A Stranger, A Pilgrim: Liveblogging El Camino

[Update Day 1], [Update Day 2], [Update Day 3], [Update Day 4], [Update Day 5], [Update Day 6]

scallop shell symbol8 Yo te haré saber y te enseñaré el camino en que debes andar;
te aconsejaré con mis ojos puestos en ti.

9 No seas como el caballo o como el mulo, que no tienen entendimiento;
cuyos arreos incluyen brida y freno para sujetarlos,
porque si no, no se acercan a ti

10 Muchos son los dolores del impío,
pero al que confía en el SEÑOR, la misericordia lo
rodeará.

11 Alegraos en el SEÑOR y rogocijaos, justos;
dad voces de júbilo, todos los rectos de corazón.

- Salmos 32:8-11

Madrid, March 30, 2013john f.: A motley crew of Mormons walking The Way of St. James might seem strangers on the Camino indeed. This will not be the first time that Jordan and I have raised eyebrows as Mormons in a culturally non-Mormon setting. Nearly fifteen years ago we studied Yiddish together in Vilnius — many of our fellow students young and old, I recall, found it very amusing that a couple of Mormon brothers were among them.

Peregrino soy en la tierra, no escondas de mi tus mandamientos (Salmos 119:19)

Detail of stained glass depicting St. James the Greater with his pilgrim hat, staff, and scallop shells. From Rouen, Normandy, c.1270, source: http://www.sacred-destinations.com/france/paris-cluny-museum-photos/slides/xti_9012c

Detail of stained glass depicting St. James the Greater with his pilgrim hat, staff, and scallop shells. From Rouen, Normandy, c.1270, source: http://www.sacred-destinations.com/france/paris-cluny-museum-photos/slides/xti_9012c

Pondering the Camino on Good Friday turns my mind to the poor wayfaring stranger, the original Christian man. In Spanish, though, a pilgrim is also a stranger (“peregrino”). The Only Begotten Son of God appeared as the Good Samaritan in his own story about the fallen man beaten down by the world and left for dead on The Way. Mysteriously (like the Atonement), the Son of Man, being one of us, is also the man who fell among the robbers: what have we done to him in our dealings “with the least of these”?[1] Have we added insult to injury, contributing our own puny blows to those he has already suffered from a force more powerful? Too often I have.

A fundamental element of the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela is the giving of alms. The tradition is one of free giving — no strings attached, no “teaching him how to fish” rather than giving him a fish. Will we Mormons with our strong, perhaps overriding, cultural conditioning for the former (curiously in spite of King Benjamin’s injunction to the contrary, admonishing us to give liberally, in Mosiah 4:16) be able to do the latter? My track record on this is admittedly spotty at best — perhaps this will be an opportunity to let go and give for the sake of giving, helping simply because help is asked for. Has this commandment become hidden among our contextually specific political imperatives as a culture?

Quebrantada está mi alma anhelando tus ordenanzas en todo tiempo. (Salmos 119:20)

Can contact with the rich history of this pilgrimage help break me out of such a culturally determined paradigm of middle class judgmental expectations? I suspect this is a strong possibility: Christian pilgrims embarking on the Camino for more than a millennium have sought the same healing grace — oil and wine freely given from the Good Samaritan’s supply — miraculously experienced by the beaten man in the story as they have carried their burdens, like the beast in Jesus’ story, to Santiago. St. James stands with open arms at the end of the Camino, ready to receive any willing pilgrim just as he received the wounded man into his care as the Innkeeper in Jesus’ story about the Good Samaritan. The Camino, for countless pilgrims over the ages, has signified salvation, a way to transcend the fallen world. Many died along the way, their expectations thus literally fulfilled. Others basked in the spiritual light they discovered at the end of their journey. But at the very least, The Way has long been characterized by tales of overwhelming generosity among pilgrims and between pilgrims and the local inhabitants of the many cities, towns, and villages through which the pilgrims passed, seeking lodging, provisions, and other assistance along their way.

Postrada está mi alma en el polvo; vivificame conforme a tu palabra. (Salmos 119:25)

Quoting from Psalm 32, a liturgical source for Rosh Hashanah commemorations, might well be unorthodox for a Good Friday reflection given Passover’s distance from Rosh Hashanah in the liturgical calendar. Consistent with Psalm 119’s Good Friday meditation, however, most religious pilgrims who have walked the Camino throughout the ages have humbled themselves to the dust in seeking the quickening promised by God’s word and the discipline offered by such exertion. The Camino brought people low, revealing to them more strongly than ever their physical, intellectual, and spiritual limitations. Walking The Way as a high adventure vacation is a recent invention, a reification of the sublime made possible by society’s industrial progress — a debt we all must pay, a convenience we all cherish, but a pollution we disdain. To some extent, our little group of Mormons stands guilty of this temptation to reduce a potentially sublimely (ecumenically) uplifting experience to merely a fun outing, though I believe that most of us have deeper spiritual reasons for undertaking this challenge.

But even secular modern pilgrims with little interest in learning the Word and seeking the protection of revealed commandments are known to be edified by the experience and come away world-wiser for having done it. In fact, I first learned of this pilgrimage nearly a decade ago from a friend who, at the time, was very irreligious. The Camino changed him and he walks as a committed Evangelical Christian to this day. Another friend recently completed the pilgrimage and came away with profound spiritual insights about himself though such introspection did not tranform him into a religious person per se.

Hazme entender el camino de tus preceptos, y meditaré en tus maravillas. (Salmos 119:27)

Psalm 32, however, messianically responds to Psalm 119’s plea for understanding of God’s commandments, ordinances, statutes, and judgments. Blessed with sought insights, the religious pilgrim must meditate on God’s miraculous ways. I will reveal to you and teach you The Way that you should walk, promises Psalm 32. A Mormon pilgrim, I take this promise seriously and hope to receive such inspiration as I walk, contemplating the miracle of Christ’s life and the correspondingly miraculous life of the Christian disciple, in our day as nearly 600 years ago when in about 1423 Ronan’s Worcester Pilgrim (probably a dyer named Robert Sutton)[2] made the trip on foot from Ronan’s stomping grounds in The Shire.

