An adventure? A spiritual or mystical journey? A test of faith? An affirmation or even a reaffirmation of our beliefs? A personal awakening? Time to be alone? Meet new friends?……. El Camino, it must be said, can be anything to anyone.
El Camino undoubtedly offers everyone the unique opportunity to disconnect and disengage from the many irrelevant issues which we get bombarded in our daily lives. The constant assault on our precious lives by everything and anything that society throws at us, as being imperative for our presumed happiness and fulfilment, sadly dulls our inner happiness without us realising it.
If that were not enough life can also have the nasty knack of kicking us in the…by confronting us with incalculable pain of the sort we can never be prepared for.
Don’t get me wrong, many of the things we have including the different technologies, the innumerable number of gadgets at our disposal , the Internet and many fashionable items provides us all with a wonderful gamut of communications, gadgetry and facilities that allows us all to be in touch with one another or with anything at a touch of a button, to watch the latest movies, to purchase from faraway places, to exist in virtual worlds and enjoy many pasttimes, however much of this cannot heal nor renew our purpose in life when we most need it.
Now, having experienced a brief period in El Camino, I have realised that it’s a worthwhile venture to undertake in order to rekindle this inner spirit that is somehow and unwittingly being exhausted due to the constant humdrum of our daily routines and personal tragedies.
Admittedly a journey of this kind is not for everyone and I would certainly not encourage anyone to attempt it if unsure of the task ahead. But I’m certain that the underlying principle remains, which is to get away and do something different, something that will challenge you in any way, shape or form and from which you will gain immense pleasure, satisfaction and above all renew yourself (or at least attempt to).
The benefits of my solo journey is impossible to measure as my initial approach had been one of being open-minded whereupon unknown questions would beckon and their answers revealed. Thankfully I have been pleasantly surprised so far with everything I have experienced but you will forgive me if I don’t divulge them. El Camino is a personal and unusual experience fraught with pain, discomfort, tensions, tiredness, elation, relief and a myriad of other emotions too many to mention. It is these ingredients and/or a combination of them that makes the journey all the more fulfilling and rewarding. It is also as one Argentinian man of seventy who had cycled for weeks explained, “it is through our own pain that we ask God to intercede for our own petitions”….sounds familiar!
There is, I think, one essential point to mention. There must, I believe, be a reason for wanting to do it. Failure to have one, could be disastrous. Once you’re on your way, it is very difficult to turn back. In fact it’s very difficult to even let go!
I should confess that my journey was only a fraction of the popular French Way and far less meritorious than the strength and valour of those peregrinos who choose to spend countless days doing longer and more perilous journeys for their own particular reasons. I am in awe of them and my mind simply boggles at the thought of spending months on the roads!!
The final destination of El Camino as explained, is the crypt of the apostle. The entire journey is summarised and symbolised by the two Greek letters Alpha and Omega carved on the pew in that same place. Alpha symbolising the beginning of the journey and Omega (the last letter in the Greek alphabet) symbolising the end of the journey here in the crypt. Surprisingly that same Pax symbol, carved on one Cathedral’s doors has the letters inverted, signifying I am told, that the end of this journey is over and a new journey, a new beginning commences the moment you leave!!!
This final chapter would not be complete without mentioning the pilgrims reunion in La Capilla de Peregrinos and the pilgrim’s noon mass at the Basilica.
Originally I had been reticent to attend both these events partly because I felt that my journey was complete and the purpose achieved. I had, after all fulfilled my goal and desire. Despite these misgivings I opted to go and still, keeping an open mind, I joined other peregrinos in a rather solemn reunion where several of them gave their own reasons for doing El Camino. This was a stirring affair and in particular as I listened to two elderly gentlemen recount their own experiences and their reasons for embarking on a very long Camino. Truly amazing!!
The pilgrim’s mass, on the other hand, was nothing short of spectacular. One cannot be less than impressed, firstly with the ornate and majestically crafted high rising altar situated just above of the crypt where remains of the apostol James are held. The huge botafumeiro hanging precariously just in front of the clergy also offers a constant reminder of famous traditions of this ancient Cathedral.
The solemnity of the mass, richly accompanied by the booming of organ music resonating throughout the cavernous Cathedral together with the Seminarian choir singing, made for a stirring and moving occasion. But I guess watching the botafumeiro (the massive incense holder) swing across the width of the Basilica was perhaps one of the highlights of this momentous gathering.
So……that was the journey, that was OurWay. There have been many other anecdotes which I haven’t covered in this blog which was originally created as a small tribute to Philip. A blog which surprisingly has been seen from places as far away as Cyprus, Pakistan and the USA and received an unusually high number of hits which is even more surprising.
I just hope you have all enjoyed this idea of the blog as much as we have had writing it and sending it from the wonderful region of Galicia and along El Camino de Santiago. We may have got it wrong on several occasions, missed a few arrows here and there but overall the journey has been extraordinary and therefore thankful for being able to do it.
Also it would be remiss of me if I did not thank everyone for the kind attention I have been afforded during this time, especially old and new found friends that have been there all along in FB, blogging, texting and occasional phone calls…. many thanks!
Finally of course, my wife, sons (for their patience, especially) and my ever present relatives who have been a constant support all this time…XXX