Kingdom of God

There was a Facebook post seeking readers’ understanding of what the Kingdom of God meant to them. That was a great prompt for me to reflect myself.

There are 65 references to the ‘Kingdom of God’ in the New Testament (love the search function in the Bible apps on smartphones). Some are direct references, some are couched in parables.

It occurred to me to transform the passive ‘Kingdom of God’ into its active form, ‘God’s Kingdom’. How does God view His Kingdom, as revealed in Scripture? My thoughts:

(1)  The currency and the very breath of this Kingdom is Love. Spiritually, nothing good & holy happens without Love. There are 296 references of Love in the New Testament. Here are two of them. 2 Cor 13:11 – “….and the God of Love and Peace will be with you.”  Proverbs 8:17 – “I love those who love me; And those who diligently seek me will find me.”  Thus, one cannot conceptualize the Kingdom of God without accepting that God of Love, Himself is ever present, ever active, ever loving in this Kingdom.

(2)  The citizens of this Kingdom are all children of God. Romans 8:17 – “…we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ…”. There’s an eternal relationship implied in this scripture.

An additional scripture insight into the Kingdom of God.

(3)  The Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 5 begins the sermons on the mount with the Beatitudes. There are no teachings nor parables to the people in the first 4 chapters. The first Beatitude is “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  Note the word ‘is’. It’s not ‘will be’. Thus, the Kingdom of God is now, was in the past and will be in the future. There are articles expounding on what it means to be ‘poor in spirit.’

Clearly the Kingdom of God transcends space, time, laws of physics, etc. But Christ’s life & teachings on earth was meant to lead us to the Kingdom of God. With the Holy Spirit’s active leading, we can strive for Christlikeness, in our hearts and wills to fulfill the Father’s Will in our lives, and in reflecting/sharing Christ’s love to everyone around us.

God bless you on your spiritual journey.

Villafranca del Bierzo to O Cebreiro

Apr 26. Day 30. 28km. Departed 0750 hours. Arrived 1611 hours.

Today had one of the most grueling stretches. Or today had one of the most fun and enjoyable stretches. It all depends on your point of view. Like Life.

The first 18.6 km was mainly along paved roads even when we diverted into small villages. But this was the old road and thus, the vast majority of traffic was zooming on the new freeways. Secondly, there was a concrete barrier safeguarding the walkers. Finally, the river ran nearby for most of the way. So, it wasn’t as bad as it may initially appear.

We met Nicky, originally from South Africa but now living in Germany as we were leaving Trabadelo. We chatted for a bit, with the common question on the purpose/motivation of one’s Camino.

Before getting to Nicky’s response, one phrase that I came across in my reading is the ‘Best Version’ of oneself, from Matthew Kelly, a prolific author. When one thinks about this phrase, it may resonate with many, especially on a journey and experience such as the Camino.

Nicky’s response was a ‘Purer Version’ of herself. She had done several Camino sections, and found after each Camino, that she achieved and re-gained a deeper centeredness and inner peace. One benefit was her improved relationships.

A Purer Version of Self struck a chord within me.There are impurities that I am challenged to expunge. But this is only the first step.

A Pure Ben gets to the essence and heart of who I am.

A modern pilgrim statue as we exit VillafrancaThe longest balcony on the Camino Frances. Abandoned house.One can ride horses from Las Herrerias to O Cebreiro, a distance of 7.1 km. My GPS App indicated it would take 3.5 hours. I put it down to a glitch in the App. I was sadly wrong.This tree’s circumference was one and a half to two times that of the surrounding trees. It’s much older.At the entrance into Las Herrerias. The man made leaves are rolled up pieces of paper, presumably with written down dreams.Have you observed a truly contented cow?A good sign can be understood by many cultures. Life signs are also around us.The horses were coming down as we were making our way up. I would recommend if there’s heavy rain the past few days!This is how muddy the trails were. Not to mention the occasional piles of horse dung. And rivulets flowing down. And rocks and stones. Our pace was reduced to 2 plus km per hour. My guestimate is the muddy rocky stretch would be about 4.5 km or so!Was it a co-incidence that we had the Purer Version chat with Nicky before this 3+ hours experience of a muddy uphill slog?

We met the same Nicky way after this, and she truly enjoyed this same stretch. Said she had fun. Perhaps this could be your cup of tea?

We started at the valley floor where the river flows, climbed up to O Ceberiro at 1,300 meters. The views were phenomenal.The marker indicating we had entered Galicia.

Our lodging had a very reasonable set up. Their kitchen opens till 9pm. And we can order from their menu anytime. We can eat dinner meals before 8pm! And we ‘had’ to eat their pulpo, even though the sea must be very far away! It was s great dinner.

Mansilla de Las Mulas to Leon

April 19. Day 24. 19 km. Departed 0755 hours, arrived 1230 hours.

Good Friday. A sacred day for Christians.