Quita de mí el camino de la mentira, y en tu bondad concédeme tu ley. (Salmos 119:29)

The pilgrim’s responsibility is to accept The Way willingly. Extending his law to us in mercy, God nudges us into the right path. But he does not put a bit in our mouths like a horse or mule, thus forcing our way. Nature forces us in certain ways; the fallen world creates a paradigm of necessity. But the horse or mule will only respond when forced by the pain or pressure from the bit as a result of a pull on the reins. We seek grace and therefore accept the responsibility of willingly approaching the Lord.

What could be more Mormon than asking for and recognizing the law and then upon receipt accepting the mandate to act according to our newly gained knowledge, in the process genuinely resisting forces of all kinds that act upon the natural man?[3]

These rambling musings — hopefully not a foreshadowing a rambling walk instead of a direct course! — hint at the meaning of the pilgrimage for me consciously undertaking this pilgrimage as a Mormon high priest (and not a proto or pretend Catholic): how do we truly walk as agents unto ourselves, free to decide to act and not to be acted upon as described in The Book of Mormon (see 2 Nephi 2:26-27), when we each face both external and internal forces — whether genetic, chemical, biological, environmental, cultural, or sociological — that both result from and perpetuate the circumstances of fallen mortality? Where does our received condition end and our responsibility begin? I suspect that the answer can only be found on an individual basis in prayerful consultation with the Lord. But gaining that insight while but seeing through a glass darkly is a challenge that dwarfs even the most rigorous medieval pilgrimage.

* * *

Ronan: I will be travelling from Worcestershire, England (paying homage to the Worcester pilgrim before I leave) to Sarria, Spain via San Sebastian in the Basque country. I have already written about my reasons for the pilgrimage.[4] I will tweet the journey @ronanhead.

Jordan F.: I am traveling the Way of St. James for several reasons:

  • fun with brother and friends
  • to think deeply as I walk for days about pressing issues in my life and make plans for how to change and rectify those things (in the past, the way of St. James was a path of penance)
  • to meet interesting people
  • to learn more about the biblical St. James along the way

I am especially excited to walk the Camino after Easter and in the wake of a new Pope because I expect to have stimulating, enlightening conversations with other pilgrims as I go about similarities and differences in our common Christian belief. I know that Jesus Christ lives and I hope that this exercise can bring me closer to Him as I discuss Him and His Gospel, and as I think deeply about how I am living His gospel in my own life, and how I can improve.

Peter LLC: A couple of days ago I visited an old friend in the hospital. After discussing his ailments and prospects for recovery, I told him that I planned to spend a week walking to Santiago de Compostela and would pray for him along the Way. He is nothing if not unaffected and direct, and his response–“Don’t you have anything better to do?”–was neither entirely unexpected nor without merit. I didn’t have to pause before conceding that I probably did have better things to do than take in the Galician countryside, largely footloose and almost fancy-free; and that’s been something I’ve wrestled with ever since I first heard about the trip.

On the one hand, the costs–in terms of time, money and parenting–are measurable and fairly specific, while on the other the benefits are still written in the stars. Plus, it feels a little selfish. Who wouldn’t want to leave behind the everyday responsibilities of work and family to spend a week trekking through the Spanish countryside with good friends à la mode du Jerome K. Jerome?

It wouldn’t be the first time that the individual nature of spiritual experiences and their seeming inefficiency have crossed my mind, however. On my mission to Austria, suggestions for better uses of my time ranged from digging wells in Africa to laying on the tracks to keep the trains laden with spent nuclear fuel from the Czech Republic where they were. And the paucity of baptisms (I don’t remember them exceeding 40 per year) meant that not only did each one consume much in terms of time and money, but often the only comfort one could that at least we were converting ourselves.

But a trip I made a few years later changed my outlook on the utility of spiritual journeys. I had carried a secret sorrow around with me for months, and time was proving to be a less than impressive healer. I had always wanted to walk across Liechtenstein as a missionary, and now as a student at the University of Salzburg I had the chance. When Easter rolled around, the weather was warm and the snow mostly melted. I took train and bus to the border and walked to the youth hostel in Schaan. The next day I walked across the valley, crossed the Rhine and entered Switzerland. The day was yet young and so I decided to bag a peak while I was at it. As I started up, I had something of an epiphany. I picked up a rock, scratched the nature of my sorrows on it and carried it up to the summit of the Margelchopf. There I buried it underneath a pile of rocks, stood back, and…it helped. Like the German idiom, a stone fell from my heart.

Many of life’s problems may be best mitigated by rolling up one’s sleeves and digging a well, stopping a train, and otherwise making yourself useful. But sometimes there’s nothing in particular that can be done. We may not be able to actively influence the course of events in the wake of illness, death or the decisions of others. And it’s times like these where I believe that carrying a rock to a mountain summit or a scallop shell to Santiago can help.

This year I find myself once again carrying a secret sorrow about which little can be done, especially not half a world away from those involved. And so I will fast, pray and carry it to Santiago. And hope that it helps.

Tana A.: “Yes!” was how I responded a few months ago when John C. mentioned that some friends were doing the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, and would the kids and I like to come? I responded automatically because when I read David McCullough’s book about John Adams several years ago, a part of it stayed with me. McCullough details a diplomatic trip to Paris that Adams undertook with his young sons John Quincy and Charles. Because of a leaky ship, they were forced to land not in Brest, but far to the south, in northwestern Spain. They traveled with pack mules backwards along the region of the Camino Francés (along portions of the Camino that we’ll follow), from the coast of Spain, till they hit the Pyrenees and swung northward, reaching Paris after a two month trip they undertook in December and January 1779-80. Since the weather in Galicia is roughly similar to Northern Ireland, his account mentioned constant rain and cold, as well as the plague of fleas and bedbugs, which he called “innumerable Swarms of Ennemies of all repose.” His biggest regret? In his journal account from Tuesday, December 28, 1779 he tells us: “I have always regretted that We could not find time to make a Pilgrimage to Saint Iago de Compostella.”[5]

I didn’t want to have the same regret. The opportunity to walk the Camino was a no-brainer. Like most parents, one of my favorite things is to take my kids to experience things. The Adams boys, John Quincy and Charles, were 12 and 9 at the time they went on this trip. Our children, GC and SC, are 12 and 9. I think that’s an amazing coincidence. Their ages will be the only similarity, modernity having its advantages (and vice versa), but maybe I’ll force my kids to write an account of each day like John Adams did. To be fair, that means I’ll have to write one, too. Unlike Abigail, who was sad that she usually was unable to have these sorts of experiences, I get to go!

