Posts Tagged ‘Catholic’

Pilgrimage Statistics

Cumulative Days Riding:  158                         Cumulative Days Blogging: 143

Today’s Mileage: 4                                              Total Trip Mileage: 1076

The Bastion System!

As I ride the bike today I have decided to speak to three pilgrimage sites in the St. Augustine Florida area.  All three represent historical and archeological site.  All three have a history tied to the politics between European powers in the 1600-1700s.  One speaks to the desire for freedom and a fight against oppression and one site speaks to the “dark side” of religion.

Perhaps the best known landmark in the St, Augustine area is the Castillo de San Marcos.  Construction of this fortification began in 1672.  Its architecture is distinctive and unique.  It is the oldest masonry and only intact 17th century fort in North America and represents an example of the “bastion system” of fortification.  It weathered hurricanes and repeated attacks over its active history.

The bastion system of forts was developed in the 15th century and had a distinct star shape structure.  This pattern was used to avoid a straight head-on shoot from cannons, and yet allowed plenty of wall space to mount guns for counter fire.  Adding to the distinctiveness of this fortress was its construction from the building material unique to the northeast coast of Florida.  Coquina, which is an aggregate of compressed sand and shells that is remarkable soft and porous, however once it has dried and aged its softness has unexpected benefits.  Cannon balls did not “explode” the material like stone, but were either embedded in it like a marble in Styrofoam or harmlessly glanced off of it.

The City Gates of St. Augustine

The fort went through numerous “changes in ownership.”  The history of the entire Atlantic coastline was one of constant struggle and warfare between the European powers.  Conflicts that often started on distant lands were carried to the shores and wilderness of North America.  The Castillo de San Marcos played a central role in the early Spanish control of the Southern coast of the New World.  It was an important point from which they projected the power up and down the coast and protected rich Spanish treasure fleets from pirates.  The fort withstood assaults from the French and the English, never falling to an attacking force.  As we heard in Mondays posting the fort did come under British control from 1763-1783 as a result of a peace treaty between Spain and England.  It was the British governor who offered the Greek survivors of the New Smyrna colony sanctuary in St. Augustine. Following the US Revolutionary War the fort and city returned to Spanish control until 1821 when the growing USA acquired the territory of Florida.

Fort Matanzas

The second pilgrimage site in the area, Fort Matanzas National Monument can be found some 14 miles south St. Augustine at the location where the Matanzas river empties into the ocean.  This river which flows past St. Augustine posed a risk as attackers might travel up the river to lay siege to the city.  Fort Matanzas was also built of Coquina like its older and much larger sister fort to the north.  The fort sits by itself on a flat marshy barrier island called Rattle shake Island.  What is hidden from the view of visitor, who must travel there by ferry, is the site’s tragic and unsettling history.   The early history of the northeast coast of Florida involved an epic struggle between the Catholic Spanish forces and Huguenot (Protestant) French forces.  In 1565 a French military expedition under the leadership of Jean Ribault sailed for the new Spanish settlement of St. Augustine from the French settlement of Fort Caroline to settle ownership of Florida in France’s favor.  However, tragedy struck in the form of a storm that stranded the French at the mouth of the River.  When the Spanish discovered the French on the beach, they ordered then to surrender, give up their Protestant faith, and accept Catholicism.  Having lost all of their food and weapons in the ship wrecks they did surrender, but refused to renounce their faith.  So the Spanish force massacred nearly 250 Frenchman as heretics near the inlet, which was then named “Matanzas,” the Spanish word of massacre. This tragic episode gave Spain undisputed control of Florida for the next 200 years.  It also points to the fact that the conflict between European forces was not just one of land grabs for economic benefits, but also mirrored the religious conflicts which had racked Europe since the advent of the Protestant reformation.  In addition, to the slaughter and destruction of native peoples, Christians were turning on Christian out of self-righteousness against what they labeled heresy.

Drawing of Fort Moses.

