VALVERDE DE LA VIRGEN – I left Leon determined to find another Way, and ran into things I didn’t expect.
- A new church building of a living church. This church building was completed in 2003, which compared to all the 12-15c church buildings I’ve walked through, is remarkable, and the building is open, and it is clearly a living church, with a staff and everything. Thank God.
- A statute of St. James, Moor Slayer; or Santiago Matamoras. To the left of the Altar of this historic church building (read: dead church) is St. James, on a horse, holding a sword, with the bodies of slain Muslims among the hooves. It makes my heart ache, that this beloved Saint, who lived 600 years before The Prophet (blessed be his name) has been associated with the massacres that happened in Spain. I knew this was coming, but still it’s a shock to actually see the first of, I’m sure, many.
Finding a different way worked out to be two days of walking alongside a busy highway, an unpleasant slog. I stopped at a delightful family run Alburgue that just opened last year. I thought I had noticed a trend that the closer I got to Santiago, the nicer the Alburgues; and the more institutional the food. Not a gram or ounce of love. Turns out it was more a factor of my traveling companions preference than distance to Santiago. I will really miss our conversations, but not their preferences in this regard.
The Marys were good walking companions, each from stable, long-term marriages. The people I walk with for more than an hour usually fit this profile. It is like we understand each other, and are safe, and won’t do anything stupid to mess that up.
At the family run Alburgue, I meet Helena, who is a sort of legend on the Caminos. She is a monster of the trails but has sausage feet. She has hooked up with a 61-year-old Aussie business woman, and another. The three left a week after I did, from a place three days before where I left, and plan to be in Santiago five days before me. They are monsters of the trail, traveling 30-40-50km each day. They shame me.
Waiting for dinner, the Aussie and I share stories, and she asks what I miss, instead of the usual set of questions (where from, where start, where stay tomorrow, what do off The Camino…). I know I’m culturally obligated to say Suzanne, but I really do miss her a lot, and talking by phone, that only makes it worse. What else do you miss? She asks, and I got nothing. I ask her the same question, and she says nothing too. We talk about things we miss in Ghana, it used to be bacon, but the supply chain has figured that out, or coffee, but our friends supply plenty when we’re back, so I say corn chips, and tell her how we fill our checked luggage with bags of them once the weight allowance has been nearly met.
To miss nothing for this ambitious, competitive owner of two businesses, is a surprise. She confesses she came on Camino to find some meaning to her existence. Though she is successful, has great kids she loves, she is single, and thinks there must be more to life.
“The Camino,” I ask, “what has she taught you?”
“Nothing,” she says. I’ve heard nothing, and I ask about her journey so far.
Initially I thought the Camino was a largely secular activity, but that observation was premature, made from the lack of religious language I heard people use to describe their experience. What I am beginning to understand is that this is a spiritual experience, but the language people use to describe it is non-religious. Pilgrims see themselves as deeply spiritual people, but not religious, or even people of faith.
Suppose being spiritual is like sitting in a car. Being religious is doing the maintenance on the car, changing its oil, filling it with fuel, and keeping the tires to pressure. But faith is taking that car out for a drive. I think my fellow pilgrims are deeply spiritual people who are on a journey of faith, even if they don’t see it that way. Non-religious, I get that, but they are taking their faith out for a spin, one that happens to be 500 miles long.
It is like traditional religious words have been replaced with a more safe Camino specific language. In the family run Alburgue, I heard their daughter say “I listen for the voice of the Camino, she will tell me when to go.” She has done eight Caminos since age 17 and wondering when her next will be. I think she is saying she listens for (traditionally) God, the Creator, or The Camino to speak into her life, and then responds. But to say she heard from The LORD, or God is so overloaded/charged with other meanings, it feels unsafe, and perhaps a little crazy.
“Do you think the speed of your journey might have something to do with your ability to hear anything from The Camino?” I ask tentatively, and she goes into how competitive she is, and driven, and the idea of not arriving first, of not getting a bottom bunk, or some other things would not be acceptable.
Then she says “I don’t know why I’m even on this thing?”
I can relate. Not to why I joined the Camino, but my part of the work that brought us to Ghana. I know I’m doing good, meaningful work. I see the affect of the relationships I’ve built with students, and even some faculty, but something is missing.
“So why are you on Camino?” She asks. I deflect, “that is a complex question, but mostly,” I say, “because God and I have some things to work out, and I know it’s mostly me who has the working out to do,…not God.”
The next day I have another 25km slog along a busy highway. I stop at a truck stop and have the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had, and I have another, and suddenly it’s a good day. In Astorga I check into a Buddhist kind of hippy Alburgue that offers Yoga and is vegetarian. I meet some Texans from Stephenville. For the rest of the night we tell Texas jokes, and have a grand time teaching the others (German, Brazilian, English, Spanish…) about the Great Lone Star State.
Wherever two or more Texan are gathered, they shall talk about all things Texas. I like this new Way.