Hiking in the backcountry with my family is my favorite thing to do. I enjoy other, more “cultural” pursuits, but I LOVE exploring Utah, Florida, this area, etc. I enjoy walking alone, but prefer to experience life with my children, and with John C. GC is like Tom Hanks in “Big”. At 12 years, he is taller than his father–a giant man-boy who leaps around with a crazy glint in his eyes, sucking up LIFE. SC already catches nuances that I miss. And she is witty. These kids notice things that I don’t; they frame things in ways that I wouldn’t. This will be a joy. Unless it’s not.

My only regret before we even begin our journey this Saturday? That we don’t have time to go to Finis Terrae (Finisterra on modern maps), the area where the cockleshell covered body of St. James washed ashore in a stone boat. As you know, this is also the place where the Visigoths, the Romans, the Celts, and their predecessors, would go on pilgrimage to see the “end of the earth.” As they watched the sun dip into the Ocean at sunset, they prayed that it would reappear in the opposite direction the next morning.

Besides all that, what better way is there to celebrate our 16th wedding anniversary than by shouldering our becockleshelled backpacks, schlepping through Celtic wind and rain with our kids and a bunch of men, and sleeping in a pilgrimage albergue with 50 other ear-plugged modern pilgrims? I’m serious when I say that I can’t think of a better way. Happy Anniversary, babe.

John C.: I’m thinking of myself as the Jost of our group (if you’ve seen the movie, The Way). I’m pretty much going because it sounds like fun. I’m not opposed to finding a higher spiritual purpose in the trip, but I’m not expecting one nor will it be a disappointment if I don’t find one. It sounds like a fun hike and time spent with people I like. It’s enough.

SC (9): I watched a cool movie about it called “The Way”.

GC (12): I’ve been wanting to go to Spain and my religion teacher, Pater Thaddeus, says that the incense thing at the cathedral in Santiago hit the ceiling while he was there and he wishes he could go back. Also somewhere we might see a little chapel that’s mainly gold inside even though the outside just looks like a shack. I recommend that everyone watch “The Way”.[6]

* * *

Sitting in Madrid at the Plaza de España finishing this post begun yesterday on Good Friday, I already have quite the journey behind me to contemplate as the beginning of my pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. An 817 mile drive from Provo to San Jose, California and then a 5,787 mile flight from San Francisco to Madrid, all spread over four days, is a marvel of our modern age. The walking distance will be minuscule compared to such a distance. But the slow pace will allow time for the kind of meditation that has sanctified the pilgrimage experience for thousands, perhaps millions, over the last millennium since Christians have been doing this pilgrimage.

We intend to update this post as we progress, internet access permitting. This will be experimental but, at the very least (we hope), an interesting attempt.

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[1] Pope Francis seems to be asking this question as he begins his stewardship of this world’s more than 1 billion Catholic Christians: “‘We need to go out to the outskirts where there is suffering, bloodshed, blindness that longs for sight, and prisoners in thrall to many evil masters,’ he said at a mass in St Peter’s Basilica.” (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/the-pope/9960168/Pope-washes-feet-of-young-Muslim-woman-prisoner-in-unprecedented-twist-on-Maundy-Thursday.html)

[2] Katherine Lack’s The Cockleshell Pilgrim: A Medieval Journey to Compostela (2002) is a wonderful, accessible book that gives valuable background and information about the context of medieval pilgrimages and the type of people who undertook them (http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Cockleshell-Pilgrim-Medieval-Compostela/dp/0281055904).

[3] 2 Nephi 2:26 (http://www.lds.org/scriptures/bofm/2-ne/2.26?lang=eng)

[4] http://bycommonconsent.com/2013/03/14/why-santiago-de-compestela/

[5] Adams, John (1961). Diary and autobiography. Vol. 4. Autobiography, 1777-1780. L.H. Butterfield, editor. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, p. 217.

[6] http://theway-themovie.com/

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[Update Day 1]

john f.’s Update:

Jordan and Peter disembarking from the night train in Sarria at 6:50 am.

Jordan and Peter disembarking from the night train in Sarria at 6:50 am.

Portomarín, April 1, 2013, 4:00 pm — Quick first update. After enjoying Easter weekend in Madrid, Peter, Jordan, and I stumbled out of the train into the pouring rain to set foot on The Way for the first day. We grabbed breakfast with a handful of other pilgrims arriving from a variety of countries before heading out to find Ronan, John C., Tana, and their children in town. The meeting place was the Church of Santa Marina. Comatose, we headed into town.

Jordan meeting up with the others at Santa Marina.

Jordan meeting up with the others at Santa Marina.

We found the Crawfords at their pilgrim hostel, the Albergue Mayor, as the rain began to fall, portending a wet day.

One of several old chapels along today's 14 mile stretch

One of several old chapels along today’s 14 mile stretch

More later today after we all get settled in at the pilgrim hostel. But a preliminary observation was the truly international nature of the pilgrims along The Way. Tana speaks excellent Spanish and everyone in our present party speaks German. As we walked, we greeted and spoke with people from many countries, including a very friendly pair of siblings from the Philippines. The latter were expressly walking The Way as a religious pilgrimage, having just graduated from one of the Loyolas in the Philippines. They seemed overjoyed to be on The Way — which set an example for me given that I was already feeling the strain of carrying the pack on the hike after having not gotten any sleep on the overnight train thanks to the jetlag! But as the D&C reframes the idea of fasting and prayer as rejoicing, this couple showed a palpable degree of rejoicing not only despite but actually in the strains and pains of the journey. Now that’s a pilgrimage philosophy to consider adopting right away.

Peter LLC’s Update:

A couple of snapshots from the first day:

The motley crew departs.

The motley crew departs.