The rains had come over night, the streets were wet and there were puddles on the trails. The heavens cried.

It was overcast all day, and drizzled for a bit. It was a day that long time walkers relished. A crispness in the air. Not many souls in sight.

An (un-natural) event occurred in the mid morning stretch of our walk. We had seen two dead hares by the roadside over the past several days, victims of vehicles. This morning, a hare was literally running towards us on the trail. At first, I had it confused for a small dog. It ran for about 80 meters towards us on the trail, stopped about 50 meters away from us, turned around and ran off into the field. It has been my experience that hares always run away from people. No?

We reached Leon before our backpacks. Our lodging host informed us that is to be expected due to road closures for the various processions scheduled in Leon.

This was the cheapest Pilgrim’s Menu offering we have seen so far this year (majority averaged Euro 10 but we had tended to prefer the Menu del Dia/Of The Day, which may cost Euro 2-3 more). It was counter-intuitive to see this pricing as we closed in on Leon. We had seen a 14% price increase in a specific lodging relative to 2018 rates).

We visited the Cathedral’s cloisters in the afternoon.

It had a concrete courtyard with two sculptures.

The original painted murals were amazing, scenes from scripture. Virgin Mary and the twelve apostles receiving the Holy Spirit.

Christ being crucified.

The Chapel that was part of the Cloisters was serene and beautiful.

Stained windows in Chapel.

Outer vestibule of the Chapel.

View of part of Cathedral roofline from Cloisters.

Ceilings of Cloisters.

Holy Week celebrations in Leon is a very big affair. Locals from other parts of Spain, Europeans come too. Accommodation is very scarce. We saw pilgrims sitting on benches with their backpacks in the afternoon, which is not a good indicator as it means they were not able to find beds in the albergues.

Guide books mention that the Holy Week processions in Leon are the biggest and famous. They were not exaggerating.

We lucked out – our lodging was on the procession street, and we had a third floor balcony to view from!

Some of the procession floats (aka paso).

It was close to a 2 hours procession. And the streets were jam packed.

The processions continue tomorrow at different hours with different floats, but it looks like the evening one is the biggest!

Post Script: Sleeping in lodgings on the main street also means hearing the early morning noises of street cleaners and their equipment, cafe/bakery openings, etc. 🙂

Bethlehem – Church of Nativity

Day 6. The morning was all about the location where Christ was born. The Church of the Nativity was built by Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine, in 339 AD. Two sets of steps besides the main altar lead down into the grotto, where Jesus was born. The spot is marked by a large silver Star emblem embedded in white marble in the ground.

The crowds are massive. As one winds one’s way inside the Church, there are amazing mosaics on the walls, and painted columns.

In the main part of Church

Still in main part of Church

Approaching the grotto (side of Church)

During a Pilgrimage, tests can be appear in different forms and shapes

What would one’s temperament normally be when one has to line up for 2.5 hours for a distance of about 200 meters?

During tests, the goal is to remain spiritually calm and centered. Be courteous despite any pushing or line cutting. Engage in fellowship with your companions in the line. Read scripture on your smartphone. Listen to Christian music. Pray (the rosary)!

One member within our group was an elderly lady who needed a cane to walk and could definitely not wait in a crowd for 2.5 hours. Our tour guide escorted her down the exit steps. Some who were exiting shamed her verbally. Clearly, Compassion was needed, not human judgment. She blessed them in return. Compassion and Grace sweetens our surroundings when exercised.

Figure out what works for you, for this and other future situations. It’s a tool that will come handy in life.

Silver Star marks the location revered as the site Jesus was born

Joon bending down, while Ben is getting to her side.

The Manger site

Here’s a hard question. We celebrate Christ’s birth on Christmas Day. Why the need to visit the spot of His birth? Consider this – People visit the preserved homes of past Statesmen or famous personalities, e.g. George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate or Elvis Presley’s Graceland. Christ never had a home but tradition and history had recorded his birth site. In that regard, visiting this site pays homage to Christ. Furthermore, God is the Master of Time. Isn’t it conceivable that our reverence at this same spot may appear historical from our human condition, BUT is present in His Time?

A thought occurred to me a couple of days after this visit to the Church of Nativity. What would our perceptions and experiences be if there were no crowds and lines? If we had just walked up to it? Is the waiting, part of the homage offering?

My memory-seed for this visit would be gratitude beyond measure.

The next and final visit would be the Shepherd’s Field, where the Angels appeared to the shepherds.

A wall mural depicting the Angels approaching the shepherds.

Inside the domed structure.

How would Men in general react and respond if Angels appear once again in today’s world? What have we lost in the name of human centered progress?

Today’s Mass was in a grotto at Shepherd’s Field.

PostScript: My T-Mobile One service plan had worked seamlessly in Tel Aviv, Nazareth and Bethlehem, until we crossed over to the West Bank. At that point, the plan no longer applied and additional international roaming charges would be incurred. Ouch.