At the parish hostel I stayed at in Tosantos (population: 20) we all went up to the third floor chapel after our shared meal. The hospitalerios (a volunteer who runs the hostel) led us in a prayer service that included readings, blessings, songs, and prayer in French, German, English, Spanish, and Italian (representative of the countries from which the nine of us pilgrims had come). He then had a message to share with us: The Camino is not so much about the outward physical journey as the inward journey of our hearts. He encouraged us to take this message with us along The Way. Having just passed the half-way mark on my journey along the Camino, I thought now would be a time to reflect on that inward journey.
As I mentioned in my first Busted Halo blog post, my spiritual journey has had a few bumps along the way. I got to Saint Jean Pied-de-Port to start my Camino wondering if this journey would help me come to any realizations about my shaky connection to my Catholic faith. So far I’ve realized this: I am just where God wants me to be. He’s okay with where I am. So am I. It’s quite simple really. I don’t have to make any grand decisions.
My journey here on the Camino is one I take day-by-day. I get up each morning when my body wakes me. I stretch for 20 minutes, write three pages in my journal, pack, eat breakfast, fill my water bottles, and I’m off. “How far are you going today?” other pilgrims will ask. “I’m not sure. I’ll just see how I feel.” I have a plan — an Excel spread sheet listing the towns I’d like to finish in each day, their distance (in both kilometers and miles) from the previous town. But it’s merely an idea. One of my favorite expressions is the one that says, “If you want to make God laugh, make plans.” I’ve made God laugh plenty in my short life.
So it is, too, that my spiritual journey is a day-by-day one at this point. I have an idea of where I’d like to be someday: part of a community of individuals who have a wide variety of opinions and beliefs but who share common ideas similar to mine. That love is really what makes the world go round. That sometimes (often?) there is no clear right and wrong. That there is no one way to live a life, but that we are surely all here to learn from each other. That everyone has gifts to share with the world. This will be a community that believes in helping others — not just those in our community, but elsewhere in our world. We will physically gather together often, sharing our thoughts and joys and problems, offering our love, prayers, and support. There will be leaders, but they will be guides or facilitators rather than dictators. When their time has come to take another role, they will do so and let others take their turn.
I have caught glimpses of this life. I have, for a time, been part of communities like these. As an Americorps VISTA with Massachusetts Campus Compact, as part of a liberal Catholic parish in Boston, which was forced to close, in various Unitarian communities I’ve looked into, and at Joyfuly Jobless conferences for the self-employed. I am confident I will find what I’m looking for again.
As I’ve walked the Camino, I’ve been surprised at how many churches are locked up and unable to be accessed by pilgrims. The pilgrims that started their walk further back in France tell me that all the churches in France were open during the day. Many pilgrims, as we walk by another locked church, tell me they, too, are surprised by how hard it is to find an open one while on this pilgrimage. At first I wanted to take it as a sign — a sign that I don’t belong in a church. That I don’t belong in a Catholic church. Or the Catholic faith for that matter. Indeed, what was it that I wanted from these places? A quiet haven? A place to sit? A place to reflect? I don’t need a church building for any of that — I find all of this in nature, of which there is plenty on this journey. I certainly wasn’t looking to step into church to talk to God. He’s the voice in my head, my intuition, my gut feeling. I can talk and listen to him anytime (and do).
So maybe closed churches were a sign that it’s not the building that I need. When I spoke earlier of the “community” I am seeking, there was nothing there about a physical building. Jesus told Peter about the rock on which the church will be built. A pilgrim I met from Texas reminded me Jesus wasn’t necessarily talking about a physical building on a physical rock. A “church” can be any community of people. Our communities need solid foundations. I believe we can determine what foundations we want those to be and then find or build a church/community based on those.
The foundations of my beliefs remain strong. The community of which I was part (the Catholic Church), however, might not be the right one for me anymore. I’m not sure. But right now the message is clear for me: to simply take each day as it comes.