(Keeping my pledge to write thirty-four posts on how walking the Camino continues to impact my life, the same number as the days I walked this pilgrimage)
Even as I start this post, I know I cannot give the topic justice in the usual 800 words I give these posts. Yet it seems better to say something than nothing at all.
I didn’t know this word othering until taking an online class recently. But its definition is all too familiar–“a process whereby individuals and groups are treated and marked different and inferior from the dominant social group.” It’s familiar because I’ve done to others, it’s been done to me, and I’ve done it to myself. It’s a way of judging and a form of hatred which separates us from others and from ourselves.
In my book, The Long Walk Home I confess to othering many times, particularly regarding patriarchy in the church. I separated myself from men who used power, greed and authority to advance their own ends in the church. I had many good reasons and justifications for my criticism and questioning of this long tradition in Christian church history. And I had personally felt its sting as a child growing up in the church.
It hurts to not belong, to be judged, to be an outsider, to not be understood, to be marginalized, to be demeaned and threatened. Because different is seen instinctually as something to fear, it leads to violence as we have seen in the horrific beating of yet another black man, this time in Memphis by five black police officers. This level of hatred is both reprehensible and incomprehensible. Yet we are not separate from it. Whether we like to acknowledge it or not, we all hate something or someone. We all have feel insecure and defensive. And sometimes that is aimed at ourselves. We judge parts of ourselves as different and inferior to what we desire and try to bury those parts of ourselves. But they aren’t dead.
One of the greatest learnings from the Camino was facing how I had made any church patriarch as an other–someone I couldn’t love, someone so different from my feminine understanding of a relational, not hierarchical church. I was so sure I was right, so sure they needed to change and not me.
I thought my Camino was over when I entered the plaza in front of the cathedral. But there was so much more to come. If you have read the book, you remember that as I entered the cathedral to find a place to sit in the pilgrim mass, the high mass of Pentecost (Whitsunday) was ending and the ecclesiastical procession of high patriarchs was processing out through the crowd that was entering. I still believe that I was pushed by the hand of God right into the archbishop of Santiago! At the end of a long journey for transformation, I was shown that self-righteousness had separated me from another human being who was trying like I was to follow God’s ways. Face to face. A foot away. The grace of it all was that I saw it. I felt my heart melt with humility of my arrogance–just like the arrogance that I accused church patriarchy of manifesting for centuries! There was a crack in my armor.
This othering, this hating of others, discriminating of others, separating of others, demeaning of others, hurting of others is still a core part of the work I need to do within myself even these fifteen years later. I live into that quote from Valerie Kaur, a Sikh woman who has known the worst of othering in her life and in her community: “You are a part of me I do not yet know.” I have so many parts of me yet to know. And there are so many others that I do not know at the level I could have understanding and compassion. It feels daunting and it compels me.
Richard Schwartz says, “When we love all of our parts, we can learn to love all people–that will contribute to the healing of the world.”
So my little Camino, which is actually bigger than my original Camino in this regard, is to learn to love all my parts. To do the hard psychological and spiritual work of knowing my ego and inner judge so well that they no longer run the show. I do my work to part the veils of their defenses and fears that keep me from loving myself and others. And I do it every day, asking for help, leaning on grace. I will do it because I want to contribute to healing in this world.