The days pass so quickly and I have realised that it is a month since we left from Heathrow to begin our pilgrimage along the Camino. In some ways, as always when you have been away, it seems a long time ago, in other ways it seems but yesterday. However, as someone said to me the other day, they are still trying to process the kaleidoscope of memories and experiences of being on pilgrimage along the Way. It was a rich period; a significant journey for each of us.
I think I said at various times on the pilgrimage and wrote on this blog, that pilgrimage is a motif for the Christian life. It is all journey and that is something which links us back with the experience of those, mothers and fathers of the faith, who set out on the journey before us.
Hebrews 11 has always been an important chapter to me in that amazing letter, as the author explores what we mean by ‘faith’ and looking at how faith has been revealed in the lives of the heroes of the faith. It is in verse 8 that the writer hints towards the notion of pilgrimage
‘By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going.’
The normal experience of pilgrimage is certainly not of travelling not knowing where you are going, but there is a feeling that, like Abraham, we travel in response to God and certainly to a sacred destination and this is very much the case with Santiago.
Matthew Hall sent me two pictures of significant moments for him. The first is of one of the roadside markers. What is interesting is the pile of stones that have been left on it. We were told that pilgrims often leave a stone, representing their prayers, their presence on the journey. In the 2010 film ‘The Way’ all about travelling the Camino, we see Martin Sheen, playing Thomas Avery, leaving handfuls of the ashes of his son, Daniel, played by Emilio Estevez, who had died walking the Way, at significant places. The signposts, like the Iron Cross that we visited, are those significant markers on the road.
I must ask myself, what are the significant markers on my own journey, my own pilgrimage.
A favourite poet of mine is R S Thomas. In his poem ‘The Bright Field’ he hints towards this idea of markers on the way
I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.
Stopping at the significant places, leaving a prayer, even an invisible marker in the place where we encounter the divine being, is something that will help us trace the journey.
The Babes in the Wood left a trail of bread crumbs to mark their route – the birds ate them up; Theseus left a cord to help him back out of the Minotaur’s lair, but we leave other things on the markers on our own way,
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past
but simply tracing the journey we have made.
Matthew’s other picture is simple of a lovely view. We had arrived on the Feast of Corpus Christi at the Sanctuary of Santa Maria de O Cebreiro which is looked after by Franciscan brothers. Opposite the church we sat looking at this fantastic view across the hills and valleys. It is a reminder of the pure beauty of this part of Spain. But Matthew also was impressed, as were we all, by the kindness and generosity of the people.
We were conscious of the terrible economic situation in Spain and the effects on the lives of ordinary people. In some places through which we drove we saw crosses alongside the roadside and on the roundabouts. We were told that this was a way for ordinary people to make it clear just how many jobs and businesses had been lost. It was sobbering to see – and then to exprience the kindness and geunine hospitality along the way.
In St Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says
‘Whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.’ (Matthew 10.42)
As we we were walking one day we came across this stall. A local person had set it up. You could take what you wanted and just leave a gift in an honesty box. It was a lovely, generous gesture.
I began by saying that pilgrimage is a way of life – and on that journey we mark the significant places and we receive the hospitality of others and share with them what we have. Each of us continues the journey.
whose Son Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life:
grant us to walk in his way,
to rejoice in his truth,
and to share his risen life;
who is alive and reigns, now and for ever.