Monastery in Sarria

Monastery in Sarria

Brooks, fields and stones

Brooks, fields and stones

Brooks, fields and stones

Brooks, fields and stones

Brooks, fields and stones

Brooks, fields and stones

Brooks, fields and stones

Brooks, fields and stones

Brooks, fields and stones

Brooks, fields and stones

Galician smokehouse

Galician smokehouse

John C.’s Update:

Folks, Spain (well, Galicia) is pretty. Really incredibly pretty. You are probably aware that Alma argues that everything testifies of God; I won’t speak to that. However, I would argue that the scenary in Northern Spain testifies of God’s Love, because dang, ya’ll. Anyhoo, here are a few pictures. Note the wet.

IMG_2678IMG_2677IMG_2672IMG_2668IMG_2667IMG_2666IMG_2657IMG_2655IMG_2654

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[Update Day 2]

Peter LLC’s pictures, Ronan’s update:

DSC_0164Palas de Rei, April 2, 2013, 9:30 p.m. — Today I lost my faith in evolution, for if we evolved to walk bi-pedally, why are we so rubbish at doing it? I mean, our homo sapiens ancestors who walked out of the rift valley didn’t collapse and sleep after 16 miles. Maybe it is our desk jobs, but still . . . A mutation to provide humans with wheels would be useful.

The road from Portomarín to Palas de Rei was not as hilly as yesterday’s but a bit longer. The weather is mostly fine and the pasty among us are catching the sun. John F. is thinking misanthropic thoughts about the loud Spanish teenagers on the camino. Hopefully St. James will grant him more charity.DSC_0167

DSC_0201DSC_0205DSC_0215DSC_0154

john f.’s Update:

G.C. emerging from a downpour.

G.C. emerging from a downpour.

Though we did appropriate background reading about The Way, none of us quite expected this level of precipitation. G.C., the Crawfords’ 12-year-old son, is a real trooper. Rain or shine, he is always leading the pack. John C. is having a very hard time keeping up with him.

An old stone barn in Castromaior.

An old stone barn in Castromaior.

The scenery, however, is living up to its reputation. The Way leads through numerous hamlets and villages, very beautiful old dwellings, sheds, and barns. Rural Galicia is as beautiful as any province in Europe and the people have been extremely hospitable. This has been surprising to me considering how weary you would think they could be by now of the constant stream of pilgrims always passing in front of their houses or walking across their fields. Of course, since it’s a tradition going back more than 1,000 years, hospitality toward pilgrims might be written right into the DNA of these people.

Peter LLC on the open road.

Peter LLC on the open road.

Peter is the veritable backbone of this expedition. Moving from small cluster of Mormon pilgrims to another, he is like one of the Three Nephites somehow transported across the sea to minister to the downtrodden among us (ahem, Ronan limping along). If you get the chance to walk The Way with him or climb in the Austrian Alps, don’t pass it up! And make sure he tells you at least a few of the many stories he has about getting soaked while climbing one Alpine peak or another.

An ancient pilgrim cemetery near the tiny village of Eirexe.

An ancient pilgrim cemetery near the tiny village of Eirexe.

The walk took a somber turn, though the sun finally came out, as we came across an old pilgrim cemetery. I had read about the many pilgrims who never finished their pilgrimages, whether the Camino or other well established pilgrimages across Europe. Some of them gave up hope due to the difficulty of The Way and simply settled in one of the random villages along the way. Others met a pretty girl in some hamlet and ended up making a life there with her. But many more, especially among the impoverished pilgrims who felt called to undertake the pilgrimage but without appropriate resources, had to walk without purse or scrip. I’ve been amazed to learn about the true charity that people along The Way showed the pilgrims throughout the Middle Ages and beyond. Even the poor would be given sustenance and accommodation (usually). But these people were in poor health to begin with and a lot of them died along The Way. They ended up in cemeteries like this.

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[Update Day 3]

Ronan’s Update:

Arzúa, April 3, 2013, 7:15 p.m. — My guidebook suggests that at some point on the camino we should ask “who is St. James?” The initial answer is easy: he is an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. The second may be less palatable to some walking the camino: I find it very doubtful that he came to Spain. This is the stuff of myth-making in an age of Christian chivalry. But as is often the case with such things, historicity is a secondary concern to inner meaning. So who is St. James? Today I decided he is me, at least me at the end of the journey. And that journey is in so many ways not over.

This is a tough walk. I’m in reasonably good shape but the load on my back and the trudging along the road is wreaking havoc with my knees. They were hurting every single step of the way today. Fifteen miles for the third day in a row is not an easy thing to do in such a state. Many people are in a worse state, of course. Our albergue neighbour is hobbling along with his deceased wife’s shell. He started at the Pyrenees but diagnosed with an enflamed tendon, a doctor told him he can only do 12km a day. The camino will take a while for Bob.

But this is not woe is us. I’m writing this in my bed in a lovely albergue sharing a room with good friends. We are enjoying the conversations, the greetings of buen camino!, and seeing some of the same friendly faces at each stage. The quick chat with an Irish catholic chaplain about Aquinas while cleaning my teeth yesterday is the stuff this camino is made of.

DSC_0227 DSC_0231 DSC_0277 DSC_0288 DSC_0290 DSC_0298

John C.’s Update:

Flower tree in Portomarin

Flower tree in Portomarín

My feet ache. They started aching after walking for roughly an hour and a half. I had another 6 hours to go. Also, we misread the guide book. We thought we were supposed to stop at a certain point, but, boy howdy, were we wrong. When you have been looking forward to an end and it doesn’t come when you think you should, it gives you pause. If we are to endure to the end, we don’t actually choose the timing (or the nature) of the end. We were lucky in that my wife drove ahead and choose a hostel for us. And the end of the day’s path, it helps immensely to know that you’ve got a soft landing coming.

Sheep----le.

Sheep—-le.

An old country church

An old country church

We're not in Kansas

We’re not in Kansas

Pretty old field and creek

Pretty old field and creek

My first Madonna picture, taken in Palas del Rey

My first Madonna picture, taken in Palas de Rei

The road goes every on...and on...and...

