Monday, May 19, 2008

Movies, Mountains & Monks

Hello from La Castille, 50km south of where I should've been passing by three days earlier. So, I'm behind schedule & of course but it has been a brilliant week. I began by walking from Nice into Cannes on the eve of the Canne Film Festival & the city was a buzz with internationals everywhere. I found a campsite on the far side of town & very soon was meeting Koreans, English, Dutch & even some Australians! I met 2 young English directors, one presenting his short film, the other securing funds for his first feature film (look out for Chris McManaus in 2010) as well as 2 young men from South Korea who were in town to actually watch the films. The 2 Korean guys invited me to eat with them that night. The meal was fantastic but it's the conversation I'll remember. As soon as I'd shared about what I was doing one of them started talking about North & South Korea & the need to be united with those suffering across the border. He reflected "They are our family. Some argue that we should cut all aid to force the government to change, but the people need help now. There is a lot of suffering on both sides because we cannot unite fully." You could raise a point that the unity he was talking about is not the unity I'm walking & praying for, but it is, well, a fair smack of it anyway; To be united in Truth & in Love. Some of us start with love & work towards truth, others begin with truth & are compelled towards love. It was a timely dinner & nourishing in many ways. I also met an Episcopal preacher at the campsite but his comments left me a little shocked. He was all for christian unity but was even more intent on using humour to highlight his freedom as opposed to my 'guilt' as a Catholic (ie: He is saved & I, as a Catholic am apparently lamenting on my sin). His way of highlighting this can't be written here on this blog & I have no intentions of repeating his words verbatim. Basically though, after a short conversation I said, "Oh, by the way, I'm Sam." He responded by laughing & saying that he'll call me 'something that I can't write here' because he's episcopal & free to do what he wants. My dad sometimes uses colourful language bellowing at disobedient sheepdogs that have just split a flock of sheep in half but even they aren't degraded as much as this guy's alternative name for me. I left him alone. Our paths didn't cross again but I met many others & I appreciated them referring to me as Sam. He got his point across anyway, he's free to what he likes apparently. And I am... Sam. Walk on. From Cannes I headed across the mountains to Le Muy & for the first time on this entire trip felt a longing for home. I didn't feel that longing while at knife point, or gun point or while being beaten up by 2 drunk Russian men, but sitting on the side of the road on a near-deserted mountain side while I ate my lunch I longed for familiarity. I pushed on, praying as I did & many hours later arrived at Le Muy. It was nearly 30degC that day & with nearly 50km covered by foot I was wrecked. There were a couple of campsites on the edge of town but a few weeks ago I'd felt the Lord say, "If you want to organise your own accommodation, you'll sleep well, but if you finish each day in its entirety, I can do better for you." So with that ringing clearly I slothed on past the campsites to the centre of town & as I approached the central church a woman crossed the road holding walking poles (as I use). She spoke in French so I quickly interrupted with an apology for not understanding & she said, "Great! You speak English! I'm actually from England but live here." Margaret & her now deceased husband had lived in Le Muy for 30 years & it was now well & truly home for her. Incredibly, Margaret had been out walking with her walking club that morning up in the same mountains I'd traversed & they'd spotted me walking along the side of the road as they drove home. She couldn't believe I'd walked all that way & promptly offered me her spare apartment in the town centre. It was perfect. We ate dinner together in her apartment & despite being an atheist, she knew the bible very well & so we had quite an in-depth discussion. Margaret is a retired university English lecturer & so was more than apt in constructing well thought out questions around unity & its place on the world stage as an important issue. The evening was a pleasure & my little apartment for the night was so much more spacious than my one-man tent. The next day a similar course of events took place. This time though I was walking through the pouring rain & was absolutely saturated. I had a tiny area on my shirt around my stomach that had managed to stay dry but a passing truck found a puddle & quickly took care of that. Thanks buddy. Again as I walked into town I passed a few camp sites & some really cheap hotels but I thought I'd best push on to the fist church. I found a Catholic Church in the town centre & rang the door bell. As I stood there in the pouring rain I pondered the awkwardness of having to possibly put my tent up that evening & how I could possibly dry my clothes. Thankfully a 27 year old Argentinian missionary priest called Santiago opened the door & ushered me inside without hesitation. A room, a shower, a washing machine & a lot of Spanish! Fr Jose from Chile also lived there so the Spanglish was in full flight. Earlier that day I'd met a Polish missionary priest, Fr Andrew, & we had resorted to a combination of Polish/English in