This day turned into something I was not expecting, but by know I should trust a little more in God’s constant work in my life. I’m on some timetable of His that seems to require a bit faster pace sometimes than I would like; but then again, not having free will, I should just grin and bear it. And so I did; with enthusiasm.
I left the Albergue Tio Pepe with an optimistic spirit. My feet seemed to be holding together, though my right foot, big toenail, is now going black & blue like two other toenails on that foot. I have a feeling a doctor is in my future. Anyways…. I left the Albergue, thanking my hostess. Once outside and on my way, I began to think about that hostess in the sense of applying her into an ongoing discourse that has rattled through my brain for some time. In part, it is why I became a Catholic this past Easter Vigil. The subject of discourse and contemplation? What is the necessary structure – the ideological union of conditions of the human mind, body and spirit – for true faith?
Not being a “cradle” anything in regards to faith – and in the simple fact that I was chosen one night in 2009 for a dramatic birth of my spirit, immediate transformation, and of most importance, an immediate, secure, and most peaceful, near-perfect faith – this structure has bothered me much. I, frankly, feel rather disturbed about the many, many people in this world who work so hard and strive devoutly to have that faith which has been handed to me by God. In turn, I want so desperately to solve this riddle of faith, and of course, I know it is unsolvable; in the physical, human sense, but that does leave the spiritual sense. I hope to help others with their journey.
So my thoughts turned to that hostess. I thought of her free will; her choices in life and how she has either come to this town or was born and raised here. I thought of how she lives here now, and perhaps for the rest of her life, and I began to project that into the spiritual realm of things. I thought of the fact that this town had perhaps two hundred residents, it was in the middle of what I would call nowhere, from an American perspective, and there would be better places to live. Two words came to me….. “small town”.
Now what I am really thinking about is the concept that all people might be in a better place spiritually if they chose to limit the input of the world into their lives. The hostess back at the Albergue seemed so happy; seemed at peace. I’m thinking that the truth of the “small town” lies in its structure; that fully embraced set of traditions – absolutes – by which a small town finds its meter or beat; like that of a song that one finds themselves humming without even being aware they are doing so. These small-town people know their front door and their home beyond that front door. They know what they will find each morning when they wake up, and they can go to sleep each night with the surety that things will be the same tomorrow. Their faith lies within the order of the small town; the knowledge that the world about them is constant and composed of set doctrines and values that add up to traditions. This is what I am thinking as I head down that rosy path called The Way, and it sounds pretty good to me.
I had planned to walk only half way of the guide book’s recommendation of 31 kilometers (19+ miles). This meant I would stay the night in the town of Hospital de Obrigo, and then complete this long leg to Astorga the following day. I thought it best to give my feet all the opportunity I could to let them heal, and come back to their task as good feet. My walk was going well, the weather was beautiful, and my pace was brisk. I came to the town of Vallivante, not too distant from Hospital de Obrigo, and I decided to stop at a café for a coffee and pastry. As I stood outside the café, a friendly voce attached to a friendly woman asked if I was about to sit at an outdoor table in front of me. She had her coffee in-hand and was hoping to find a seat herself. I returned with a “No, please sit.” and moved inside to get my snack.
Being in a hurry to get back on the Camino – I frequently walk through an entire day’s journey with little pause – I slurped my coffee and chomped on my chocolate-filled pastry. From there, it was a quick pit stop, the ceremonial dressing of the backpack, and I was out the door and across the plaza. I immediately found myself coming alongside the woman who I had encountered with her coffee in hand. Now I have learned that this type of encounter invariably means ‘classroom time’, Learning About Life 101. This has happened to me at least four other times that I can think of since stepping out on The Way.
“It’s a beautiful day.” or something to that effect came out of my mouth. I honestly cannot remember what the next few minutes of conversation entailed. Annette – I learned her name much later – was most polite, and I thought of her kindness in carrying on a conversation. What I do remember of our conversation was the door that was presented to me, the contents of the house within, and the satisfaction with the house’s order and completeness by the owner of the house. So let’s walk through the three things I remember, and I must preface this with the clarification that what I was learning in this class was an intense amplification of the “small town” discourse that had rattled about in my mind earlier in the day. I knew this was coming when I started the conversation with Annette.
Annette’s door was that of willingness, a need to seek, and in order for me to pass through it, I needed to be in the right place spiritually. The question I asked of Annette required an examination of the contents of the house, and a lengthy answer. It required her to recount a period of her life where experiences and opportunities were unlimited, and any rigidity in life expectations were minimal. Something else is also important here, critical in fact, few people offer up lengthy stories of their life unless that story has some significance that most likely shaped most everything about who they are now. Think of it like a movie. Usually we see the protagonist in that phase – acting out those events – that we construe by the end of the movie as being central to their existence. One rarely offers up weak broth as representative of their cooking. So, the contents…..
Annette and her friend were just past twenty years old. They had acquired tickets for the European trains that would permit them to travel as they saw fit for the next few weeks, and so they did; stopping where they pleased and making little plans of where they would go next, but after some time of this, Annette’s friend awoke one morning to the anxiety of being without a place of surety nor a sure destination; she just could not go on wandering. It made her feel sick, and she wanted to go home. And so she did.
