The Hardest Question

How was the Camino?

This question is both utterly welcome and so hard to answer. Where do I begin? It’s easy to talk about miles and blisters; it’s delightful to describe gorgeous vistas and wonderful companions. However, as I predicted, the essential things all happened on the inside, in the space created by my walking, prayer, and ultimately surrender to the experience.

I was determined to keep track of the outer and inner journey, so after waking up early every morning to get hydrated and caffeinated for the walk ahead, I pulled out my bluetooth keyboard and captured everything I could recall from the previous day. This left me with lots of raw material for my next book (tentatively titled Finding God Along the Way: Lessons from the Ignatian Camino for Life at Home), but it doesn’t help me answer the “how was it” question. It’s too much, just as my photos are too much; I need to cull the impressions down to a shareable size.

I did manage to write five short essays for the Ignatian Volunteer Corps to email to those following our journey. Here are my Reflections from the Road, which capture some of the experience as it was unfolding.

The point of pilgrimage, however, is transformation, and transformation takes time. The true measure of the Camino will be taken after my feet have healed and I am fully integrated back into my “normal” life, not thinking of Spain almost every waking minute. What changes will persist after the drama of the physical journey has subsided? That’s what I’m eager to know, yet only time will tell. For the moment, let me share just two words that I hope will continue to mark this experience: solidarity and indifference.

Solidarity

During one of our group reflections, I shared that I was trying to let the challenges of the Camino connect my heart to people who do hard things every day. Walking across a desert on blistered feet, for example, I tried to hold in prayer all those refugees who make arduous desert crossings without LL Bean hiking poles in hand or a pilgrims’ shelter on the horizon. “So many people’s lives are impossibly hard every day,” I said. “This is just a month, and we volunteered for it.” At that, Fr. Jose cracked up. “Volunteered?” he laughed. “You PAID for this!”

Indeed we did. This exercise in solidarity was imaginative at best, and is valuable only if it is also transformative, keeping me mindful of and compassionate towards those who suffer hardships that my month-long sojourn only hinted at.

Indifference

How much longer will we be walking uphill? Is it going to rain today? When do we stop for lunch? Will we sleep in private rooms or a bunk room tonight? Is there a washing machine at the next hostel? These and countless other questions popped into our heads and flew out of our mouths all day long, but Fr. Jose kept encouraging us to stay focused on the now. This path. These companions. This moment. This prayer. These smells and sounds and sights and feelings. He was teaching us to unhook our minds from a preoccupation with what might be, so as to be fully present to what was right in front of us, and to welcome with open hearts whatever came our way.

Of course, this was rendered easier by the fact that we had so few choices available to us (other than, in the words of Victor Frankl, the freedom to choose our attitude). Now that we are home and get to decide every blessed thing for ourselves again, it is easy for those superficial wants to clamor for attention. My hope is that I can allow my passing preferences to matter less, so as to be more present to what is, and allow that to call forth, as Ignatius would say, a deeper response to my life in God.

How was the Camino? It was the hardest and best thing I’ve ever done. Yet ultimately, we will know this experience by its fruit, and it’s not even close to harvest time.

Stay tuned!

Fresh pilgrims depart from Loyola.

Journey’s End: Manresa!

Buen Camino!

“What’s going to happen?”

In 2014, when my father was near the beginning of what turned out to be his final illness, my brother and I asked each other that question continually. Would Dad be able to keep living alone? Was there any chance we could persuade him to move somewhere without six bedrooms and three flights of stairs? Could we possibly shift our lives and responsibilities to care for him ourselves? What’s going to happen? Over and over we repeated this unanswerable mantra, until life unfolded and we lived our way into the answers. (Which turned out to be, for the specific questions above: no, heck no, and absolutely.)