The road goes ever on…and on…and…

Ronan, his pain immortalized

Ronan, his pain immortalized

John's son, trying to not look impressed with the sites in Spain

John C.’s son, trying to not look impressed with the sites in Spain

Crossing a creek. Three youths offered to carry us over, but we passed.

Crossing a creek. Three youths offered to carry us over, but we passed.

Even when I get tired, I always remind myself that this place is really pretty

Even when I get tired, I always remind myself that this place is really pretty

View of a field from Arzúa

View of a field from Arzúa

john f.’s Update:

This region boasts lots of irrigation that even Mormon pioneers would envy. Of course, they probably would have seen the never-ending precipitation as a blessing rather than an inconvenience!

This region boasts lots of irrigation that even Mormon pioneers would envy. Of course, they probably would have seen the never-ending precipitation as a blessing rather than an inconvenience!

As others have written, this has been the hardest leg of the journey by far so far. Our hopes were dashed as we passed the “40 km” marker, which we thought would be our end-point for the day, only to find that the road continued ever onward, and uphill. I had pressed ahead of the group and began to fear that I had somehow overshot the mark and had left our chosen albergue behind. I decided if that were the case, I would not be going back — no Brigham Young style rescue from this weary walker!

The pilgrims who walked The Way in medieval times only knew where their next likely resting spot would be by word of mouth by other pilgrims, proprietors, or members of religious orders in the locales where they laid their heads on a particular night. We have exact maps and periodic stone markers indicating the distance walked, or rather left to walk, and we still can’t get it right sometimes. As ancient pilgrims walked through dense woods or marshy stretches, they also had to look out for brigands or others who meant them harm, though as a general matter people seem to have left religious pilgrims unmolested. This was the reason the official pilgrimage credentials granting safe passage from the ruling party of particular territories was so important. We are also carrying such credentials, mostly to use as proof that we have legitimately walked The Way once we arrive in Santiago de Compostela and present ourselves to the religious authorities of the Cathedral to receive our Credential certifying our successful completion of the walk.

Straight is The Way, but Narrow the Gate?

Straight is The Way, but Narrow the Gate?

Precedent and appropriate communication with other pilgrims along The Way, or knowledgeable locals, allowed ancient pilgrims to find the right path. But in truth, many paths wound their way through the Galician hills and countryside, often feeding back into a relatively main path at tricky river crossings or at key mountain passes. Though a possibly trite or cheesy observation, walking The Way does offer itself as an analogy of our walk through life. The slow pace, the pain we experience, the inner dialogue with God that is possible if we put ourselves into the right frame of mind all contribute to such a comparison. Most of us have landed in this life in certain networks of support. Walking The Way of our life as a loner, as I can be tempted to do sometimes, can actually become a dangerous proposition. We really are interdependent on each other; our need to assist others along The Way is as strong as our need for assistance to find the right path. As King Benjamin taught, we are all beggars who will not survive The Way without the help of fellow travelers and helpers pointing out the right path alike. As Mormons we have an abundance of such guidance, primarily through the scriptures and often through inspired guidance by living Church leaders. The Book of Mormon, echoing concepts available to us in the Bible, refers to the straight way that lies before us:

Behold, the way for man is narrow, but it lieth in a straight course before him, and the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there; and there is none other way save it be by the gate; for he cannot be deceived, for the Lord God is his name. (2 Nephi 9:41)

My experience is that the path through life’s journey actually is not in a “straight course”, though the path of righteousness surely is. If scriptures ranging from the Old Testament through to the Book of Mormon have any meaning, then I have to believe this. And yet, I believe that we continue to see through a glass but darkly as we negotiate this particular path. The course of our life might be as crooked as any hiker’s path up any mountain. But as we walk that path, which stretches out before us in a course not of our own making, we can put ourselves on another path — a more meaningful and important path — that is straight. Like medieval pilgrims who have gone before, our best and most immediate recourse should be to our fellow travelers for help, support, and guidance along this path.

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[Update Day 4]

Jordan’s Update, Peter LLC’s Photos:

Octopus in butter -- the local delicacy

Octopus in butter — the local delicacy

O Pedrouzo, April 4, 2013, 9:20 p.m.Buen Camino! Tonight, while eating Galician delicacies of Octopus in Garlic Butter and Fried Turnip and Pig Ear Paste, our server looked at me, John C., G.C., John F., and Peter LLC, and in all seriousness asked whether John C. was the father of all these boys! Papa Crawford!

Cows on a village street, O Pedrouzo

Cows on a village street, O Pedrouzo

Seriously, though, the Camino has been a life-changing event for me. I came with some very serious problems and issues, and some very challenging personal situations. I have been spending nearly every waking minute on the trail pouring out my heart to God and listening for what He has to say — and I feel He has spoken to me as I use my labor on the Camino to focus my thoughts and prayers. The Camino is a way of penance, and I have used the opportunity to shed many things from my soul that have long burdened me.

The Church of Santa Eulalia in O Pedrouzo

The Church of Santa Eulalia in O Pedrouzo

Last night, I was exceptionally burdened because of a challenging situation at home. I tossed and turned and could not sleep. As it often the case, the Lord comforted me, and to gain that comfort, I felt prompted to do something. I have noticed the last few days that the Camino (the Way of the Pilgrimage here in Spain) is, unfortunately, quite strewn with litter.

Scallop Shell background at the altar of St. Eulalia

Scallop Shell background at the altar of St. Eulalia

So, this morning, after such an anxious night, the Lord prompted me to grab a grocery sack and spend the first part of my pilgrim’s journey today picking up litter all along the road, with my heavy pack and all. Performing this small service on the Camino took my mind off my problems, and as the bag of trash got heavier and heavier, it reminded me of the burden that Christ picks up for each of us as he collects our garbage from our souls. And, when I threw the garbage away after lugging an overfull bag around until I found a proper trash receptacle for it, it reminded me how refreshing it is to lay our burdens on the Lord. And that is what I have now done. I love God, and His beloved Son for being willing to shoulder this burden. Anyway, I thought you might find it interesting to hear how I spent a few kilometers doing a small, insignificant, but personally healing service project along the Camino.

