretaste of the Heavenly Banquet to Come. First comes the harsh reality of negotiating the twists and turns of life here on earth, followed by the metaphoric “hot shower and cold beer.”

So the idea of purgatory gives me another chance at that metaphoric “hot shower and cold beer” at the end of my earthly life. Which is why I ended that October 2018 post by saying, “here’s to Michael (archangel), and his reaching out to save souls in purgatory…”

Hey, I’ll take all the help I can get!

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“Archangel Michael reaching to save souls in purgatory . . .”

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I took the top photo, one of many many switchbacks we saw hiking from Arrone to Piediluco, on September 7, 2022. By the way, Piediluco is a swanky resort area, by the Lago (Lake) di Piediluco. So the best fiscally responsible one-night rental option – at the Hotel Miralago, Piediluco – was one room with three beds right next to each other. They had a great breakfast buffet though!

As noted in the last post…” The full title, From Jerusalem to Assisi – 2022.

Re: The bus-pass ticket. In hindsight I can see the logic. An unvalidated pass can be used again for a free ride. (But 30 &^%$# Euros?)

Re: “Post mortem.” The link is to Guide to Post-Mortem in Business: “a process that helps improve projects by identifying what did and didn’t work, and changing organizational processes to incorporate lessons learned. The Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK) refers to this activity as ‘lessons learned.’” Also, according to mors, mortis [f.] M – Latin is Simple Online Dictionary, the plural form of mortem is “mortes,” not “mortems.” (I took two years of Latin in high school.)

Re: The Way of St. Francis as an “amalgam.” See for example The Way of St. Francis: Walking 550 Kilometers Along One of the World’s Greatest Pilgrimages:

St. Francis is said to have taken literally the scripture passage, “preach the good news to all creatures.” My favorite story focuses on the historic town of Gubbio where residents were haunted by a wolf that had developed a taste for human flesh. They begged St. Francis to intervene with the fearsome creature and then were amazed when the wolf sat peacefully at his feet while the two made a bargain.

The bargain: “If the townspeople would feed him daily, the wolf would leave them alone.”

“The closest I came to crying…” Not really, though I was concerned.

Re: Feast days in September. My DOR Lectionary book also included the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, on September 8, the “Christian feast day celebrating the birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary.” For more details see the link.

The lower image is courtesy of the Wikipedia article on St. Michael, captioned, “Guido Reni‘s painting in Santa Maria della Concezione, Rome, 1636 is also reproduced in mosaic at the St. Michael Altar in St. Peter’s Basilica, in the Vatican.”

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From Jerusalem to Assisi – 2022

The Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi – that’s where I hope to be next August 30…

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Next August 27 – a Saturday – I’ll be flying over to Rome. From there I’ll take a train up to Assisi to meet up with my brother and his wife. Then on Thursday, September 1, we’ll start hiking the 154 miles back to Rome, via the Way of St Francis. But first I have some feast days to cover.

The first one is The Transfiguration of Jesus, celebrated back on August 6. I covered that in The Transfiguration – 2020. (Back in “Week 21 of the COVID-19 pandemic.”) The following Monday, August 15, was the Feast of St. Mary the Virgin. I covered this “Mary” in 2019’s St. Mary, “Virgin,” and more on Jerusalem, and the next year in St. Mary, 2020 – and “Walls of Separation.”

Which is where “From Jerusalem to Assisi” comes in. My 2019 pilgrimage to Jerusalem included a side trip to Bethlehem, and in that town – where Jesus was born – we found the “Wall of Separation” discussed below. That is, the 2019 post Mary [and] more on Jerusalem gave some background on this particular feast day. But it also talked at length about my May 2019 pilgrimage to Israel. (Beginning with arriving in Tel Aviv on another Saturday evening and being able to get quickly – and surprisingly – through the “dreaded Israeli security at Ben Gurion airport.”) 

That post covered the Jerusalem visit from our arrival on Saturday night, May 11, to the following Friday, May 17. That’s when we visited the Judean wilderness, the Jordan River and Jericho. I revisited the post the following year in St. Mary, 2020 – and “Walls of Separation.” It covered at greater length our visit to Bethlehem on May 16. The coverage included the ironic if not incongruous “Wall of Separation” that runs through Bethlehem. (Where Jesus was born.)

I say ironic because what some call the Wall of Separation, the powers that be call the “Israeli West Bank barrier.” And there, right next to the Wall, our group stopped at the “Walled Off Hotel.*” For more see Banksy′s hotel with ′the world′s worst view′ opens in Bethlehem:

“With a play on words on the luxury Waldorf Astoria chain, this place is called the Walled Off Hotel, because it was built almost immediately next to Israel’s separation wall in the Palestinian-ruled city where Jesus Christ was born.”

Which of course would be Bethlehem. That’s where Jesus was born and where “God’s love, mercy, righteousness, holiness, compassion, and glory” were expressed in Him. But seeing the Walled-off Hotel in that birthplace, “I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.” And I still don’t.

But there’s another reason to review those two posts. I’m just finishing up a book, “On Mystic Christians – (you know, the real ones?”) Of which more in a future post, but once I finish that book, I plan to start another one, on that May 2019 three-week visit to Jerusalem. (And much of the rest of Israel, including my taste-testing the distinction between Israeli Maccabee Beer, and the also-locally-brewed Taybeh Palestinian beer.) But I also want to start a book on my three hikes on the Camino de Santiago, to include that next one coming up, the Way of St Francis

It just so happens that I wrote about St. Francis back in October 2015, in Saint Teresa of Avila:

“In other words, a mystic is a person who seeks to become ‘one’ with both God and his or her neighbor. Not unlike Francis of Assisi(Who no doubt some contemporaries thought himself was a bit of a weirdo…)

Which brings up two possible foreshadowings. One, my eventually writing a book on Mystic Christians. (“You know, the real ones?”) And a soon-to-be pilgrimage to Assisi and the Way of St Francis. But before closing, let’s get back to those feast days. Or at least the highlights.

Turning first to Mary, 2019’s St. Mary … and more on Jerusalem noted that aside from being the mother of God the Son Incarnate in Christianity, “Mary (Maryam) also has a revered position in Islam, where a whole chapter of the Qur’an is devoted to her.” And millions of Christians consider her to be the most meritorious saint of the Church, as both the Mother of God and the Theotokos. (Literally “Bearer of God.”) On that note, in Renaissance paintings especially, Mary is shown wearing blue. That tradition goes back to Byzantine Empire, to about 500 A.D., “where blue was ‘the colour of an Empress.’” Which seems appropriate…

Going back to the August 6 feast day, the Transfiguration – 2020 post talked about how COVID might be a blessing in disguise. Then it harked back to the Transfiguration – The Greatest Miracle in the World. No less a person than St. Thomas Aquinas considered it The Greatest Miracle because – unlike the other Gospel miracles – this one happened to Jesus. (Making it “unique among those listed in the ‘Canonical gospels.'”) Then too, the episode also transformed the disciples who witnessed the event, and “never forgot what happened that day.” (Which was probably what Jesus intended.) One witness, John, wrote in his gospel, “We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only.” (John 1:14.)  Peter also wrote of it, “We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with Him on the sacred mountain.” (2 Peter 1:16-18.)

And from there they went on to TRANSFORM (Transfigure) the world.

But there’s still a lot of work left for us to do. For one thing, we need to start tearing down the walls that separate us, and turn neighbor against neighbor. (See Divisive walls can be broken down through Jesus for one thoughtful review, with citations to Romans 10:12 and Galatians 3:28, among others.) Then there’s Ephesians 2:14, which reads in the Good News Translation, “For Christ himself has brought us peace by making Jews and Gentiles one people. With his own body he broke down the wall that separated them and kept them enemies.”

So as for my pilgrimage to Rome, Assisi and the Way of St Francis:

Here’s hoping I don’t find any Walls of Separation!

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Bethlehem’s Wall of Separation: “That look about says it all…

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The upper image is courtesy of St Francis Assisi Basilica – Image Results. It is accompanied by an article, Finding Peace and Faith in Assisi by Rick Steves.