The same forces of conflict did at times play out in more positive ways, at least for some populations.  One such example of this can be found several miles north of the old city of St. Augustine.  The site is Fort Moses State Historical Park.  As English influence along the northern stretches of the American coast grew so did friction and conflict between the colonists of both powers.  The English colonies of the Carolinas and Georgia made extensive use of African slaves to man their large plantations.  The Spanish settlers and their Native American allies began to direct escaped English slaves south to St. Augustine, there by predating the later Northern “Underground Railroad” by more than a century.  The Spanish governor granted a plot of land for North America’s first “free black” settlement.  The inhabitants built a wood and mud “fort” wall, dug a moat, constructed homes and a wooden Catholic church to meet the spiritual needs of the recent converts.  These free blacks farmed the surrounding land and took up arms with the Spanish neighbors to fight off hostile Indians and their former English slave masters.  The settlement prospered until 1763 when the population of Fort Moses moved to Spanish Cuba in advance of the English forces who would take peaceful control of St. Augustine from the Spanish.  The inhabitants feared that their former slave masters might renew claims toward their “rightful property.”

Don't let this be the final word!

All three of these sites speak to the fact that the Europeans who came to the New World brought with them their conflicts, hatred and prejudices.  It is reminder that this country that we heralded as the “Land of the Free,” was won, conquered and tamed at sometimes tragic costs.  These include the destruction of native cultures, the slaughter of innocent people and the “enslavement” of a whole race.  We can be proud of what we have accomplished and what we stand for, but we should never forget the suffering of these people.  I would hope that these sites act as reminders and lead us to ask: “What are we doing now, as we interact with other cultures and faiths, as we look for “new frontiers,” as we live in a shrinking world.”  What lessons should we learn from the suffering of these people so we don’t repeat past mistakes?

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Pilgrimage Statistics 

Consecutive Days Riding:  106                                                 Days Blogged: 96

New Mileage: 12                                                               Total Trip Mileage: 797

As I ride the bike this morning I’m thinking about the pilgrimage site we are visiting today. It’s the St. Leo Abby and Holy Name Monastery in St. Leo Florida. The site includes a monastery, a convent and an adjacent College. The site is manned by Benedictine monks and nuns. It overlooks a lake and offers beautiful grounds, including a grotto and college campus to walk, contemplate, pray and meditate. Like many of the retreat centers at the monasteries and convents, they offer the opportunity to spend the night and if you so desire, you can join the monks and nuns in their daily prayer and religious routines.

Thinking about this site brings back an important memory for me.  After I finished by first year of college, I took a summer job with a book company based in Nashville. They trained me to sell Student Handbooks (dictionaries) door to door. After a week of training they dropped me and my roommate off at a small rural northern Alabama town and drove away. It was suggested that we speak with a local church to ask if any church member might be able to “house” us for several weeks before we moved on to the next location. I asked my roommate which church he attended to which he responded “I’m Catholic” and I said “Me too!” As we sat in a small greasy-spoon diner, I asked the waitress: “Where is the local Catholic church?” She all but laughed in our faces, shaking her head as she exclaimed “Ain’t No Catholics in Blount County.” I sudden felt like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz when she exclaimed “We’re not in Kansas anymore!”

This sentiment was driven home even more profoundly when three weeks later, as I and a new roommate were told to move a couple of counties to the west and resume our sales. As we pulled into the new town I asked him which church do you belong to and of course he reported: “I’m Catholic.” I’m not one to give up on an idea without trying it a few times, so I checked the local phonebook. Much to my surprise, there was a Catholic monastery on the outskirts of the town. We drove there and spoke with the monk in charge. For the next two weeks we stayed in a simple, austere room with a marginally comfortable bed. We ate with the monks who were a pleasant and cheerful group. One humorous aspect of the experience was that no alcohol was allowed in the county. Yet the monks brewed their own beer in the basement of the monastery. On Saturday night each monk would use his personal mug to enjoy a few “cool ones,” mixed  with plenty of laughter.

I didn’t realize at the time, but this experience with the monks in this beautifully tranquil setting would plant a very important seed that would blossom into my future spirituality. In the years to come, as I travelled the world in the US Navy, I would come to experience and recognize the power of a contemplative approach toward spirituality. I would find solitude in nature and through meditation and I would come to recognize the deep well of creativity and wisdom residing at the core of my being. Only now do I realize that this chance meeting with a Monastery full of monks presented me with a glimpse of a tranquil solitary path to a deeper level of understanding. The priests and nuns who had populated my experiences at the church schools I attended, while well meaning, seemed more like task masters and overlords than models and guides. It would be in the Hindu and Buddhist temples of the East that this seed would take root and I would find my first spiritual teachers and ultimately, my inner guide.