Rural farmhouse

Rural farmhouse

Of course, Ronan reminded me that I should not expect any blessings for this — and I don’t — because the Lord expects us to do what we are able to do. So, since I was still physically able to bend over and pick up trash, which Ronan is apparently not, I was obligated to render this service. Be that as it may — it helped me find some peace today.

Tana guiding Ronan and John C. into town.

Tana guiding Ronan and John C. into town.

Cows have the right of way in a small village along The Way

Cows have the right of way in a small village along The Way

Mists lingering in the distance shortly after leaving Arzua

Mists lingering in the distance shortly after leaving Arzua

john f.’s Update:

The old village church in Santa Irene

The old village church in Santa Irene

The Way gives ample opportunity for introspection. This is a comforting element of the walk for an introvert like me. I can’t say I had any deep thoughts while walking today — my mind focused mostly on a painful spot developing on my left heel that I worried would be a blister before too long. But as at other times during this hike, my mind has continually returned to the medieval pilgrims who undertook this journey. It seems incredible to me that they did so without the modern boot technology that we enjoy, that they relied largely on the charity and generosity of the local populations as they moved slowly along their way.

Someone's sacred grove?

Someone’s sacred grove?

One thing I know for sure is that this pilgrimage and many other similar routes across Europe meant something far more to those pilgrims than a challenging hike, a high-adventure trip to add to the list of sporting achievements. Ronan and I were chatting about the question “who is St. James?” to each of us individually. He wrote about that before. Of course, I believe in the biblical St. James and in fact for a long time, perhaps still now, I appreciated the material in the New Testament epistle ascribed to him more than almost all other teachings or doctrine in the New Testament. But as I have walked, I have tried to get into the frame of mind in which it would be possible to believe in the myth surrounding his ministry to Spain and then his ultimately finding his final resting place in Spain. I have found that from a religious perspective, that just isn’t possible for me. However, there is or can be immense Faërie value in the myth and myriad stories surrounding St. James’ presence in Spain and, in fact, in his role as Spain’s patron saint. In fact, I suspect that this is precisely the value that The Professor would derive from such tales of Catholic saints and their miracles.

————-

[Update Day 5]

John C.’s Update:

The end of the road -- about to enter the Pilgrim's Office adjacent to the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela

The end of the road — about to enter the Pilgrim’s Office adjacent to the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela

Santiago de Compostela, April 5, 2013, 10:30 p.m. — On the first day that I uploaded photos, there is one with a yellow spray-painted arrow. Scroll down to that one, take a look, and then come back. I’ve been thinking quite a bit about those arrows. There were very few extraneous arrows; generally each one was carefully placed in exactly the necessary spot to guide a pilgrim along. There were some false arrows out there, leading one from the path to restaurants run by presumably unscrupulous owners. But, even then, there was always another arrow, pointing out the true path.

Make sure to touch the saint as you enter the Cathedral

Make sure to touch the saint as you enter the Cathedral

Each of those arrows represents the thoughtful consideration of some person. All of those arrows collectively represent the care and guidance of thousands, stretching back hundreds of years, all hoping to lead souls to their desired destination. A multitude of people, united by a single concept, motivated by a desire to serve God and His children; Is there a better example of Zion out there today?

The amazing Cathedral of St. James at Santiago de Compostela

The amazing Cathedral of St. James at Santiago de Compostela

Today we reached our destination. We entered the Cathedral, saw the relics, embraced the statuary, felt the awe, certified our trip, went to our hostel and took a nap. This trip, like all trips, will only be a blip in our lives. I think that we all share a hope that its effects on us will not be so transitory.

A templar pilgrim stood as sentinel along The Way as we entered Santiago de Compostela

A templar pilgrim stood as sentinel along The Way as we entered Santiago de Compostela

An early glimpse of Santiago as we rounded the hill -- Ronan walking ahead.

An early glimpse of Santiago as we rounded the hill — Ronan walking ahead.

A monument atop Mount Joy ("El Monte de Gozo") -- traditionally some pilgrims would walk barefoot from Mt. Joy down into Santiago

A monument atop Mount Joy (“El Monte de Gozo”) — traditionally some pilgrims would walk barefoot from Mt. Joy down into Santiago

The staff and scallop shell (and the scrip) are symbols of The Way.

The staff and scallop shell (and the scrip) are symbols of The Way.

On Day 4 we stopped about 4 km outside of O Pedrouzo for a warm meal at a cafe in O Pino

On Day 4 we stopped about 4 km outside of O Pedrouzo for a warm meal at a cafe in O Pino

————

[Update Day 6]

Ronan’s Update:

Santiago de Compostela, April 6, 2013, 7:30 p.m. — The Camino is over but we still had unfinished business in Galicia. A few words about the pilgrims’ mass from me.

At midday the cathedral was full, mostly with pilgrims. An enthusiastic nun read out a list of some of the places we had come from. This was an international event. Most were Roman Catholic and took the Eucharist; many were there to seek communion with Sant Iago (I knelt before his reliquary and offered the prayers to God I had come to say); all were moved at the very least by the very spectacle. This video is of the botafumeiro. I can’t really describe it. You will have to watch it:

A trip to Finisterre and a cold dip in the Atlantic then sealed the Camino. The fellowship of the Mormon Confraternity of St. James is broken . . . for now.

Ronan and John and the end of the world

Ronan and John and the end of the world

john f.’s Update:

Morning view of the Cathedral from our pilgrim's hostel, "Roots 'n Boots".

Morning view of the Cathedral from our pilgrim’s hostel, “Roots ‘n Boots”.

Day 5 was the end of the pilgrim’s journey as we slowly walked from Mt. Joy down into Santiago and wound our way painfully through the narrow streets of the medieval city to the Cathedral complex. Reaching the pilgrim’s office and receiving our Latin credentials certifying successful completion of The Way, we were at the end of the journey but not yet at the end of the world.

Peter's feet at the End of The Way.

Peter’s feet at the End of The Way.

The agenda for Saturday, April 6, 2013 — our last day together (though Peter already had to fly on Friday evening) — included attending the Pilgrim’s Mass in the Cathedral and heading out to Finisterre, the End of the Earth, together before splitting up to head to our respective homes. While sitting waiting for the Mass to begin, Ronan and I contemplated the remarkable claims that we were literally in the presence of relics of the Apostle James. For just a moment, we glimpsed the animation that such a myth can generate. This put us in the right frame of mind of the Mass itself.