In Assisi, my favorite ritual is to sit quietly on the rampart of the medieval fortress high above town. I look down at the basilica dedicated to the saint, then into the valley at the church where Francis and his “Jugglers of God” started the Franciscan order. Hearing the same birdsong that inspired Francis, and tasting the same simple bread, cheese, and wine of Umbria that sustained him, I calm my 21st-century soul and ponder the message of a saint who made the teaching of Jesus so accessible.

Re: Book of Common Prayer. See page 339, under Holy Eucharist:  Rite One:

Almighty and everliving God, we most heartily thank thee for that thou dost feed us, in these holy mysteries, with the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ; and dost assure us thereby of thy favor and goodness towards us; and that we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son, the blessed company of all faithful people…

Or see Online Book of Common Prayer. As to “corporate” and “mystic,” it’s like body and soul. Ideally they are a unified whole, but some people lose sight of the one in focusing too much on the other…

Re: The Way of St. Francis. The Via di Francesco website says it is a “route to reach Assisi following in the footsteps of St Francis, whether leaving from the North (La Verna) or the South (Rome).” In our case, we’ll explore Assisi on the afternoon of August 30, after meeting up, then during the day of August 31. Then we’ll head from Assisi back to Rome.

Re: Getting “quickly – and surprisingly – through ‘the dreaded Israeli security.'” A driver from Saint George’s College Jerusalem met our group of nine from my church back in Georgia. We were part of a larger group taking the 14-day Palestine of Jesus course, and in a sense that driver whisking us through Ben Gurion security was a minor miracle in itself.

Re: The Walled Off Hotel link. Be sure to read the Safety Notice, advising that due to current political developments, there is a potential for “increased tension” in the area. And further that the “narco’s [sic] among you” should bear in mind that the UK Foreign Office has advised against joining any demonstrations while visiting the area.

Re: Still a lot of work to do. For more reviews search “Jesus breaks down walls.”

I took the photo of the Wall of Separation, just outside the “Walled Off Hotel.”

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On Mary of Magdala and James the Pilgrim – 2022

 I hope St. James the GreaterPatron Saint of Pilgrims, will guide me this September…

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July 28, 2022 – Last Friday, July 22, was the Feast Day for “Mary from Magdala.” I covered that feast day last year in “Saint” Mary Magdalene – 2021, and the year before in Mary Magdalene, 2020 – and Week 19 of “the Covid.” And just for the record, we are now in Week 124* of the Covid pandemic, with no end in sight. (Plus we now have Monkeypox to worry about.)

Three days after Mary’s feast, Monday, July 25, we remember James, son of Zebedee. He’s one of several New Testament “Jameses,” but he’s also “St. James the Greater.” And this James is the Patron Saint of Pilgrims. As such, he’ll be my patron saint this September when I start an 18-day, 154-mile hike on the Way of St Francis, from Assisi back to Rome.

And speaking of pilgrimages, that post from two years ago, “2020 … Week 19,” talked about an earlier one. That was a four-day canoe pilgrimage on the Missouri River, 115 river miles, from South Sioux City to Omaha Nebraska. That was one of a series of journeys-of-discovery leading to this September’s Way of St Francis. But getting back to Mary Magdalene

St. Augustine called her the “Apostle to the Apostles.” See also Mary … FutureChurch:

Mary of Magdala is perhaps the most maligned and misunderstood figure in early Christianity…  Since the fourth century, she has been portrayed as a prostitute and public sinner…   Paintings, some little more than pious pornography, reinforce the mistaken belief that sexuality, especially female sexuality, is shameful, sinful, and worthy of repentance.  Yet the actual biblical account of Mary of Magdala paints a far different portrait than that of the bare-breasted reformed harlot of Renaissance art. [Emphasis added.]

2015’s Mary Magdalene, “Apostle to the Apostles” noted that this particular Mary – a common name at the time – has long had a rotten reputation. “In Western Christianity, she’s known as ‘repentant prostitute or loose woman,” but the consensus now is that these claims are unfounded.  For one thing, Isaac Asimov said this Mary would be more accurately considered “a cured madwoman rather than a reformed prostitute.” (A subtle distinction.)

Yet – notwithstanding that “sordid past” – it’s clear that Mary Magdalene showed far more courage than the original 11 disciples. (Not counting Judas.) See John 20:1: “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.” Thus the one indisputable fact is that Mary was both the first person to see the empty tomb of Jesus, and one of the first – if not the first – to see the risen Jesus. And that may have accounted for the stories about her “sordid past;” jealous males trying to sully her reputation and cover up their own cowardice.

So her story could be one long pilgrimage to eventually see the risen Jesus. By and through that journey she was able to escape her sordid past and move on to become something greater, the “Apostle to the Apostles.” (A good life-lesson to be sure.) And speaking of pilgrimages, July 25 is the feast day for the Patron Saint of PilgrimsJames, son of Zebedee.

Going back to 2014, On “St. James the Greater” spoke of this James being not only the patron saint of pilgrims. He’s also the patron saint of Spain and Portugal. Which is why the Camino de Santiago* traditionally ends in Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain.

Tradition says that James traveled to Spain to spread the Gospel there:

[T]he Virgin Mary appeared to James on the bank of the Ebro River at Caesaraugusta, while he was preaching the Gospel in Iberia. She appeared upon a pillar, Nuestra Señora del Pilar, and that pillar is conserved and venerated within the present Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar, in Zaragoza, Spain. Following that apparition, St. James returned to Judea, where he was beheaded by King Herod Agrippa I in the year 44.

All of which is well and good, but raises the question: “Why do such a pilgrimage at all?” One answer comes from the book Passages of the Soul: Ritual Today, by James Roose-Evans. The book noted that a healthy sense of ritual “should pervade a healthy society,” but that a big problem in today’s world is that we’ve abandoned many of the rituals that used to help us deal with big change and major trauma. The book added that all true ritual “calls for discipline, patience, perseverance, leading to the discovery of the self within.”

More to the point, the book said a pilgrimage – like an 18-day, 154-mile hike on the Way of St Francis – “may be described as a ritual on the move.” And that such a moving ritual often includes the “raw experience of hunger, cold, lack of sleep.” But through such an experience we can get a sense of our fragility as mere human beings. (Compared with “the majesty and permanence of God” and His creation.) Finally, the book noted that such a pilgrimage can be  “one of the most chastening, but also one of the most liberating” of personal experiences.

So, a month from today (August 27) I’ll be flying to Rome, to get “chastened and liberated…”

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Mary of Magdala – and note the similar pose to James, above…

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The upper image is courtesy of St. James Patron Saint Of Pilgrims – Image Results, and the Catholic Diocese of Calgary. That’s the “Latin Church ecclesiastical territory or diocese of the Catholic Church in AlbertaCanada… Its cathedral episcopal see is St. Mary’s Cathedral, CalgaryAlberta. It is currently led by Bishop William McGrattan.See also Saint James, Patron of Pilgrims (Catholic Education Resource Center).

Week 124 of COVID. (Or 31 months.) That’s according to my calculations, originally set out in St. Philip and St. James – May, 2020. There I explained that, to me, “the pandemic hit full swing – the ‘stuff really hit the fan’ – back on Thursday, March 12,” when the ACC basketball tournament got cancelled, along with other major sports. “So my definition of the ‘First Full Week of the Covid-19 Pandemic’ has it starting on Sunday, March 15 and ending on Saturday the 21st.”

Re: The Way of St. Francis. My brother, his wife and I will fly into Rome at different times, meet up in Assisi, and from there hike “back” to Rome. The 18 days will include three days off, of not hiking, in Spoleto, Rieti, and Montelibretti. The latter is some 32 miles from Vatican City and the end of the hike. For another take on the hike see The Way of St. Francis: Walking 550 Kilometers Along One of the World’s Greatest Pilgrimages.

Re: James’ vision in Spain. Tradition says it happened on January 2, 40 A.D..

Re: Santiago de Compostela. “Iago” is another translation of “James.” As Wikipedia put it, “Santiago is the local Galician evolution of Vulgar Latin Sanctus Iacobus ‘Saint James.””

Re: “Passages of the Soul.” The quotes are from the 1994 Element Books Ltd. edition, at pages 23-25.

The lower image is courtesy of wikipedia.org/wiki/Penitent_Magdalene_(Titian,_1565):

The Penitent Magdalene is a 1565 oil painting by Titian of saint Mary Magdalene, now in the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg.  Unlike his 1533 version of the same subject, Titian has covered Mary’s nudity and introduced a vase, an open book and a skull as a memento mori.  Its coloring is more mature than the earlier work, using colors harmoni[z]ing with character.  In the background the sky is bathed in the rays of the setting sun, with a dark rock contrasting with the brightly lit figure of Mary.

