(Keeping to my pledge to write thirty-four blogs, one every Monday, on how the Camino continues to affect my life– the same number as the days I walked the 500-mile pilgrimage)
As I sat down to write my blog this week, and wrote Day 11, I thought, “What was I doing on Day 11 on my actual Camino walk? When I looked it up, I realized it was quite a significant day; we walked into the village of San Juan de Ortega, which was really just an ancient monastery, a small cafe and a church. The rest was of the old town was a rubble of stones. Here I heard a memorable story of how a woman came to walk the Camino in heels and pulling a rolling suitcase, was served garlic soup around a warm fire, and sang with other pilgrims as the priest led us. But what I didn’t remember until I re-read my story of Day 11 was this question I asked myself as I sat shivering on a stone pew during Mass: “What if this (walk) was an affirmation and an assurance, not some test or spiritual pruning?”
I had walked a third of the way to Santiago by then, and I had judged the walk as a pretty hard test. And I was judging myself regularly and eloquently as needing spiritual pruning. Yet the Spirit invited this new perspective of my journey as I sat there. I had never considered that it could be an affirmation and an assurance– if I just shifted my perspective from me trying so hard to letting myself by held.
This question was the start of a reorientation for me, although I didn’t recognize it then or act on it. But a seed was planted. What would my life look like if I lived in basic trust of life, as an affirmation and an assurance that I am held, loved, supported, encouraged, and belong no matter what happens? I don’t have to feel guilty, do penance, improve myself, fix my faults, or be pruned? I write this carefully, not meaning that self-improvement or spiritual practices have no worth or that awareness of ways that hurt others isn’t needed. No, I mean this spiritual work is the hardest work I have ever done. To believe this: There is nothing I need to do to be loved by God/Source/Creator.
I was raised in a church founded on grace, not works. I’ve taken communion bread and wine into my body and blood hundreds of times with that promise that I am loved unconditionally. I have preached it from the pulpit like a broken record, taught it to teens to open them to love, and assured those struggling to give them hope. There is nothing anyone needs to do, can do, required to do or can do to manipulate this promise into something that be controlled. I’m free to respond to that Love, but I cannot earn it, deserve it, or be worthy of it because that simply is not in the equation. Love is not bargained. It is freely given. And yet, it is the hardest leap of faith to move from this statement as a concept to a life of full surrender.
The Camino was founded in a medieval culture that believed one had to pay somehow to be in communion with God, to find atonement. Confess. Give alms. Lash yourself. Walk hundreds of miles on a pilgrimage with only the barest of belongings. Repent. Suffer.
There was that whisper in my Camino walk. Why did I push myself so many times I could have stopped and rested? Taken a few more days? Or even allowed myself to not finish it? The fatigue and suffering seemed so familiar and even comforting to my hidden martyr. It is so easy to relapse into a faith I control, a love conditional.
And yet, that question did start to grow in me over the years. Now when people ask if I’ll walk the Camino again, I say I might. But not because I need to do that for any reason. More to the truth, I feel now I could walk out my front door and find this same promise kept. I no longer have that same call to walk the Camino or fly to Spain or walk for days. All is here now.
My little Camino (which feels like a Big one) is to let this profound grace be true every day of my life. In my relationship with God, there is nothing I need to do.