our conversation so my French has been a little slow to get off the ground. The following day was a cracker. I woke at 8am & didn't get back to bed until 9:30am the following day. Never ask a monk for accommodation... I'd said farewell to the South American missionaries in Le Luc & prayed my way to Brignoles where I knocked on the door of a French order of monks. The priest at the door called for another priest who bounced down the stairs & began speaking in english. Fr Tarcisius gave me 2 options; I could sleep, or, I could join him & a small group as they traversed the mountains southwards all night long to attend a special concecration mass for the diocese. I was actually kind of hoping for a good night's sleep after a day of walking, but remembering Fr Fox from Casper, Wyoming, who fed me & found me somewhere to sleep while his dinner grew cold & his team played off in the final of the world series baseball final (He simply believed that he was only ever asked something at an inoppurtune moment by God & so dropped his plans for me) I swallowed my desire to be a normal human being & sleep & agreed to walk with them. I asked for a toilet first & I was shown the way via a small room with 'Agape' written on the wall. Agape is a Greek word meaning sacrificial love so it meant a great deal at that moment to have that word in front of me reminding why I was there. I did thankfully have enough time to eat & then get a 90min power nap in before the 9 of us headed off into the night. My big toe was bleeding badly (I took a photo of it but it's a tad too graffic to upload onto the blog. You can email me directly if you want to see it) so the night walk along a rocky mountain trail was pushing me to the limits. There was just enough light to see without torches so we trekked through the enitre night pretty much unaided. At around 12:30am it began to rain & it didn't really stop until we eventually reached the final pass down into the town we were walking to some 5hours later. We arrived at the seminary where the mass was to be held at 7:30am & after breakfast & a few formalities I was thankfully ushered off to a quiet room where I roled out my camping mattres & finally fell asleep. For 3hours. What happened next was a gift from God. And strangly, I have no photos or video footage of my 2days at the Frejus/Toulon Seminary. Due to water damage my camera stopped working as I entered the place & it remained dead until I finally left & returned to Brignoles. Oh, by the way, I'm no longer in La Castille where I began writing this blog entry. My lift turned up to bring me back here to begin walking again tomorrow. So... hello from Brignoles! Welcome to my life. So, yes, the camera finally started working again as I arrived here in Brignoles so my time down south was just for me. It was inspiring. In particular, I met a fellow called Michael of Jesus. He's a monk. A 6ft 5in, basketball playing Chicago come Texas monk studying in the south of France. Mum, can Michael come 'round for lunch please? The guy inspired me so much by his life. His passion for Christ & the church jerked me out of the "I want to be at home" mind-set so hard that I nearly suffered whip-lash. We spent a huge amount of time together & rarely shut up. Some of the time we were speaking to each other & some of the time we were praying with each other. Other than 30mins at the end of the day where we were in silent prayer we basically exercised our jaws. The mass itself was attened by a few thousand people & was a suprisingly engrosing & emotional mass for one that stretched over 3hrs! I also met Fr's Jose, Santiago & Andrew once again, which was a blast. Michael introduced me to the Bishop & we had a very animated chat for a few minutes. He asked me if I was staying at the seminary that night. I said that I wasn't sure. The bishop smiled & threw his pointed finger at me, "Yes, in fact you should stay 2 nights!" I ended up staying for just the one night but the 2days there was the perfect God-given antidote to lethargy. Michael also arranged for a young doctor to come & tend to my feet (the other one is problematic as well). He patched up the bleeding toe & gave me what I needed in order to have one in future years & he then tended to the corn under my right foot. The first thing he noted on closer inspection was that it wasn't a corn & was actually nothing he'd seen before. He started hacking at it with a scalpel, which made my eyes open up as I wasn't seeing anesthetic anywhere. There was a little pain but it wasn't too bad considering he had to patch up blood once he'd finished. He handed the scalpel over to me with instructions to do everyday what he did but without the bleeding part. Great. I'm now back in Brignoles with the Community of St John & they've offered me a small room to sleep in tonight. It's small & next to a toilet. And on the wall is 5 letter Greek word... God bless & peace be with you! Sam
"There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear..." 1 John 4:18


micah said...

Your faithfulness to God's call on your life and His purposes is beautiful, Sam. From a charasmatic, evangelical, Anglican who attends an Episcopal church. Thank you for honoring our Lord and Savior. May all who know Him cry out in one voice and praise His holy name.

Terri said...

Hi Sam,
I love keeping up-to-date with our amazing adventures!

Are you OK for a roof in Sydney? Let me know if you need somewhere.
Gotta look after those fellow Tasmanians!
God Bless, Terri.