Also, Titian did a “racier” version in 1533. See Penitent Magdalene (Titian, 1533) – Wikipedia. For more on this Mary see also MARY MAGDALENE, Bible Woman: first witness to Resurrection, and What Did Mary Magdalene look like?

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Catching up from my trip to Dubuque…

Downtown Dubuque, Iowa, as seen from a bluff high above the city…

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I just got back from a 10-day road trip to Dubuque, Iowa. My current lady friend hails from there, and wanted to visit family. (Especially kids, grandkids and a new great-granddaughter.)

I went because I’d never experienced such a lily-white Midwestern Fourth of July. (Not lately anyway, compared to the Black mecca that is the Atlanta Metropolitan Area.) And it was quite an adventure, featuring lots of visits to her family, and my eating way too much food, and getting not nearly enough exercise. (I gained five pounds, and was lucky to limit it to that. One comment at a dinner on the evening of July 4: “That’s all you’re eating?”)

But this blog is about faith and spirituality, so let’s back on track…

To help celebrate the 4th, I went back over some past posts. I came across this, from 2014, On Sunday of the July 4th weekend. I told of another mid-summer trip, taking a train north from New York City to Montreal. On the ride up to the Canadian border I had time to read my passport. That made for some interesting reading, “especially on this holiday weekend,” of July 2014.

Page 1 of the passport said the U.S. Secretary of State personally requested – of “all whom it may concern” – to permit this particular named citizen (me) “to pass without delay or hindrance and in case of need to give all lawful aid and protection.” Which I found pretty impressive. (Especially since I’ll be flying over to Rome on August 27, to hike the Way of St Francis.*)

That was followed by the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution, which also made for some impressive reading. (“We the People…”) That was followed by pages topped with pithy quotations about America and the promise of freedom it stands for. (Mostly.) Pages 8-9 are topped by a saying from George Washington, “Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair.

But as I wrote back in 2014, we’ve seen “way too often lately” that the stupid and dishonest can also repair to that standard of freedom. And I’d say that goes at least double for the eight years since 2014. But since this is a Christian blog I’ll take the high ground and quote John Steinbeck on the American July 4th sense of freedom that we celebrate each year:

[T]his I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against: any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual. This is what I am and what I am about.

Which leads to some questions. Like, “Have we maintained that freedom of the mind to take any direction it pleases?” Are we winning or losing the fight against a religion or government that limits or destroys the individual? Which leads to the quote on pages 16-17 of the U.S. passport. Attributed to Teddy Roosevelt, it reads:  “This is a new nation, based on a mighty continent, of endless possibilities.” (Get that? “Endless possibilities.”) All of which led me to quote Ellison Onizuka, the American astronaut who died in the 1986 Space Shuttle disaster:

Every generation has the obligation to free men’s minds for a look at new worlds . . . to look out from a higher plateau than the last generation.

To free people’s minds. To me, that’s what the Bible is all about…

But of course Onizuka could have said – in a slightly different way – “Sing to the Lord a new song.(As it says in Psalm 98:1 and elsewhere.) He could add that you can’t live up to, fulfill or implement either promise – of America’s endless possibilities or those of Jesus – interpreting the Bible or the Constitution in a closed, narrow, “strict” way. So I’d say our duty as Americans – as Christian Americans – is to foster the endless possibilities of both the American Dream and the promises of Jesus. (That in His name we should live a life of spiritual abundance, and do greater miracles than He did.) Which brings up the miracle in the Bible.

To many people, those miracles are “fairy tales,” stumbling blocks like those Paul mentioned in 1st Corinthians 8:9. But the thing to remember is that they are designed to stretch the human mind, to get that mind out of its conservative, keep-things-as-they-are Comfort Zone.

After all, the English people who first settled America were neither conservative nor “keep-things-as-they-are.” They wanted to sing a new song, to experience the endless possibilities in the New World, to “look out from a higher plateau than the last generation.”On that note see Isaiah 40:31, “those who wait upon the LORD will renew their strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint.”

It’s your choice America…

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Ellison Onizuka, quoted above on our Fourth of July freedom…

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The upper image is courtesy of Dubuque, Iowa – Wikipedia. The city was named for Julien Dubuque (1762-1810), a Canadian from Champlain, Quebec, who settled near what is now the city. One of the first Europeans to settle in the area, he initially got permission from the Mesquakie Indian tribe to mine the lead in 1788. “Once he had received permission from the Meskwaki to mine lead, Dubuque remained in the area for the rest of his life. He befriended the local Meskwaki chief Peosta – for whom the nearby town of Peosta, Iowa is named.” He is believed to have married Peosta’s daughter.

Re: Book of Common Prayer. See page 339, under Holy Eucharist:  Rite One:

Almighty and everliving God, we most heartily thank thee for that thou dost feed us, in these holy mysteries, with the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ; and dost assure us thereby of thy favor and goodness towards us; and that we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son, the blessed company of all faithful people…

Or see The Online Book of Common Prayer.

Re: The Black mecca that is the Atlanta Metropolitan Area. That area that has been my new ome for the past 12 years.

Re: The Way of St. Francis. I’ll meet up with my brother Tom and his wife Carol, and hike the 160-or-so miles from Assisi to Rome.

The Steinbeck quote. See Quote by John Steinbeck: “And this I believe.”

Re: Psalm 98:1. See On singing a NEW song to God, from May 2015. See also Psalm 33:3, Psalm 96:1, and Psalm 149:1.

The Bible readings for July 4 (2014) includes a note about how a group of Anglicans – members of the official state religion of the time – voluntarily gave up their power to guarantee “freedom of religion to people of all religious faiths.” See too The Bible readings for July 4, also from 2014.

Re: “Miracles.” What Is a Miracle according to the Bible? – Bible Answers noted that the most important thing “is not about the miracles themselves but the God who performs them.” But see also Did the Miracles in the Bible Really Happen? – The Honest Skeptic, and/or Are you Skeptical of the Bible Because it Reports Miracles? One quote: “Rather than being a stumbling block, miracles should be expected. If God is who he says he is, then miracles should happen and should be expected.

The Ellison Onizuka quote is on page 28 of my passport. (The ellipses are in the passport original.) Onizuka (1946-1986) was “an American astronaut from KealakekuaKonaHawaii, who successfully flew into space with the Space Shuttle Discovery on STS-51-C. He died in the destruction of the Space Shuttle Challenger, on which he was serving as Mission Specialist for mission STS-51-L. He was the first Asian-American to reach space.” The lower image is courtesy of Wikipedia.

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On Saints Luke, and James of Jerusalem – 2021

Saint Luke painting the Virgin and Child” – as one of the first icon painters?

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The best way to live abundantly and do greater miracles than Jesus is: Read, study and apply the Bible with an open mind. For more see the notes or – to expand your mind – see the Intro.

In the meantime:

A month ago – last September 24 – I flew back home from Madrid, after a month in France and Spain. First I flew into Paris on August 25, spent four days there, then joined up with three other family members. From there we took a train down to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. (In French, “port” means “pass.”) From there, the four of us “hiked over the daunting Pyrenees.” (Seen below.)

For me the adventure ended 17 days later, after hiking 177 miles from Saint-Jean to Burgos. The other three are still hiking, toward Santiago, but meanwhile I had accomplished what I set out to do. (Correct a wimp-out from an earlier hiking adventure. See 2017’s “Hola! Buen Camino!”)

And speaking of wimp-outs – or other mistakes – I meant to publish Saint James the Pilgrim – and “Transfiguration 2021before I left for Paris. (As kind of a prelude.) But somehow I got caught up in making preparations for the trip, and so ended up posting that “prelude” after the first one about the hike, Just got back from “Camino 2021.” That latter post has the beginnings of the section of the Camino de Santiago I hiked this year. (I’d already hiked and biked the 450-mile part from Pamplona to Santiago, and this year just wanted to finish the Pyrenees portion I wimped-out on in 2017.)