What was interesting is that Annette says she never discerned her friend’s growing anxiety, and was surprised when she heard her friend’s declaration. You see, Annette may be a pure traveler; that kind of special and rare nomad who can carry life’s centeredness – one’s spirituality – within one. While most people require an exoskeleton – that structure I had noted earlier – by which their centeredness, their spirituality, may securely exist, Annette had an endoskeleton that she would soon discover would secure her to her spiritual needs.
The contents of the house that Annette was showing me – her life experiences at this young age – came through the pre-determined meeting with a man that would orient her future as a woman and a mother. After her friend departed, Annette decided to travel on to Switzerland. While aboard the train, she met a man, some twelve years-older, who demonstrated an ability of discourse and engagement with other people that impressed her probably more so on the unconscious level than purely the conscious. They took up a conversation and he soon invited her to join him in Belgium where his sailboat was harbored. She could sail with him across the waters to another city he had planned out; just meet him at the dock on such-and-such a date.
What do we say…. “The gauntlet has been thrown down.” I’m sure Annette, on some level, was assessing her own depth of commitment to this nomadic life in the physical. I’ve got to believe that she had not fully addressed the long-term effects on her spiritual nature, but few twenty-something’s ever do. (Maybe I’m wrong.) As life is mysteriously tempting, she went to the docks, met him there, and sailed with him to their destination. From there, they parted; his way, her way, for the next couple of years. She made no mention of ever contacting him, but he sent postcards periodically, to her parents’ stable address, letting her know where he was and what has been going on. He was a world traveler, you see.
A pre-determined encounter came when they both found themselves in or near Munich, and he had made an impulsive inquiry of her father, via a telephone call, if she was married. Father said no, and gave him her telephone number. He asked her if she would like to meet him in Acapulco, Mexico, where his sailboat was docked. From there, they would sail to Nicaragua. She accepted.
When the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua sucked the wind out of their sails, this man suggested the next best thing; let’s go to the Marquesas. She accepted again, and life evolved into sailing about much of the known world, getting married to this man, and having children. Living in Hawaii, as the family still does to this date, became as close to a settled life, and exoskeleton, as she has embraced since those early days of adventure. Today, she is on The Way, and talking to me. She is not done seeking. I make this assertion simply because I believe that anyone who travels by sailboat or backpack is seeking something. Even if one declares they are out there to relive the raw intensity of life – to be alive – or to embrace the world in its most physical form, I still say they are seeking. Just call it a pet peeve that I’ll come back to at the end of my discourse.
So, I come to the third remembrance of our conversation; her satisfaction with the contents of her house, or I might refer to it as her endoskeleton or structure. There is actually little I can say about it other than what I discerned as we talked. What became quite apparent to me was that Annette was well read on the subject of spirituality; very well read. I was on my heels for most of our conversation due to my lack of familiarity with many twentieth-century writers on spiritualism and theology that Annette has given much time and thought to. What seemed to be soaking into the porous sponge I call a brain was that I was being presented with a theology entailing modern, universal concepts of spirituality; that God is in all things and is not confined by the limits of any one religion. To contain God to one doctrine, one set of beliefs and practices, is a short-sided effort of poor research and understanding that man must go through as he evolves in his ability to know God.
Unfortunately mankind needs structure. Mankind wants, and must, place God within some structure in order to deal with Him. First, it must be belief, then there must be doctrine, and finally there must be physical structure, not just theological structure. But the true God defies such limitations according to spiritual nomads. I believe no one would disagree with that premise, but man still needs structure. Many great thinkers down through history have tried and failed to fully encompass God’s perfection and goodness into a rational, non-structured existence and knowledge. Their results are always what we refer to as ideology; a pleasant dream that leaves one tossing in bed all night long. But Annette believes that one can know God.
Now that was something I have blurted out in my prayers more than once, “I know you, Lord.” And I do feel so close to God at times that I just should know him, I really should. Of course, my question when faced with such thoughts is, “How will I know that I know?”
Yes, of course, God is in all things. God created all things. God created man and woman, and He gave them stewardship over this earth. My pet peeve finds life when I am confronted with one’s personal certainty that God is without structure, without doctrine, but can be contained within one’s endoskeleton, and perhaps only there.
God made man a social creature, and as such, man can only relate to God as a social creature. He cannot do otherwise. And as such, man must conform to beliefs and practices that the society can understand and relate to. It is not a failing of man, it is how God created man and set up mankind’s society, and it has been shown through the centuries of mankind that only through structure can mankind hope to evolve; move closer to God and find his hopeful path to redemption. In the ideological world man can touch Nirvana; man can know God. We write much on this aspiration. God would have us do little of this for it is not to His purpose. His purpose is for mankind to love Him as He loves mankind, and for mankind to love one another; through words and deeds that embrace all of humanity as one in diversity. For that to happen requires structure. We’re trying.
By the time I finished my good conversation with Annette, she had reached her destination at San Justo de la Vega, and I was but a few kilometers of Astorga. I’ll sleep in Astorga tonight.
Love and God Bless – Reese