This final Camino blog began in Santiago and reflected on after I returned to Ghana.
Toward the end of my time in Santiago, I began thinking about the transition back home, returning to Suzanne who I missed dearly, and to see if this journey has changed me.
- To be true to what The Camino has taught me about myself so that I might experience ministry as meaningful. Intellectually knowing what I do here has meaning and feeling that way can be two different things.
- To help Suzanne seek the life she was created to live, to change our narrative to support that, escape the decaying orbit, and to seek rehabilitation over relief from the life she definitely was not created to live.
- To be ever mindful of my intent.
- To leave the rock I left at Cruz de Ferro, and be ever mindful what carrying that rock cost me.
After receiving communion that last night, I felt a deep presence of God. I was accepted, and God indeed loved me. “But I didn’t do the Camino perfectly,” I found myself apologizing, and St. James came to mind. I looked up at his gold plated, jewel encrusted incarnation above the altar and saw Pilgrims wrapping their arms around him, their face next to his. It is a tradition that pilgrims may embrace the beloved saint, and during Mass there is an almost endless line to do so.
Around 40 AD the real St. James was praying when Mary appeared to him standing on a pillar. He was discouraged, few Iberians had received the Gospel, and he felt a failure, which is not exactly how I feel much of the time, but close enough to make the story work for me. I guess I too needed some reassurance that this walk, this offering had not been a long walk wasted, and the feeling I got was “You walked the one meant for you.”
It was just a feeling, not Mary standing on a pillar talking to me like when she assured the beloved Saint people would eventually accept the gospel, and their faith would become as strong as the pillar she stood on. My offering was acceptable, I had not made this pilgrimage in vain, but I do wonder if something was lost in translation, because while the story of Santa Maria del Pilar has great meaning here in Spain (there is a whole Pineterest site devoted to this story), the statue of Our Lady standing on the pillar seems silly and a bit undignified to me.
Was I the only one I wondered? Did other pilgrims struggle with their worthiness? Does the need to make the right pilgrimage, or do it perfectly outweigh the sheer act of doing it? “How quiet the sound of the forest would be,” I heard a pilgrim say one morning, “if only the best bird sang.” The early morning’s mist of the Camino was accompanied by the sound of singing birds.
Perfection is overrated when compared to intent, I decide but just be sure I stand in line to embrace the saint. I had walked behind him once before, but this time I decided to give him a good hug from behind. As I should have expected, St. James was cold and lifeless, and I felt nothing in doing this, but because so many had found meaning in his embrace, I thought, why not.
Before leaving Santiago, I applied for a Compostela, or certificate showing I had walked The Way, in case anyone doubted. This document, introduced in the 13c by the Roman Catholic Church, certifies that Pilgrims have paid their penance; repented of their sins, and would be received into Heaven by showing St. Peter their Compostela. That is a lot of work for a single piece of paper. There is a long line because the each Pilgrim’s credentials had to be checked before receiving their Compostela. While waiting I ran into John, whom I had last seen on the long climb up to O Cebreiro. When we had walked together when told me:
“Steve, the Camino is just a physical manifestation of your spiritual journey.”
I took what John said to mean this back pain was a physical manifestation of my spiritual pain, or my soul was expressing itself in a backache. A few hours of meditating on his wisdom, and receiving some relief, I was not sure John had actually existed. I convinced myself he has been a physical manifestation of The Camino, sent to help me. But now, standing in line I hear someone behind me say “Hey there Ghana,” and notice John right behind (he is actually in the picture above, I just didn’t realize it when I took it).
“John, you actually exist!” I said and told him the story of how helpful his words had been, and how later I wasn’t so sure he actually existed. John had come and gone so fast. He introduced me to his wife and family, and we talked for a few minutes before I was called in to examine my credentials. “Wait a minute,” I said reaching over to pinch his arm. “Ok, you really do exist.” His family laughed because he was already too real to them.
I spend 17 years thinking about, planning and packing for this Camino, and joined it without expectation, open to whatever The Camino wanted me to experience. “Every moment is relative and a worthwhile one; just have faith it is enough,” Simon told me channeling the saint. It was something his mentor had instilled in him, and he had spoken to me in the same paragraph as the words Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Simon was telling me about his mentor who had come to evaluate the work of his former life with KPIs. What was funny about Simon saying the word KPIs is I had been silently praying for some sign that this exchange was real and relevant, and then out of the blue Simon starts talking about KPIs, something our institution is big on and even I couldn’t miss that out of the blue reference. It was like God’s Holy Spirit was saying “Listen up Steve…this is important.” KPIs – Ok God, you have my attention.
“Every moment is relative and a worthwhile one; just have faith that it is enough.”
I feel this is my final lesson of the Camino, to see ministry in Ghana as a function of presence, and to just to have faith that presence is enough. I think Woody Allen said the same “90% of life is just showing up.” The trouble for me is just showing up is not quantifiable, that and me lacking, “to have faith that it is enough.”
I’ve been back in Ghana now for almost three weeks and I’m happy to report that Suzanne and I are both in a much better place. The Camino was good for us and both of us are making an effort to apply the lessons learned from Santiago. As Sister Lois said in the benediction of the English Mass in the Cathedral,
“Now your real Camino begins,” (when you go home)
So on this now real Camino I return remembering:
- the beauty of the Spanish landscape, churches, food, and people
- the challenge of that journey, physically, mentally, and spiritually
- the comradery of the Camino, the people I walked with for an hour or several days and the intimacy a shared in a journey of seekers.
- the connection with The Camino (God) and the amazing things I came to witness
- the dear friends who followed along with this Camino, praying for me, reading this blog, and encouraging me by leaving comments, sending emails, or checking in with Suzanne. I thank you for joining me in this journey.
I know I didn’t do it perfectly and knowing that makes me want to have another go of it. Next time to be more intentional about the landscape I am passing through and capturing the contact details of those I was walking with. But I don’t have to wait to start those practices, I can begin what I learned on The Way to Santiago.
“As you walked the Camino, so shall you walk in life.”