The large Municipal Albergue in O’Cebreiro started to come to life by 5:00am in the morning. Pilgrims were trying to be as polite as possible – a virtue they cared not much for the night before, and after a few quaffs of the local brew. Now, sleepy-eyed pilgrims were humbly setting their packs in good order and dressing themselves and their infirmities for the anticipated journey ahead of them. While the leg to O’Cebreiro was the ‘big show’, this leg would have its own challenges.
First, O’Cebreiro is not the highest point through which we would pass; there is yet more climbing to do. Second, Triacastela is some 600 meters lower in elevation than O’Cebreiro, and the descent, like the ascent the day before, will be taking place in the last several kilometers of our walk. Now, climbing is one kind of strain; it going to the thighs and the backs that must carry weighty backpacks. It’s also a hefty torture on the lungs. Descents are quite different. Most of a pilgrim’s problems to be experienced will take place with the knees and the ankles. The knees have to withstand the constant impact of a pilgrim’s body and backpack weight on the knees with each footfall. Remember, I mentioned many posts back, the average number of steps a pilgrim takes in a day’s journey is roughly forty-thousand. Think of your knees taking that much impact. A pilgrim might be thinking of going on a diet before undertaking such a journey, and leaving the golf clubs out of their backpack. The ankles get it with each shove of the foot; skidding a bit each time the foot is planted. There’s also the problem of the rocky trail; a nightmare for twists and sprains.
It became obvious that I had entered Galicia. Everything regarding the old architecture was different; much more primitive constructions, for a much more humble farming region. Here, farmers – their homes, barns, cattle, and field plots – cling to the mountain sides. Everything in architecture becomes more in scale to the steep hillsides; so roads are quite narrow. Structures look more like boulders; clinging to the rugged land, as do the trees.
As I passed through one small village of farm homes and barns I was the recipient of a most wonderful surprise. Winding my way between a series of barns, where tractors, hay, chickens, cattle, and farm equipment were kept, and my feet walking on one of many fieldstone paths, I came across an older Galician woman. She had Galician dress on; for a farm woman that would be a conical, woven hat pulled down over her head, a cotton, gingham-style dress, a full-length apron, thick socks and rubber goulashes. Let me tell you, with all the cattle about, you need the goulashes. Someone, please tell these people to quit feeding the cattle raisin bran!
With a kind smile on her face, she approached me with a napkin-covered plate in hand. She began to speak what I believe is the local language – Galician – and pulled the napkin away to reveal a stack of tortillas. It became immediately recognizable that she was offering me a tortilla; she sprinkled sugar, from a shaker, generously over the top tortilla, folded it into quarters, and held up the plate for me. I couldn’t help but think I needed to return the generosity, so I reached into my pack-pocket for a little money. As I took the folded tortilla I placed a euro in her hand.
I do believe I just gave her a most generous offering for her efforts, for as her eyes saw the coin, a look of surprise came over her face. She looked into my eyes with both wonder and love. She thanked me. I looked back at her sweet, wrinkled and worn face, and those amazing loving, clear blue eyes and thanked her. I walk on; no further conversation or pictures. I don’t like to intrude much into the lives of these people. We are just too far apart for casual and gratuitous encounters. They are not on display for us pilgrims; this is their land, not ours.
And I want to say something here…..
What I saw in these small villages, comprised not much more than a few barns, humble homes, and various livestock and chickens, was one of the most wonderful opportunities for the modern man to view the ordinary and the amateur.
As to the ordinary…..
The everyday events in these people’s lives – those things that give expression, wholeness, character and love to their lives – are events that modern man hopes to never have to engage in. Such menial tasks – so repetitive, so involuntary, so absolute – are just too ordinary for the mankind who sees relative will as being the goal of humanity. Well my answer to them is that, in knowing God’s will, and in answering God’s calling to His service, the ordinary is transformed into the spiritual extraordinary. Common things become pearls.
Many of these people exemplify the calling of God on their lives. This is their service, their stewardship of the land as God created man to do. The work is hard, the surroundings humble; even objectionable many times. But in the cycle of life that is the very essence of a farm, we see the very essence of God and His creation in one. No man or woman should ever think the ordinary is too little for him or her, for to do so is to reject God’s creation. It is in the ordinary where life is the purest and holiest.
And as to the amateur…..
The modern world has redefined this word into a derogatory meaning – “bush leaguer” “Sunday driver” “neophyte”. Look up the etymological definition. Its closest definition would be “to love” or “lover of”. Modern society wants to say that to do something means it must be done at its very best. Sounds right, doesn’t it? But what about the person who does something because they love it? And what do you say to that same person who is doing something they love, when they will never be very good at it?
I’m going to put it plain, and a lot of you aren’t going to like it. To work in a profession for the purpose of subsistence, advancement, and money is to not be answering God’s call. I don’t care how much money you give to charity. God had something better for you to do.
God, in His infinite wisdom and His showering grace will take care of all things in your life according to your measure, and that measure will be fulfilled as a happiness and peace that would call you to give glory to God each moment of your lives, but only through the service you perform according to your gifts and calling. So go do it. It’s never too late to answer His call.
These humble, hard-working people are not out here because Wall Street has cattle futures in mind. They are out here for the absolute; the tradition of working the land that God gave them; from one generation to the next. In the most simple of work, and the ugliest, resides a beauty that cannot be matched or bettered. This is God’s world, and this is what God asks us to do with our lives.
You’ll see in the photos the incredible morning that greeted me as I left the Albergue. There was the mystical mist – I had heard of it in my guide book – wrapping itself around the hills like an ocean revealing the thrust of earth’s crust upward; these being islands in the sky. Surprisingly, the mist was quite stable during the morning hours. As I descended towards Triacastela, I came closer and closer to this mist until I could see below it as well as above it; quite an astonishing event.
Once things started downhill, in a big way, time seemed to speed up. It’s like dropping and rolling the rest of the way. My knees are saying “when is this ending”, but my mind is saying I’m getting close. The ancient forest of mature chestnut trees lined my way to Triacastela like good soldiers; securing my way to my peace and bed.
It’s Monday. This Sunday I’ll be at Mass at the Cathedral de Santiago. I can sleep on that one.
I’ll close with a quote from Oswald Chambers.
“Walking on the water is easy to impulsive pluck, but walking on dry land as a disciple of Jesus Christ is a different thing. Peter walked on the water to go to Jesus, but he followed Him afar off on the land. We do not need the grace of God to stand crises, human nature and pride are sufficient, we can face the strain magnificently; but it does require the supernatural grace of God to live twenty-four hours in every day as a saint, to go through drudgery as a disciple, to live an ordinary, unobserved, ignored existence as a disciple of Jesus. It is inbred in us that we have to do exceptional things for God; but we have not. We have to be exceptional in the ordinary things, to be holy in mean streets, among mean people, and this is not learned in five minutes.”
Love and God Bless – Reese