Happy Independence Day! May it be truly a day where we recognize our freedoms in life and not take them for granted. Freedom isn't received. Freedom is lived and exercised daily. And it goes hand in hand with a feeling of gratitude for what we have, compared to what we could otherwise have to endure. It's taken two months in the making, but I've come to understand this in a much deeper way than I expected.
I left the front door of my home 54 days ago, backpack strapped on loosely. I said goodbye to Stephen as I walked to the Gold Line light rail, first of several travel segments that eventually landed me in Paris.
After dropping things off at a B&B, I took a train to Chartres, where the ancient labyrinth represents pilgrimage for those who cannot take a journey in person. That night in Paris, I also visited the Tower of Saint Jacques, the starting point for those walking from Paris to Santiago de Compostela (Saint Jacques is the French name for Santiago or Saint James). The next day, to open my eyes to new ways of seeing things, I visited Giverny, where Monet painted his waterlilies and through Impressionism gave us new ways to see light. Then I went to Lourdes for several days of healing, for myself, for others, and in the company of thousands.
And then my walking began. Through all that time, I met those who I now view as angels or messengers of God, those who made me laugh, cry, and even scream in pain. And after a month, I in León met Stephen once again. I missed my husband dearly, and he promptly accompanied me to Urgent Care so that I could attend to blisters that wouldn't heal or may have gotten infected.
Friends, new and old, walked beside me along the dirt, the mud, the rocks of the Camino de Santiago. Friends, those I've met and those I haven't, walked beside me over the fissures, the blockages, the blisters of my heart. I feel I've learned much.
But most important, I feel that I've begun the process of cementing the lessons of this Camino into a place in my life. Many of the lessons learned here were made known to me on my prior pilgrimage in 2014. And yet I was surprised to relearn them. And yet I had to be made aware yet again. And yet my dependence on God, on others, and on God in others needed to jar my consciousness into alertness and wakefulness.
And yet I know I will continue to need my reminders for the rest of my life. Because just as my journey didn't end in Santiago, nor did it end in Finisterre, nor other places visited, my need for an alarm clock to consciousness doesn't go away. I must still expect to wake up every day, wake up to an alertness of what can be and will be the journey of a lifetime.
Let me recount some things that happened during the week between my last blog (just prior to entering Santiago de Compostela) and this morning, as I fly home.
We arrived in Santiago de Compostela after a quick and mostly easy final walk. We ran into Grant and Astrida at the Pilgrim's statue at Monte de Gozo. As we walked into the city, I wasn't moved to tears as I was the first time. This puzzled me, as I realized that according to my walking app, I had walked 1087 km since leaving my front door. Why wasn't I tearful?
I think I it was mostly because I didn't feel alone this time. I knew God was accompanying me and that the prayers of so many people, both at home and beside me, were with me. I felt like I was marking a step, a milestone, rather than crossing a finishing line. It was part of, not the end of, my journey.
In Santiago, I greeted so many who walked with me on this trip. Thore, my German angel who gave me confidence on my frightful day over the Pyreness and walked with me towards Pamplona, crossed paths with me multiple times including on his walk out of town to Finisterre. Annamaria from Hungary shrieked as she saw me, as we had not seen each other since Burgos. She fussed over Stephen and noted the similarities of their eyes. Rob and Joey found us as we lunched. So did Grant and Astrida. The four of them sat near us at the Pilgrim's mass that evening and we all watched the enormous Botafumeiro as it spread incense throughout the Cathedral. And Peggy showed up as well, which was quite welcome because we thought she had pressed ahead. We found Dennis and we congratulated him on finishing his pilgrimage. And I caught up with a group of Texas A&M students whom I thought went ahead of me after Santo Domingo.
During dinner we found Nancy from All Saints Pasadena. We already had an unplanned meeting at Cruz de Ferro and we were able to have dinner together in Santiago de Compostela before she left for home.
We did some tourism around the city. We were thrilled when we found not just a Taizé worship service, but that it was in the chapel of the new Pilgrim's Offices. What a gift to those needing spirituality, music, and prayer as they arrived!
