Heading out through the Gate from Los Arcos, I gave myself an early start. The distance here was a good 18 miles, with some elevation climb, so I decided to give myself some extra time to accomplish this leg of The Way.
The Way started out easy-going; long stretches of gentle rolling land. Things were dry so mud was not a factor, but now the hard, clay earth was proving to be its own formidable foe to the feet. At one point I passed Alistair Campbell, an Irishman. I had met him back at Puente La Reina, bunked with him, and ate dinner with him and a few other Pilgrims. Amongst them were Paul and John; two University of St. Thomas students. The subject of Alistair’s occupation never came up, and I didn’t ask for it as I came up alongside, said “Hola”, shook hands and moved on to my own faster pace.
It was another half-hour later when we met up again. I had stopped in Sansol for a drink of water, a couple of cookies, and a five minute breather. Along came Alistair. We hailed each other and just began to walk together. I can always tell when I’m supposed to spend a little time with someone on the Camino. There’s just that discernment, that tap on the shoulder that tells me I need to be aware. Something’s just ahead.
Now Alistair is a real Irishman. His family came from Scotland some generations back – he’s a Campbell – but his family is all Irish now. His Mom, a devout Christian, Alistair’s the oldest sibling in his family.
My faith is always my Way anymore. When I talk, especially of the beauty of this Spanish land, it’s hard for me to do anything other than give honor to God for His impeccable taste in creation. If one could strive and accomplish a Masters or Doctorate degree, just what do you think God’s degree would be?
Alistair, as he told me later, had prayed for a walking companion that would exercise his faith, and so he tuned in and casually noted he was a Baptist Pastor. Now, you can say what my Kathryn said when I told her this via Skype, “A Baptist?” Well, while Catholicism is the dominant faith of Christianity in Ireland, the Baptists are certainly there in good number, with the Association of Baptists Churches holding it all together. All I know is, that upon hearing him say that, I had to ask, “You’re a Pastor, you say?”
For me, frankly, this was heaven sent. I’ve enjoyed my time with all of the pilgrims I’ve met out here. I’ve enjoyed the conversations. I’ve also discovered that unless one has some religious reason for being on the Camino, conversations can be not much more than a shallow wading pool for children whose parents have left them to each others fantasies, so the parents can get some rest on their chaises. I can clearly see the depth of the reason that such a pilgrim truly has in being out here – it’s right there (hidden) in their mission statement (we’ve all got one) – I’m just not sure they see it. As a result, there’s always that moment where any depth of conversation between pilgrims requires a getting out of the wading pool, taking off the waders, and getting into the adult pool. That’s a lot for most; too much. To talk of such things is to run the risk of noting your insufficiencies to strangers, and that does horrible things to one’s pride. So let me just say it…. Anyone walking the Camino for more than a week, has something in mind (hidden) that is much greater than the cool factor.
Anyways, I’m wandering too much. My interest was much piqued by the fact that I had a captive Pastor for the next couple of hours to lob theological grenades at. So what could I toss out? Ok, first….
We had been discussing a common recent activity; that being assisting parents and/or friends in their move from the independence of their own lives in their own homes, to that of a dependent life in a retirement community of one kind or the other. He had noted in telling of such a story, about the alert devices that a retirement home employs to track and monitor retirees. If they need assistance, just press the button. Alistair also noted how many do not want to lose their perceived independence. Old age is like being a child again, where our society wants to reach out and take care of their children; no matter the age. So what was my question?
Alright Pastor, I understand what society wants to do, and I understand that physical life is a “one-time-around” journey and precious, but if Christ promises us such a glorious future, why would I want to stick around in this world of sin? Why would I want to have people take such extraordinary measures – as we do – to keep me around? And what’s in the back of my mind is the consideration of this concept at any age; not just for the elderly. If I am a Christian – truly in love with my Lord – does not there lie a precept that states that only when I am not holding onto this world’s gains, its riches, and my experiences, can I then be counted as sanctified for the next. Now that makes me ask, “Do saints bypass purgatory?
I’ll leave the answer for you to figure out, but Alistair had a good mind tease in front of him.
And so a second question came after the first. Ok, second….
I had to go back to that night in Estella; the one where the young woman asked that Brittany and I pray for her so that God might be convinced to talk to her once again. When I couldn’t help her through the understanding that God has never stopped talking to her, I had to just shut up and go to sleep; cranky. What was it that I should have done? There must have been something I could have said or done at that moment to open her mind to the truth that God has never abandoned her.
Perhaps I was picking at my scab a little here, because I could not help but note to Alistair that I knew I was completely wrong in my thinking that I could and should have done more; that I was deficient and unschooled. Alistair deflected this one with a laugh, recognizing my bait. It’s my mind, folks. It just keeps getting in the way of its much more handsome, literate, and loving sibling; my spirit.
If you’re waiting for the answer to the second question, ask your Pastor. My mind is still in an arm-wrestling match with my spirit, and I can’t quite see the sense in realizing that I just am not called to solve everyone’s problems. Hey, I get it! I think “sense” has something to do with this. I’m such a human.
Alistair, for his part, talked a bit about his leaving God behind as a young man, and seeking the world. He did well – achieving the status of headmaster in his career in education – and yet with all that he had accomplished that was of the world, he certainly felt unfinished in this world. At 32 years old, he was fortunate to have a successful showdown and make that good break back to his Christian faith. Amazing isn’t? From that one moment, I imagine he had little idea of his future; becoming a Pastor and shepherding so many people through their own journeys. He talked of his ups and downs. You know being Christian entitles you to no bypass of the trials of life; no ‘Pass Go’ card. By the time we parted by a shady picnic table near the edge of a small suburb, I clearly discerned a person and Pastor who knew his life was a journey much like the one he is on now.
Sorry for the few pictures. Talking to Alistair captured my mind, spirit, and time. What was an 18+ mile walk felt like only 12 miles. My, the time and miles just goes by.
God Bless and Buen Camino – Reese