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It's good to be back from an exhilarating and exhausting holiday on the high seas.

We sailed back through the Bay of Biscay in a Force 10 - our Yorkshire captain described conditions as claggy which means thick and lumpy.

The day after we landed at Southampton I got out of bed and was still swaying. :-)

So what to post ? 

First,  a lovely prayer expressing gratitude from here.

I'm feeling fortunate and grateful to be able to have seen so many beautiful places; Valencia, Spain, Sicily, Dubrovnik and the island of Korcula in Croatia, Venice; Kefalonia and Corfu in Greece and home via Gibraltar. 

There are many ways in which travel and spirituality intersect and it has been humbling to see numerous places of worship and the vast array of artistic, cultural, and religious heritage we draw from.

 I like this description on the intrinsic value of travel by Judith Fen, a travel journalist who says" it has been her honour in life to engage in heart-to-heart talks with people who were severely ill or at the end of their earthly visitations. In each case, they reached into their mental scrapbooks and turned to the pages of their lives that brought them the most pleasure. No one spoke about money, portfolios, possessions, salaries or career advancement.

Nobody mentioned inflation, deflation, recession, double-dip recession, mortgage rates, interest or dividends. There wasn't one word about asset allocation and all the alliterations that make people feel that their money is safe. But all of them spoke about travels."

This photo of a rose on a table in a church in Messina Sicily brings to mind this quote.

"If a man could pass through Paradise in a dream
 and have a flower presented to him as a pledge
 that his soul had really been there, 
and found that flower in his hand when he awoke
- Aye ? and what then ?"

from the notebook of Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Travel is about attitude and aspiration as much as about geography. When I leave home, I am tourist, traveller, and pilgrim. I love travel with all its aspects; getting lost, with so many pleasurable sensory experiences, the sense of adventure, extending cultural horizons, journeying to find the sacred in everyday experiences.

Visiting these places and symbols of human achievement give me hope for the future, ; all examples of the inspiration and imagination that the world of the human spirit and soul have made manifestly sacred through images of artistic excellence and beauty. 

Travel too allows me to ponder the mystery and precariousness of life, to know deeply that our human lives have limits in space and time, and that  our joys and sorrows are played out within some greater sacred design. 

In sacred centres -- not just churches,-- I experience solitude, solidity, permanence and grace. 

Travels helps me overcome my prejudices and stereotypes about people in other cultures.

"Home" is not so much a place as the very depth of our selves, and the journey from here to there and back again is really part of the process of human completion. 

Travel transforms and I return home, from my journey and adventure with life-enhancing gifts, hopefully a little more wisdom and wholeness, strengths of courage and optimism, and humour and attentiveness. 

The more I travel and interact with others, the more I appreciate the similarities between cultures. which in turn helps  appreciate the differences all the more and helps me respond to them with generosity and gratitude. 

On this feast day of St Michael and the Angels this pertinent reflection from Fr. Richard Rohr reminds me that  my container for faith should be open to others, not closed and is a counter to  this pitiful story on my return, a sad example of parochial and curmudegeonly petty mindedness.

Whether fictional or physical, certain places seem to exert a magnetic pull on our souls, whether they’re to a holy site in a distant land or to a place of private meaning for an individual.The beauty of travel for me is to see experiences from a deeper perspective and all the elements of nature, cities and sacred centres provide multiple glimpses of the sacred cosmic dance.

Vaya con Dios - "Go with God" 

I'm glad from the inside out, ecstatic;I've pitched my tent in the land of hope."
- Acts 2:26

Journeying god,
pitch your tent with mine
so that I may not become deterred
by hardship, strangeness, doubt.

Show me the movement I must make
toward a wealth not dependent on possessions,
toward a wisdom not based on books,
toward a strength not bolstered by might,
toward a God not confined to heaven.

Help me to find myself as I walk in others shoes.
Prayer song from Ghana, traditional, translator unknown

My heart is so small
it's almost invisible.
How can You place
such big sorrows in it?
"Look," He answered,
"your eyes are even smaller,
yet they behold the world."
~ Rumi ~
 Whispers of the Beloved  by Maryam & Azima Melita Kolin

We all journey through life as tourist, traveller, and pilgrim and of course it is true in an Ignatian way we can experience the sacred at its deepest levels in life in every moment, in every place, in every activity, and in every person of our lives.

I have been influenced, enriched, and transformed by this particular journey and life experience.

 There are countless travel cliches but all have something of truth.

 “The wish to travel seems to me characteristically human: the desire to move, to satisfy your curiosity or ease your fears, to change the circumstances of your life, to be a stranger, to make a friend, to experience an exotic landscape, to risk the unknown..” Paul Theroux The Tao of Travel

 “The traveller sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see.
G. K. Chesterton

Most travel, and certainly the rewarding kind, involves depending on the kindness of strangers, putting yourself into the hands of people you don’t know and trusting them with your life.
Paul Theroux Ghost Train to The Eastern Star

A painful part of travel, the most emotional for me in many respects, is the sight of people leading ordinary lives, especially people at work or with their families; or ones in uniform, or laden with equipment, or shopping for food, or paying bills.
The Pillars of Hercules

My hard disc is rapidly clogging up with photos but here are a few highlights..
Photos are powerful and pleasurable stimuli for reawakening experiences.

Messina, Sicily.

Dubrovnik, Croatia is a well-preserved medieval port on the Adriatic and a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its mixture of Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, and Ottoman architecture. It was hit hard in the Yugoslav Civil War and is now undergoing a major renovation campaign.

