Editor’s Note: I continue to focus on noticing in different ways. Next Wednesday, October 14 at 5 pm eastern, Racial Justice Conversations will continue its exploration of “noticing whiteness” as part of our personal and collective work for a more racially just world. All are welcome to attend. For the zoom link to attend, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. This week I share on some “noticing” from our recent pilgrimage to Spain.
Four friends, Geraldine and I were feeling the muscle pains from four days of walking the spiritual pilgrimage in Spain known as the Camino de Santiago. It was mid-day and we were all getting hungry and were ready for a lunch break. On previous days, we had found small coffee shops or bakeries along the route where we had lunch and a much-needed rest. Today, there was no sign of such a place. Our map reading leader suggested lunch might be delayed until our next destination, three or more hours further along the path. We shared the little bit of fruit and trail mix we had. I began to get a little grumpy with this prospect, making the muscle pains talk louder.
Ahead, we spotted what looked like two youngsters selling lemonade at a roadside stand, much like in the United States. What it turned out to be was one of the most powerful signs of hospitality and love we encountered. A ten-year-old girl and her eight-year-old brother were giving away cups of orange juice, apples, and cookies. When supplies ran low, the brother hustled to a nearby supply wagon for replenishments. Taken by this generosity, a member of our group attempted to give the young girl a US $1 bill. She refused graciously. “No”, he insisted explaining, “you can take this to school and show it to your friends.” Again, with a kind smile, there was a firm and gracious “no thank you.”
For generations, those who live on the path of the Camino have been welcoming and offering hospitality to strangers from all over the world. The firmness and sweetness of this young girl’s “no” spoke volumes about what she had learned from her parents and they from the generations before them.
This kind of walk is a spiritual walk; a walk on paths considered holy and traveled for generations. Thanks to the movie The Way with Martin Sheen produced in 2010 and to the growing hunger for inner peace and deeper connections, the Camino has become popular with people of all ages from all over the world. The Camino welcomes people from a wide range of beliefs about our inner life and connections to some power beyond us.
The various routes of the Camino have emerged over the centuries since a young shepherd in the 9th century was led by an angel to the remains of St James, an apostle of Jesus. On word of the boy’s discovery, believers began traveling from their homes in France, Portugal, Spain, England and other European countries to a town called Santiago de Compostela (St. James of the Field of Stars). It was there that a church, and over time a massive cathedral, was built to hold the relics of St. James
As the movie The Way depicts, people walk for many reasons and in many ways. Some are letting go of a relationship ended by death, divorce, or separation, or pondering a change in career or their own beliefs and questions about the meaning of faith. Others walk because they enjoy walking and like the camaraderie. Some walk to follow the paths of the people who went before.
Some like those of us in our group walk for 5-7 days carrying a light pack and have luggage moved from hotel to hotel. Others spend weeks or months walking the Camino carrying everything they need in their backpacks and staying at hostels or dorm-like accommodations called alberques.
For me, the very act of intentional walking slows me down and allows me to notice my surroundings and my inner life more clearly. Most seasoned pilgrims will tell you that the lessons of any Camino pilgrimage become more clear weeks and months later as you walk what they call your “Camino of life”.
As Geraldine and I prepared for this Camino, she wondered about the long days of walking. Neither of us are seasoned hikers or outdoor people. We enjoy a walk around the lake in our neighborhood which might take an hour to traverse its three miles or so. On our longest days on the Camino, we walked 10 or 11 miles. As I explained how we did it, I found myself repeatedly saying what I learned on my previous Camino: you take one step at a time, one foot in front of the other. Rest when tired.
For me that remains the biggest and most compelling lesson of the Camino. I don’t need to know exactly how I am going to get some place. If I go slowly and listen to my inner guide who I sometimes call Big Spirit, as the Quakers and the Camino pilgrims say, the way will open. And lunch may appear!
During our week, there were so many lessons that our planning was useful to a point and yet had no relation to what would actually happen on any given day. For instance, we knew we had two long days of walking and a couple shorter ones. That was part of our plan. On both shorter walk days, we got lost, ignored signs and directions, and added three extra miles to our walk. This was painful to the bodies, yet comical and instructive.
Similarly, we had not included in our plan the possibility that some of us would test positive for Covid during the walk. Over our week of walking, three of the people in our group came down with Covid. This challenged our ability to adapt to unforeseen stresses and to trust the process and each other.
Each day as we walked, we passed through beautiful farm lands full of flowers, animals and vistas that inspire. My challenge in life, and that for many walking enthusiasts, is to keep my feet, heart, and head in the same place. So often, my overactive mind wants to think about tomorrow or a problem or a creative idea. I’ve learned it’s better to stay where my feet are, and listen more with my heart. This simple practice of being in the present moment reminds me of the many opportunities I miss when my head is distracting my feet and heart from what is happening now.
As my feet and heart have more power, I see more clearly the many manifestations of love all around me. The Camino abounds with generous hospitality like that of the young people who nourished us and that of the strangers who offered kind smiles. For me, the Camino pilgrimage reminds me of the power of noticing love all around me and passing it on. And this is better done when I pay more attention to my feet and heart and less to my head.