St. Leo's Abby

As I have been conducting my search for pilgrimage sites and retreat centers I’ve come across many Catholic monasteries and convents. This makes sense given that the church has long recognized the importance of the inward focused, often solitary contemplative approach to spiritual journeys. During the dark ages in Europe it would be the monasteries and convents that were often the repository for knowledge where books were copied and housed. These facilities were often located in remote and isolated places to lessen the distractions of the world allowing for the residents’ endeavors to connect with the divine (mystically) or receive revelation through studies of the sacred scriptures.

Given these feelings, you can perhaps understand why I was “taken back” when my Google search of “contemplative spirituality” produced 10 references that all presented a negative view of the practice. It was described as wrong, evil, non-Christian and as a highly suspect movement towards mysticism. They specifically mention problems with the use of labyrinths, promoting pagan rituals, and of meditation, not involving the sacred scriptures.

In my last posting I spoke about the levels of analysis one can use when examining examples of religious behavior. We can use a form/substance level of analysis or we can analyze it on the functional level. As I look at this criticism directed toward contemplative spirituality I see that all 10 of the references make use of the form/substance level of analysis. They do not believe the contemplative approach fits what they define as the “true religion.” It doesn’t quote the “correct” sacred scripture or make reference to a valid source of truth in their view. I take a functional approach toward this issue. When I see people walking a labyrinth, sitting in quiet prayer or meditation, writing a poem, creating an artwork, or walking quietly along a river, I recognize all of these as functioning as forms of prayer. All can represent forms of connectedness with parts of themselves, with the world about them, and with something greater than ourselves.

I point out to my students that the theory we use to make sense of the world can have significant consequences for ourselves and others around us. If you use a form and substance analysis you often label behaviors and rituals as true or false, or right and wrong. If you take a functional approach you often end up seeing many diverse behaviors and rituals as meeting the same function for different individuals or groups and that’s OK. Just as the world is made up of people with different tastes for food, different preferences for cars, and different ideas about politics so too the world is made up of people who experience the divine and connect with the divine in different ways and that’s OK! 

Sunset at the Abby lake!

If you would like to visit the Abby’s webpage please click on the Pilgrimage Site tab at the top of this posting.

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding: 14                               Consecutive Days Blogging: 15

Today’s Mileage: 5                                               Total Trip Mileage: 137

      As I ride the bike today I am happy to note we have reached a milestone, we are two weeks into the journey.  I know my teenage son and many of my students would say that this calls for a party. 

     Instead I am going to shorten the ride today and let myself take a break.  As this is a virtual journey I can park the bike and, like we do in our dreams, step into any scene of my choosing.  I am going to return to the rural home I inhabited less then four years ago. When I stepped out of the back door I was in the woods, and less then a hundred yards from a beautiful waterfall and babbling creek.  I took many a walk along the path leading to the waterfall, writing poems along the way.  Nothing takes me back to the feelings and memories of those woods like reading my poetry and viewing the photos of the waterfalls.  So today I will share both with you. 


Natural Place of Worship

 One, two, three, four, five!

One, two, three, four, five!

      The bird’s high pitched call…

             A pace I do not wish to follow.

One, two, three, four, five!

             But a welcomed backdrop beat…

                  As I enter the spring green cathedral

                          With its carpet of decomposing leaves

                                   Like last year’s discarded vestments

                  Haphazard patterns of sunlight

                          Stream through the arched vaulted ceiling

                                   Dance about the floor like votive flames

                  Wisps of silvery filament

                          Labor of the spider priestesses

                                   Lift skyward and sway like incense offerings

                   I hear it already in the distant

                          Like a Gregorian chant

                                  The thunderous chorus

                                           Of the distant falls

One, two, three, four, five!


      My Catholic roots show through in the above poem which abounds with symbols of that faith. As I walk deeper into the woods the sights and sound of civilization are replaced with the voices of the natural world.



   With in sight of the falls,

       I am surrounded by only the sounds of nature. 

