The scallop shell is the ubiquitous symbol of a pilgrim on the road to Santiago, but it also offers us additional guidance as well. Let me try to explain. When the shell is held as in the photo to the left it allows us to trace the ridges of the shell to a point of convergence. Symbolically, these ridges depict the many camino routes that all lead to the tomb of St. James in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. The orientation with the concave side facing up also creates a bowl or vessel where things might be collected and held. What sort of things might they be?
Remember back to your early days on the camino. Didn’t you feel exhilarated. Something was in the air. The commotion of life back home fell way to the quiet of forest paths and country lanes. The demands of jobs, families, and even friends were no longer an issue. All the useless clutter in our minds was emptied out as we realized that our needs were now much simpler and easier to organize. We only had to walk, eat, do some laundry, and sleep. This simplified life allowed room for other things to enter our minds. For some it was the pastoral landscapes that drew them in or, for some, the joy of finding a community of kindred spirits. Others simply felt blessed with the solitude, and a time for prayer. Whatever it was it created a pause, a sense that a new opportunity was at hand, and a feeling that something inside of us was shifting.
They say that the faintest voice you will ever try to hear is God’s voice guiding you lovingly along. Usually there is too much much background noise so although we have ears, we do not hear. Sometimes we are so self absorbed that we have no room in our hearts for anyone or anything else. So we have eyes, but we do not see. The hope that the holy spirit offers each of us is the possibility for change, for renewal. In this new environment, free from many of life’s other distractions, new discoveries are possible. A stillness can be created where even the faint whisper of the holy spirit can finally be heard. Day after day we are blessed to remember the kindness of strangers, the ability to be humble and grateful for the help that is provided us, and the joy we discovered as we helped others. Step by step a kind of conversion takes root. Of course there will be days when you feel like you could lose it, but we are humans and for us nothing will ever be perfect or linear. But slowly life adopts a different rhythm as the camino instructs us in its ways, and behaviors. We continue on the road to Santiago gathering a wealth of wonders, teachings, and experiences that will eventually help us reevaluate how we live our lives, and how we behave towards our many sisters and brothers who share this world with us. These are the things that we collect, place into our shell, and hold for the moment.
Upon reaching Santiago we enter the cathedral and, for many, we offer thanks and prayers for the safe completion of the journey, and for all those many others for whom we have promised to pray. But then what? Well let’s start by flipping the shell over so that it looks as it is shown in the photo to the right. In this orientation the shell’s ridges fan out, and the bowl side is facing down. The ridges now represent the many and diverse roads that will be followed as pilgrims go their separate ways, and return to their homes. The inverted shell symbolizes a pouring out of all the gifts that we have been blessed with on our journey. They were given not for us to hoard but to share. In the many months and years ahead these gifts will rise up when we need them. They will provide us guidance, courage, and comfort as we follow our own camino roads to wherever they lead us and to whatever they ask of us. So much like the original twelve apostles, pilgrims are called (to the camino), instructed (in its ways) and then sent out to share what they have learned. Sounds an awful lot like the apostolic road to me. Who would have known.