We left for Muxía. The winds were mighty and after Sunday mass, we found the area they filmed the final scenes of The Way. We spread some of (Stephen's brother) Tim's ashes. We continued to Finisterre, the end of the world, and after walking to the ocean, left more of Tim there. He loved the beach and thought the daily sunset views would be a fitting place for him. I sat at the beach for some time, watching the waves, scavenging for seashells, letting the cool waters lap at my legs.
It occurred to me that it was a sort of complement to the immersion in the healing waters of Lourdes when I began my walk, book ending my Camino with baptismal water. After that swim, we dined and then watched the sun set. The Romans and ancients worshipped here to pray that as the sun set on the western frontier of Europe, it would once again return the next day. It was a fearful prayer for them. I prayed that, knowing the sun would return, the day was a good one and that the rest of night would bring a revitalized life, one full of love and reconciliation, on the next day.
Before we left Finisterre, we chatted at breakfast with a Jennifer Clampett from South Africa. Small worlds again showed up, as she and her husband Jeremy knew of the Rev. Wilma Jakobsen, a former priest at All Saints and the person who introduced me to Taizé.
We drove all day to San Sebastián, with a refreshing stop in Gijón. There we found pilgrims walking on the Northern route. We loved our stay in San Sebastián, which is the starting point of the Northern route, and spent an entire day simply touring the Castillo, resting at the beach, eating enormous quantities of pinchos, and leaving the last of Tim's ashes in a beach area we were sure he'd love. Our AirBnB host opened his home and heart to us, talking our ears off and sharing his city's vibrancy and history.
We did a day trip to Saint Jean Pied-de-Port, Pamplona, Alto Del Perdón, and Borja. The first three felt wildly odd to me, as I walked through those places weeks ago. It made me think that we never pass through a place once. We may return. And it will look different with a new light of day. The fears and tears were dulled by the sterility of a car ride, but I know they affected me deeply.
We drove quite a bit out of the way to Borja because I wanted to see the failed restoration of an Ecce Homo fresco that made news the world over four years ago. It struck me that the town, discovering a sudden new source of income from tourism, was being revitalized because of the ridiculous situation. But they didn't lament it. The monastery actually embraced it and helped folks laugh at the situation. And I was touched by this. Here's a woman who sincerely wanted to help (there were photos of her wedding and first communion with the fresco in the background) but couldn't and made things worse. I thought that sometimes God gives us trials that we could lament, or we could embrace, grow, even profit from, if we just accept them. I'm still chewing on this. I think I was called to this 3 hour detour to find some lessons.
We proceeded to Bilbao to see the amazing Guggenheim museum and then to Burgos. There Stephen saw where I rested and we enjoyed the lively small city. During dinner at a Chinese restaurant, for I craved something that tasted more like home cooking after all this time, we met Jennifer and Katie, who were in the midst of their Camino. It underscored for me the feeling that ours is a shared pilgrimage, and though we are at different points, starting and stopping at different times, we walk the same paths, just differently. Our journeys intersect at different stages and we can be frustrated by that or we can embrace it.
Then, with a short pit stop in Segovia to see the 2000 year old massive aqueduct, we continued to Toledo, the one time capital of Spain. We went from 75F to 100F. Though the city sizzled, the history was no less profound. The city was once home to a lively, interdependent multi-faith population. There are Jewish and Muslim references in the architecture of every older Christian structure, including the Cathedral. We visited a couple convents that were once synagogues, and the El Transito Jewish museum which was once a majestic synagogue. We also saw a tremendous amount of El Greco works, as the artist spent much of his life in Toledo.
And on the eve of my birthday, I rode a zip line over the river gorge, beside the ancient Saint Martin bridge, originally Roman, and Muslim, then Christian. I'm normally fearful of heights but on that day, at the end of the Camino, I felt free. I was grateful that I could enjoy the exhilaration without paralyzing fear.
