Robin and I are now back home from our pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. The trip went smoothly and we made all of our connections, despite the labor problems at Iberia airlines. It is now just a few days later, the Camino gear is stowed, and we are already fully engaged with the life we left behind seven weeks ago. It is amazing just how quickly we transition from pilgrim to whatever it is we do at home. But, notwithstanding this, the processing of a pilgrimage is an issue apart that requires patience, and time to accomplish. It simply cannot (and shouldn’t) be rushed. I have found that quickly drawn conclusions on the merits of a pilgrimage, at least for my part, emerge as glib summations that hold few, if any, essential truths, and are shockingly distant from what surfaces after more careful consideration. But, without fail, some friend or another will reasonably inquire as to what was learned from this journey, and without fail I will say I am not sure, at least not yet. I suppose some might say that I over think these things. Perhaps they have a point, but I come at the answer in my own way, guided by the Spirit within me. Certainly there are obvious lessons learned regarding equipment, weather, lodging, food, airlines, trains, and buses. But, how a pilgrimage transforms us, encourages us to grow in new directions, or strengthens or perhaps challenges our faith is another matter entirely. Robin and I set out, as before, ready to embrace the inner journey the Camino can readily provide. Along the Way the daily physical challenges often intervened, and challenged or subsumed our earlier resolves. It is just what happens when walkng such a long distance with varied terrain, and weather. The pre-Camino plan often gets modified as you go along and deal with each day’s imperatives. Consequently, on any given day it is easy to feel as though you have drifted off course, lost your focus. A “please remind me why I am doing this” kind of feeling rises up. We walked trying to be mindful of the joy of faith, and the peacefulness of prayer. We tried to understand how the events of each day were opportunities for personal growth. We tried to keep our hearts open to better understand (and hopefully forgive) the venality of the few, while cherishing the grace of the many good people that we encountered. But, despite all of this, there was always the reality of the pure physical challenge of walking many kilometers each and every day that loomed over us and, in truth, some days were hard enough that we could only deal with that.
As one can see there can be a lot more going on beyond simply putting one boot ahead of the other day after day. The difficulty is in trying to link up all these different elements so that a picture of one’s Camino can be formed. I suppose you could say that these elements are like single frames of a film. They contain information but do not convey any meaning until the film is viewed in its entirety. This can only be done retrospectively, after all the pieces are in hand and laid out. Once the journey is over, and I am back at home, I can slowly reflect on these details. This process enables me to gather the many thoughts that eventually get distilled into the essential truths of our Camino. These are not typically grand or lofty revelations, but are more likely to be simple truths regarding faith and human behavior, that needed to be reaffirmed and recommitted to. This “newness of life” is the joyful change that always comes to me when all is said and done. It is, for me, why the Camino always beckons, and why a pilgrimage never really concludes. It just seems there is always something that needs a bit of touching up, and the Camino helps me do that.
Thomas Merton, Trappist monk and priest, writes in his book, No Man is an Island (a favorite read of mine), about the challenges we face understanding and accepting God’s grace. Merton writes eloquently about the power of faith, but also reminds us how daunting that journey can be. This passage struck me as an essential reminder of the fleeting nature of good intentions, and of the need to ask more of ourselves as we seek God’s grace for the strength to complete the journey down the pilgrim road and home to God. Merton writes.
….It takes more than an occasional act of faith to have such pure intentions. It takes a whole life of faith, a total consecration to hidden values. It takes sustained moral courage and heroic confidence in the help of divine grace. But above all it takes the humility and spiritual poverty to travel in darkness and uncertainty, where so often we have no light and see no sign at all…
Our journey continues. Peace be with you.