This is a post in a series by Alexander Garoutte. You can read his previous post here.
Some say that we are always on the Camino, even those that have never made their way to Spain. That no matter when the walking begins or ends, that we remain on the Way forever.
As I sat in the evening pilgrim Masses I was struck by the frequent use of the term “Camino” in the (Spanish) Gospel readings. It seems they’re always talking about this “Way of Jesus” that is more than a path and more than a practice, but rather an approach to life and an intentional way of being relationship with others, with God, and with self. It is a way that looks at nature and says, “You are beautifully made” and looks at other people (and ourselves) acknowledging, “You are beloved.” It is a way that appreciates the simple and a way that deeply values and replicates the kind hospitality of a stranger. The Camino that lay before me soon came to be a metaphor for the Camino of Christ – the path following the man who once said, “Yo soy el camino, y la verdad, y la vida” – “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6).
As I’ve said before, this Camino can be painful at times, but even that pain is not an end in itself. In order to get through to the beauty that waits over the next ridge or to the cool evening in the next Spanish town some blisters were unavoidable, and my feet may never truly be the same. These moments of joy were preceded by pain, but how different were they from the love for another that leads to some element of self-giving, some challenge, and sometimes even pain?
You can’t carry too much comfort on the Camino, only what fits on your back. Jesus’ sending of the Apostles never felt so large: “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread nor money—not even an extra tunic” (Lk 9:3). You don’t know what awaits you on the Camino. A nice flat walk? A steep mountain? Clean sheets? A place of rest and relaxation? A crowded room with creaky beds and snoring roommates? When you carry very little, there is no way to be entirely prepared for the Camino. There is just the courage to walk it and the perseverance to keep going. This is the call of the Christian life – to present ourselves before God and do the best we can. We may not know where we are called or what lies in store, but we are called to the indifference to listen to God’s word in our hearts.
On the Camino, we attempt to be an agent of love offered to each person that we meet. On the Camino we are frequently at the mercy of others, always vulnerable to being injured, stolen from, run over, or worse. We make ourselves vulnerable so that we might be in the presence of God.
On the Camino there is some temptation at first to make it all about me. The temptation to say, “This experience is all about me and God and no one else matters.” While the Camino is certainly about me and God, it is even more about others. I suppose I could have stayed in my own hotel room each night away from the snoring roommates and communal bathrooms – but the moments of community were integral to the experience. When my buddy’s blisters were aching and another pilgrim staying at the same hostel offered him her own blister cream, it became clear that this path was impossible to walk alone. Just as the Christian life calls us into relationship with others and calls us to care for their needs, so too the Camino showed me the way.
As Christians, we are always pilgrims on the Camino, walking towards a destination unknown and praying for safe passage. We appreciate what is offered to us and try to be in love at all times.