In Just got back I covered the trip’s first four days, in Paris, including a visit to the being-rebuilt Notre-Dame Cathedral. And my companion blog has a new post, Hiking over the Pyrenees, in 2021 – finally! (And an earlier Post-trip post mortem for “Paris – 2021.”) I’ll write more on my just-finished 2021 Camino trip in future posts, but for now it’s time to get back on track.

Specifically, with a Feast Day from last October 18, and one just coming up on October 23. 

October 18 was the Feast Day for St. Luke, and October 23 is the Feast for James, brother of Jesus. I wrote of these two saints in Saints James, Luke – and the lovelies of Portugal.* There’s more detail on St. Luke in 2014’s St. Luke – physician, historian, artist, or On St. Luke – 2015. (Or – from 2018 – On Luke and the “rich young man.”) And October 23 is the Feast Day for James, brother of Jesus. The latter is one of several “Jameses” in the New Testament…

About which there seems to be some confusion, not least of all on my part. He’s sometimes confused with James, the son of Zebedee, also called James the Greater, “to distinguish him from James, son of Alphaeus (James the Less) and James the brother of Jesus,” also known as “James the Just.”

See On St. James (“10/23”) – and the 7 blind men, which clarifies some of that confusion on my part. There I confused the “Brother of Jesus” – whose icon is seen at left – with “St. James the Greater,” whose feast day is July 25. (And among other things, James the Greater is the “patron saint of pilgrims,” especially Camino pilgrims.)

For more enlightenment on this topic see Men Named James in the New Testament – Agape Bible Study, detailed in the notes. More to the point, the James remembered on October 23 is said to be the author of the Epistle of James. Other New Testament books – the Pauline epistles and Acts of the Apostles  – show him as key to the Christians of Jerusalem.

When Paul arrives in Jerusalem to deliver the money he raised for the faithful there, it is to James that he speaks, and it is James who insists that Paul ritually cleanse himself at Herod’s Temple to prove his faith…  Paul describes James as being one of the persons to whom the risen Christ showed himself … and in Galatians 2:9 Paul lists James with Cephas (better known as Peter) and John the Apostle as the three “pillars” of the Church.

There’s also confusion on how he died. “According to Josephus James was stoned to death by Ananus ben Ananus.” But “Clement of Alexandria relates that ‘James was thrown from the pinnacle of the temple, and was beaten to death with a club.’” Either way, he was important.

Which is also true of St. Luke.

The noted Catholic writer Garry Wills – in his book What the Gospels Meant – noted that Luke wrote the longest of the four Gospels.  He added that Acts of the Apostles is almost as long, and that these two of Luke’s books together “thus make up a quarter of the New Testament.”  (And they’re longer than all 13 of Paul’s letters.)  He said Luke is rightly considered the most humane of the Gospel writers, and quoted Dante as saying Luke was a “describer of Christ’s kindness.”

Thus Luke’s Gospel was – to Wills and many others – the most beautiful book that ever was.” Which means that Luke’s version of the Jesus story is one to which we should pay special attention.  And especiallto being “humane” and active practitioners of “Christ’s kindness.”

We could use a lot more of that Christian kindness these days…

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The upper image is courtesy of File: Maarten van Heemskerck – St Luke Painting the Virgin, and/or “Wikimedia.”  See also Maarten van Heemskerck – Wikipedia, which noted that the artist (1498-1574) was a “Dutch portrait and religious painter, who spent most of his career in Haarlem,” and did the painting above in or about 1532.

A reminder: I published my last post, On Saint James the Pilgrim – and “Transfiguration 2021,” out of order, or in the wrong order. I’d gotten it ready to publish before I left for Paris, but in the rush and uncertainty of packing, forgot to actually publish it.

Re: The lovelies of Portugal. I published that post on October 23, 2019:

It’s been a month since I got back from last September [2019]’s 160-mile, 19-day hike on the Camino de Santiago that runs through Portugal. See Just got back – Portuguese Camino! Which means it’s time to start moving on from that pilgrimage and back to this blog’s main themes.

Re: Men Named James in the New Testament. The site listed the following men named James in the New Testament:  1) James the son of Zebedee and brother of the Apostle St. John (James the Greater);  2) James the “brother” of Jesus (whose Feast Day is October 23);  3) the Apostle James, “son of Alphaeus;”  and 4) James, the father of the Apostle Jude. Other sources indicate there were as many as six “Jameses” in the Bible.

The lower image is courtesy of Christian Kindness Image – Image Results. See also Ephesians 4:32 “Be kind and tenderhearted to one another.” Not to mention my post, On Oscar Wilde and Psalm 130, on Wilde’s “fall from grace, his being sentenced to hard labor and ultimately writing “De Profundus.” That’s the Latin title of Psalm 130, which begins, “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. “

On Saint James the Pilgrim – and “Transfiguration 2021”

As I wrote back on August 25, before I left for Paris, I’d “soon be hiking over the Pyrenees

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I said in my last post – on September 30 – that I had “last posted on July 26, 2021, over two months ago.” (See I just got back from “Camino 2021.”) Which made me wonder: Why such a big gap between posts? The answer: There wasn’t supposed to BE such a big gap.

I had prepared and pretty much written the following post, on St. James – Patron saint of Camino pilgrims – and on the Transfiguration of Jesus. (The last major feast day in August before I left for Paris on the 25th.) But while I’d “prepared and pretty much written the post,” I never actually PUBLISHED it. (I was probably too caught up getting ready for the trip, all while wondering if it would actually HAPPEN, because of Covid and its restrictions on travel.)

The month-long trip DID happen, but more to the point, in reviewing this yet-to-be-published post, I thought it sounded pretty good. So even thought it’ll be published out of order and “after the fact,” I’m offering it for your consideration. Later, down in the notes, I’ll make some after-the-fact observations about what actually happened…

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Last July 25, 2021, was the feast day for James, son of Zebedee. He was one of the 12 Apostles, and tradition says he was the first apostle to be martyred, some time around 44 A.D.

He was a son of Zebedee and Salome, and brother of John the Apostle. He is also called James the Greater … to distinguish him from James, son of Alphaeus.

That’s what I noted back in 2019, in St. James – and “my next great pilgrimage.” Which is fitting, because this year – 2021 – I have another great pilgrimage on tap. On September 1st I’m scheduled to go back to the Camino de Santiago – for the third time – but with some differences… For one thing, this year I’ll be flying into Paris, not Madrid or Lisbon. For another I’ll be hiking as part of a group of four. And finally, this year I’ll hike over the Pyrenees Mountains.

Incidentally, that’s the same section of the Camino where the Martin Sheen character’s son died in the 2010 film, The Way. The central premise of the film is that an old, out of shape Beverly Hills eye doctor “goes to France following the death of his adult son, Daniel, killed in the Pyrenees during a storm while walking the Camino de Santiago (the Way of St. James), a Christian pilgrimage route.”

As if that wasn’t enough to give a reasonable person second thoughts about hiking over the Pyrenees, there was a recent news story, Human remains found in Pyrenees confirmed as those of missing hiker Esther Dingley.

“Ms Dingley, 37, had been walking solo in the mountains near the Spanish and French border and was last seen on Nov 22 last year.” The story added that there was “no sign of equipment or clothing in the immediate area … and the details of what happened and where still remain unknown.” Which is scary, but on the other hand, I won’t be hiking alone…

And once I do get over the Pyrenees I’ll be entering Spain – for the third time since 2017. And people in Spain take St. James the Pilgrim – he’s the patron saint of all pilgrims – very seriously. See for example Feast of Saint James the Apostle in Spain – Time and Date:

Many people in Spain celebrate the life and deeds of James, son of Zebedee, on Saint James’ Day (Santiago Apostol), which is on July 25. Saint James was one of Jesus’ first disciples. Some Christians believe that his remains are buried in Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

You can read more about this saint in 2014’s “St. James the Greater,” and 2016’s On St. James, Steinbeck, and sluts. (And others, listed in the notes.) But there is one thing about a pilgrimage that should be noted: If it’s a good one, you’ll find yourself transformed.

Which brings up the Transfiguration of Jesus.

That’s the New Testament episode where Jesus is “transfigured and becomes radiant in glory upon a mountain.” (See the connection?) I’ve written about this event in Transfiguration – 2020, The Transfiguration of Jesus – 2016, and in 2015, Transfiguration – The Greatest Miracle in the World. And that feast day was last August 6.

