Mel's Healing Pilgrimage 2016

Links to the Camino de Santiago pilgrimages are on the navigation links to the right of the web page.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Cleansing and the Gift of Dirt

One of the enduring images to me of every Camino is the daily ritual of laundry. That's right, we wash our clothes basically every day. You see, when you carry few things in your pack, you end up having only 2 or 3 other shirts, socks, and underwear beside what you're currently wearing. You may not be carrying an additional pair of shorts or trousers, though most do.

So, after a long day of walking through fields, forests, and villages, with farm animals and pets mingling along your path, and with a day's worth of sweat on your back, you look forward to your albergue (hostel), hostal, or hotel. The first thing most people do is to shower, to rinse off that dirt and layer of allergens.

I myself bring a quick dry wash cloth to exfoliate and make sure I have the pollen off my allergy-prone skin. And it feels good to be clean after a day's walk. Real good. I can't describe how delightful a shower or -- if you're staying in a hotel -- a bath feels. And soaking the feet, tired after that long day is a special kind of bliss that borders on sensuality.

After the shower, we wash that day's clothing. If there's a laundry room or tub in the yard, we soap them up, rinse them, wring them, and hang them up to dry. If you're lucky enough to be in a place with a washer and dryer, you can wash your laundry and even share the load with others, since it isn't cost effective to wash and dry just one change of clothing. And half the time, we just rinse them in the bathroom sink, though it's best not to bring wash the mud down normal bathroom sinks. We then hang our clothes up on the laundry line or, if it's raining, on the railing of the bunk bed.

All this cleanses the body and the garments that protect this temple. We feel clean again. And our spirits are lifted, our dignity affirmed, and we're ready to sightsee the village, head to church, stop by the pharmacy, grab some food, or blog/journal.

Me? I take a quick nap before I do any of those things.

I bring this up because today is the American holiday of Labour Day. It's a day where we recognize the efforts of workers. Originally, this meant the manual workers, those who toiled with their hands, feet, and the sweat of the brow. For most of the year, except for the Sabbath or weekend, the labour force toils and this holiday recognizes their value to America.

Wouldn't it be great if we used Labour Day not as an opportunity to BBQ, but to cleanse ourselves? To physically or through our actions, wipe our brows and then help wipe the brow of others who have walked miles to put bread on the table for their family. To help each other rinse off the dirt so that we can be cleansed and stand once again in dignity.

We can do this by supporting the many who toil beside us. We can reflect on the need for policies and actions that promote the flourishing of all of our families. We can work towards an ever clearer understanding of the people affected by as well as the "big picture" of poverty. And we can look to see how we can create a labour market that supports rather than hinders any dream of social and racial equity.

One ministry that I've found powerful is Laundry Love. By giving the homeless and the working poor an opportunity to launder their clothes without cost, we offer them the chance to be clean, to present themselves and their families with dignity at work, at job interviews, and at school. We offer these families ever more self-dignity.

So, as I look forward to a few weeks where I wring out my socks and stare at the grimy water that takes the dirt off my shirt and off my face, I remain humble. Because I know that this pilgrimage is a privilege that others do not get to do.

So with this daily ritual, I get dirty and sweaty in communion with others on the journey, with others who I walk past as they toil on the farmlands, with you. Together we accept the work we must do, and look forward to the opportunity to cleanse, heal, and rest at the end of the day.

We are people on a journey
Pain is with us all the way
acudamos jubilosos a la santa communion

Somos pueblo que camina, Manuel Dávila

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