This is a post in a series by Alexander Garoutte. You can read his previous post here.
I slipped out of the top bunk of the creaky bed trying to avoid landing on the elderly woman sleeping below me. I carefully navigated my way to the bathroom through the maze of other pilgrims sleeping on mattresses on the floor of this attic in which we were residing for the night – they would not enjoy being awoken at 3am. As I walked into the bathroom I noticed that the skylight window was open. As I looked out, I saw, for the first time in my life, the Milky Way streaking across the night sky. It was more glorious than any picture I had ever seen. More beautiful than anything I could have imagined.
For many years I have dreamed of seeing the Milky Way. In fact, it was because of the night sky that I had gone on to get a bachelor’s degree in Physics. But I have always lived in bigger cities where the Milky Way is imperceptible because of ambient light. The night sky filled with stars has always represented to me my own smallness, my own dependence on God, and my own connection to the universe. These are all things I had felt I was losing in the last couple of years before walking the Camino.
And here I was, visiting the bathroom in a small albergue in Foncebadón, reminded of all that I was searching for.
For me, the night sky is a source of real spiritual connection. I have many memories of looking up at the dark sky from the back seat window as we drove home from my grandparent’s house or of lying on the trampoline in our backyard at night gazing up and wondering what was up there. In those moments, more than in any other, I was sure that there was a God, and sure that there was something more to this world than what we could see with our own eyes. The stars remind me of the vastness of the universe, the vastness of God’s creation, and the largeness of God’s infinite love.
Somewhere along the way, living in all these different urban environments, I had forgotten how much the spirituality of the night sky meant to me. I forgot that when I looked up at a black sky filled with light cast off from stars trillions of miles away that I could remember who I am in a way that is both profound and unique.
The irony of this mystical experience in the attic bathroom in the tiniest of mountain towns in Spain was that I never really needed to walk the Camino to see the Milky Way, or even to remember my connection to the stars of the night sky. I can drive out of Boston a bit to find this source of deep connection. And I’m left asking, “Why don’t I do that? Why don’t I take care of my spiritual self by going and finding the ways and places that connect me to my God?”
For some people, the Eucharist makes them feel instantly connected to God. For others, it is the feeling of being in community. While I certainly appreciate those things, for me it’s the experience of God’s immensity that brings me back to center. It’s the wide open ocean. It’s the desert that stretches on beyond the horizon. It’s the night sky filled with solar systems that will remain beyond my comprehension. For some reason, it took walking the Camino for me to remember that.
It’s important for us to remember the places where we feel God’s presence, to take stock of the spaces, places, and landscapes in which we feel most united to the God who resides in each of us. It’s also important for us to remember that these moments are part of our spiritual health. I haven’t looked up at the sky or sat along the open ocean shore enough in recent months at home in Boston. But if I’m committed to spiritual health (and I should be), then I really must incorporate these “spiritual touchstones” into my life with greater intentionality. These are things I can always go back to, which have meaning and remind me of my own spiritual journey and the history of my relationship with God.
What are those “spiritual touchstones” for you? What are the places, interactions, and environments that remind you of God’s love and care for you? Who are the people that bring out your belovedness? How well do you integrate those individuals, spaces, and experiences into your spiritual life? How might you bring your own “Camino mountaintop” experience into your daily life?