LOS ARCOS – “The Camino starts where you begin,” the expression goes (Kay, Sweden) meaning one may start anywhere along this 500 mile route, or any of the other routes. The French Way I am on just happens to be the most popular. But to get the certificate of completion, one must walk the last 60 miles (100km) and you will ask the reason.
Traditionally for religious reasons, today’s Camino seems to be a largely secular walk, or at least that is what the pilgrims I have met on my path say. Maybe like me, they don’t care to discuss their religious motivation to a complete with a stranger they just met. I know I have been less willing to tell anyone my reasons…let’s just say God and I have something to work out and as my sister Sheron says, “its time to fish or cut bait,” (she has another more colorful expression, but you get the idea).
Early in the day I walk through the village of Obanos where a legend from the 14c has it that the daughter of the king, following the family tradition of joining the Camino, was not able resume her former royal life and set off to live anonymously, in service to the poor and others. Outraged, her family sent her brother to reason with her. In the town I am walking through the brother found her, but unable to convince her to leave this pious life, he stuck her with his dagger and ran away. If the family could not have her back, neither would God.
Overcome by the guilt of his murdered sister, the brother decides to start his Camino, and after does not return to his former station in life, but builds a hermitage in Obanos, and dedicates his life to prayer and serving the needs of pilgrims, or so the story goes. I’m not expecting anything so dramatic. But it does bring up the matter of religious pilgrimages and retreats.
Walking these ancient paths, some the Roman roads of the first century, I have plenty of time to think. I have trouble walking, navigating, and praying (I’m not a good multitasker) so I end up singing chants from Taize in time with my steps.
My hill climbing one is
The LORD is my light, my light and salvation,
in God I trust, in God I trust.
It’s a really good climbing chant, one I broke in when I walked up Mt Sinai years ago. After I’ve sung all the parts to this round I start jazzing it up, St James Infirmary style and it becomes a spiritual.
Today was tough because it was raining and mostly up hill, so the chant became well worn and started to feel like a work song.
My first day was a solitary walk, mostly from the language barrier, my TexMex Spanish not being much use here. When I checked into the Albergues, I met Amy, an Aussie civil engineer, who just began talking to me. I realized I hadn’t really spoken to anyone since I had left Ghana on Monday. I had lots of questions, and she was an accommodating host, and before long I knew everyone and over the next few days would learn that everyone knew Amy. I had wondered if the Albergues would turn out to be an essential part of the Camino, or could I skip the rooms of bunk-beds and snoring people and opt for something nicer. It turns out that while not the best place to get a good night’s sleep, it is a great place to make friends, who scatter for the day, and then gather again at night to swap stories and tell lies.
I learned “You don’t walk the Camino for no reason” (Dave, Asheville, NC) and it changed how I saw the people I walked with. “Even if you don’t know the reason,” Dave continued, “it will be presented to you.” I now watch and wonder what has brought them to this place, and what Camino Gifts will be given (or revealed) to my fellow pilgrims amidst the pain, solitude and walking.