I’ve just returned home from three weeks in Spain, eleven of those days I spent walking the Camino de Santiago. It gave me plenty of contemplative time, time to take in the natural beauty of Galicia. I had time to marvel at the stone buildings and villages that have stood the test of time and remain in use today, refitted and repurposed for life in our current time yet preserved and honored for the quality of the materials used and the hands and minds that carefully laid rock upon rock. I had time for prayer as I enter into the sixth blessed decade of my life.
My life and perhaps all of life is much like the Camino with it’s rough and winding paths, up hills and down, through mornings of fog and mist where the path is unclear, through the heat and relentlessness of the afternoon sun, and onto glorious rest and respite of picnics with wine in the shade of ancient oaks and I am grateful for it all.
Why would someone decide to make such a pilgrimage? I’m sure the list of reasons is as long and as varied as there are pilgrims who set out on this walk, each of us with our own reasons. And some of us are unclear why we have been called to do this but here we are. The walk is long and often solitary and provides ample time to sort this out.
I start the walk filled with anger. Anger at God because of a perceived injustice that I cannot begin to reconcile on my own. Yet every day I walked, and every church I passed I knelt before the cross and said a prayer, often wordless.
For this writer to be wordless is unusual indeed, but I don’t trust myself to speak.
At the end of a very long day we arrive at the iron cross. We climbed the hill and place a stone. The stone is representative of the burdens we carry, in the Christian tradition this might be called sin.
Although far from a blameless life, the major sin I carry is anger. My anger keeps me from communion with my Creator.
Why am I so angry?
My beloved daughter and her husband lost their first child, a beautiful little girl, Rose Lee. She was stillborn and never breathed outside of her mother’s body.
For months, my nights have been filled with nightmares of my daughter laboring for fifty-one hours knowing the baby she will deliver has already died within her.
My days have been joyless and filled with malaise.
I am angry.
Where is this loving God to whom I pray?
I place a stone at the foot of the cross in honor of my daughter and her dear sweet Rose Lee. It is for them that I walk the Camino. I drop to my knees and pray. What is it that I am praying for? At last I find my words. I pray Rose Lee’s soul be released and be sent back to my daughter in the healthy body of another baby.
In this time, to say these words aloud make me sound… what? unbalanced at best.
I now know why I walk.
My feet are blistered, my hands burned by the sun, and my right knee seizes up with every hill or set of stairs I descend. Still I walk on placing one foot in front of the other just trying to get out of my own way. I enter every church along the way, and trust me there are many. I pray before the ancient statuary of Madonna and Child. I light candles and drop a few coins in the collection boxes. I pray for the release of my anger. I pray for my daughter’s healing. And I pray for new life.
The country side is blessed with the abundance of spring flowers. Wisteria graces the garden walls, orchards are filled with flowering apple, cherry and almond trees, and the hills and mountains are covered with purple and gold heather. One step at a time, I marvel in the beauty of creation, the blessing to experience it, and just to be here on the way to Santiago.
Other pilgrims and villagers call to one another, “Buen Camino.” Wishing one another a good pilgrimage. And I feel the company of the ancients, all the pilgrims who have walked this same route for thousands of years depending on the kindness of the local people. I am struck by the timelessness and the unending devotion to God.
The night before my pilgrimage ends, when at last we will walk into Santiago de Compostela, my son-in-law calls. Before I can even begin to wonder why he is calling me, my daughter is on the phone too. She is in the hinterlands in a mountain hamlet. Her husband is on business half a continent away. And I am in an ancient monastery in Spain. I am grateful for the wonders of modern technology as I am linked into a conference call.
They have news to share. They are expecting. Their baby is due in December.
Praise be to God.