As I prepare to depart for the Ignatian Camino–the pandemic-deferred pilgrimage I’ve been dreaming about for more than three years now–I find myself echoing the same question. What’s going to happen? My logistics are as ready as they’re ever going to be. My socks are double-layered. My shoes are broken in. My satchel and suitcase are organized. There’s a decent chance I’ve overpacked, but my bag remains dramatically under the weight limit. And, unlike the trip to Peru I joke about in my “Take Nothing for the Journey” retreat, I’m not bringing a single Whitman’s Sampler.

I’ve been focusing on the externals because they are all-consuming, yet I know that, once I set foot out of Loyola Castle, they will be far from all-important. Everything essential will be happening on the inside, in the space that my prayer and my walking create for God. Although I have mental images of what it will be like to stand in the room where Ignatius recovered from his cannonball injury, or to pray in the Cave of Manresa where he developed the Spiritual Exercises, or to walk step after step through the same mountains and vineyards and deserts and villages he saw, the only thing I know for sure is that I will be surprised.

Therefore, as my spiritual director wisely advised, all I can do is strive to be open to the grace that will be meeting me there. And I do know, from that hospice experience, the power of being met by grace.

I’ll return to this blog space after the pilgrimage; in the meanwhile, I hope you’ll follow our journey on the Ignatian Volunteer Corps website, which will be posting whatever photos and ruminations I manage to send from along the way.

What’s going to happen? God knows.

And that’s enough for me.

Podcast: Teaching Learning Leading K-12

Host Steven Miletto’s mission is to provide resources for K-12 teachers and school administrators, but everyone is welcome to listen in! Join us as we discuss how one can be an educator without ever setting foot in a classroom, what keeps us going when we’re tempted to give up, and the importance of thanking our favorite teachers while we still have the time.

Click the image below to listen on PodBean, or search for Teaching Learning Leading K-12 wherever you get your podcasts.

Listen to Steven Miletto’s interview with Christine Eberle on Teaching Learning Leading K-12

Podcast: This Podcast Will Change Your Life

Six months ago, I enjoyed a long book-marketing strategy session with the fabulous Ben Tanzer, who is–among many MANY other things–my publicist. Since then, Ben has been working behind the scenes: connecting me with several of the podcasts I’ve posted lately, submitting Finding God Abiding for reviews in various places, and doing all kinds of work on my behalf about which I am content to know almost nothing.

Fast forward to the book launch, when I got to have another delightful conversation with Ben for his very own podcast, in which we talk not only about my books, but about the process of writing (which sometimes requires a spreadsheet), our shared love of editing (and being edited), and the importance of building a life (rather than just a career). Ben is very clear, in this interview, that he was not raised religious or spiritual, so sometimes we have to do a little translating for one another (like when he referred to FGA as “a book of essays”–a term which had never occured to me).

This podcast may or may not change your life, but it should be clear how much Ben and I enjoy and appreciate each other. Click his photo below to listen in!

Ben Tanzer: Teacher | Storyteller | Coach | Podcaster | Principal, HEFT Creative Strategies | Lover of All Things Book, Run, Gin & Street Art

Podcast: AMDG

I absolutely loved my conversation with Eric Clayton. On the AMDG podcast, Jesuits and friends come together to look at the world through Ignatian eyes, always striving to live Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam: For the Greater Glory of God. I’m delighted to share it with you on the eve of the publication of Finding God Abiding.

The Deputy Director of Communications for the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, Eric is the author of a wonderful new book called Cannonball Moments: Telling Your Story, Deepening Your Faith. In addition to guest hosting the AMDG podcast, Eric sends weekly email with stories and reflections on finding God in everyday life. It is consistently good; consider subscribing!

We had such fun talking about our approach to Ignatian storytelling: how to identify the stories in our lives that point to the presence of God and then share those stories for others’ benefit. We also compared notes on our beloved grandmothers and explored the notion of service immersion experiences as “working pilgrimages.”

Click the image below to listen and enjoy!

Click on the image (by VIJAYBBN MACWAN from Pixabay) to listen to the AMDG Podcast.

