Camino Series #2 – Awakened to the Beauty in the Ordinary.

Everywhere I turn, there is another miracle. Endless fields of sunflowers, rolling hills littered with plant life, butterflies that flitter and look like tigers. Waterfalls, rivers and streams flowing: the giver of life to this region.

Welcome to Spain!


Nature is all around us and I have experienced so many different landscapes from deserts to jungles and everything in between. The Camino is an eclectic mix of environments that mould and flow into one another in a way that perhaps you can only witness by walking through it. Often in life we pass through fast; we are in a car or a train or a plane, looking through a window and not stopping to smell the roses. Or perhaps our eyes are just not open to the beauty that surrounds us. On the Camino, my eyes were WIDE open.

When deciding to take on this walk I was daunted by the distance and feared that my body wouldn’t cope. I was encouraged by the people I was sure to meet, the churches and the sense of achievement I would gain. I knew it would be pretty, but I underestimated the glory that surrounded me every day on the trail.

One chilly morning as I was strolling out of Villa de Mazarife, and I was on a deserted dirt track surrounded by corn fields. On a normal day I would drive past farming land such as this and vacantly stare past the beauty of these pastures. On this day the sun was rising behind me, glistening orange across the sky and allowing heat to penetrate the back of my neck. Somehow I was awakened. Awakened to the beauty in the ordinary.

As I trudged on, days four and five were full of canopied forests, light shimmering through the foliage as the streams trickled quietly in the background like a lullaby for the racing mind. I often sat in wonder at the colour of the leaves, so many shades of green. I think of the colour wheel in my photo editing suite, convinced only a glimpse is available as to what nature can offer.

The wildlife or even domestic animals litter the trail. I found a love for cows. Yes cows. Have you ever looked at a cow, really looked? They’re beautiful. Built strong and muscular. Firm and solid yet their faces are kind, gentle, unassuming and non-threatening. I begin to really appreciate the personalities in their faces. Goofy almost, adorable. Then there are the dogs that are trained so well to defend farm boundaries, loyal and true to their masters. Unfazed by the constant stream of strangers passing by, yet fierce as hell I’m sure, should you step over the invisible precipice in between, common space and THEIR land.


I’m in awe of the butterflies, caterpillars and other insects around me. The colours, the erratic movement which I’m sure makes perfect sense to them. Bright blues, deep oranges and vibrant and electric green; going about existence in the only way they know how. Survival, freedom, life.  

I think about our creator, the God I believe in. What his palette must look like. Did he create the leopard and then think ooh I’ll make a butterfly in the same hues that would be cool? Or was the butterfly first? 

The waterway: an essential part of life for all creatures. What made him decide on small streams, rapid rivers, still lakes and raging oceans? Was it to show us the diversity and power of nature that has been given to us to enjoy living by? To remind us we are all different but also the same? The Spanish love their waterways. They don’t pollute them, they care for them and they embrace them in daily life. Building ladders into the river banks so the locals can frolic and enjoy the cool of the stream. Now that’s my idea of heaven.  

There are many reasons to journey the Camino and if you are a nature lover, this is certainly a trip for you.

 

Yours in Faith,

 

The Unlikely Pilgrim

 

Camino #1 – Lost and Lonely on The Camino

The Camino taught me many things. Lessons that would be uncovered as I traipsed across Spain with my backpack on and trepidation on my sleeve hidden by the sense of adventure that has always consumed and motivated me. The first of life’s little lessons would be the difference between being solo and being alone, the magnificent difference between loneliness and solitude. By day 3 I was 50 kms into my trek, and the scenery, if I’m honest, was not that great. My blisters had developed and although I enjoyed the quiet still of the track (after battling with the snoring and rustling of people in the dorm), by sun up and an hour into my walk I was lonely, bored and feeling overwhelmed by my solitude.

 The fields on the way to Astorga seemed endless. The heat was sticky and relentless as it threatened rain, which never did come to cool us down. I’d left with some other pilgrims but was soon alone having either overtaken them or fallen behind.

 Lonely: Feeling sad because one has no friends or company

The Camino is a journey people take for different reasons, to find themselves, to find God, to recover from a personal situation or to switch off and some only for the physical challenge… the list is endless. I had taken it on purely for research, to interview pilgrims, to hear their stories, to enjoy the countryside and a spot of vino; that was it. Nothing deep, not soul searching, just a pleasant stroll through the north of Spain, I might even get fit. Well the Camino had other ideas.

Sadness is something I can cope with, I’m a good crier, and I often embrace my feelings and bounce back quickly from sorrow or grief. But loneliness is not one I have battled with in my life. I come from a big family and I love to be around people. I’m often in a couple and even travelling solo across the globe I have stayed with families, met new friends and seldom have been truly alone.

On the Camino, I felt lonely, I felt isolated and felt lost within my own journey of life. The sense of purpose of The Unlikely Pilgrim evaporated on this trail and I questioned what it was all about. Why see all these amazing sights on your own? Why try and discover the faiths of the many and lose yourself? Why, just why, was I on this hot dirt track on the outskirts of Leon when I could be in a hundred other places surrounded by people, friends or beaches?

