Author Archives: Pieter Stok

About Pieter Stok

I am passionate about faith, marriage and family. My interests include reading, video editing, travel and Lego. Also I find the older I get the more reflective I become. Whereas once I had answers for everything and everyone, now I have more questions.

Travelling with Grandkids … not really … well, really.

This is the first time we have ever gone travelling as grandparents. In the past I have had to cool my heels outside postcard and souvenir shops. But a new dimension has entered our travels. Simply put it is, “Wouldn’t that be nice for T or B?”

Toys, clothes, games as well as postcards are now part of the roving eagle eye of my beloved. I will give you one example that will make you sob in your breakfast cereal. My wife sent T a postcard. This was duly posted in a Correos post box. “Now wouldn’t it be nice if we could find a toy Correos van for T?”

The local post offices didn’t have them. I thought if any place would have them it would be the main Correos in Madrid. So off we trekked this morning across the city to find the toy. Surprisingly it was there in a display cabinet. I don’t think they had ever sold one before because it took 4 people to work out where one was and how to sell it to us. But we have our toy van.

My feet are not thanking me for such adept thinking and insight. However, travelling with grandchildren adds a dimension to our travels that we have not had before.

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Another Day in Sevilla

I remarked in my last blog how uncomfortable I felt watching the Semana Santa processions in Sevilla. A few years ago I watched similar processions in Santiago de Compostela and it struck me at the time that, although not to my taste or sensibilities, there was a strong presence of the gospel. The death and resurrection of Christ were clearly presented and the message in the Santiago Cathedral square on Easter Sunday was gospel straight from Scripture.

On this occasion I met a couple from the south of Holland in the Cathedral square in Sevilla and I related the contrast between my two experiences. They expressed a similar sentiment, however their alternate experience had been Córdoba. This couple were Catholic and thought the Sevilla processions were more about other things than the Christian faith in contrast to Córdoba.

That was a helpful reflection for me.

The other thing I did today was go into the Sevilla Cathedral and also walk up the Giralda tower, one I am told in which two horses abreast can be ridden to the top. It is a continuous ramp but hopefully the horses lose a bit of weight near the top as the ramp narrows a little. While I was waiting for the ticket office to open I encountered a retired couple from Denmark. He was also a Teacher – a history teacher at that. We were at the head of the queue. History is too important to be pushed to the back of the line by the great unwashed! We also chatted about history and my favourite Danish films and TV programs.

The tower started off as a minaret but was as with other buildings in Spain it was repurposed by the Christians after the Moors were conquered. It is now the bell tower of the Cathedral. The Cathedral itself is large but not as ostentatious as some. It has some famous art works – especially Murillo.

This evening we tried tapas and paella. Hetty did remove any pieces that had suction cups attached.

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A Week of Processions

We are in Sevilla during Semana Santa or Holy Week. This entails incredible processions every day of the week. Some even starting at one in the morning. The locals are dressed to the nines and the tourists look like underdressed slobs – a description that is, in my case, accurate.

Holy Week processions are a sight to behold. Every church has a procession that includes a band, people dressed in robes reminiscent of the KKK and large statues carried by a number of men. Children carry crosses and we haven’t even got to the chains, bare feet and steel poles of the Friday procession. They process from their own church, go to the Cathedral and return to their home church. This is a logistical work of art that includes police, fence arrangers and chair ‘setter uppers’. It dominates the whole of the old city. Many of the well dressed people around town wear lapel pins that identify them with a particular church or society. There is an underlying sense of passionate competition between the groups.

What do I make of all this? It is a fabulous tourist attraction. National and international visitors flock to Sevilla. Bars make more now than at any other time of the year. However, Good Friday and Easter Sunday, are for me, at the heart of the Christian message. It is about Christ’s sacrifice for our total brokenness and his power over sin and death – again, for us. It is about reconciliation with God through His ‘agape’ self giving love.

I see glimpses of that in the theatre of the processions but I wonder if like so may religious traditions we make it more about us and what we want than God and what He has done. The festivities (I can’t think of a more appropriate word) has that secular and self obsessed air of Christmas.

I find myself in that uncomfortable position where I am intrigued and drawn in by the drama but deeply unsettled by its implied message.

The Giralda TowerThe Procession and milling crowds

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The Yo Yo Day

The Yo Yo day:

From two Spanish ladies wrecking my sleep to a beautiful meal with my birthday wife.

