I’ve just returned from a week of walking a section of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. For those unfamiliar with it, the Camino is a traditional route of pilgrimage in tribute to St. James, running across the top of Northern Spain, East to West. Its landscape is varyingly beautiful, mundane, and often challenging due to length alone.
There’s no tradition of pilgrimage for those of us from a non-conformist background, and until its recent popularity (parts of it are now very busy) the Camino itself had become a minority concern. It’s interesting that what was once part of the rhythm of religious life for many during the medieval period is now often seen as ‘quirky’ or an entry on a bucket list, but many of those who walk it often find themselves drawn there at times of significant life transition.
My own motivations were hazy, and any spiritual preparations were next to nil. So during a busy period of life, I put my time off in the hands of friends gifted in planning. In the end, I just turned up, with backpack, boots and blister-dressings.
One of the things that struck me is that there’s something about walking through the varied landscape that allows for enjoyment of the ordinary things in life as our daily choices were stripped down to some basic questions. How far will we go today? Where will we stay tonight? What will we eat? And, importantly, what’s Spanish for ‘where’s the chemist?’
Food becomes an occasion for gratitude and the gentle daily rhythm and shared experience allows for the possibility of new connections. Customary greetings of ‘Buen Camino!’ lead onto more meaningful encounters with those bound together by the daily experience of foot sores, muscle strains and snorers.
In common purpose, but with varying motivations, we found community.
It’s been well documented, that whilst some may no longer believe, people are still drawn to pilgrimages such as the Camino. One might see this as the continuing appropriation of ancient traditions, without the hard work that formed them. It is interesting though, that many who walk the Camino seem to express a desire for something greater – something more than a ‘tick on the bucket list.’ No doubt, though, there are many who like myself, just turned up. We had no clear expectations, of ourselves or others, but as we walked we found there were gifts beyond our expectation, gifts we were unprepared for.
So then, here is the wider invitation Christians offer, as we build the community that is church. There will be those of us who go deep, expecting and experiencing transformation. There are those who are actively searching and those of us… who are just there. We just turn up, and are afforded room to participate. Some of us might not even be able to articulate exactly why we’re there.
So let’s allow our communities to always have room for the people who just turn up. Let’s carve space for participation for those who might have hazy motivations, yet find themselves involved as soon as they enter the space we are creating. We all might be surprised by what gifts we find as we make the road by walking.