Posts Tagged ‘suffering’

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:  96                                         Days Blogged: 92 

New Mileage: 10                                                         Total Trip Mileage: 751

Before I climbed on the bike this afternoon I checked on the current situation in Haiti. The level of suffering continues unabated, although there is reason for hope.  The response of the people and governments around the world grows daily and help is on the way.  This event has called forth the best qualities of people of all faiths, including their compassion for those suffering and in desperate need of physical assistance.  However, this response has been tainted by talk show hosts and politicians who speak of this unfortunate event in political terms with angry, devisive voices.

Anger holds us back and pins us down!

Every Monday night I watch as my youngest son raises his right hand in a scout sign and takes the Boy Scout oath:”On my honor , I will do my best,  to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law. To help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.”  Recently my oldest son raised his right hand and took an oath to: “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same… so help me God.”

On my honor, I will do my best!

 How can we ask our sons and daughters to swear to be honest and obedient, to put others before themselves even to the point of sacrificing their lives, when at the same time we have individuals who get in front of a microphone and a faceless audience and then spew forth anger, hatred and words of division.

 I spoke recently of Pat Robertson and Brett Hume and their words of devisivensss.  Now Rush Limbaugh has joined in by accusing president Obama of using the current crisis as a way to boost his credibility with the African-American community.  In addition, talk show host Glen Beck stated that he believes President Obama is “dividing the nation” because he has “reacted so rapidly on Haiti” but “couldn’t do the same on Afghanistan.”  Beck notes that this “doesn’t make sense to him.”  I have to shake my head in disbelief at his reasoning and logic.  Does a war that has been underway for seven years demand the same quick decision process that a crisis costing possibly thousands of lives an HOUR demands?  Doesn’t  a war that was underfunded and understaffed for so many years deserve a methodical venting of options and opinions?

He has rights, but do we have to tolerate his smoke?

Several of my of blog viewers made comments about Pat Robertson’s right to share his beliefs that Haiti’s difficulties were in part due to a “pact with the devil.”  One of my viewers noted that he was simply expressing beliefs that fit closely to some Christians’ worldview.  I defend the right of any of these individuals to express their beliefs.  However, I take exception to the timing and the ultimate  consequences associated with these comments.  We have a right to speak our minds, but we also have responsibilities that go with those rights.  I believe it is unfortunate that these individuals, who sit in front of microphones find it necessary to say bombastic and troubling things, for the purpose of creating controversity with no apparent thought of the consequences such comments may produce.  In fact, Rush Limbaugh in a recent discussion with the caller noted that he prides himself on the negative reactions he generates and that he purposely produces a “media tweak of the day.” He professed that he “enjoyed “ the outrage he created and that: “when people start squealing like pigs is when I know I’ve hit a home, I love upsetting them!”

Several years ago I sat in a meeting of a group who was angered by the actions of the local school board.  The woman leading the group got up and proclaimed: “ Look at how angry the other side is with our statements and protest, we must be right if they’re that angry!”  I thought then, as I think now listening to Rush Limbaugh, don’t they realize the  absurdity of their reasoning?  I’m sure I could make some bombastic statement about things they value (e.g. religious beliefs, political ideology, the performance of former presidents) that would have them “ up in arms.”  Does that mean what I said was necessarily true… No!

Words can sooth or create wounds!

Bombastic inflammatory remarks certainly get attention and they can arouse emotions but they also “poison the well” of public discourse and drive wedges into our communities.  All of the great religious teachers say that what we speak is important. We are told to not bear false witness, and not express negative thoughts and emotions. We are told that our actions matter, and that the ends DO NOT justify the means.

Let our words calm, not inflame!

How can we ask our youth to embrace the oaths they recite, even to the point of giving their own lives for the causes of our nation, if we can’t display those same virtues towards each other?  We ALL, whether labeling ourselves conservative or liberal, must find a way to express our opinions without purposely creating anger and divisiveness.  I pray for the people of Haiti and for the brave rescuers.  I pray for the demagogues who wrap themselves in their self-righteousness, collect their big paychecks and turned a blind eye to the suffering they create. May the Divine open their eyes to see a path toward love and compassion. 

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding: 46                             Consecutive Days Blogging: 47


Today’s Mileage:  11                                        Total Trip Mileage: 397

Holidays and Holy Days on November 25:

Beginning of HajjIslamic pilgrimage rites at Mecca. One of the five pillars of Islamic  faith states that all Muslims should try to make at least one Hajj pilgrimage during their lifetime.


Danger or the Divine?

As I ride the bike today I think back over my last few postings. They’ve been positive and upbeat. I’ve stood in admiration of the beauty along my path, the healing power of water, the treasures and memories we find as we walk along our daily beach.  I am clearly an optimistic person.  I turn terrible storms into nature mystical experiences, I see in the leaf clutter and bare trees of fall the renewing cycles of life knowing that what follows will be winter’s blankets and then spring time with bursts of color and new life.  I make a choice to be an optimist, to find hope in the process of death and decay, in the pain and suffering of family, friends and strangers.  I make a choice to see in these difficult and tragic situations, not roadblocks but challenges and hurdles that can be overcome, that can lead to growth.

