Wednesday 25 September 2019

The Good Way

The Good Way

‘This is what the Lord says, “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.”’ (Jeremiah 6:6)

Perhaps it is inevitable, but many Camino walkers are at a crossroads. There are those who travel between jobs, using the opportunity for time out to prepare for the next challenge. There are those who seek to discern their way ahead. There are some who seek closure on a relationship gone wrong or a way through the pain of bereavement.  I have spoken with one person who felt himself falling into temptation on the Camino and sought my counsel.

Some are people of Christian faith, some follow other faiths, some have no faith that they would own up to. Some would like to find faith. Camino walkers are a very diverse bunch!

As some readers will know, I met a famous British comic who is on the Camino. He even bought me a drink! I asked why he was walking the Camino, and his answer was that he has always wanted to do so. That may be the simple answer of many, but perhaps there are deeper reasons. Even on sabbatical leave, I find myself being a pastor. I hope that my listening and my words point people to see where the good way is and find rest for their souls.

In case you are wondering, I don’t consider myself to be at a crossroads, but I am finding rest: in the walking, in the interactions and friendships with others, in the stay at albergues each day. Tonight’s (Wednesday 25/9) albergue in Rabanal is a particular joy. It is run by the London based Confraternity of St James. I write these word sitting in a large orchard garden awaiting afternoon tea. God is good!

Thursday 19 September 2019

Hospitality on the Camino

Hospitality on the Camino

Most pilgrims on the Camino stay each night in Albergues. A night’s stay will rarely cost more than 10 Euros, usually between 5-8 Euros in a shared dormitory and sometimes they are donativos i.e. you pay what you can afford. They range from modern purpose-built hostels to obscure side-street rundown dwellings to historic monasteries to ancient chapels.

One such was Ermita de San Nicolas that I stayed in a few nights ago. This was a small 13th Century building, restored and run by the Italian Confraternity of St James. At one end of the single room were the 8 beds , with a further 4 on a mezzanine floor. In the middle was the long table around which we pilgrims ate our meals. At the far end was a small open chapel. The building had no electricity, so both dinner and breakfast were by candlelight.  Before dinner, we were invited to have our feet washed as a re-enactment of  Christ washing the disciples’ feet. We prayed the Lord’s Prayer together in our own languages. Dressed in a kind of knights’ tabard, with scallop shops hanging over the front, one of the hospitaleros washed one foot, while the next one dried and kissed it! Each one of us had a prayer prayed over us that we would safely reach Santiago. Then we were served dinner – simple fare but lovingly shared.  We sang a few impromptu songs, mainly in Italian. We were taken outside to see the stars, spectacular in an area of little light pollution. It was a truly special evening as we conversed together in our various languages. In the morning breakfast was served, there was another rendition of the Lord’s prayer, a further prayer for our journey and hugs for each of us as we went on our way.

It leaves me asking, how does my hospitality match up? Will I open up my home to all-comers, especially to those in particular need? Do I bless people as they set out and continue on life’s journey?

It’s food for thought  from a very special night at a very special place.

Thursday 12 September 2019

After 8 Days on the Camino

After 8 days walking in which I’ve covered 154 miles, a routine has developed. I get up around 6am and onto the Camino by 6.30-7, with my head torch on. At the earliest opportunity, I stop for breakfast including strong coffee. There will be at least one more stop for lunch. By 2pm I hope to have found a bed for the night. If an albergue is full, I move on.  Once settled in, I shower, change and then wash my walking clothes. Hopefully, they’ll dry in time for the next day!

Sometimes, I walk alone and other times I chat to others. Conversations can become deep very quickly. Although not all pilgrims will journey to Santiago, we have a common direction – east to west - and many of us have a common destination.  On my first day, one woman shared that she was hoping to reconnect with God after suffering abuse in an outwardly respectable Christian marriage, and losing faith.  Yesterday, an American pilgrim told me how he found faith. He was searching for meaning in life.  He saw an ad in a newspaper lying on the ground. It asked, ‘Who is God?’ He rang the telephone number and his faith journey began.

Of course, I share my story too.  I also speak of Toybox, seeking to improve the lot of street children around the world.

At the time of writing, I am staying in a lovely village albergue. The owners are Brazilian, and have connections to the writer, Paolo Coelho. In a short while I will enjoy a shared meal with other pilgrims. It’s smelling delicious!

Please keep praying for me. My feet are blister-free, but my left ankle and right knee have today become a little swollen.  It would be good to experience healing!

Saturday 7 September 2019

A Postcard from the Camino

Postcards from the Camino

Here I am! There’s been much planning, training and waiting, but finally I am walking the Camino de Santiago from St Jean Pied de Port to Santiago del Compostela.

Day 1 was easier than I expected.  About 16 miles up over foothills of the Pyrenees, joining many other pilgrims. I walked on my own and I walked with others. I had many conversations along the way, some superficial but some quite deep as we shared why we are walking the Camino.

Two particular things stand out. At dinner in the Albergue at Roncesvalles, I was telling Steve, a retired US forces captain, that I am raising money for Toybox by walking. When he heard about the plight of street children with no birth certificate, he spontaneously and quietly slipped me 20 Euros. Such generosity! After dinner, I joined many other pilgrims for Mass in the church. We were blessed by a 30th Anniversary performance of an excellent local choir. Such harmony!

Today (Day2) has been a long day – 23 miles walked. The Camino is very busy and many hostels are ‘Complet’ i.e. full. I am blessed to be staying at a ‘Donativo’, a hostel where you pay or not, as you are able. At dinner, we were 20 people around the table, made up of about 10 nationalities.

I aim to send a few more of these ‘postcards’ as I journey.

Buen Camino!