No blasts of canine alarm,

   no distant motor carriage,

       just the voice of water.


      I admire the dedication and faith of people who try to live a philosophy of peace and nonviolence.  I met a Jain when I was working as an enumerator for the 2000 census.  We had a conversation about how difficult it was to be faithful to his beliefs when living in an America suburb.  He would not cut his grass as it would harm insects inhabiting the lawn.  His angry neighbors would mow his lawn when he was away at work!

 A Prayer

 What a challenge it must be

    for a Jain to walk through the woods. 

With life all around and under foot,

    every step and every movement 

       must be accompanied with a prayer

For that life which one disturbs,

    crushes and maims

        with the simplest of movements.

But I’m not a Jain,

     I do not worry about the unseen,

         for life and death is but part of the cycle. 

But the idea of a prayer with every step,

     a prayer with every breath,

         a prayer with every heartbeat,

             is an idea with merit. 

Prayers of recognition,

     for the gifts from the divine  

          for the beauty and life that abounds!


     After dodging low hanging limbs and spider webs we have finally arrived at the falls.



 Smooth reflective pool

Calm deep water

Above the falls







         around the rocks

                over the edge

         down the flue







Smooth reflective pool

Calm deep water

Below the falls



     I hope that you have enjoyed the poems and images.  We will be back on the road again tomorrow.

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding:  13                            Consecutive Days Blogging: 14

Today’s Mileage:  10                                          Total Trip Mileage: 132


     I’d like to start off by thanking everyone who visited the Pilgrimage Site yesterday.  The number of visits far exceeded the level of any previous day.  I hope your visit was rewarding!  As we head north out of Key Largo we are traveling up the center of the Key which puts us some distance from the beach.  As such I figured this might be a good day to touch on a topic I was unable to work into the earlier postings. 

n of k Largo1

     I had an interesting interaction with one of my students who is writing a paper about my Blog for her Journalism class.  I showed her the Pilgrim’s Symbol (see tab at the top of the page) and told her there was obvious symbolism, subtle symbolism and some very esoteric symbolism embedded in the image.  She pointed to an area and said “Yeah I see  the Muslim symbol!”  I saw what she meant, however that was not what I intended it to be.  She quickly responded “Oh I’m sorry!”  I told her there was no need to apologize. I expect people to see things in the image that I do not see. 

SP SYMBOL-col2b   

  This is the power of symbolism.  No matter how much you attempt to make something clear and concise, what another person sees might be very different from what you intended.  I created the image and loaded it with various levels of symbolism.  I’m sure others will discover things in the image which were not part of my plan.

     There are religions that make heavy use of symbols or icons and those that make very little use of symbols and in fact may view them with suspicion.  This leaves me with the question: when does a symbol or icon become an idol?  I suspect that it is not the characteristics of the image that determine the answer, but the viewpoint and beliefs of the viewer.

     Perhaps because I was raised as a Catholic and surrounded by statues, the stations of the cross and of course the stained glass windows that often abound with symbols of faith, I am comfortable with symbols. I see them playing an important role in the integration of an individual’s or group’s belief system. They can be teaching tools or exercises for personal healing.

     Symbols are an important remnant of human’s pre-literate history. To the masses of illiterate people, symbols were still the most powerful way of transferring concepts of dogma.  A symbol is worth a thousand words. In addition, as noted by Dan Brown (“Da Vinci Code,” “Lost Symbol”), symbols played a role in conveying secrets, and acted as maps to hidden rituals.

     My symbolic image was not created to convey any sense of dogma or absolute truth. Certainly it does not include any hidden or secret meaning. It is my personal crest representative of my world view and philosophy.  The symbolism speaks to concepts I currently embrace or have embraced in my past. 

     Quite obviously, the figure in the reclined position with the wheel at it’s feet is symbolic of my virtual journey as a stationary pilgrim.  The other symbols speak to ideas and beliefs that guide and direct this journey forward down the road. Don’t apologize for anything you see or don’t see in the image.  I suggest you approach it as you would any personal journey. Let meaning unfold for you as a process of discovery.

sunset from card sound by kenalub

A special thanks to the photographers associated with Panramio for the beautiful scenes from along the roadside.

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