This fifth reflection concludes the short series of thoughts on my Camino journey. Those who have read the other pieces will recognise some of the themes. What I realised is that I was looking in the wrong place, and that my journey away needs to become a journey home. I am pleased to say that it was Augustine who set me on the right path!
The day I arrived in Santiago was a beautiful day. A clear start with the moon giving enough light to discern my shadow, but still giving the opportunity to see hundreds of stars against their black backdrop. It made for a beautiful sunrise too, and by the time I reached the cathedral square, the sun had gained enough strength to enjoy a few moments to sit down and enjoy the busyness of pilgrims arriving to their destination.
However, as soon as I arrived, I also knew that this was not, and would never have been, my final destination. A small part of me had hoped to receive a revelation that would put everything in place, that would possibly change me forever, but I knew deep down that this was not what I was looking for. Before I set off, jokingly I said to a colleague: “I may come back a different person”. His reply was: “I hope not”. It was precisely this truth that I needed to discover, but it was only the journey that had made me realise that I wanted to know what I already knew, and was looking for that which I already have.
The story of the Prodigal Son came to mind, but I could not quite make it work: where was home, and where was the country to which I had travelled? And who would be the Father figure, as I never had the sense I had left God, or that He left me. It was with those thoughts that I picked up the latest book I bought: On the Road with Saint Augustine by James K.A. Smith. In this quote taken from Augustine’s Confessions, I found exactly what I had tried to articulate myself:
One does not go far away from you or return to you by walking or by any movement through space. The younger son in your Gospel did not look for horses or carriages or ships; he did not fly on any visible wing, nor did he travel along the way by moving his legs when he went to live in a far country. […] I left myself and couldn’t find me. I turned myself into a famished land I have to live in.
What I had to realise it that I need to welcome myself. Indeed, that instead of looking to become a ‘changed’ person, I have to learn to embrace the person that I am, with all my gifts and faults. That is the home-coming I am looking for, and the restlessness I experience. Augustine also realised that this home-coming can never be fully achieved in this life, and trying to do so will only frustrate us. It is also something we cannot do ourselves: our home-coming is not a finding, but a being found.
And so, at the end of my journey along the ancient pilgrim route, the different narratives came together. The words of Psalm 139 that had accompanied me along the way If I take the wings of the morning, and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast’; the people I had met; the hospitality I had enjoyed; the questions that had challenged me. They all pointed in the same direction: it’s not about making a journey away, but a journey home; not looking for happiness through change, but in a willingness to be found.
Oh, the twisted roads I walked! But look, you’re here, freeing us from our unhappy wandering, settings us firmly on your track, comforting us and saying, ‘Run the race! I’ll carry you! I’ll carry you clear to the end, end even at the end, I’ll carry you!’
Having finished this stage of the road and having begun the next, I have been reassured by knowing that I am not the first, and will certainly be not the last to make this journey. We are all fellow-pilgrims on the road.