The 2020 post led off with a photo of an empty interstate, looking to a sky-scrapered city skyline, captioned, “The Coronavirus – A ‘Blessing In Disguise For Humanity,’ and maybe a metamorphosis?” Along with a note that we were “now in Week 21 of the COVID-19 pandemic.” (We’re now in week 75 or so, per my calculations.*) The key point: That “in the current plague we are surely going through a metamorphosis.” Or a change in circumstance that could seem, “to many, to have occurred by supernatural means.”

In other words, maybe God was and is trying to tell us something.

In further words, in the Transfiguration both Jesus and His disciples had to go through “a pivotal moment.” A moment in which Jesus met with Moses and Elijah, but which was also terrifying to Peter. (See Mark 9:6 “For they were all so terrified that Peter did not know what else to say.”) But despite Peter’s terror, this was a point “where human nature meets God: the meeting place for the temporal and the eternal, with Jesus himself as the connecting point.”

And you could say the same thing about COVID-19. It too is terrifying, but it could also be another moment “where human nature meets God.” It could be a moment where we turn on each other and start “Finger-Pointing,” or it could be a moment where we work together and overcome the challenge in the way God wants us to. And it could just be – if we play our cards right – where we can reconnect with Jesus in a way we couldn’t have before.

Unfortunately, there are signs that in this crisis we are being “weighed in the balances and found wanting.” (In other words, we seem to be ending up like Belshazzar, in Daniel, Chapter 5.) Or we could be “transformed.” And to continue that thought, to be transfigured – as Jesus was – is to experience a change in form or appearance, that is, a metamorphosis.

The term is also defined as to experience an exalting, glorifying or spiritual change. And one example of such a metamorphosis is the “transformation of a maggot into an adult fly.” Or for a better example, we could change from a caterpillar into a butterfly. So – in our journey through the present Covid crisis – do we want to remain maggots or get turned into butterflies? (To mix a few metaphors.) And such transformation is pretty much what the Faith is all about.

See for example Bible Verses about Transformed into His Likeness, which includes 2d Corinthians 3:18, which says that we true Christians “are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” Or Philippians 3:21, which talks of the power of Jesus, “who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body.” Or 2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.”

Which is also what could happen to those who go on a pilgrimage. (Like hiking over the Pyrenees part of the Camino de Santiago?) In such a journey “a person goes in search of new or expanded meaning about their self, others, nature, or a higher good, through the experience. It can lead to a personal transformation, after which the pilgrim returns to their daily life.”

Or as it says in Psalm 84:5, “Happy are the people whose strength is in you! whose hearts are set on the pilgrim’s way.” So maybe when I get back I’ll find that we Americans are no longer “weighed in the balances and found wanting.” (As shown below.) Maybe the country will experience such a transfiguration that God will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant(s)!”

It COULD happen…

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Well, it didn’t happen. It seems our country is still “weighed in the balances and found wanting.” And a lot of it has to do with Facebook and the amount of tribal political warfare that goes on there. So maybe that six-hour Facebook outage last October 4 was a sign from God. Instead of saying “well done, good and faithful servant(s),” He might have been telling us, “Stop obsessing with Facebook, and stop putting all that garbage in it!”

(Of course, I’m just guessing, you understand…*)

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The upper image is courtesy of Camino Hiking Over Pyrenees – Image Results. With a page and caption, “The walk to Roncesvalles, Spain, from St Jean Pied de Port took us over the Pyrenees. Blessed with good weather…”

Re: 2016’s On St. James, Steinbeck, and sluts. The “sluts” part of the post noted that the word had a different meaning for Robert Louis Stevenson in 1879, when he published Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes. (For more on the book see also the prior post, On donkey travel – and sluts.) Back then “slut meant roughly what one sense of slattern means today: a slovenly, untidy woman or girl.”  It could also refer to a kitchen maid.

Re: Weeks of Covid. As of Monday, October 11, 2021, we are now in the 83d full week of Covid, 20 months and three weeks, according to my calculations. See On St. Philip and St. James – May, 2020. To me, “the pandemic hit full swing – the ‘stuff really hit the fan’ – back on Thursday, March 12,” when the ACC basketball tournament got cancelled, along with other major sports. “So my definition of the ‘First Full Week of the Covid-19 Pandemic’ has it starting on Sunday, March 15 and ending on Saturday the 21st.”

The Psalm 84:5 translation is from my mother’s Book of Common Prayer, “Proposed,” and published in 1977. (As certified by Charles Mortimer Guilbert.) My mother died in 1984, and for a time it was used by my late wife Karen, who died in 2006. I now use it on a daily basis, for the psalms in each day’s set of Daily Office Readings. (Currently Year One, Volume 2.)

The lower image is courtesy of the Belshazzar link to the Wikipedia article. The caption: “RembrandtBelshazzar’s Feast, 1635, (National Gallery, London). The message is written in vertical lines starting at the top right corner, with ‘upharsin’ taking two lines.”

And the quote “just guessing, you understand,” came from She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) Script – TV & Movie Transcripts. As spoken by Ben Johnson as Sergeant Tyree, talking to John Wayne as Captain Nathan Brittles. Image courtesy of She Wore A Yellow Ribbon – Image Results. (My other favorite Sgt. Tyree quote is, “That ain’t my department, sir!”

I just got back from “Camino 2021…”

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I last posted on July 26, 2021, over two months ago.* The reason for the lapse? I was preparing for a month-long overseas adventure. The plan was to fly first into Paris, and from there take a train down to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, in southwest France. And all during that time I had my doubts that the proposed trip would actually occur, because of Covid….

But it did occur, and the result was a month-long, 170 mile hike on the Camino de Santiago. And that trip included a hike over the daunting Pyrenees mountains, seen at left.

The trip started with a flight to Paris on August 25. It ended last Friday night, September 24, with a butt-sore 13-hour flight from Madrid back home to Atlanta. (With a nightmare layover in Amsterdam.*) Which – with six time-zone changes – meant 26 hours straight without sleep. (Can you say “body-clock bedraggling?”) In between, I accomplished what I set out to do.

Like I said, all of this was part of a month-long trip, first to Paris and then over the Pyrenees. The main feature was a month-long, 170-mile hike on the Camino de Santiago. The push for this adventure came after a similar one in 2017, noted in “Hola! Buen Camino!” That post began: “My brother and I arrived in Santiago de Compostela on Thursday, October 12[, 2017]. This was after hiking – and biking – the Camino de Santiago, as shown in the map above. “

There was only one problem in 2017. I hadn’t hiked over the Pyrenees, like my brother Tom, and it’s bothered me ever since. So why didn’t I hike over the Pyrenees in 2017? Because the year before, 2016, Tom and I – along with his son, my nephew – had hiked the Chilkoot Trail. They called that “the meanest 33 miles in history,” and I found out why.*

One result was that for 2017 I’d had quite enough of mountain hiking. So while Tom flew into Paris and hiked over the Pyrenees hike – and had a miserable time by the way – I flew into Madrid and met up with him in Pamplona. That still left 450 miles of hiking to get to Santiago. (With biking as well for the last 200 miles; we started running out of time.)

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I’ll be writing more on my 2021 Camino pilgrimage in future posts, but for now I’ll focus on the first four days. I spent those four days in Paris, which I visited for the first time since 1979.

One place in Paris I visited back in 1979 was the Cathedral Notre-Dame de Paris. And – viewed from the inside – that visit was literally awesome. But given the Notre-Dame de Paris fire in 2019, I was curious to see how things had changed, how the repairs and renovation were going.

I took the picture at right on Saturday, August 28, 2021, during a walk around the entire complex. There were lots of other people around, checking out the progress, or just standing and looking just outside the chain-link fencing on the sides and back. I was pleasantly surprised at the progress, but it’s definitely a work in progress. (For a more detailed and comprehensive review see Notre Dame Rebuild Progress | 2021 Updates.)

For more on other events in those first four days, see my other blog’s Post-trip post mortem for “Paris – 2021.” But here’s a spoiler alert, about a highlight of the trip, in Madrid: I ended up having a beer (or maybe two) at the Plaza de Jesús.* Which is a very good place to end up…

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On a related note, September 2021 included “feasts” for Holy Cross Day (9/14), St. Matthew, Apostle (9/21), and St. Michael and All Angels (9/29). For more on those “holy-days” see the notes, with summaries and links to past posts. But for now it’s enough to say yet again:

There’s no place like home!

