Dear Ones -
This will be the last blog I will post about our most recent excursion along The Camino. As you may recall, this is the third time we have journeyed along some part of “the Pilgrimage to Santiago.” In whatever international travel is left for us to do, I can’t imagine that traveling any part of The Camino will be a part of it. So this will be a fond farewell to an idea and experiences that have been part of our lives for many years now.
We have been back from this Pilgrimage for over a week now so I’ve had some time to get a bit of perspective on the entire journey.
The first thing I want to get out of the way is the fact that this trip was without question one of the most difficult we have made. The single factor that made this so was the, at times, almost unbearable heat. The part of France and Spain we travelled was experiencing unseasonably hot weather, the hottest on record ever. And, much of that part of the world does not have air conditioning. The hotels did not have air conditioning and the coaches on which we rode did not have cooling systems that were up to the heat outside. Being outside walking from place to place put us in both intense heat and light.
It is fitting that this is my last blog about this trip because on the last day we were in Santiago, we went to Finisterra, which literally means “the end of the earth.” I did not know, until this trip, that for years it has been considered by “real Pilgrims” that the Pilgrimage is not complete until and unless one walks on many miles on to the place on the coast where it is alleged that St. James’ body came ashore. Getting there meant driving on a long, winding mountain road. I can’t imagine what the journey might be like for someone walking, especially in this heart. But many Pilgrims made the journey.
When we arrived we hiked down to the rocky promontory and had an “Evening Prayer” service. One of the things I most deeply appreciate about traveling with Peter Sills is that he brings his authentic piety to every aspect of the journey. As I’ve written earlier, the first Pilgrims were not tourists. They travelled with monks or priests and, further, they stayed at monasteries and places staffed by religious orders for the purpose of providing safety and nourishment to the Pilgrims.
All along the way Peter arranged for us to have a wide variety of services in these incredible places of beauty and history. Having a Eucharist service in a side chapel of Leon Cathedral is no small accomplishment. I am grateful to Peter for making things like this possible.
Indeed, I would have to say that one of the highlights of this trip for me was the opportunity to visit once again one of the great Gothic Cathedrals in the world, that of the one in Leon, Spain. This amazing structure, which took only fifty years to build, is breathtaking. The first time I walked into it, many years ago now, my involutional response was, “Where did this come from?” To think that it was built centuries ago is amazing enough but the art that is presented here in so many forms is an expression of a profound spirituality. I am grateful for the hours I got to spend inside of it again.
Writing these blogs has been a helpful way to insure aspects of this Pilgrimage stay fixed in my memory, as has keeping a journal about our experiences. Even though I’ve been able to post photographs about some aspects of the Pilgrimage, nothing can really communicate what it is like to see a rooster and a hen in a cage that has been part of a cathedral for centuries, nor what is like to experience the Monastery of Santo Domingo de Silos where the chanting of the monks was beyond beautiful. (By the way, you can hear them on their award-winning CDs.) The monastery where they live was begun in the 7th century.
To walk the entire five hundred miles of the Camino that begins in Le Puy, France is something I cannot imagine doing. People do it. Indeed, hundreds of thousands have done it since the Middle Ages. Even undertaking a modest aspect of the Camino such as we have done now three times, requires paying attention to many things, decisions about what to take along, what to focus on, etc.
Dualistic language, the only type we have, simply is not adequate to express the many metaphors traveling the Camino fulfills for the spiritual journey. Walking the Camino is full of contradiction and paradox from the beginning. To begin to to have arrived. We cannot “get to” a place where we “already are.” The end is in the beginning. Etc.
The common greeting on the Camino when meeting anyone is “Buen Camino!” It means, “blessing on your journey.” In our spiritual work we walk toward the Divine Presence in whom we already live. Our task is to pay attention to whether we are on the path or not. Again and again we get to ask ourselves whether we are experiencing peace, love, joy, patience and humility or not. And, even more importantly, whether these are the values we are giving expression to in and with our life journey.
We walk individually but we are not alone.