Camino Day 13
“Well, how is it?” A friend messaged me. I read her message after arriving in Burgos, at the end of a three day heat wave, with temps in the 90s and the humidity just enough to make itself known. Today was supposed to be the hottest of these three days though, mercifully, it was actually the coolest, with a high of 88.
How is it? I pondered that question, while waiting for my feet to stop throbbing and my phone to charge up (I had made an inconceivable error last night in forgetting to charge phone; as a consequence no pics of today’s walk—just imagine beauty everywhere or revisit my pics from previous days or wait for tomorrow’s. You’ll get the point.)
I confess that for the past three days, this pilgrimage has been less of a mystical event- or even a glorious nature hike—and more of a desperate plodding through hot, hot days with no shade. I would stop in every little village and get something—a sparkling water or a Coke (Coke’s the real thing on the pilgrimage!) Although I carry water, of course, I was simply desperate to escape the relentless gaze of the sun for just a few moments, and so I would sit in the cool, dark bars and just give my eyes and flesh a chance to rest.
As I’ve slogged along, over these past few days, I was honestly too weary—almost defeated by the sun—to even try to reach for anything resembling profundity, although every day, as I set off on that day’s walk, I say a silent prayer to the Universe, “Show me what this day holds, help me to be open to the moment, each moment of this day, help me to see what I need to see, to hear what I need to hear, to say what I need to say, to know what I need to know.”
Merely by saying the words, my intention and attention become attuned to the day, to the signs, as I wrote about last, to living mindfully, to not becoming so inured to the beauty---the voluptuous beauty of this planet—because of its constant presence along the way.
We do that, sometimes, we humans, don’t we? We bask in the glory, the gift of a moment, and when its beauty remains, we become used to it, we take it for granted, and, in fact, if for some reason it doesn’t shine as we remember we criticize it and judge it.
This happens in virtually any situation, but nowhere is it more keen than in human relationships. We fall in love, find a new friend, land our dream job, and say, “I don’t deserve this!” In a voice filled with wonder and awe and gratitude. Then, time passes on, and we stop seeing that miracle with eyes looking for miracles, we lose our focus on the wonder and instead see the tiny cracks, and tears in the fabric, and dust that inevitably settles on even the most beautiful piece of art. Even the Mona Lisa needs dusting. And then we say, again, but in a decidedly different one, “I don’t deserve this!” And walk away.
So, in these hot, hot days, I didn’t want to lose my ability to look for miracles and I still saw the beauty and felt the wonder of this amazing Camino. Just with less enthusiasm. :)
Yesterday, I travelled from a bustling town of 2000 where supermarkets and cafes abounded to a remote inland in the mountains (not Colorado mountains, but still) that consisted of a monastery with the alburgue (hostel) and its bar/café, and the small hotel where I stayed and the dozen or less homes that attached themselves to house the 20 citizens of San Juan de Ortega. Like many villages I pass through, this one was founded especially to help the peregrin@s who passed through. It was established circa 1112 by a young man, a devout person of faith, who had gone on pilgrimages and wanted to provide a haven of safety and sanctuary for the pilgrims—particularly on this stretch of road where bandits were known to prey on the hapless travelers.
After I had arrived into town and got settled, I strolled over in the sweltering heat to visit the cathedral. I stay in hotels every night, and though they’re often close to the Camino, they are typically situated several blocks (or miles) away and so I haven’t gotten to to explore the churches as much as I’d like. Also, every night, typically at 6 PM, there is a Pilgrim’s Mass at the church in the center of the Camino cluster in each town. I had never been to one, due to logistics, until last night.
When I visited the church earlier in the day, I was struck by how cool it was—at least 25-30 degrees cooler than outside where 91 was reigning triumphantly. There were even blankets for those who wanted to sit and meditate. The tomb of San Juan de Ortega was there, on one side, and on the other, beautiful artwork and an altar, all of it from the 12th-13th c. On both sides there were candles for sale for folks to buy and light before the altar. I didn’t have any coins with me, but knew I would come do that following the Mass.
At the appointed hour, I entered the church and was excited to see that the main sanctuary—which had a locked gate barring people from entering earlier—had been opened and that’s where the Mass was to be held. I picked up an English/Spanish order of service so I could follow along.
As the priest began the introductory rivets and led us in the Kryie Elieson, I felt my throat constrict as I thought of the unending line of pilgrims from the beginning of the 12th c and on who found safe haven within this massive edifice. I thought of the different reasons pilgrims walked this path; looking around at the 15 or so of us gathered in that sacred space, from so many different nations and faiths, I thought of what brought each of us on this Way, to that moment, in that Communion of Saints.
We had two scriptures from the Christian scriptures and a Psalm from the Hebrew sacred texts. I knew all of them well and marveled at what a wonderful choice for this service. The first reading was from 1 Corinthians 13—the love chapter.
“Aunque hablara las lenguas de los hombres y de Los Angeles, si no ten go cardiac, soy como bronce que suena o cimbalo que retine,” the priest began.
I followed along on the English side: If I speak in the tongues of [humans] or angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong, or a clanging cymbal.”
As he read Psalm 27 next, followed by Acts 4:43-37 there were responsive readings which we all murmured in Spanish.
I felt verklempt in the presence of the holy. Not the presence of a certain God and definitely not the speaking of a certain creed, but rather in the presence of the holy people gathered there, each of us on a pilgrimage, each of us taking our place in the lineage of peregrin@s who have stood in that place before and will stand there long after I am gone.
I thought of how it really does take a village—or villages, actually; we each need someone to prepare a place for us, as Juan de Ortega did all those years ago. We each need to prepare room for others who will come to our doorsteps in one form or another, seeking shelter, safety, sanctuary.
In the spirit of this communion of saints, this Community of Strangers, Friends, Loved Ones, I stood up and went forward to receive the communion wafer the priest offered. I’m sure he has no illusions that everyone who comes forward in this mass has his same beliefs, or the beliefs of the Catholic Church—even those who consider themselves Catholic. But I do believe he also understood that we do share a communion as saints in our pilgrimage.
Following the service, he invited us over for a special Pilgrim’s blessing where he invoked blessing and protection, peace and well-being upon us on our pilgrim’s journey. Then he gave each of us a necklace with the cross of San Juan as a gift. It’s a simple cross on a cord and not expensive but I bent my neck and took my gratefully. From the old man in Pamplona, to the flowers and trees and path, to my family and loved ones who cheer me on and pray for me and do long distance Reiki for my feet and well-being, or tonglen meditations, to this priest, I’ll take all the blessings I can get.
Afterward, I went to the altar on the other side of the sanctuary and took three candles for the 50 cent suggested donations. I lit one for my friend who is on her own pilgrimage, as she walks with metastatic breast cancer, down the unseen road where that will lead; I lit a candle for my relationship and for all those whom I love, and I lit a candle for my own Camino, my own pilgrimage.
Today I went from a community of 20 to the much bigger city of Burgos, with a population of 180,000, and tomorrow, my resting place will have 70 citizens there. I realized though, that even larger cities can be just a patchwork quilt of smaller neighborhoods, smaller communities, threaded together with roads and stop lights and strip malls. This Communion of Saints isn’t dependent on the size of the community-or even upon having commonly held beliefs. It does require love, though, otherwise it’s just a bunch of people making a bunch of noise—like gongs or cymbals—disturbing the Peace.
“Well, how is it?” My friend asked.
“Amazing in parts,” I told her. “And really hot and just slogging along in others.”
Which I guess is life, after all. Still, beauty awaits, and holiness, and mystery.