Podcast: Betterism

Host Glen Binger’s motto is “Docendo discimus,” a Latin proverb that means “By teaching, we learn.” In this interview, we discuss the inner work behind writing/editing, the value of solitude, and how to embrace mindful moments in our day-to-day lives.

Click the image below to listen on Anchor, or search for Betterism wherever you get your podcats.

Enjoy!

Listen to Glen Binger’s interview with Christine Eberle interview on “Betterism.”

A Very Unusual Request

Many of you have heard the story of how this shy English major got involved in Campus Ministry. At the beginning of my sophomore year in college, my advisor introduced me to Jim Karustis, the editor of the literary magazine, who also happened to be on the SEARCH retreat team. Boom. Life changed.

I tell the story of that pivotal encounter in Chapter Nine of Finding God Abiding, entitled “Finding God for All the Wrong Reasons.” I’ll share the chapter below as a little sneak peek in advance of Tuesday’s publication, but first, an unexpected addendum and a very unusual request.

My favorite bit in the chapter is this: “No, if you’re wondering: girl met boy, but girl didn’t even come close to getting boy. Jim was already dating the love of his life and is married to her still.”

This week, I learned that Jim’s beloved wife is in kidney failure. Cindy (Lucinda)–a vibrant, cheerful soul, adored by her husband and their two daughters, Anjali and Simone–needs a kidney transplant if she is to live to become the feisty Italian grandmother she was born to be. The Karustis family is searching for a living donor to save Cindy’s life.

When Jim reached out to ask if I would consider being that living donor, my reluctance and slate of excuses saddened me, in a way I’ll probably be praying about for some time. But I know that there are many good and generous people out there who might have a different initial reaction. If you would consider this life-saving gift, visit Penn Medicine’s Living Donor Program to learn more. (For example, did you know that donating a kidney through the Penn transplant service guarantees a top-of-the-waiting-list slot if you OR one of the five people closest to you should need a kidney one day?) You can also go straight to their donor screening site to see if you might be a match. Key info: the woman in need is Lucinda Karustis, DOB 2/25/63, YES on dialysis and YES in the Penn Transplant system. Kindly share this info widely; you never know who will prove to be an angel in disguise.

SEARCH Retreat, Christine & Cindy, Fall 1984
Cindy & Jim’s First Dance, July 16, 1988
Karustis Family, Easter 2022

Finding God for All the Wrong Reasons

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. — Jeremiah 29:11

            Despite wondering about a religious vocation at the end of eighth grade, nothing about my teenage years suggested a career in ministry. In high school, I didn’t join the community service corps, sing in the choir, or serve as a chapel aide like some of my friends. All I ever wanted to do was read and write. I chose English as my college major, hoping that editing books by day and crafting them by night could leverage my two loves into one modest income—at least until I published my first bestselling novel.

            Unfortunately, my freshman year was fairly miserable. I was an introverted commuter, working part-time at a bakery and driving my little brother to nursery school each day so I could have the car. I didn’t join any activities or make a single friend.

            At the beginning of sophomore year, however, I was chatting with my advisor outside his office when the editor of the literary magazine walked by. “You two should know each other,” Dr. Gilman said, so I exchanged pleasantries with a dreamy-looking senior named Jim. A few days later, I spotted Jim outside the cafeteria, working the sign-up table for a weekend getaway in beautiful Cape May, New Jersey. He was dashing. I loved the shore. And oh, by the way, it was a religious retreat. Motivated by those three things—in that order—I registered on the spot.

            No, if you’re wondering: girl met boy, but girl didn’t even come close to getting boy. Jim was already dating the love of his life and is married to her still. Cheesy as it sounds, however, that retreat changed my life. It introduced me to campus ministry, plunged me into a community of like-minded friends, and began to transform my understanding of faith. As a junior, I began double-majoring in theology. By senior year, I was researching graduate schools and re-imagining my career trajectory, eventually spending twenty-six years as a campus minister. Writing continued to be an essential component of my work, but in a context more satisfying than I’d ever envisioned.