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Re: “I last posted on July 26, 2021, over two months ago.” As noted in Saint James the Pilgrim – and “Transfiguration 2021,” that wasn’t exactly true. I had “prepared and pretty much written” the St. James/Transfiguration post before I left, but never actually published it. Which is why that post and this one were published “out of order and ‘after the fact.'” But with the next post I’ll get things back in order. Probably on my experiences actually hiking over the Pyrenees and into Pamplona, and somehow tying all that in to the next major feast day, for St. Luke. (Written and updated Monday, October 11, 2021.) For an appetizer, see 2014’s On St. Luke – physician, historian, artist, and – from October 2019 and its happier times – On Saints James, Luke – and the lovelies of Portugal.

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The upper image is courtesy of Camino de Santiago 800 PROJECT: Map of the Routesilverarrow18.blogspot.com.  

The “Pyrenees” image is courtesy of Pyrenees Mountains – Image Results.

Re: Nightmare in Amsterdam. One big nightmare factor was having to go through Dutch Customs, with only two staffers for our huge plane-load of people, and even though I had gone through security in Madrid, and was simply changing from one plane to another.

Re: The Chilkoot. See my companion blog, Remembering the “Chilkoot &^%$# Trail!” Which included this: The ‘Chilkoot Trail‘ isn’t really a trail, it’s just ‘one big pile of &%#@ rocks after another!!!‘”

Re: Plaza de Jesús. See Wikipedia, la enciclopedia libre, which translated notes this “Jesus Square” or “Place of Jesus” is in the Cortes district, and begins on Calle Lope de Vega. For the last two days of the trip, after I left Burgos, I got a room at the Artistic B&B, at Calle Lope de Vega 11. (Just up the street.) Wikipedia noted that the plaza is home to several taverns, “in Madrid rancid tradition:”

This is a contrast that makes the queues of pilgrims, pious women and devotees of the Christ of Medinaceli, much appreciated, frequently mix in the square with nomadic groups of celebrators, tourists and subjects of the Madrid aperitif.

I’m not sure what all that means, but I enjoyed my two nights at the plaza. I’d stop there after a day of doing touristy stuff like visiting the Prado and the Museo Reina Sofia – home of Picasso’s “Guernica” – or strolling through the Real Jardín Botánico. The Wikipedia article has a good closeup of the tile “plaza sign.” In my picture, at left, there is a street – or plaza – sign, in blue, just above the head of the tall man in the foreground. Just above that is the tile of the representation of Jesus, the one you can see better in the Wikipedia article.

Re: September feast days I missed hiking the Camino. For a catch-all summary of those three feast days, see 2018’s On Holy Cross, Matthew, and Michael – “Archangel” As for summaries, “Holy Cross Day is one of several Feasts of the Cross, all of which ‘commemorate the cross used in the crucifixion of Jesus.'” For still more on St. Matthew see St. Matthew and “Cinderella.” It noted that “the love Jesus had for all mankind extended even to tax collectors.” (Matthew was a tax collector, in Israel “hated above all men as a merciless leech who would take the shirt off a dying child.”) As far as St. Michael goes, he is shown in the painting, “Archangel Michael reaching to save souls in purgatory.” To which I said:Hey, I’ll take all the help I can get!

The lower image is courtesy of There‘s No Place Like Home- Image Results. See also No Place Like Home – Wikipedia, which noted that – aside from the famous line in the movie Wizard of Oz – the phrase may also refer to “the last line of the 1822 song ‘Home! Sweet Home!,’ words by John Howard Payne and music by Sir Henry Bishop; the source of inspiration for the other references here: ‘Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home,’” and/or “‘(There’s No Place Like) Home for the Holidays,’ a 1954 Christmas song most famously sung by Perry Como.”  For a “live” version, see also There’s No Place Like Home – YouTube.

On “(Some of) My Adventures in Old Age…”

To see more images of the “meanest 33 miles in history,” go to Chilkoot Trail – Image Results

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The next major feast day is Thanksgiving, Thursday, November 26. For a look at some past posts on the subject see the Notes. In the meantime I have something to be thankful for.

I just published a new E-book(Some of) My Adventures in Old Age(“Or ‘How NICE it was to travel, before COVID.’”) It’s published under my nom de plume, “James B. Ford.” The cover photo – at right – shows me in Jerusalem in May 2019, wearing a “shemagh.” Also called a keffiyeh, I got it at Ranger Joe’s in Ft. Benning before leaving for Israel. (To “blend in.”) I’m wearing it over my black Atlanta United ball cap, thus “blending in” the best of the old and new.

In the blurb I wrote for Amazon Kindle eBooks, I said this book should be timely – “in the middle of our Covid-19 pandemic” – because right now “lots of Americans can only dream about visiting such exotic locales in the future, when the crisis passes.”

I compared it to the 1920s and ‘30s, when so many Americans were fascinated by Hemingway’s books on France and Spain. (Like “The Sun Also Rises ” and “A Moveable Feast.”)

I’m guessing part of it was that back then most Americans could only DREAM of travel to such exotic places. (Like today with Covid…) Then too it may be because Hemingway gave all those exotic street names and local pubs and restaurants. Like my finding the “BEERBAZAAR,” in Jerusalem, in May 2019. Which makes me think I should have written down way more information when I was “over there.” Then I could do more what Hemingway did, vivid description. But I have something Hemingway didn’t have. GOOGLE MAPS!

Then too – aside from my May 2019 pilgrimage to Israel – the book includes chapters on hiking the Chilkoot Trail in 2016. (“Meanest 33 miles in history,” exemplified by the top photo.) Or hiking the Camino de Santiago, twice. The first time was in 2017. I met my brother in Pamplona – home of Hemingway’s Café Iruna – and together we hiked (and biked) the 450 miles to Santiago de Compostela. (He flew into Paris and hiked over the Pyrenees, but the Chilkoot Trail had cured me of any such wishes to go hiking over mountains again so soon.)

Incidentally, the last two chapters of the book are based on the last two (of three) posts I did in a companion blog: Here’s that second post on the Portuguese Camino, and “They sell beer at the McDonald’s in Portugal!” That “They sell beer” post was really long – “Word count 3450” – mostly because I had a lot to fit in. But, to balance things out I’ll make this post shorter.

The upshot is that I wrote about a lot of great adventures, but still had more to write about. Plus those I did cover I didn’t do full justice to. I did include one great memory from Israel:

May 28, 2019, Tel Aviv. The night before I fly home from Ben Gurion. Sitting at the bar in the basement of the Abraham Hostel, Levon St. 21. To my left, two travel buddies, Sam and Katie. Katie on my immediate left, Sam one seat over. To my right a young man who turned out to be a law student from Quebec. We got to talking, and I asked his name. He said “Silas.” So I started singing “Two was a-Paul and Silas!” Katie chimed in, “One was a little bitty baby,” then we both sang – in harmony – “Born, born, born in Bethlehem!”

(That was part of the chorus from “Children, Go Where I Send Thee.” As I wrote in the book, “for a kick-ass a cappella version, see the one by Little Big Town.)

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There’s more on all that later, but first a couple production notes on the E-book. First off, you’ll notice that on page 6 of the Introduction – right after the paragraph beginning “May 28, 2019, Tel Aviv” – the line spacing goes all kerflooey. From justified it goes to non-justified text, and the line spacing gets wider. It goes back to normal for the next one-line paragraph – “Then the COVID hit” – but the text stays non-justified through near the  middle of the next page. (It says page 6 again; there are apparently two “page 6’s.”) Then it goes back to justified text.

I tried correcting it, uploading a second and ostensibly-corrected Word document, but it stayed the same, kerflooey for a page or two. Another note: I had the “Observations” at the end of many chapters in italics and non-justified, as well as the notes at the end of the book. The program made all those justified type. And for the paperback version the publishing program required a minimum of 100 pages, so I had to add four pages to the original 96.

