I thought I’d take this chance to tell you a little about our pilgrimage to Spain, since I’ve had some time to process and pray over the experience. And since this is my last opportunity to do so!
It was important to us to bookend the day with prayer, but it became clear very early that it was going to be challenging to find a place that was large enough and quiet enough to have our prayer meetings. On the first day as we were walking into town, one member of our group pointed to a park on the right where there was a public park with an amphitheater and said- that would be a great place to do morning prayer. And it was! But we didn’t count on two things- one: that it would be dark and that the amphitheater wouldn’t actually work for us. The second thing we didn’t count on was that someone had pitched a red tent and decided to camp in the park overnight.
I thought that if we were quiet enough we wouldn’t wake him up, but when you’re a group of 19 you’re pretty loud by definition, and we did wake him up. And I know we woke him up because all of a sudden he started pounding on the side of the tent and yelling at us pretty angrily.
Now when I was in high school, the French students all learned a bunch of bad words but we didn’t learn any in Spanish class. I did pick up one in an immersion week one summer- and the man in the red tent was using this one pretty generously.
We moved along down the park because, well, it’s hard to pray when someone is yelling curse words at you- even if you don’t understand most of them!
There’s always going to be someone like the man in the red tent. Sometimes they might be belligerent and swearing at you, and sometimes they present themselves more innocuously. And sometimes we are that person. I don’t know his story- but I do know that he claimed what is rightly public space as his own- and intended to use it for his own purposes as long as he wanted it, and then got angry when the rest of the world didn’t go along with what he decided.
Now how many of us haven’t done that before?
When Paul says ‘do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your minds,’ one of the things that he means is: don’t get attached to your own version of reality. It might not be shared by anyone else- and it may bare little resemblance to God’s dream for the world. And this can free us from the prison of our own thoughts.
You’ve probably heard the expression “it’s the journey not the destination.” It’s a little trite but there’s definitely truth behind it in the case of the Camino- though the destination is certainly not unimportant!
We had a goal each day- our lodging for the night- and our daily routines were more or less the same: pray, eat, walk, sleep. Repeat. Beyond that, we were each free to engage the journey in our own way.
And that’s essentially what Paul is encouraging his readers to do: to boldly engage their life and their faith with the gifts that God has given them- not thinking too highly of themselves OR too little of themselves. That last part is not written but it is certainly implied.
And this is a clue about how we are supposed to engage with the world. Another awful couple of weeks in the news and how are we supposed to respond to Ferguson and to the increasing violence in the middle east? How do we engage those events- or if not the events themselves, the issues underneath the events?
Maybe we don’t travel to those destinations, but even if Richmond isn’t erupting in the same way- we certainly have racism and violence in our own city. How do respond to that- given the gifts that God has given to us?
On a lighter note-
On our second day we walked out of our hotel and picked up a strange and mildly unpleasant scent in the air. We walked a long time- an hour, hour and a half when we finally got to the source of it: a manure plant. We had been down wind of it the whole time- and I thought for a moment if that could really be the source if we had been on the path that long before getting there. And then I remembered that we’d have passed it in about 5 minutes if we had been in a car.
That was the first time that it hit me.
The Camino is not particularly remote- even though it meanders through forests and small country towns, there’s a national highway that parallels it the whole time, and each day we either crossed it or walked beside it for a short distance. We took 6 days to walk a distance that we could have covered by car in 2 hours or less, and I don’t know what it was like for the rest of the group but the effect of that realization on me was to completely disorient my sense of time and space- in a good way.
The world seems so small now: we can get on a plane and travel thousands of miles in less than a day. We can see in real time things that are happening on the other side of the world. But what can be lost in that- is how big the world really is. OR- more to the point, how small we really are.
The point for me- in acknowledging how small I really am- is to remember how big and beyond me God is. In my relationship with God I tend to focus on the nearness of God- that relationship is familiar and comfortable. But that isn’t the whole picture- I need both. We all need both in our faith. What image best describes your relationship with God? Is God big and beyond? Or is God close and near? You might strengthen your faith if you developed spiritual practices where you could experience God in a different way.
Last but not least- it’s important to embrace your companions along the way with grace and compassion- and to enjoy their company. Some of them you get to choose, others you don’t- but all of them are God’s children and they’re on the same path, just trying to walk the walk.
I thank God that I got to share this part of my journey with you.