Peter LLC's photo of the Cathedral altar and surrounding decoration and iconography.

Peter LLC’s photo of the Cathedral altar and surrounding decoration and iconography.

The Bishop gave an excellent sermon about Communion — the inner communion that a pilgrim quickly achieves while on The Way as he or she gets reacquainted with him or herself, with the specific abilities and limitations of our bodies, with the pains of the walk and the refreshment of the nightly rest in pilgrim’s hostels. He spoke of the pilgrim’s inner communion with God that can be sought and found while walking The Way and expressed the hope that each of the pilgrims present had worked toward such inner dialogue with God on The Way. He ultimately compared such a personal sense of communion with God to the Communion each individual has to the Church and, through the Church, to God.

You wouldn't want to meet this guy in a dark alley! Jordan strolling the narrow streets of the old town in Santiago de Compostela

You wouldn’t want to meet this guy in a dark alley! Jordan strolling the narrow streets of the old town in Santiago de Compostela

Looking back on the walk and on many conversations with others in our group along The Way, I reflected on some of my original thoughts before beginning the walk. Though we might be subject to forces outside of our control, and in fact our environment and genetic or biological conditions can wreak havoc with our lives, we have recourse to an outside source of help as well — this communion with God can assist us in learning how to gain control over those things that are uniquely within our control. Biology might circumscribe a narrower range of such characteristics for some people than for others. But part of our mortal experience is learning to deal with what we’ve been given. This is a simple and obvious lesson. One that I’ve discussed at other times with various people in my life. But the discussions I had with people I love and respect on this particular walk have thrown this point into stark relief. We can become empowered to construct something worthwhile of the wreckage left over after truly stormy life experiences overwhelm us and bring us low.

Peter LLC found a single dry spot on the road!

Peter LLC found a single dry spot on the road!

We often blunder into these catastrophes, bewildered, as the natural consequences of our actions, including some that are unfortunately unintentional but which result naturally from our unique personalities and biological attributes. Recognizing the source of the trouble and humbly accepting that our own weaknesses have contributed in perhaps large part to them is the first step. Frequently, this recognition also means seeking appropriate medical help or therapeutic care to help us “manage the creature,” so to speak, such as in situations of chemical or mental health issues. While obtaining such help, an essential second step is perhaps to give our will over to God as the only thing that is uniquely ours to give, as Elder Maxwell used to teach. When we do so, we create a posture of inner communion with God. In Elder Maxwell’s words, “If instead of drawing closer to the Master we become a stranger to Him, then we have lost our way. . . . To use another Book of Mormon phrase, we must be ‘willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict’ (Mosiah 3:19). Whenever our wills are increasingly subsumed by His — the Book of Mormon calls it ‘swallowed up in the will of the Father’ (Mosiah 15:7) — then we really are on the road to discipleship.”

Brothers at the End of the Earth.

Brothers at the End of the Earth.

My discussions and experiences with my companions on The Way have redirected me on the road to discipleship and I thank them for freely discussing their perspectives, problems, and hopes with me as we trudged along.

I had plenty of time to think things over as Ronan, Jordan, and I drove nearly two hours from Santiago de Compostela to meet the Crawfords at Finisterre. We simply couldn’t leave the region without having ventured to the “End of the Earth”. On the rock outcrop that carries this name, we enjoyed the beautiful view and observed piles of burned clothes and shoes — signs that pilgrims had pressed on past Santiago de Compostela and, upon reaching the lighthouse on the rock, had burned something from their pilgrimage in the recognition of an ending and the hope of a new beginning. Our company did not burn anything but we celebrated an ending as our fellowship parted ways, the Crawfords heading by car to Madrid, the Fowles and Ronan returning to Santiago de Compostela where we would catch the night train to Madrid leaving Ronan as the lone remnant of our Mormon Confraternity in Santiago.

Comments

  1. Mark Brown says:

    Best wishes, all!

    Many of us are looking forward to experiencing this with you. Godspeed.

  2. Not feeling very pilgrim-y at Stansted airport but maybe that is the first lesson. Very grateful for a wife who once again shoulders the burden of my fancies. I love you, Rebecca. See you all soon, friends.

  3. We’re about to leave. We’re planning to walk about a half mile to the train station. And it is raining in Garmisch. Looking forward to seeing all of you soon. Happy Easter!

  4. I’m there in spirit!

  5. So happy for you! And so happy I get to read about your adventures.

  6. Wonderful! Very happy for you guys.

  7. Kevin Barney says:

    This is so cool. Thanks for sharing with the rest of us!

  8. Fantastic, guys. Thanks for letting us share in it.

  9. MDearest says:

    I have a friend who walked El Camino, and I understand her much better, thanks to your perspective. Boa viaxe!

  10. Peter LLC says:

    Six inches of snow fell in the night and the 182 km drive to the airport was not fun, but it looks like the worst is behind me. See you all in Spain!

  11. GSBartholomew says:

    Como desearia poder realizar esta caminata algun dia!

  12. My feet. Oh my feet!

  13. C’mon, your feet are sore already?? Suck it up, man!

  14. Hey, it’s Fowles who can’t move.

  15. At the end of day one, I will simply say this: “It’s entropy, it’s not a human issue,
    entropy, it’s a matter of course.”

  16. Lots of mud and hills today! A crowded hostel tonight should be an adventure — Ronan can give the details.

  17. Further update to day 2 has been added into the post above.

  18. It is wonderful to be able to read about your experiences and to see the pictures. Thank you for taking the time to update this.

  19. Have I mentioned how jealous I am? Could you please describe some of the horrors more horrifically so I stop being so jealous?

  20. Kevin Barney says:

    The pictures are fantastic!

  21. Here’s what sounds to me like the worst part of the Camino: tapas. I just don’t like tapas. Guys, how’s the food?

  22. John f. has no right to complain about teenagers. Since he perpetually looks 18. How would it be?

  23. “Three youths offered to carry us over, but we passed.” You passed up a chance to be aided by the three Nephites? Wha?!