I have at times plodded along only to look up and see an imposing peak in my way. Why does it have to be so difficult, I ask?  I’ve learned not to give up, not to swear at the peak in anger but to take a deep breath and start the climb. Attending to my footing, I glance up often enough to recognize the less treacherous way. I will make it to that peak, tired but stronger with a new perspective.  I choose to leave markers at points on the path (artwork, poems, and Blog postings) for other travelers.  These markers might provide encouragement for others on the path. At times I might even toss out a rope or reach down with an out stretched hand to help others take those last few steps. We might share a sip of water, a hug or a meal before we part again, each on a personal journey, holding the other in our prayers. These travelers may be a stranger in a chance encounter at a book store or church, a student who is part of your life for a semester, a client you helped through a difficult time, or a faceless visitor to your blog who leaves no comment but carries away seeds to plant on their journey.

A lonely journey at times!

But I digress; being an optimist is not an easy choice!  It’s not easy to find a silver lining in a story about a five year old murdered rape victim sold by her mother to the abuser or when you speak with PTSD veterans and hear of the horrors visited upon them and that they inflicted upon others.  It’s not easy when you watch as friends and family members drink themselves to a speedy death, trying to avoid their pain or when you sit with a pedophile, hear their story and still see him as a human being. There is no silver lining in these tragic lives.  The valuable lesson is in the consequences of our small, bad decisions that build into tragedies that destroy lives.

Step back and take a new perspective!

Yesterday I interacted with a friend, someone whose religious (Islamic), cultural (Southwest Asian) and urban background is strikingly different from my own.  Someone whose opinions I value.  His views carry as much truth as those who are suspicious of him for his skin color, his faith, his nation of origin and his foreign sounding name. The difference between us in this time and place is not about our roots but about his anger. We can dwell on the injustice and intolerance of others when we find ourselves in the minority.  We can make ourselves angry, or we can step back and see the larger process. Dichotomous thinking like “us versus them” only begets such thinking in others.  If you believe that everyone has taken sides “for or against” you, you leave these “others” no choice but to take sides.  If you prepare for battle, so will they!  The error is in the process that we follow and fail to recognize as a choice.  Whether Christian, Muslim or Jew, when we create an outlook of “us and them”, saved and unsaved, infidel and believer we have become part of the problem and not the solution.

Peaceful center or conflicting opposites?

As I stressed to my friend, this optimistic process approach is not an easy choice to embrace and live.  I have been told that I am naïve, that I am a dreamer, that I have no beliefs, that I have no principles.  I disagree!  Let me use the Chinese symbol of the Yin and Yang as an illustration.  Does the balance we all strive for reside in the center of the light or the center of the dark?  Should we fight over who is in the position of right and wrong, of light and dark?  For both positions stand in stark opposition and both positions spin and twirl. Does the point of balance not reside in the very center of the symbol, at that place where you stand still as the world revolves about you, a point of centeredness and clarity? I choose to look for that middle ground, that point at which I stop spinning, when I close my eyes and feel the solid center of the divine under my feet. I choose to do it with a smile as I walk through flower gardens, as I float in peaceful waters, as I plant seeds in my students and sons, as I reach out to offer comfort to those in pain.  What do you choose?


A special thanks to the photographers associated with Panramio for the beautiful scenes from along the roadside. The information on holy days and sacred holidays comes from http://www.interfaithcalendar.org.

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding: 21                                Consecutive Days Blogging: 22

Today’s Mileage: 11                                            Total Trip Mileage: 208 


    I climbed on the bike today with a heavy heart. My oldest son is making choices that are sending his life down a destructive path.  As I work to grow, discover more about myself, and connect with the divine through my Pilgrimage Journey, he is “going over to the dark side!”  Whether it’s a family member, friend or student struggling with life’s demands, it is hard to watch. It is even harder to accept that there is little you can do for them. Sharing the struggle with others and carrying the individual in your thoughts and prayers can help. 

southwest florida by foto's van overal

Coast Prairie Trail west of Flamingo


In yesterday’s posting I noted that Jennifer Westwood described one of the components of the Longing to undertake a Pilgrimage journey as “the Prayer.” This prayer, which is carried by the pilgrim to the site, often takes the form of a request for assistance from the divine for themselves, for another person or some cause.

birds at flamingo by craig gaebel

Bird at Flamingo Florida


    Tomorrow I will post a Prayer page as part of this Blog It will be a place where we can identify those family and friends who are in need of our prayers.  I will carry these pilgrim prayers with me as I ride between pilgrimage sites.


high tide at flamango by danhester

At high tide near Flamingo

    As I spun the wheel and the miles slipped past I think of nature’s beauty as we travel through the Everglades National Park.  Some see the handiwork of the divine in this beauty and give praise for the many gifts that flow our way.  Other people stand in awe of the beauty and experience a mystical sense of oneness with the divine.

flamingo area by nationalparklover

Flamingo area with kite.

    I have included a number of pictures to highlight this natural beauty.  Seeing the shoreline, waterways and wildlife remind me of a walk I took along a local river and the blue heron that crossed my path. I wrote about our chance encounter.

The Heron

Like some exotic oriental kite

It hovers in the morning sky

I hold my breath

Holding onto the moment



Standing majestically erect

Scanning the surroundings

It watches me

Not its prey

Like I was some enemy


Like These

It is moments like these

Standing shivering

   in the morning chill

The first rays of the morning sun

   Not yet clearing the horizon

Wafts of mist rising from

   roaring churning waters

That I feel

   most alive


Just the dance of life

One moment

    It stands frozen

        Like some garden ornament

The next

    It plunges its long neck       

        Into the swirling waters

Standing proud and erect

    It shifts its prey

        Lifts its head

            and the fish disappears



Lifting off

He turns skyward

As the morning sun

Creeps steadily across

The green river canopy

sunset north of flamingo by Dr. Rusty

Simple sunset north of Flamingo Florida

     I hope you enjoyed the photos and poems.  Have a wonderful and safe day!

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

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