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.
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In this fourth reflection after my Camino pilgrimage, I will share some of my thoughts on the Church and its challenges. One of the hopes I had as I set off what to find some clarity on my relationship to the Church and a renewed sense of belonging. I don’t think that I found any answers, but the questions have become clearer, and bigger …
Where is the Church?
I had every intention for my journey to be a true pilgrimage, preparing myself not only practically, but also spiritually. I went to Confession beforehand, prayed for a blessing upon these two weeks and decided not to take any books apart from my Bible. Working as a school chaplain means in many ways finding yourself at the fringe of the Church community, so I felt that this pilgrimage was an opportunity to focus on my inner spiritual and religious life.
People walk the Camino for all sorts of different reasons, but for most it includes elements of searching, reflection and transition. The vast majority of people have embarked on this journey intentionally: it is not really a last-minute holiday destination. This meant that, as I already said in an earlier reflection, that encounters with others were meaningful and profound, whether people had religious intentions for their journey or not.
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The third reflection after my Camino journey is maybe particularly ironic as I am working at a school. As Santiago came closer, more people joined and the roads got busier and the group of walkers more diverse. It made me think about those times when we believe that our way is the only way.
On whose terms?
Quiet, please? was one of the headlines in the Daily Telegraph on Monday. Steve McQueen’s new installation in Tate Britain, Year 3, features over 3000 class photographs with the faces of about 76,000 children. All these children have been invited to visit the gallery to come and have a look. It will probably be a bit noisier than on an average day in the art gallery.
This was more or less what I experienced too, when on the penultimate day of my journey to Santiago, I was sharing the roads with a group of about 40 Spanish teenagers, and remarkable what seemed only one teacher. By this time I had got used to the hours with little noise and the relative isolation whilst walking. So this many people at once was a shock to my system in the first place.
Having been on enough school trips now, I was not surprised that the young people did not walk quietly two by two, but congested the paths whilst chatting, singing, smoking and vaping. Of course they had also at least one loudspeaker between three, each playing a different type of noise, which I am sure they will have called music – my initial annoyance, I am sure, is evident. How could these people disturb the last couple of days of my spiritual and religious journey? They weren’t even carrying their rucksacks, and probably hadn’t walked the hours I already had.
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This is the second of five reflections following my pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella. As I was walking, I quickly realised that I was not only part of a community of walkers, but also of a community that extended far beyond.
Behind the scenes
Even before I set off on my pilgrimage, I already felt part of a community of walkers (and cyclists): friends who had already been and were ready to give me good advice, both practical and spiritual. Walking the Camino gives you something in common very quickly.
This sense of belonging to a community was also my experience as soon as I arrived in Madrid. At the train station I met an Italian walker, who was also heading to Leon to start her journey there. We talked a little, and then made our way to our allocated carriages. I saw her again a few times in the following week. Although I did not set out to make great friends, the conversations and encounters on the way were moving and profound, whether we shared a common language or not.
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This is the first of five reflections on my pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella. During ten days over half-term, I walked from Leon to Santiago. Although it was by no means the full length of the French Way, it was long enough to make it a worthwhile experience.
Sometimes it rains
When I was thinking what to do with my two-week break during half term, I landed upon the thought of walking a stretch of the famous Camino. Having done my research, October seemed a good month to walk as the weather is generally settled and the number of pilgrims is lower than during the summer months. Without much time to train, I decided that about 20km per day would be a reasonable distance, with enough time to rest, think and pray, presumably in the late autumn sunshine.
Having waited booking my flights, trains and first night’s stay until after the start of term, this became a rushed job between lessons and other activities, so it was not until a couple of weeks before I started that I realised that my starting point should have been Ponferrada, not Leon. Well, 315km is not that much further than 200km!
Continue reading “Sometimes it rains” →