    Seriously though, the photos are spectacular. I’ve been following each day from my office and it’s been delightful. (Also delightful because I’m not the one who is rainsoaked and knees aching)

  24. Was that person-wide narrow bridge as scary to cross as it looks in the photo? #bridgephobia

  25. Do many people take deceased loved ones along the camino?

  26. This is so great. I’ve been traveling, and had to wait to catch up with your trip. I love the pictures. Also love that GC and SC are with you. Tana, your comparison with John Adams is incredibly cool. Thanks for sharing that. Hang in feeble kneed friends! Lots of love from across the pond.

  27. Loving the updates and the photos, and despite the mud and rain, so incredibly wish I was there. I adore that G and S came along, and would love to do something like this with my children- though I know the complaining would be legend, unlike the stoic C children.

    Chins up, soaked and tired friends. We love you all greatly and are cheering you on! Just think of the stories you will tell one day by a warm fire about this journey. Epic.

  28. Fabulous guys. Keep the pictures coming.

  29. Just been to mass at our final chapel before we arrive in Santiago tomorrow. Thanks for the comments everyone.

    I thought I was a hiker, but even at their most strenuous, my hikes are generally not multi-day affairs carrying a heavy pack. I can barely bend my legs and my left knee is feeling terrible. Still, the experience is phenomenal. So many thoughts along the camino, so many solutions to my problems, so many small moments of grace. I really look forward to doing this again and again in my life . . . with a lighter pack and taking more time.

    There will be a picture update later.

  30. “I really look forward to doing this again and again in my life . . . with a lighter pack and taking more time.”

    So say we all.

  31. “So many thoughts along the camino, so many solutions to my problems, so many small moments of grace.”

    Oh, so much envy, but in a way that is terribly happy for you.

  32. Jordan F says:

    Great pics, Peter!

  33. Peter LLC says:

    The food has been a mixed bag. I order one thing and get another, pretty consistently. Since no one taking my order has acted confused, I’m guessing it’s a stupor of thought on my part.

  34. “If we are to endure to the end, we don’t actually choose the timing (or the nature) of the end.”

    Profound.

  35. I have a logistical question– I assume there are nice eats to be had for Breakfast and Dinner at the traditional stopping places along the way. What have you been doing for lunch? Are you brown-bagging it along the way? Are you carrying provisions the whole way in your pack, or just clothes and the like because food and the like is purchased at the stops?

  36. This. “Seriously, though, the Camino has been a life-changing event for me. I came with some very serious problems and issues, and some very challenging personal situations. I have been spending nearly every waking minute on the trail pouring out my heart to God and listening for what He has to say — and I feel He has spoken to me as I use my labor on the Camino to focus my thoughts and prayers. The Camino is a way of penance, and I have used the opportunity to shed many things from my soul that have long burdened me.”

    Thank you for sharing this with us. In a way, this seems like the heart of pilgrimage.

  37. Some friends of mine did this about 6 or 6 years ago, and I have wanted to do it ever since. I’m so jealous of the time you have had to make this journey. And so happy for you too!!

  38. Um, I meant *5* or 6 years ago!

  39. Excellent reflections and pics! Keep’em coming.

  40. Jordan, your story about carrying the bag of litter reminds me of that scene in “The Mission” where Robert De Niro carries his heavy armor up the steep trail to atone for his sins as a violent slaver. That is hands down the most spiritually affecting scene in a movie that I have ever seen. I realize, though that it is a very Catholic notion of theology, so I thought it was strangely touching that your own spiritual burdens were lifted as you carried out this cross-religious trek with a cross-religious moment of peace and service. Very fitting for your journey. Also, can you approximate the recipe for the octopus and butter dish above? Guesses based on taste? It looks AMAZING! :)

  41. Folks, we made it. Peter is off to Vienna already. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’m now a spiritual giant and I have a certificate to prove it. There will probably be an update soon, but in the meantime, let me assure you that you are jealous, both of the journey and of my pain tolerance (only cried four times (daily)).

  42. Karen, take a dead octopus. Chop off its tentacles. Chop those up and cook them in a veritable lake of butter, garlic, and salt for a while. Serve piping hot.

  43. Sharee Hughes says:

    I think I want to do this someday–in the next life.

  44. Standing with friends at the End of the World was a surreal experience, as was the mass in St. James’ Cathedral.

  45. J. Stapley says:

    Thanks, guys.

  46. Reading about your journey this last week has consistently been both inspiring and humbling. It has, in all honesty, pushed me to become a more focused disciple. Frequently I have felt as though we have been allowed to briefly stand before the soul of another as they struggle before God. Holy ground indeed!

  47. This was phenomenal. Many thanks to our pilgrims.

  48. Please encourage JBF to edit this and publish it as an article. John in particular was the driving force behind this post.

  49. I cannot tell you how honored I am to know the pilgrams and to experience this vicariously. As I read this I kept wishing, almost to the point of the sin of envy, that I could be there. I misspoke, there was no ‘almost’ about my sin of envy. I was seeped in it, I was green with it, I wanted to be there so bad my teeth gnashed that I could not be there with you all. But I am so glad to follow from the distance with your words and pictures. What a life changing experience! Well done you all. Well done indeed.

  50. This is warmed over, but I just wanted to add that as we entered our house late Sunday night, G.C. announced that he wanted to go right back to Galicia and do the pilgrimage again. And that S.C. has decided she will take her future suitors on the Camino to “test” them. If they are as awesome as a certain pilgrim who turned around to walk back and get her forgotten rain poncho, he will be “the one”… a sort of Prince and the Pea test. We want to walk the Camino in part of Bavaria and Austria, now. SteveP, come. I’ll be a siren calling to you (and everybody else) from across the Atlantic.

  51. Your kids are amazing, Tana. It would be fun to do all the Jakobswege. The British version goes past my house on the way to the south coast.

  52. Having the Crawford kids along was a highlight of the trip and an inspiration. It sounds like S.C. has the right idea for testing her future suitors!

  53. What a trip! Thank you for documenting and sharing it!

  54. The subtle (but hilarious) underlying lament of these characters is they all reminisce over their past lives as hardened assassins and pine just to kill one more little ol’ person.

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