El Camino de Santiago began to ease its way into my consciousness beginning with my early upbringing in the Catholic Church. My mother, a devoted Catholic, insisted on raising us as Catholics despite my father’s Baptist leanings; while his beliefs devolved into agnosticism, my mother remained a fervent believer throughout her life. She dressed my two sisters and me in scratchy crinoline dresses, lace doilies perched atop our heads, and dragged us to church. Masses in my youngest years were in Latin, so I didn’t understand what was happening, yet the ritual held a mystique for me. My mother took us to confession weekly. As I was a relatively good girl (until my rebellious teen years), I found it difficult to dredge up any sins to confess to the priest in that little booth. I counted my rosary beads while whispering my Hail Marys as penance, just as I was told.
Most of all, I was fascinated by the sacrament, the Latin words, the music and the incense. An enthusiastic Catholic child, I set up chairs in rows and instructed my little siblings to sit down and listen as I performed a mass. I would read from a Latin prayer book and serve up grape juice and flattened bread, cut in circles around upside-down glasses, to my “parishioners.” “The body of Christ, the blood of Christ,” I’d say, repeating what the priest said on Sundays. I don’t know why I was so caught up in this; sometimes I wonder if I just wanted to be in charge of my siblings. I admit I was a pretty bossy sister.
To this day, the swinging of incense still has the power to bring me to tears. One of my strongest hopes is to be able to experience the botafumeiro at the pilgrim’s mass at the Cathedral in Santiago. Since I won’t be arriving in Santiago during any special liturgical celebrations, my only hope is that it will have been formally requested by a pilgrimage group.
Later, I went through a falling out with the church, in increments. First our local priest refused to let our high school, across the street from the church, borrow its BBQ grills for an event; they had lent them in the past but refused the year I was charged with asking. I felt it was hypocritical when our priest so often talked of sharing. Later, as I became aware of social issues, I became a strong believer in a woman’s right to choose, antithetical to Catholic beliefs. In my early years, I dreamed I might like to be a priest, but never a nun; that avenue would always be closed off to me as a woman.
In my early twenties, I went to premarital counseling with my fiancé, also a Catholic who had attended Bishop Ireton High School, at that time an all-boys Catholic school in Arlington, Virginia. After several sessions, I said to the priest, “What if I don’t believe in the Church’s stand on abortion? And what if I believe priests should be allowed to marry and women should be able to be priests?” He told me if I didn’t accept the basic beliefs of the church, then he wouldn’t be able to marry us. We ended up getting married at the College of William & Mary in the Wren Chapel by an ecumenical chaplain.
Fast forward 8 1/2 years. My first husband and I separated after 7 1/2 years, and I met my current husband, who, though brought up Episcopalian, had been attending Catholic Church with his first wife, who had died of breast cancer less than a year before I met him. I accompanied him to Catholic masses, and we talked to the priest about my getting a divorce from my first husband. When I told him we hadn’t been married in the Church, he told me the church couldn’t recognize my divorce as it didn’t recognize my marriage. It was performed outside the church, after all. I had never been married, in the eyes of the Church, despite being with my first husband for over seven years and having a daughter with him. So many rules and regulations! So much rigidity!
For many years after Mike and I were married in the Episcopal Church, we attended services, similar in ritual to Catholic masses, at that same church. I found the Episcopal Church more open and flexible. We had a woman priest. We didn’t have to go to confession. We had an openly gay priest and I volunteered to work with AIDS patients. Anyone attending services was welcome to take communion.
Eventually, my interest in attending church services dwindled and I stopped going to church. I started reading about Buddhism and meditation. I traveled to Asia and became enamored of Buddhist teachings. I lived in Oman and learned to love the rhythm of the call to prayer five times a day.
Today, I would call myself a spiritual seeker, open to connection with a higher power, whether Christ, God, Allah, Buddha, nature, or the universe. It’s an amorphous belief, one ever-changing. What I seek most is faith in, and a deep sense of connection to, a higher power. I believe there is a cosmic consciousness that underlies all religions and nature.
I heard about the Camino de Santiago, and became fascinated by the idea of pilgrimage. I’ve read numerous books about prayer, pilgrimage and meditation. A regular practice of a prayer life in my life is lacking, however, and I dream of spending more time in meditation and prayer. I know that when I do it, I am more serene, more trusting.
Still. I am fascinated by glorious places of worship. I have stood within sacred spaces such as mosques, Buddhist temples and European churches, and been awestruck. When I was in Spain (Barcelona, Toledo, and Andalucia in 2013), I was fascinated by the Catholic churches – the Romanesque murals, frontal altars, and cloisters. I love how they reach to heaven, although I know many of these churches were built to glorify the power and wealth of the church itself. I love ancient murals in churches and have always been fascinated by altarpieces. I have a collection of triptychs and crosses, as well as Buddhas, from around the world.