            In the movie Sliding Doors, Gwyneth Paltrow’s character experiences two dramatically different futures based on the simple happenstance of catching or missing one train. What would my future have held, had a random hallway encounter not drawn me through the doorway to ministry? When I think of that passing crush now, I picture God delightedly plotting how to capture my attention. I’m not suggesting that I was tricked into pursuing a path I never would have chosen, like a striped bass chasing a nice minnow and winding up in a nice lemon garlic sauce instead. It’s just that I’d been following the only road I knew, until an attractive stranger (sent by God, I believe) turned my head and set me off in a in a new direction.

            If we believe that God created us, it makes sense that God would know how best to lead us toward our true vocation—a full and fulfilling life. In order to get us to bite, however, God may have to lure us with a tasty morsel or two. This is not trickery and deceit, but simply a manifestation of love from the One who knows us far better than we know ourselves.

            Did you get where you are today by any curious twists or turns? What first lured you in that direction? Smile at the loving cleverness of our God, whose handiwork is most often visible in retrospect.

Steady Your Hearts

The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. (James 5:7-8)

Spring takes its time here in Maine.  Back home in Philly, the temperature is headed over 90 for the second day in a row, but in Boothbay Harbor we still are sweatered-up, basking in a 57-degree Sunday afternoon on our deck, enjoying this weekend’s first peek of sunshine and the foggy breeze off the water.

Since Porter inherited his mother’s summer cottage a few years ago, we’ve been trying to establish perennial garden beds, filling them with hearty, low-maintenance items that can survive both the assault of winter storms and the neglect of summer renters.  When we return each spring, we race to inspect the beds, assessing what survived and what needs replacing.  But we are not yet accustomed to the pace of a Maine spring.

In late April, I was sorry to see no sign of the liatris (“blazing star”) I’d planted out front, but consoled myself with the purchase of a bleeding heart instead—another favorite, and a proven winner.  As I knelt to dig the hole, however, I discovered the barest green shoots emerging where the blazing star used to be; two weeks later, my beloved plant is indeed blazing back to life!  The other thing we were watching was a tuft of brown stuff, formerly a decorative grass intended to camouflage an unattractive foundation wall.  Taking a lesson from the liatris, we waited a couple weeks before buying something to replace it.  Sure enough, just as I went to pull the dried clump from the ground, Porter spotted a hint of green; apparently, the grass is on its way as well.

Scripture would have us look to nature for a lesson in patience, an abundance of which is called for these days. How we struggle to be patient with ourselves, our neighbors, and our loved ones; with our church, school, and civic communities; with our government, our electorate, and our world.  We know that forces for good are at work—sometimes through our efforts, but usually from beyond our imagining. We would do well to “steady our hearts,” as a musical rendition of James 5:8 encourages.

I do know this.  But what spring in Maine is reminding me is that my sense of how long is reasonable to wait may be flawed, shaped as it is by my limited experience of nature.  In human nature, the “precious crop” arrives on its own schedule, watered by the early and late rains of our tears and our prayers.

What are you waiting for?  Whatever it is, may you have the perseverance to wait, and the attentiveness to spot the presence of hope, even in its tiniest and most vulnerable forms.

Podcast: Finding Favorites

It’s podcast season! I’ve been interviewed for several, and will post them as they drop. Each one is different; click the image below to listen to Leah Jones’ “Finding Favorites” podcast, in which we learn why fire sirens are among my favorite things.

You’ll also get to hear two women of faith–one Catholic, one Jewish–discuss worship in pandemic, the importance of blessing the heck out of everything, and learning to speak Ignatian.

Bonus: an audio chapter from Finding God Abiding.

Enjoy!

Click the image to listen to my interview on Finding Favorites with Leah Jones.