Legend has it that St. Blaise appeared in a vision in 971 AD to warn Dubrovnik of an impending Venetian invasion. He's been revered here ever since.  He's the saint who is celebrated with the blessing of throats. appropriate as patron saint of Dubrovnik who managed to stay independent and prosperous for more than a millennium on its citizens' powers of negotiation.

Thousands of visitors come to walk its ancient streets, to see the wealth the city amassed through centuries of trade, and to stand on its mighty walls and gaze across the crystalline seas.

This video gives a quick introduction to some of the sights of Dubrovnik.

I would have liked more time to explore the Franciscan and Benedictine monasteries here  - they looked very beautiful from the outside.

Kephalonia is the largest of the Ionian Islands, made famous by the novel and movie Captain Corelli's Mandolin and Korcula in Croatia is allegedly the birthplace of Marco Polo.

 Unfortunately the day we visited Kephalonia it poured with rain so I did not take any photos.  Kephalonia is the first image below and Korcula the second image- both taken from the web.

Venice has 15 million + visitors a year but only approximately 65,000 Venetians live in this city. This was my third time to visit this extraordinarily beautiful city, the array of colour, light and shadows were so overwhelming at times it left me breathless.

It is almost axiomatic that as soon as a place gets a reputation for being paradise it goes to hell !

 Francesco da Mosta reminds us that once this island city was a vast and mighty empire with millions of citizens. 

It's name suggested much more than weekend breaks and souvenirs- it meant trade, power and war. Venice, Queen of The Adriatic, City of Water, La Serenissima, a name literally meaning "the most serene."

                                  The day we visited was "Acqua alta "- high water.
                                  It did not seem to deter this bunch of revellers !

It will hard to get back to posting but these are a few things that have captured me today.

REFLECTIONS ON "HOLDING PARADOX" from Parker Palmer's Facebook Page. Link here. Full text below.

"If I didn't have the idea of "holding paradox" to help me understand myself and the world around me, I'd be more lost than I am! For me, holding paradox means thinking about some (but not all) things as "both-ands" instead of "either-ors."

So many of our troubles, personal AND political, come from either-or thinking. For example, when I'm talking with a person who holds religious or political beliefs that differ from my own, either-or thinking can create a combative situation: "I'm right, so he/she is wrong. Therefore, my job is to win this argument by any means possible." How rarely such encounters bear fruit!

But both-and thinking can lead to something much more creative: "Maybe I don't have everything right, and maybe he/she doesn't have everything wrong. Maybe both of us see PART of the truth. If I speak and listen in that spirit, we both might learn something that will expand our understanding. We might even be able to keep this relationship and conversation going."

Think of how much more civil and creative our conversations across lines of difference would be if we thought that way more often! We'd be working to create a container to hold our differences hospitably instead of trying to win an argument.

Of course, like everything human, this issue begins inside of us, in how we hold our own internal paradoxes. If we can't hold our inner complexities as both-and instead of either-or, we can't possibly extend that kind of hospitality to another person.

Here's an ancient truth about being human: we cannot give gifts to others that we are unable to give to ourselves! That's why "inner work" done well is never selfish. Ultimately, it will benefit other people.

"The Angels and the Furies," by May Sarton, challenges us to do some of the inner work that can help us hold the tensions of personal and political life more creatively. As I struggle with "the angels and the furies" within me, I often re-read this poem to get re-grounded.

The struggle is not easy. But I always find myself comforted by what Sarton has to say in the third and fourth stanzas about what it means to be human. I hope you'll find it as meaningful as I do...."

The Angels And The Furies
Have you not wounded yourself
And battered those you love 
By sudden motions of evil
Black rage in the blood
When the soul premier danseur
Springs towards a murderous fall ?
The furies possess you.
Have you not surprised yourself
Sometimes by sudden motions
Or intimations of goodness
When the soul premier danseur
Perfectly poised
Could shower blessings
With a graceful turn of the head ?
The angels are there.
 The angels, the furies
Are never far away
While we dance, we dance,
Trying to keep a balance,
To be perfectly human
(Not perfect, never perfect,
Never an end to growth and peril),
Able to bless and forgive
This is what is asked of us.

It is the light that matters,
The light of understanding.
Who has ever reached it
Who has not met the furies again and again:
Who has reached it without
Those sudden acts of grace?

With all the visions of grand churches ( Click here for magnificent photos of all the churches and monasteries of Dubrovnik,) still swimming in my head it is good to return home to my "little church" and as summer abruptly shuts its door on lazy schedules and memories, this poem by e.e cummings beckons me into the Autumn season of mellow fruitfullness.

i am a little church(no great cathedral)
far from the splendour and squalor of hurrying cities
-i do not worry if briefer days grow briefest,
i am not sorry when sun and rain make april
my life is the life of the reaper and the sower;
my prayers are prayers of earth's own clumsily striving
(finding and losing and laughing and crying)children
whose any sadness or joy is my grief or my gladness
around me surges a miracle of unceasing
birth and glory and death and resurrection:
over my sleeping self float flaming symbols
of hope,and i wake to a perfect patience of mountains
i am a little church(far from the frantic
world with its rapture and anguish)at peace with nature
-i do not worry if longer nights grow longest;
i am not sorry when silence becomes singing
winter by spring, i lift my diminutive spire to
merciful Him Whose only now is forever:
standing erect in the deathless truth of His presence
(welcoming humbly His light and proudly His darkness)
Complete Poems 1904-1962

To live in the past and future is easy. 
                                           To live in the present is like threading a needle.
                                                                         Walker Percy                               

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