The day started very early. Two Spanish ladies addicted to their cell phones were communicating with others and each other in the early hours of the morning as I was trying to sleep in a bunk only half a metre away. Then at 5 am with headlights attached they started packing up and leaving the Albergue. It was like trying to sleep in a disco as their lights strobed around the room. That was a downward plunge of the yo yo. Then at 7 am when all the civilised pilgrims decided to rise and shine I told them it was Hetty’s birthday when Hetty was out of the dorm. When she returned they all sang happy birthday to her. The yo yo was on the way up.

We started walking at 8 am and entered the next village a few kms away and there was a beautifully kept bar with a friendly host who served croissants, coffee and fresh orange juice. We reconnected with some of our fellow pilgrims. The yo yo was still going up. However we needed to catch the bus as Hetty’s knee was hurting badly. We walked 4 kms to the bus stop only to find out the timetable was out of date and the next one wasn’t coming for hours. Yo yo going down again. After a frustrating time trying to work out what to do a lady stopped at the bus stop and insisted we get in her car and she drove us to Burgos. All she asked was that we pray for her. Monty was her name. Yo yo flying up.

My head was still pounding from spending a night in an airless disco dorm and when we got to the Pensión I wasn’t in a mood for making decisions but we had to and a domestic situation ensued. Yo yo plunging.

After a big deep breath Hetty went to the doctor who said she had to rest the leg. Good to know. Contacts in Madrid said they would be happy to see us next week. Yo yo up.

After a nice rest we entered the bustling crowds of Burgos at 8:30 and went to a pizza restaurant for a birthday dinner. Yo yo very up.

To mix the metaphors “Some days are diamonds and some are coal”. Today we had them both but the diamonds shone more brightly. My wife tells me she is the diamond.

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Day 5: Snow but no wind

Sadly there was no Palm Sunday church service in Villafranca Montes de Oca today. Many villages in Spain are without priests and the church is mainly frequented by the elderly. So we started walking. Today’s experience was walking through falling snow but the wind had, thankfully, died down.

Our destination was San Juan de Ortega. Due to knee issues we are walking shorter distances. Today was only 12kms. All up we have covered 98 kms but we have cheated for 15-20 of these. This morning the early sections were quite hilly winding through pine plantations and the road was muddy due to frequent use by log trucks.

In San Juan we found a warm bar and had a coffee and tea with a piece of cake and then another coffee.

Now all we have to do is wait for the Albergue to open and hope that the backpack is there. Yesterday I slipped on a drain grate and my backpack took me for a ride. 20 kilos is hard to stop in mid flight! All that was hurt was my sprained wrist and my pride.

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Redecilla del Camino

We took a short walk today. Only 11 kms. We have some aches and niggles in our legs so we thought we would be nice to them. We have stopped in Redecilla del Camino. It is a small town made up of a street of vey old stone buildings and C12th church. Over the busy road are some more modern buildings. But like many small Spanish towns it seems in decline. There are deserted Spanish villages for sale if you are so inclined.

Our devotion this morning was on Eph 2:10. “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Physically, at present, the handiwork is feeling a little run down and worn. Yet the idea that our eyes and hearts always need to be open and ready for service is very heartening and life enhancing.

Strange observation: as we were walking along the other day there was a cross. Now many Spanish towns and roads have Christian crosses. But this seemed rather simple and not ornate. I asked Hetty if it was a cross or a power pole. She opted for cross. We got closer and there were three of them. On closer inspection they turned to to be redundant power poles. There is a sermon illustration in there somewhere.

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Another day on the Camino – a tale of two chickens

We are currently staying in the town (Santo Domingo de la Calzada) that permanently keeps chickens in the Cathedral because of ‘miracles’ that occurred in the Middle Ages. These involved the returning to life of a German pilgrim and the returning to life of two chickens on the bishop’s plate when he refused to believe the original miracle. Added to this I found a in a local church a sign proudly selling plenary indulgences. If I am right last year was the 500th anniversary of the nailing of the 95 theses against indulgences, by Martin Luther.

The returning thought that comes to me is that for most people the Camino to Santiago is a secular trek. The hostels are handy and cheap for accommodation … and it is handy for meeting the opposite sex.

There are however opportunities to explore one’s spirituality. Some hostels take the Christian discipleship dimension seriously. One such Albergue is in Villamayor de Monjardin where the volunteers at the Albergue Hogar Monjardín see hospitality as a crucial part of their discipleship role. They are planning bigger and better ideas for the future.

I need to see these bright lights as otherwise I would become despondent because the Camino would be just another expression of our slide into secularity. It is wonderful to see Christians take opportunities, like the Camino, and step up to the opportunities.