So I’ll try to upload a corrected version, with the additional four pages and with a proper note at the very end as to where to buy a paperback version. I’ll let you know how it goes…

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Meanwhile, back to the subject of the book not doing justice to all my adventures…

For one example, as to the Portuguese Camino hike: I only got “us” as far as the Casa Límia in Ponte de Lima. That’s only about a third of the way up to Santiago de Compostela. Then too I could only provide limited coverage of my pilgrimage to Israel, which I last covered in This time last year – in Jerusalem, in May 2020. And by the way, that post has a lot of those “image may contain” boxes, that used to be pictures I posted, to make the posts more interesting. And which in turn is a problem I address in the book. And that’s why I now use lead captions like “To see more images of the ‘meanest 33 miles in history,’ go to Chilkoot Trail – Image Results.” That makes it much easier to transmogrify these blog-posts into future picture-less book chapters.

And about that Jerusalem trip. I described the Leonardo Moria Hotel, a short walk from St. George’s Pilgrim Guest House, with a lounge sometimes functioning as a piano bar. (Once even having a yarmulke-topped pianist playing the Chicken Dance.) That turned out to be a favorite watering hole, not just for me but eventually many of my fellow pilgrims at St. George’s. (One night, for a birthday, “we” had 17 pilgrims there. I should have gotten a commission…)

So one point of this “limited coverage” is that in the future I’ll have to do at least one Sequel. (Tentatively titled “(More of) My Adventures in Old Age.”) In it I hope to add more oversea-travel adventures, including a return to St. George’s in Jerusalem. (Once we kick COVID’s ass.)

Stay tuned!!!

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The upper image is courtesy of Chilkoot Trail – Image Results. See also Explore the Chilkoot Trail – Klondike Gold Rush. The lower image is courtesy of St George’s College Jerusalem – Image Results

Re: Past posts on Thanksgiving. See On the first Thanksgiving – Part I and Part II, On Thanksgiving 2015, On Thanksgiving – 2016, On Thanksgiving – 2017, and On Thanksgiving 2019. (Did I skip 2018?)

On Mary Magdalene, 2020 – and Week 19 of “the Covid…”

I just got back from 4 days’ canoeing on the Missouri River – and no, the river wasn’t this low…

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As the photo-caption above says, I just returned from a 4-day canoe trip on the Missouri River – 115 river miles, from South Sioux City to Omaha Nebraska. (Two weeks in all – three days’ drive out, four days back, the rest setting up or packing up.) Specifically, I got back last Friday, July 17.

And my last post was on June 20, Remembering Monday, May 18, 1992. (Including the image at right, it talked about the day I did my first Daily Office (Bible) Reading, on May 18, 1992.)

Which all means that I haven’t done a lot of posting lately on liturgical seasons or feast days. And on that note, the feast day for Mary Magdalene was Wednesday, July 22.

I’ve done a number of posts on this Mary “Maudlin,” including last year’s On Mary Magdalene – and all those “rules and regulations.” Also, On Mary Magdalene, and “conserving talents(from 2018), 2015’s On Mary Magdalene, “Apostle to the Apostles,” and – from 2017 – On Mary of Magdala and James the Greater, Saints. (I.e., Mary’s Feast Day – July 22 – is followed by this particular James’ Feast Day, July 25.)

Last year’s post emphasized one indisputable: That Mary Magdalene showed way more courage and faith than the 11 male disciples, when push came to shove. Which is why St. Augustine called her the “Apostle to the Apostles.” See also Mary of Magdala | FutureChurch:

Mary of Magdala is perhaps the most maligned and misunderstood figure in early Christianity…  Since the fourth century, she has been portrayed as a prostitute and public sinner…   Paintings, some little more than pious pornography, reinforce the mistaken belief that sexuality, especially female sexuality, is shameful, sinful, and worthy of repentance.  Yet the actual biblical account of Mary of Magdala paints a far different portrait than that of the bare-breasted reformed harlot of Renaissance art.

In turn that 2019 post cited 2018’s Mary Magdalene, and “conserving talents.” That was an early post exploring the idea of conservative Christians “playing it too safe.” That is, choosing not to explore the “rich tapestry of life.” That led me to conclude that “There’s no such thing as a ‘conservative Christian.’” (“It’s an oxymoron.”) Then too, that rules and regulations post brought up a standard conservative – and sometimes “Conservative Christian” – rant, that “all immigrants must follow all the rules and regulations.” 

On that note, the post pointed out that Jesus – by His own admission – came into the world to save sinners, not those who blindly “follow all the rules and regulations.” (Mark 2:17, and 1st Timothy 1:15.) Which certainly applied to Mary, that “bare-breasted reformed harlot.”

Which brings up “the letter versus the spirit of the law.” That is, the “idiomatic antithesis” about those who “obey the letter of the law but not its spirit.” In a sentence, “Intentionally following the letter of the law but not the spirit” can be done by “exploiting technicalitiesloopholes, and ambiguous language.” And it’s based on 2d Corinthians 3:6, “This” – the Gospel of Jesus – “is a covenant not of written laws, but of the Spirit. The old written covenant ends in death; but under the new covenant, the Spirit gives life.” That is, life in abundance. (John 10:10.)  

Which all leads us to July 25, the Feast Day for James, son of Zebedee. He’s one of several “James” in the New Testament, but this James is also called “St. James the Greater.” And incidentally, this St. James is the Patron Saint of Pilgrims. (Seen at left. See also Mary of Magdala and James the Greater, Saints.)

And speaking of pilgrimages – like my recent one down the Missouri River – see also the September 2016 post On St. James, Steinbeck, and sluts: “The point being that I’ve gone on a few pilgrimages in my time, and am fixing to go on another one this September.” September 2017 that is. That year my Adventurous Brother and I hiked the Camino de Santiago in Spain. (The French Way. Also, in the Sluts post, I noted that in the spiritual literature of Christianity, the concept of pilgrim and pilgrimage may refer to “the inner path of the spiritual aspirant from a state of wretchedness to a state of beatitude.”)

The post also said a pilgrimage can be  “one of the most chastening, but also one of the most liberating” of personal experiences.  Which happened on 2016’s Chilkoot Trail hike:

For my part, I certainly felt “chastened” after we got back to Skagway from the Chilkoot Trail.(Although the 10-of-12 beers that my nephew and I shared – of the two six-packs I bought – helped a lot too.)  And I had a blister-on-a-blister that got infected – that didn’t fully heal until three weeks after the hike – to further heighten the feeling of getting “chastened.”

So this post celebrates both Mary Magdalene, as “the Apostle to the Apostles,” and St. James as the Patron Saint of Pilgrims. And speaking of pilgrimages, they can also be a way to “escape a plague.” Or at least get away from it for four days or so. (But see also A Pilgrimage during the time of the Black Plague, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.)

Meanwhile, we always have “the Risen Christ” to fall back on…

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 Mary Magdalene – first to see the Risen Christ – thus Apostle to the Apostles…”

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The upper image is courtesy of Lower Missouri River – Image Results. “The image was accompanied by a 2012 article from the Sioux City Journal, about how the low water level – eight years ago – could hurt boating and tourism.” I borrowed the image from a post on my companion blog, On my “new” Missouri River canoe trip, from July 5, 2020. That post was a preview, and I’ll be writing a postmortem – not literally – in a future post. As in an analysis or study of a recently completed event. The caption for the photo originally said, “I just heard the Lower Missouri River near Sioux City was pretty low. Could it be this bad?” Quick answer: It wasn’t.  

As to “Week 19 of ‘the Covid'” in the post title, see On St. Philip and St. James – May, 2020. There I explained that, to me, “the pandemic hit full swing – the ‘stuff really hit the fan’ – back on Thursday, March 12,” when the ACC basketball tournament got cancelled, along with other major sports. “So my definition of the ‘First Full Week of the Covid-19 Pandemic’ has it starting on Sunday, March 15 and ending on Saturday the 21st.”

Re: Pilgrimage to escape plague. See for example, “Flight of the townspeople into the country to escape from the Plague, 1630,” seen below, courtesy of Pilgrimage Escape Plagues – Image Results.

The lower image is courtesy of Rembrandt – The Risen Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalen. (It’s the lead image in Mary Magdalene, and “conserving talents.“)  See also On Easter Season – AND BEYOND.  The full caption: “The Risen Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalen, by Rembrandt (1638).”  And speaking of “racy,” the artist Titian did two versions of Mary crying.  For the “racier” – 1533 – version see Penitent Magdalene (Titian, 1533) – Wikipedia.

