12 April | Easter Sunday
In his bestselling book The Pilgrimage, Paulo Coelho makes a profound, personifying statement about the Camino walking him as opposed to him walking the Camino. I concur. Completely. The Camino walked me as well. And at the end of the pilgrimage, attending Mass at San Francisco Church (in lieu of Mass at the Cathedral of St. James during the restoration) on the Feast of St. James in Compostela exponentially enhanced my spiritual experience. When I reflect on that 500-mile victorious journey, I can understand the Camino as a perfect metaphor for not only Lent, but also for life because the pilgrimage taught me several lessons:
My Camino (my walk with God, my Lent, my life) will—and should be—unique.
My Camino is not a race; I must travel at my own pace.
My Camino depends on prayer and wisdom.
My Camino prompts me to learn to be better. Respond better. Love others better. Serve others better.
My Camino is thankful for the relationships in my life.
My Camino emotionally heals and liberates me—and moves me forward—from those who would prefer not to share a relationship space with me.
My Camino is short. I must be gracious, be generous, and be grateful.
Looking back, the time on the Camino does seem short—a blip on the calendar of my past. And yet, I remember those special spaces and times in the thin sphere with God. Toward the end of my journey from St. Jean Pied-de-Port, France, to Compostela, Spain, I remember walking under a street banner announcing the annual July festival celebrating Saint Mary Magdalene. In that misty morning moment, passing under that banner with my eyes to the sky, I smiled to myself thinking about how much Jesus loved Mary Magdalene, enough to choose her to be the first human being to see His resurrected body (see John 20:11-18). And then my mind embraced those moments His real presence accompanied me during my Camino: leading me, teaching me, carrying me, healing me, whispering to me, loving me.
Today begins the glorious Easter season. Today’s readings depict that day when, in Matthew’s gospel, the women of The Way witnessed the angel rolling away the stone, revealing an empty tomb, and telling them Jesus “is not here, for he had been raised just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay” (Matthew 28:6). Then, Jesus meets them while they are on the way to tell the others: “Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me” (28:10). Go tell the others. Isn’t that what Easter is all about? Celebrate and go tell the others!
Braelyn: And just like that, it’s over. Five weeks of traveling along the path, now complete. As you clear the entrance to the plaza, you hear the shouting, laughing, and crying of hundreds of pilgrims congregating and embracing. Some of them haven’t seen one another in weeks; others have slogged alongside them for six hours each day and bunked below them in every albergue. Those who arrived earlier cheer for those entering. The comparison to the thought of entering Heaven’s gates is undeniable.
The pilgrims of 2019 would not experience Mass in the Cathedral, as it was under renovation. Initially, disappointment added a layer to the poignance of the journey’s end. Yet, as with any experience like this, there was beauty in what was present. We attended the pilgrims’ Mass in a small stone chapel, where I got to hear my dear friend speak and deliver a testimony in front of hundreds of other pilgrims. When we were allowed to tour the inside of the Cathedral, I found that the plastic sheeting revealed more than it hid. The sanctuary was transformed into a veiled bride awaiting her bridegroom, as the people of the Church are in reality. As we wait, the LORD renovates our hearts if we allow Him.
LORD willing, those who went last year (and those unable to go at all this year) will go again to this beautiful place, will see the massive swinging thurible and smell its sweet incense. We will attend Mass there. Similarly, we who are in quarantine hope to attend worship together again, with renewed desire and gratitude for what we missed. We have been given something rare. Let us be made new.
Happy Easter and Buen Camino
8 April | Holy Week
Staring up at the crucifix in the Church of San Juan in Furelos, Spain, I fixed myself in a pew at the feet of Jesus, stationary from the moment the church opened until it closed just one hour later. This church—and its unique crucifix—served as an exceptional thin space along the Camino, offering me a brief moment in time when God very tangibly interacted with me. In His warmth and joy and peace during that particular, precious hour, Jesus revealed His essence through that artistic crucifix hanging above me: while one arm stretches to a heavenly eternity the other reaches down toward me, His creation. He truly is the conduit between Heaven and Earth. In that moment of divine beauty, my spirit fully opened. Ephphatha.