Solitude: The state or situation of being alone

Midway through my walk I had gotten into the swing of the Camino routine. Up early and on the trail before it gets hot…really hot. Four to six hours of solitary ME time to think and ponder and dream of what next? I came to understand that being alone doesn’t necessarily have to translate into being lonely.

 Every day there were people to meet at the juice stops and Albergues, conversations to be had and stories to discover. These intermittent meetings fuelled my human desire to be part of a tribe and gave me the energy to keep going it alone. The diversity of pilgrims on the route from big organised tour groups to energetic nomads, young, old, fit and not so fit. I met a man in Hospital de Orbigo who was battling the Camino in his wheelchair! Having been crippled by the cruelness that is MS he had always wanted to complete the Camino and he was going to give it everything he had. I bet he wished he could be alone, I bet he missed the solitude that good health provides. Half way – I’ve got this!

 Solo: A thing you do unaccompanied

 Rather than feeling lonely I started to feel empowered. People often praised me for doing it alone and I didn’t really see why. I met lots of solo travellers walking it and I certainly wasn’t the only one. I came to understand that time on your own is nice. Nice to have the time to sift through your thoughts, dissect them and bin what is not serving you. I understood that quiet feeds the soul and what I thought I knew about “switching off” was merely just touching the surface on practicing solitude. The loneliness had dispersed and had been replaced by gratitude. Gratitude to have the opportunity to switch off and explore this great land of ours and see the spectacular scenes, the quaint churches and be with God.


 Buddha found enlightenment, alone, in a field underneath the Bodhi Tree. The same spot is now swarming with monks, pilgrims and tourists alike. No amount of meditation in that space today would reach the higher plain. Yet on the Camino, the sound of nature whistles around you and your thoughts swirl in and out of your head. I think calm can be achieved, focus can be found and loneliness is merely a stepping stone along the way that helps you get there in the end.

After all, we are born alone and we die alone.  

Yours in Faith,

The Unlikely Pilgrim

 

Holy Trinity or Idolatry? – A tale of two cities

Let me start by saying that being in Jerusalem was a dream come true for me. From walking the path that Jesus followed down from the Mount of Olives on Palm Sunday, to being in the upper room where it is said that the last supper was held. I certainly had my moment in there, an overwhelming connection to Christ and a sorrow for what he must have been feeling on that fateful night. To walk the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday and be at the foot of Calvary where my Lord was crucified was an experience I will be forever grateful for and hold very dear in my heart.

 
I was impressed by the diversity of faces among the faithful believers: Africans, Australians, Europeans, South East Asians, Indians, Sri Lankans and Americans too. Christianity is a faith that has spread through the ages to all corners of the earth. This is a place where pilgrims come together on this holy land to pay homage to Christ their Lord and commemorate the holiness of Easter. It was certainly worth the trip.


On the other hand, I was surprised by the sheer number of churches that were in this seemingly small town. For example, wherever there is even a hint of Jesus-related history a church has been erected. Nearly every Station of the Cross is marked by a chapel or church. The tomb of Jesus is surrounded by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in which five denominations hold services in their sections. Fun fact: these five denominations, Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Armenian Orthodox (both Syrian and Ethiopians), and the Egyptian Coptic Christians cannot agree on anything to the point where for centuries two Muslim families have held the responsibility of the keys that are for opening and locking up. It is a tradition that is viewed as an incredible honour for the people of these two families. I bet the Anti-Islamist Christians don’t know that one.


Even in Bethlehem, the place where Jesus was born is marked and so is the manger which was five feet to the left. What I found at these sites were faithfuls throwing themselves at the ground, kissing the stone of Calvary, kissing the stone where the manger lay, kissing the stone where Jesus was prepared for burial etc. etc. Now I’m all for paying respect and I was moved and in rapture by my faith whilst in Jerusalem. However, I couldn’t shake the thought of idolatry.


Idolatry, and the fact that the places and symbols of Jesus and his life seem to be worshipped with such vigour, I found unnecessary. I love Jesus but I did not feel compelled to kiss the ground where it is said he was born, or where he was condemned by Pontius Pilot. I ponder; it is a fine line between worship in memorial and idolatry of the symbolism of Christ. The crucifix hangs around my neck, yet if it were not there I would still have the love of Christ in my heart. St Christopher is in my passport wallet but I do not worship him. The foundation stone lay beneath the walls of a mosque but it does not remove its importance to me and my faith.


So perhaps in this Holiest of Holy land we need to separate ourselves from the history and idolatry of the locations and remember that the love of Christ or the teachings of Mohammed or the Torah is what is important. Perhaps we need to remind ourselves that the stone where Jesus lay or where Mohammed ascended or the Wall of Temple of Solomon is part of this land’s history. 

The legacy is not the bricks and mortar; it is in the hearts and minds of the billions of followers who continue the great work of Abraham as his great nation.


That is the promise of God. Not let’s all fight over a geographical location despite the united origin of our people. Or not let’s all fight over who has responsibility for the bloody keys.
Yours in Faith,

The Unlikely Pilgrim