St. Jean is full of pilgrims excited to see this place. We’ve been thinking of arriving for so long and we are ready to hear an orientation from the Camino volunteers and receive a pilgrim passport and get a first stamp in it and find a place to stay and prepare last minute details for the walk over the mountain early in the morning.
The same amazing cobbled streets walked by pilgrims by the hundreds of years.
Witt all that new-old beauty and bustle and stuff to do, it’s natural that one’s attention is drawn outward to the near uncertain future and the pull of an interesting world. But a pilgrimage with any chance for lasting transformative power must surely happen on the inside of a person as much as on the out. But that’s not on my mind until:
I walk into a church.
El Camino is, classically, a Catholic way of pilgrimage. And the great landmarks all the way along will be steeped in Church history. But in this century El Camino has opened up great space for all kinds of seekers looking for something real and meaningful beyond ordinary daily life–people who value the possibility of discovery of something sacred and experientially true beyond the surface about who we are and why we’re here.
Now I’m not Catholic, but I lived in Catholic countries from age 15 to 30 and made so many great friends there and have always enjoyed the culture and respected the good part of the church that surely feeds their lives. And though I’m not a big fan of the emphasis on sin and confession as a spiritual path (I think self-honesty is a much more effective and lasting (and difficult) way for getting rid of tough inner psyche stuff) or of church politics and especially of unhealthy sexual repression that has hurt so many priests and so many kids in such terrible ways. That said, I have indeed felt the power of so many paths and this one too, the sacred space and ritual of this two millennia way of life looking to bring some divinity into humanity. And in my reality I have no doubt that Jesus was an enlightened spiritual master with the highest exemplary and benedictive healing power. So despite two thousand years of this world surely misunderstanding him a lot and making a mess of his love, I do respect that the Catholic path, is real and it’s powerful.
Mother Mary, patron saint of “the cult of St. Mary” (Pamplona).
Entering a Catholic and reverent space where so many have surrendered themselves to the highest power with such humility… well, I can feel it.
My mind shifts from all that beauty out there in the world and all that wonder about the next six weeks to come. My awareness drops straightaway into my silent heart. I am not Catholic and I am not not Catholic. It’s just not an issue, obstacle, barrier, or deal. It’s not about belief. It is just a way of being in which I can trust myself and know that God and I and the world, no matter how it often looks, are all made of love. I am in meditation and my honest prayer and depth-sourced faith for the Camino arises in this inner and outer sacred space right up into my consciousness.
When I open my eyes I can see more than I could before. The colored light-shadows on the old stone columns and walls speaks to me to from this the inner place I have arrived…
My Camino has begun.