SAHAGUN – Another day on the Meseta. Today was a shorter day, walking into the surprising large city of Sahagun.
We are walking past 12c Nights Templar churches, and its hard to not think of Dan Brown and look for symbols to explain what is happening. It is also where many of the great Reconquista battles between the Moors (Muslims) and Christians happened between the 8-14c.
After living side by side for centuries without many problems, political leaders in the Christian Church needed an enemy, and once the Jews were expelled, converted, or killed, they turned their attention on the Moors.
This is St. Martin of Tours country; many of the church buildings we pass are dedicated to this 4c bishop, but few are open, and even less are living churches. One might think that St. James would be the patron saint of pilgrims, but no, it is St. Martin. But that does not stop us from praying to Santiago as one monk along The Way explained. “After all Santiago works for El Senior (The LORD).” Not being raised Catholic, I should have more trouble praying to saints, but it seems surprisingly fitting.
To me it seems unusual that these 12c Spanish churches are named for a Hungarian man who was bishop of a township in France during the 4c. Known as the military saint, legend tells of his compassion when he cut his cloak to give half to a beggar during the dead of winter.
The Camino, she has a natural rhythm to her, one that I’m learning to play along with. This rhythm makes a great ally but she can be capricious. Some try to wake before her by leaving early, others leave late to miss the crush of early risers. I leave somewhere in between, finding the longer the day, the more thoughtful the pilgrim. Today I learned, “The Camino, she is a midwife.” It was explained to me, “she’s not having this baby… and is here to help.”
This is how the Meseta has felt since I’ve been on it, coming in waves, a natural rhythm I can either work with, or struggle against, but either way, we’re having this baby.
“Its good to be alone in your thoughts,” Freda, the Dutch woman, tells me when I ask about her Meseta. Each day around 11 I run into her and her friend Rena. “Yesterday was my favorite day,” I say, and slowly high-fives me in agreement. She enjoys her solitude. I met Freda and Rena at San Anton’s a few days back. It was Rena who spent 20 minutes telling us her story while the food got cold, and my tummy rumbled. Like many of the pilgrims I’ve met at the donativos, hospitals, or hospice’, we share an intimacy, a trust missing from my stays at the municipal alburgues. I wonder if it’s the people who come, the historic place we stay, or the volunteers who turn us into a family. I play this game now when I leave them of going out the wrong way, and Freda yells “Other way Steve” and I turn around.
Mary was right, it did take about two weeks for my body to make friendly with the backpack. No longer do I feel its weight, which is not to say it feels weightless, it just isn’t heavy; more like an extension of my body, like an overcoat, functional until you come inside.
Tomorrow is the last long day on the Meseta. The weather is getting warmer and I wonder how much longer The Way will be lined with red poppies. They have been such an encouragement.
What I notice early in the morning is that the cup of the poppy tracks with the sun. At night the cup closes, at daybreak they open and bend at the neck to capture the light.
When a poppy no longer follows the light, its petals drop. I think God designed us the same. Saint John wrote in his first letter that “God is light and in Him is no darkness,” When we no longer turn toward the light, something in us dies too.
Just before bed tonight was the Pilgrim’s Mass in the 14c chapel. I was surprised to see five African origin sisters, and two of them looked like the could have been from Ghana. I so wanted to go up to them and say:
Wo de Ghana ni?
Are you Ghanaian? But there was a separation between the Pilgrims, and everyone else. The Mass was in Spanish, so I didn’t catch much of it, but at the end, after the blessing, which one of those sisters translated to English, she added “Safe Journey,” which is a traditional Ghanaian traveling blessing, and I knew.
Wo de Ghana ni!