Notes for a New Day will recount some rather older days during the next few months – journal entries from my pilgrimage on Spain’s camino in 2013.
During this time I’ve been writing most nights in a beautiful journal, covered in the softest green leather the color of peridot (which happens to be my birthstone), and which has been a companion on this journey. There are quotes scattered throughout its once empty pages, things such as Emptiness is the beginning of holiness (Emilie Griffin), or from the 14th century’s guide to mysticism, The Cloud of Unknowing:
Pay attention then, to how you spend your time. You have nothing more precious than time. In one tiny moment of time, heaven may be gained or lost.
On this final day of our pilgrimage, today’s quote:
Humility is what created the space within us – within our hearts and minds and souls and spirits – for obedience to grow. – Robert Benson
Well, walking this way of St. James is most definitely humbling! But as we neared the city of Santiago de Compostela our packs seemed lighter, the greetings between pilgrims more jovial. Our paths were leading us all to the same place, the town’s main square in front of the cathedral, and what greeted us in the gateway to the square but a Galician bagpiper. It sounds scripted now, but in the moment it felt entirely natural and right to hear the music of this region playing in accompaniment to our final pilgrimage steps.
We dropped our packs off at the hotel – no more bunkbeds for us – and went to the Cathedral in time for the noon pilgrim’s mass. We were early enough to get fairly close, and learned the songs that the nun taught the congregation before mass began. The words were in Latin, so familiar enough, and we sang loudly, in a vain attempt to encourage those around us to do likewise. And we saw the famously huge botafumeiro swing across the transepts, dispensing incense over the crowds – an attempt to perfume pilgrims fresh off the camino perhaps? In medieval times most likely done with a hope of fumigating unwashed pilgrims! When the swinging ended, even the eight attending priests joined in the applause.
With the distance of six years now, I wonder still at the hold that these three weeks of walking have on me. To have done something that connects me with over a thousand years of pilgrimage, to have stepped out of all my normal patterns of life, to have become empty and paid attention and been humbled – these are all experiences that crystallize moments of learning and awareness about our place in creation. Unforgettable. I long to return, but even if I never do I know that I carry all I learned on that route through northern Spain in my heart on this life’s pilgrimage, wherever it takes me.