At the College of William & Mary, as an English major in the late 1970s, I was introduced to Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, a collection of 24 stories written in Middle English between 1387 and 1400. The tales are part of a story-telling contest by a group of pilgrims as they travel together on a journey from London to Canterbury to visit the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral. Although this pilgrimage story wasn’t about El Camino, I found some of the pilgrim’s tales strange and intriguing. I began to wonder about the idea of pilgrimage, and wanted to explore it further.
In 2012, I watched the 2010 movie, The Way. In the movie, a father, played by Martin Sheen, goes to Spain to recover the body of his estranged son who died while walking the Camino. He decides to make the pilgrimage himself and the movie follows his journey. This was the first time I’d been introduced to the pilgrimage in a visual form. Before, it had only been an idea.
Later, I watched the 2013 documentary, Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago. It follows pilgrims from different nationalities as they make the arduous trek.
Over the years, I also read several books about pilgrimage, including:
- The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred by Phil Cousineau
- The Way of the Traveler: Making Every Trip a Journey of Self-Discovery by Joseph Dispenza
- The Mindful Traveler: A Guide to Journaling and Transformative Travel by Jim Currie
I fell in love with the Spanish countryside during my visit in July 2013, and thought I would love to take a long walk through the amazing landscape and villages of Spain.
Who doesn’t love Spanish bars and food, including tapas and churros?
There is a mystique about Spain’s Moorish history that draws me in. The Moors occupied areas of Spain from 711 until Granada fell in 1492, and their 700+ years there left a mark — in music, art, life view and architecture. After living two years in Oman, and after having traveled to Egypt, Jordan, Turkey and UAE, I find myself in awe of Moorish architecture, with its Arabic calligraphy and symbols, its arches and exquisite tilework.
After being both a runner and a swimmer in my earlier days, I now prefer walking as my mode of exercise. Walking can done in silent meditation, or while listening to music or audiobooks. I always prefer to walk outdoors as opposed to on a treadmill, which I find excruciatingly boring.
For a period of time, I was enamored of walking labyrinths, a common practice in Episcopal churches. The labyrinth is a calming, circuitous path that you do in silence, whereas the Camino is a point-to-point walk and you encounter others on the path, although you can find silence and solitude as well. I believe the Camino can address the same spiritual needs as a labyrinth: a deepening spirituality, access to intuition and creativity, simplicity, intimacy and community, and integration of body and spirit.
According to the book Exploring the Labyrinth, by Melissa Gayle, “The labyrinth holds up a mirror – reflects back the light on our selves but also what restrains us from shining forth.” She goes on: “What remains for the labyrinth walker is simply the deeply meditative and symbolic discipline of setting one foot in front of the other, of honoring the journey itself and what it has to teach.” I believe this applies to the Camino as well.
So what do I hope for my Camino? I’d like to be awakened to what kind of being I’m meant to be in this world. I want to find inner strength and faith – especially when it comes to my adult children and to the political situation in the world – and to believe that not only my children, but the world at large, will find its way to fulfillment, joy, love and justice. I want to learn where I fit into the puzzle of life. 🙂
According to Camino de Santiago |The Way of St. James, El Camino de Santiago, in English “The Way of St. James,” is a network of routes across Spain and Europe which all lead to Santiago de Compostela, in northwest Spain. In the Middle Ages, these routes were walked as a pilgrimage to the tomb of the apostle St. James.
Millions of people from all over the world have traveled the Camino for over 1,000 years. According to the Confraternity of Saint James, in 2017 alone, over 301,036 people attempted the arduous trek – each one a seeker of something: sport, culture, religion, nature, adventure, etc. El Camino de Santiago has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and the First European Cultural Itinerary.
There are many routes to Santiago de Compostela, but my intention is to walk The French Way, or the Camino Francés (780km, or 490 miles). It begins on the French side of the Pyrenees at Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, and meanders across northern Spain as far as Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. This is the most famous and most traveled route.
“THE CALL TO PLACE” INVITATION: I invite you to write a post on your own blog about what enticed you to choose a particular destination. If you don’t have a blog, I invite you to write in the comments. If your destination is a place you love and keep returning to, feel free to write about that. If you want to see the original post about the subject, you can check it out here: imaginings: the call to place.
Include the link in the comments below by Thursday, August 30 at 1:00 p.m. EST. If you link after August 30, I will not be able to include your link in my next post, so please feel free to add your link to that post as soon as it publishes (since I’m leaving for the Camino on August 31).
My next “call to place” post is scheduled to post on Thursday, September 27. If you’d like, you can use the hashtag #wanderessence.
This will be an ongoing invitation, on the fourth Thursday of each month. Feel free to jump in at any time. 🙂
I hope you’ll join in our community. I look forward to reading your posts!
the ~ wander.essence ~ community
I invite you all to settle in and read a few posts from our wandering community. I promise, you’ll be inspired!
- Ulli, of BANACTEE, wrote about his call to Tunisia, a place to which he has often returned, and of the scarcity of water in that arid land.
Thanks to all of you who wrote posts about “the call to place.” 🙂