My film camera on pilgrimage

photography, the creative life, the spiritual life

A run to replace the tiny battery in my trusty old film camera also yielded a colorful set of notebooks made with fancy German paper – on sale and just the right size for a portable, packable journal. Preparations for my trip abroad are coming along, and the countdown is in the single digits. Giddy excited is the operative word.

I used to shoot exclusively with film – this very camera in fact took me through my first 10 years as a photographer. Eventually it was replaced with a digital SLR, and my iPhone for daily use. But as I am about to go wandering with a backpack through gorgeous rural France, I had to rethink how I was going to approach the photo essays I want to make along the way (literally The Way: Le Chemin de Saint Jacques).

(Re)Enter my Pentax K-1000. He takes 35mm film, has travelled Europe with me before, and has made for me some of my best photographs.

There are drawbacks, however. He is all mechanical and metal and a little heavy, I will have to carry film in hot weather which could damage it, and I will not get to see how the images turn out until I am home.

Yet this pilgrimage I am making has so many themes which shooting with film will help to remind me of and ground me in. 

At least for me, photographing with film is a very different experience than photographing with a digital camera. You have to be fully present to what is in front of your lens, more deliberate about framing and exposure, and patient with the time it takes to focus the lens properly or advance the film. In particular there is a trust needed: that your discernment and judgment in the moment may indeed yield something exquisite and profound, even though you do not see the outcome until much later. 

Metaphors such as these echo the journey of the spiritual life:

Intentionality, being in the present moment (attention + presence), prudence, trusting your intuition, and a peaceful detachment from needing a thing to turn out a certain way…

The constant emphasis of these themes have been why my life has felt like a pilgrimage for awhile now. It will be interesting to see how these flesh out as I shift from my Camino, at home, to making my Camino pilgrimage along the ancient ‘way of the stars’.

Thorns and Roses: a meditation on miracles + suffering

faith, poetry, the spiritual life

Daily I turn around and tragedy is before me, many far but some are near, twists and turns of events not my own and yet my own, reminding me that I am a colorful thread somewhere in the interwoven tapestry of this world. What hue is your thread? Quite sure mine is a deep burgundy, the color of wine and garnets, with a vein of shimmery metallic gold.

Poetry has always been my response to that which is intense and mysterious in my life. At this moment, I contend with the stress of a close friend who remains seriously chronically ill, and unimaginably heavy realities which have touched others around me. A musician friend recently asked me, do you believe in miracles? I didn’t know what to say… yes, yes I absolutely do ~ and yet, in the face of helplessness and hopelessness, what does this even mean?

By staying in this tension, with these twin weights of love and suffering… is this then the place of faith and of miracles? The mysterious realm of the heart, where heaven meets earth and the impossible is ever so possible?

Our brokenness meets our longing for wholeness as we receive the gaze of the compassionate One who is so intimately with us in our love and in our suffering. Perhaps my belief is that, more often than we realize, miracles happen via healing from the inside out.

From San Diego Art Museum

Madonna of the Roses, detail, 1485



life, delicate and fragile

gives way without warning

suffering weaves its coarse tapestry

a pattern of thorns and roses


foreheads to the earth

tease out our mirrored hope

as we stand on the promise

of miracles tenacious


begging receiving holding

the gaze of the compassionate One


My Camino, at home

Janelle's artwork, photography, poetry, the spiritual life

Two years ago I kept a poetry blog for the summer. My life at the time had begun to feel like a pilgrimage, with many unexpected twists and turns. I’ve been on pilgrimages before (hello World Youth Days in Toronto and Cologne) so I clearly recognized the intensity, the mystery, and the healing involved.

Yet I was anchored. I wasn’t going much of anywhere, and I wasn’t living or travelling abroad like I wanted. I was, however, being asked to be fully present to what showed up in front of me and pay attention to the leading of the Holy Spirit. It was like I was on my very own Camino, at home.

There is a series of ancient pilgrim routes cutting across Spain known as the Camino de Santiago, translated as the Way of Saint James, all leading to the town of Compostela in the northwestern region. For years it has resonated with me as a pilgrimage I feel called one day to make and, more recently, an inspiration for meeting my rooted life with the same sort of surrender and transformation as one encounters on the open road.

Written in 2016, and republished here with minor edits, this poem came out of trying to articulate and make sense of this distinct call to Presence in front of me.

For a wonderful sampling of medieval music to go along with it, I recommend the haunting album Llibre Vermell, a collection of 14th Century pilgrim songs from the monastery of Our Lady of Montserrat, the other popular pilgrimage site in Spain at that time. I’ve put my favorite song first, Imperayntz (de la ciutat joyosa) [translationEmpress of the joyous city of paradise for any other linguist nerds out there]. It is by Sarband from Germany who are one of the best early music ensembles I’ve come across.


My Camino, at home

Today* and every day
the Spanish Camino calls to me
lilting melodies of ages past
haunting heart cries
of thirty generations of pilgrims
who wander and worship
through the Galician countryside
longing for heaven and healing

A Pilgrimage
reflects my own desires
to wander and to worship
the journey inward
through the journey outward

I wonder, watch and wait
for fulfillment of longings
too deep for me to name
but He has named them
the Father has named me
and He asks me
with a twinkle in His eye
to bring my desires to Him
and I dream of walking
the long road to Santiago

Yet here I remain
settled, rooted for now
the Spirit says wait here
hold my hand, follow my lead
weeks turn into months
and through a mysterious
journey of shifts and surrender
I realize, here at home
what has been happening
I find myself on my very own Camino
my path is one of attention
of being, of learning to be here
and I see that I am making
step by trembling step
a Pilgrimage of Presence

walking a road down Mount Erie, Washington

the journey inward through the journey outward

The heart encounters
they come unexpected
stretch my capacity
to love without fear
to share without shutting down
to give without counting the cost
to be present without holding on

And the soul encounters
push me beyond my comfort
to trust in God’s guidance
to have mercy with myself
to remember to seek joy
to re-learn how to rest

This odyssey, ongoing,
is as deep and as powerful
as those I have made abroad
This Camino, at home
stretches and challenges me
I stay put, then I am moved
I wait, then I jolt forward
I get tired, I get crabby
I lose my peace, I find it again
I push through, I rest and recover
and watch with awe
the unfolding of my Pilgrimage
the journey outward
through the journey inward

The Spanish Camino calls to me still
but my Pilgrimage of Presence
calls me to be here, now
on a path set before me
as unknown as any other
but full of promise
of lilting melodies
of fellow pilgrims
of heaven and healing


*today ~July 25th~ is the feast day of St. James, catalyst of the Camino and patron saint of pilgrims