Musings of a Modern Pilgrim
Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light to my path…Psalm 118:105 NIV
“And what’s your reason for walking the Camino?”
The pilgrim slackened his pace to match mine. My glance revealed a tall, dark-complexioned man whose backpack included a dog riding on top.
That question has been asked and answered for twelve centuries. Early pilgrims walked the many trails all leading to Santiago de Compestela in Spain, as a penance, some for healing, others hoping to experience a miracle upon kissing the tomb of St. James the Apostle.
Those were none of my reasons. “Walking two hundred and fifty kilometers at my age seemed a reasonable challenge,” I replied having not given serious thought to other reasons.
“Buen Comino,” he called and resumed his more rapid pace.
We had left Porto, Portugal that morning, eight members of my family, the first day of our intended journey. I had read the history of the Apostle James arriving on the coast of Spain shortly after the resurrection of his leader and His commission to go to the entire world with the good news. James’ stay in Western Spain was short before returning to Jerusalem where he became the first Apostle to be martyred in 44 CE.
But these were not my thoughts that blue-sky morning. I was reveling in the moist salty air, impressed by the power of the waves crashing on the rocks, amazed at the coastal fortresses constructed by the Romans or early Portuguese. Then that fellow pilgrim's question set me to ponder, could there be more to this walk than a challenge of endurance?
The cobalt blue of the ocean stretched to the western horizon. A huge wave thundered on shore casting spray high over the beach. It shook the path we walked on, prompting my memory. A psalmist wrote, “God claims the earth and everything in it… He built it on ocean foundations, laid it out on river girders.”(Psm.24:1-2 NIV) I had been aware of the power and beauty around me, now I felt the power of God in its making.
By noon we had reached another crumbling fortress. The massive stone structure, once security to guarding sentries, now lay in ruin. The Mighty Roman Empire could never have imagined this finality. So many great empires, Spanish, Ottoman, British, had once dominated the globe, now gone, with only crumbled ruins left behind. I took my phone from my pocket, opened the Bible App. Yes, there in the book of Daniel; “But throughout the histories of these kingdoms the God of heaven will be building a kingdom never to be destroyed.”(Daniel 2:44 NIV) Oh, and what did Jesus declare at the beginning of his ministry, “Repent. The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 4:17 ESV Ah, the kingdom of God, everlasting, is a kingdom of character not country, eternal in its nature.
We came upon a beach strewn with potato size stones, smooth as marbles having been tumbled by waves for millenniums. Several pilgrims were selecting stones. “Why?” My face must have asked the question.
“It’s a Camino tradition to select a stone,” one volunteered, “squeeze into it a regret, confession or a prayer; carry it with you for a day, put it down, and in so doing release regret, accept forgiveness, or welcome your prayer as being heard.”
I was well aware I had access to God. The stone was a nice reminder of the privilege. I made my selection and squeezed in my prayer.
The Camino trail took us onto the shoulder of highway N13 for five km. The September sunshine provided heat, the narrow shoulder a challenge, and the brisk traffic a constant threat. Just off N13’s shoulder stood a nicely dressed woman with a small folding chair and cell phone.
What could she be possibly selling I wondered? Just a few meters further, opposite side of N13, another equally well-dressed woman and then another and another. Reality dawned; they were selling sex.
“Shameful isn’t it,” a pilgrim striding behind me mumbled.
I recalled the story of Tamar. She also sat by the side of the road waiting to be propositioned by her father-in-law, Judah, (Genesis 38). The offspring of that union became part of the lineage of Jesus. There was Rahad (Joshua 2) and the ‘sinful woman, who came to wash Jesus’ feet with tears, wiped them with her hair, and anointed them with oil. (Luke 7:36-50) All three were offered forgiveness.
That evening I again turned to my telephone for some research: average age to enter prostitution 13.5 years; 85 percent experienced sexual abuse in childhood; 72 percent currently or formerly homeless; a mortality rate 40 times higher than average; high suicide rates: seventy percent attempts and fifteen percent completed. Shameful isn’t it that due to past abuse they feel no other option and become stigmatized by society.!
I was happy to know my God loves and welcomes them. “By an act of faith, Rahab, the Jericho harlot, welcomed the spies and escaped the destruction that came on those who refused to trust God.” (Hebrews 11:31 MSG)
We walked under grape arbors. The rope-like vines, fingering out to hold the clutches of grapes, trailed across the supporting wires “I am the vine, you are the branches (John 15:5 NIV) Jesus, my source of Spirit energy, I am the fruit.
Maria, a single, retired woman, welcomed us to her B&B, meeting us at the entrance to her street. Weary from a 23km walk, we were shown to delightfully comfortable rooms and invited to give to her our clothes needing washing. The next morning our, clothes were washed, dried, and folded, and after a healthy, complimentary breakfast, we were sent away with small jars of home-prepared jams. The words of Job, “I have opened my doors to strangers:” (Job 31:32) and those of Matthew, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me;” (Matt.25:35) seemed fitting for Maria Antonia.
Day ten we arrived in the courtyard of Santiago’s Cathedral. Hundreds of pilgrims mingled celebrating their arrival. As I strolled amongst the fellow pilgrims, I met again the dark-complexioned man with the dog still on his backpack. “Well, I see you made it old man!” he greeted me with a big smile.
“Indeed I did,” I replied, “and I met God several times on the Camino trail.”
“Oh. Buen Comino!” His smile widened and he raised his hand for a ‘hi-five.’