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Icy start

We crossed the Pyrenees yesterday but not as true pilgrims. We cheated. We took a bus across and passed all these freezing pilgrims trudging through the snow. I felt guilty but not that guilty that I wanted to stop the bus. Our driver told us that he had to pick up a Korean lady who had collapsed on the road from hyperthermia, on the previous day.

We arrived in Villamayor and met the people from a Christian albergue/hostel who make it their business to create a welcoming environment for pilgrims. They are a positive presence in the local villages giving the potential of new life in villages that seem to be dying by degrees.

Now the weather is icy outside. Tomorrow we begin walking the next stage of the Camino. Inside the fire is burning and it is cosy and warm. We are steeling ourselves for the reality to come.

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The first few days

Some brief notes on the first few days of our trip.

We boarded our flight from Melbourne to Bangkok. Orderly and sedate.

However, when we boarded the A380 in Bangkok to go to Paris it was chaotic to say the least. The announcements couldn’t be heard. And everybody was milling around the entry points. All airlines seem to following Ryan air’s cattle class example.

On our way to Paris we flew between Kiev and Moscow. The place names below looked like elements of a Gogol short story.

The trip has been like a 24 hour night. The sun has been chasing us around the globe but we have just been ahead of it. As we approach Paris it is starting to catch up.

We travelled south from Paris Charles de Gaulle airport on the TGV. The speed clocks over 300kph on many stretches. It is quite an amazing sensation. Now let’s speed up the Geelong Melbourne railway line. The last party of the journey from Bayonne to St Jean Pied de Port was on a sedate diesel train winding through the hills.

St Jean PdP is a beautiful town in the foothills of the Pyrenees. The houses have a Swiss/French flavour to them. We attended a Catholic service in the Basque language. The printed order of service our smattering of French and the iPad kept us in the loop. We were concerned that there were no young people in the service but when we walked past later there was a quite a group of young people for another service.

Today we plan to cross the Pyrenees … by bus.

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Children and the Kingdom

A retelling of a Bible story by my wife:

Let me tell you a story that was once told to me. (**see below)
It’s a great tale, but just one among many, so the tellers didn’t embellish their stories with finer details. However I will, and I will reimagine some colours and shades. I believe this is permissible as long as the listeners are open to God’s message in the story.

“The Rabbi’s disciples were walking towards Capernaum with their Messiah. The road was dusty, the sun was hot, and their tempers were fraying. Jesus walked a little way ahead of them and their argument.

Soon they arrived at the house of some friends and were eagerly welcomed and usheredphoto 4 through the house to the shady courtyard beyond. A servant girl came with tall beakers full of cold wine.
Slowly the heat drained from the faces of the guests as they relaxed after the long walk.

“So,” Jesus asked them, “what were you arguing about on the road?”

Before they could answer a ball skittered across the courtyard, rolled under the table and between the legs of the disciples, and was followed by a bevy of little boys. Mayhem ensued while the ball, the legs, and the children battled together.
And then peace again, as the boys skipped back to the lane with their prize.

“The argument?” Jesus reminded them.
But no one wanted to say. They squirmed in their seats, they blushed.

Finally one of them spoke. “We were discussing who of us is the greatest.”
It sounded so lame now, when it was spoken out loud to the Rabbi. Not an hour ago they had been in hot contention, firing Scripture missiles at each other, cutting one another down to size, tearing at each other’s egos. It had been as if their place in Eternity mattered on who was crowned greatest of all.

Jesus let the disciple’s words hang in the air for a moment. Then he called out to one of the boys.
“Here, come here son.” The lad came over.
Jesus beckoned to the servant girl. “Please bring the boy a drink.”
She went away and returned with a beaker of lemonade. She handed it to the boy who took it in his dusty hands. Then she gave him a straw.
Immediately he began slurping noisily.

“I tell you, unless you become like a little child, you will not enter the kingdom of Heaven. Unless you lower yourself to the position of the least, you will have no position in Eternity.”

“Really?” The disciples thought. “Were their ears deceiving them? What could Jesus be saying?”

But Jesus hadn’t finished the lesson.
“Whoever welcomes one of these little ones, welcomes me. But whoever rejects them, it would be better if that man were thrown into the sea with a lump of concrete around his neck!”

The boy looked up from his now-empty beaker. He smiled at Jesus as if they shared the best secret. He wiped the back of his hand across his mouth.

And then he belched.

**the original can be found in Matthew 18, Mark 9, and Luke 9

 

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