We spent the last two days in Madrid. Upon coming into the city, we realized that our central hotel by the Puerto Del Sol (the Madrid Time Square) was adjacent to a huge stage and that within a few hours, we would be able to catch their Gay Pride parade. As it turns out, the Madrid pride parade and festival is the largest annual public event in all of Europe by far, with some two million attending. It seemed every bit as busy as anything I've seen and we in Pasadena have upwards of a million celebrate New Year's Day at the Rose Parade. It seemed as though every business in the city was showing off their rainbow flags. It was liberating, intoxicating, empowering. The number of straight folks celebrating was astonishing. Love wins when people are allowed to live truthfully, lovingly, faithfully. Gratitude filled the air for this freedom from fear. And this wasn't a Madrid only phenomenon. We saw rainbow flags at many business and public buildings throughout the country.
The next day, before we wrapped up with a birthday visit to the Cathedral, we spent the day at the impressive Prado museum. Excitingly, they were featuring an exhibition on Heronimous Bosch (or El Bosco), to celebrate him on the 500th anniversary of his death. I've always loved his artwork, as I do El Greco, in spite of his interesting morality in his paintings. He seems to portray good as the absence of temptation rather than as a positive force. This doesn't sit well with me. It works for a model of disease or engineering, but it provides little explanation of the benefits of goodness. It's a punishment only model and that's not the image of God that moves my heart.
Lastly, today we return home, on the Fourth of July, celebrating the birth of American freedom from colonialism (though not remembering that we too have become colonizers despite our former status as the colonized).
What marks this period of reflection and 2100km of driving around the country? What did it say about my Camino?
I realize that it spoke of freedom. Pilgrimage frees us from the restrictions and confines of daily life, of the self-constructed jails that limit our exploration, reflection, and loving veneration. Our daily lives have too many obstacles to prayer, to community, to real love. Until we shake these off, we forget what's possible. A successful Camino is a revelation of life's potential. It gives us an opportunity to be grateful for what we have.
And it can't be reduced to a single focus point, a tiny laser beam of a spotlight that says "Here! Here's where life is different." Just as Independence Day marked an anniversary of a start but was still to be earned - is still being earned - so to does the end of a Camino.
So though we picked up our Compostela (certificates) showing that we completed our walks, I know that it's just a marker, a document with a date of celebration, a moment of thankfulness. The journey never ended, but continues tomorrow. The pride parade doesn't mean homophobia and transphobia are gone, but celebrates what's happened so far and what can still happen tomorrow. The wonders of interfaith history shows that we can live in a harmonious world like was possible in the past. The rest and food found at San Sebastián, the ability to celebrate folly in Borja, the gratitude with which we connected and reconnected with friends new and existing on the path or online, these are the ways we recognize that freedom means leaving fear behind, pausing for reflection, and living in the light of love.
When Stephen's brother passed away of cancer two weeks before our wedding, we knew that his journey on earth had changed. But it gave us hope in his memory, in the spirit of healing and reconciliation, in his love, that we were able to leave his ashes on the Camino at the places he would have appreciated. His journey may continue in a realm we can't yet know, but we walked and shared in that journey as best we could.
When I connected with others online or on the Camino, it gave me deeply powerful feelings of gratitude. I was thankful that I could pray with others without embarrassment or fear. I felt free to be myself in an authentic way, talking about Stephen, my journey, my blisters. In that freedom, in the fireworks of that love, in the Christ who helps me see God in all, I felt unending thankfulness.
So, the journey ends; so, the journey continues. The light and aura of the past two months comes to a peaceful silence. It all seems so appropriate after a 54 day journey where the days flow into each other, the villages and dust molding together into a composite whole. It's been a prolonged day where we examine life in the light.
As this pilgrimage reaches this milestone, as it comes to a close for now, I offer a prayer for the coming "night". And unlike Finisterre where the ancients fearfully prayed for the return of the sun the next day, we know this night is not the end, but just a pause after one day, a pause before tomorrow.
it is night.
The night is for stillness.
Let us be still in the presence of God.
It is night after a long day.
What has been done has been done;
what has not been done has not been done;
let it be.
The night is dark.
Let our fears of the darkness of the world and of our own lives
rest in you.
The night is quiet.
Let the quietness of your peace enfold us,
all dear to us,
and all who have no peace.
The night heralds the dawn.
Let us look expectantly to a new day,
In your name we pray.
May your night give you rest, free of fear, as we give thanks for the day, and as we look forward to the coming light.