The Penitent Magdalene is a 1565 oil painting by Titian of saint Mary Magdalene, now in the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg.  Unlike his 1533 version of the same subject, Titian has covered Mary’s nudity and introduced a vase, an open book and a skull as a memento mori.  Its coloring is more mature than the earlier work, using colors harmoni[z]ing with character.  In the background the sky is bathed in the rays of the setting sun, with a dark rock contrasting with the brightly lit figure of Mary.

For more on this “Mary,” see On Mary of Magdala and James the Greater, Saints, and also MARY MAGDALENE, Bible Woman: first witness to Resurrection, and What Did Mary Magdalene look like?

“As a spiritual exercise…”

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As a Spiritual Exercise, back in 1989 I started looking for new ways to “help” my favorite college team – Florida State University – win its first football national championship… (The image at right shows the 1524 book, Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola. I just used a different method.)

At first it was a matter of finding the right ritual sacrifice, in the form of exercise, and especially aerobics. (Initially a series of wind sprints over a 3-mile course; the goal was to finish the three miles in an ever-faster speed.)

It was only later – in the spring of 1992 – that I added the discipline of Daily Bible Reading. And just as an aside, during that next football season – in the fall of 1993, and after much drama, with twists and turns of fate – the Noles squeaked by Nebraska to win that first national title. (In a game they were expected to win easily.)

In the 27-plus years that followed – 30-plus, if you go back to 1989 – FSU football won two more national titles. (For a more complete listing of such “wins,” see On my “mission from God,” and “Unintended consequences” – and the search for Truth, including the image at left.) But there have been a number of heart-breaks as well, including losing the national-title game at the end of the 1996 season. (To our arch-rival Gators, no less.) And the past two seasons have been especially bad, with the Noles suffering back-to-back losing seasons.

On the other hand I’ve learned a lot of valuable spiritual lessons along the way.

Then too, this “spiritual exercise” has given me lots of insight into how the original Children of Israel must have felt when they did all the right things – and yet ended up conquered and sent into exile. (The functional equivalent of having back-to-back losing seasons for the first time in a dog’s years? And especially after establishing a 14-year college football dynasty?)

What brings all that to mind is the recent series of Daily Office Old Testament readings. Those recent Daily Office readings reminded me of all the twists and turns, the add-ons and “do not do” list of things that thwarted spiritual progress for Moses. And for his success on the field.

For example, that recent string of Daily Bible readings had a set rules and regulations – starting with Leviticus 8:1-13,30-36 – back on Sunday, May 10 (2020). And they’ve have been jumping around ever since. (After starting at Chapter 8 – and after leaving Exodus 40, 18 to 38, on Saturday the 9th – they jumped from 16 to 19 to 23, and so on, “to this day.” Exodus 40, for example, goes into great detail on “Setting Up the Tabernacle.”)

The point is that – over the past 30-plus years – I too have gleaned a number of “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots.” (Not unlike those of Moses, set out in Leviticus.) Rules like “Thou shalt not listen to Panzerlied* on your iPod Shuffle in the days leading up to a game.” Or “thou shalt listen to ‘We Are the Champions‘ whenever it comes up, on your Shuffle or the radio.” (Because it brings good karma.) Also, “Thou shalt have thy monthly church-tithe check in the office safe before a game starts, at or near the first of the month.” And so on… Of course those rules haven’t guaranteed success, but neither did Moses’ rules and regulations, listed in Leviticus over the past weeks in the Daily Office.

So just like Moses – and especially like those who tried to follow his rules “to the letter” – for the past 31 years or so, I’ve been “working with God,” trying to get Him to help my teams win. But again, it hasn’t always worked out. And so you could easily say there have been far more disappointments and heartbreaks. On the other hand, by combining my Ritual Sacrifice with Daily Bible reading, I’ve learned some valuable spiritual lessons.

For one thing – again – I’ve experienced how those early Hebrews must have felt, when they thought they’d done everything right. But then – for whatever inexplicable reason – they were disappointed if not shocked by how bad things turned out. I’m sure they felt like saying to God, “You OWE me.” I did everything You asked, and this is how you treat me?” But along the way I’ve also learned – based on my experience – that there was and is some kind of causality at work. That is, some mysterious “Force” out there which (or Who) responded to my prayers and sacrifice, ritual or otherwise. Though many times not in the way I expected…

Another thing I’ve learned – over the past 31 years, and a host of both disappointments and triumphs. I’ve become convinced – by and through my day to day interactions with this “Force” – that the “factual accuracy” of the Bible is pretty much irrelevant to an advanced Christian faith. That is, to me, it doesn’t seem to matter if a so-called expert says he’s found the actual ark used by Noah somewhere in Turkey.

Or whether Jesus feeding the 5,000 is just a miracle, “taken only on faith,” or a parable whose lesson is that if we followed the example of Jesus, we could end world hunger “tomorrow.”

What matters is what you do with your faith and your life. What matters is how you follow the Bible, and in doing so follow the example of Jesus. And for that matter His disciples (including Paul, that “Johnny come lately” who wrote like a lawyer, with so many lawyer-like convolutions).

In other words if you work with this kind of “canary in a coal mine” spiritual exercise, you could end up with all the proof you need: That there is a God, and that “He” is willing to work with you, and that somewhere along the line, there’s a “happy ending…” And it can all come by and through the “spiritual discipline” of daily Bible reading, combined with your own version of a “canary-slash-coal-mine” way of keeping on the straight and narrow.

And incidentally (on a related note), next Thursday, May 21, is Ascension Day. For more on that feast day see 2014’s On Ascension Day and subsequent posts listed in the notes.

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The upper image is courtesy of Spiritual Exercise – Image Results. Also, the image to the right of the first full paragraph refers to the “Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola (Latin original: Exercitia spiritualia),” with the caption, “Exercitia spiritualia, 1548 First Edition by Antonio Bladio (Rome).”

A note on the post title. It’s similar in style to a Papal bull, that is, it’s “first few words of the text,” the incipit, i.e., “the first few Latin words from which the bull took its title for record keeping purposes, but which might not be directly indicative of the bull’s purpose.” See Wikipedia.

Re: Panzerlied. I first heard it in a 1965 film, see Battle of the Bulge (film) – Wikipedia. It’s a rousing song that goes well with road trips or picking up trash in a diesel-powered golf cart for the local branch of Keep America Beautiful. Unfortunately it has negative connotations having to do with the murder of “Jews, gypsies and fairies.” For more on the song see Wikipedia, or for a live version Panzerlied (Battle of the Bulge with english intro) – YouTube. For more on “Jews, gypsies and fairies,” see Slaughterhouse-Five Quotes | Shmoop: “The British had no way of knowing it, but the candles and the soap were made from the fat of rendered Jews and Gypsies and fairies and communists, and other enemies of the State. (5.14.4).”

See Thou Shalt Not – Image Results. And Thou Shalt Not (musical) – Wikipedia.

The causality image is courtesy of Causality – Image Results.

Re: Ascension Day. See also On Ascension Day 2015, Ascension Day and Pentecost – 2016, and Ascension Day 2017 – “Then He opened their minds.”

The lower image is courtesy of Canary Coal Mine – Image Results. This particular image accompanied an article, “Idioms in the news: Canary in the Coal Mine[,] ShareAmerica,” from November 2014: “Someone/something that is an early warning of danger.” An earlier image – “now defunct,” since the original post – was accompanied by an article, “I am the canary in the coal mine,” which also explained the idiom:

The tradition at that time – to foretell the toxic environment down in the [coal] mine – was for the miners to take a canary down with them on their daily journey… The canary is very susceptible to the toxic gases that were common in the mines, and would die when the gases were at a toxic level – signaling to the miners that they had to immediately exit.

See also canary in a coal mine – Wiktionary, about a thing sensitive to adverse conditions, which “makes it a useful early indicator of such conditions; something which warns of the coming of greater danger or trouble by a deterioration in its health or welfare.”

In my case, if I was doing something wrong in my daily life, a loss by FSU or “another team of mine” would indicate the need to stop doing that! (Not unlike the old Henny Youngman joke, where a patient says, “Doctor, it hurts when I do this.” To which the doctor replies, “Then don’t do that!” See Henry Youngman Jokes – Henry Youngman One Liners Jokes.)