On the road to Santiago de Compostela, God invites pilgrims to share a meal of ephphathaic experiences: listening to the angelic voices of the singing Sisters of Carrion de Los Condes; participating in the nightly pilgrim masses offered at local churches and large city cathedrals; viewing and reflecting upon the architecture and artwork; feeling a light breeze in the dense heat of the day; or, just breathing in God with each step, knowing the road ahead will be extremely arduous but victorious in the end.
Though my entrance into the city of Compostela ended in celebration in front of the Cathedral of Saint James, Jesus’s entrance into Jerusalem ended in betrayal, false accusation, torture, and death. His cup awaited Him. As the Psalmist laments in today’s readings, “For I am eaten up with zeal for your house, and insults directed against you fall on me. I mortify myself with fasting, and find myself insulted for it. To eat they gave me poison, to drink, vinegar when I was thirsty” (Psalm 69:9-10; 21). And yet Jesus continues on His Own Way, choosing obedience, choosing to live Isaiah’s prophesy: “Lord Yahweh has opened my ear and I have not resisted, I have not turned away. I have offered my back to those who struck me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; I have not turned my face away from insult and spitting” (50: 5-6). He endured. And then He drank from the cup of death. For me. For you. A communal, yet personal sacrifice.
Passover begins tonight. Let’s reflect upon this Season of remembrance of the Exodus and how God has freed us from our own persecutors. Easter is a few days away.
1 April | The Fifth Wednesday of Lent
Early one morning while passing through a small village on the Feast of San Juan (Saint John the Baptist), I stopped to talk to some women preparing for the festival’s celebratory events. They proudly and joyfully explained their design, a culturally-traditional composition comprised of flowers, plants, and palms cascading from their doorstep alter down into the street. Their artistic expression would welcome that evening’s music, dancing, bonfires, and firecrackers—all part of a Spanish celebration marking Saint John’s birth and the summer solstice. These women’s spirituality, or, the way in which they practice and/or celebrate their faith, deeply impressed me. The time they took designing this temporary devotional space to praise and acclaim God’s permanent promises taught me to slow down and think about how I can be more meticulous in expressing my own gratitude for God’s people and creation.
And yet, there is a difference between what I witnessed in Spain and the worship of the golden statue in today’s readings from Daniel. King Nebuchadnezzar condemns Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to a fiery death because they will not worship his god (3:14-15). Astonished to see a fourth person who “looks like a son of God” walking in the fire with the three unharmed men, the Babylonian king cannot deny the power of God: “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who sent his angel to deliver the servants who trusted in him…[the three men] yielded their bodies rather than serve or worship any god except their own God” (3:92-95).
God instructs Jews and Christians to avoid idol worship (a few examples can be found in Exodus, Deuteronomy, 1 and 2 Kings,Jeremiah, Joshua, Psalms). In part, Lent is about recognizing our idols and discarding them. This is an excellent time to create positive plans to leave our idols in the past and truly celebrate the victory of the Easter season just on the horizon.
Braelyn: Many of these photos reflect elements of the spirituality of the Camino, including religious feast days, tombs, symbols, architecture, and messages from other pilgrims. I chose the diptych for the featured image because I couldn’t help but see in it the reality of the Way. It was easy to feel as though the Camino was MY journey, my walk toward God. But, as Christianity teaches us, we love because God first loved us (1 John 4:19). The cherubic depiction watching over the departed pilgrim may not give the angelic realm its due, but it still serves to remind me that our entire journey is spiritual, whether we remember or not. The pilgrimage of life is a call. We merely respond to it.
About this Blog
The Camino de Santiago is a pilgrimage through Spain, ending at the spot said to contain the relics of Saint James the Apostle. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims travel this route each year.