This last weekend, I was invited to attend a talk at a local country club by a fellow pilgrim, (whom I shall call R, since I do not have permission to use her name). Now, I had no idea what to expect, since the “community” we all experienced walking the Camino seemed so incongruous with the setting of the private club. Well, once it got started, it was a simple presentation, lasting maybe 30 minutes, with perhaps 50 slides in total. As it turned out, our “peregrino precioso” was charming and humble. Our hosts at the club seemed genuinely interested in the subject and were quite gracious and attentive, in spite of the fact that this must have all appeared to be some really far-off adventure. My fellow traveler, Greg, was there with me, along with his wife, Marianne. Afterwards, we went up to introduce ourselves to R. We hugged it out, and found that it was as if we had known each other for a long time. Our conversation flowed easily and was supported by the joy what we had to meet up so randomly. R told us about the Facebook page for American Pilgrims on the Camino (APOC). I had never heard of it, and promised to check it out.
That night, I found the Facebook page for APOC and “joined up”. What a joy it was to suddenly have over six thousand new “friends”. I was able to reach out to a large community of pilgrims and invite them to read this blog. In three days, I have had over 850 views!
What is it that makes these encounters, like the one with R, so facile? It must be something that has to do with the commonality of the experience, because there is an instant “knowing” that we have shared something that has been intensely intimate on so many different levels. So, I find myself ruminating on the elements of “community” and what the concepts related to that might mean to all of us on a larger scale.
Eugene Petersen’s book A Long Obedience in the Same Direction has long been a very influential work for me, and I continue to revisit it on a regular basis. It is a wonderful study of the Songs of Ascent which are the psalms numbered 120 through 134 in the book of Psalms. These 15 psalms were likely sung by Hebrew pilgrims as they went “up to Jerusalem” to the great worship festivals. Petersen points out that Jerusalem was the highest point geographically in Palestine, so the pilgrims spent most of their time physically “ascending”; however, Petersen tells us that the trip was not only literal, but metaphorical as well. So, in that sense, the pilgrims, in going up to Jerusalem, were also acting out a life lived upward toward God. The pilgrims were remembering what God had done for them, as they had been commanded to do in the Scriptures. They were “refreshing their memories of God’s saving ways”, as Petersen puts it. Making these trips four times a year from their tribal communities to gather with the whole nation of Israel to worship and give thanks also served to let younger generations know that they were part of something much larger–an important concept in discipleship.
As I look back and remember my 500-mile trek along the Camino Frances, now nearly 18 months ago, I find that I have a constant “longing” to be back there, a “yearning” to be focused on nothing but the day’s walk without the clutter of everyday stuff that I find stifling. I miss the joy of experiencing new things at every turn of the road, meeting new people continually, and confronting the physical, mental and spiritual challenges every step of the way. Then, as I contemplate this, I realize that this is what the Camino teaches us. We can, and should, be on that road all the time. Regardless of our own unique personalities, our cultural or ethnic heritages, our religious or socio-political differences, which can create giant chasms, we are all better people when we learn to live in community — sharing our common experiences and then celebrating our differences. We may not agree on everything in a worldly sense, but it is possible to obtain clarity and practice intellectual honesty. (Hat tip to Dennis Prager, here)
We pilgrims know what we have all been through, and it creates a bond between us that cannot be broken. We do not need to exclude others in our lives that have not had that same exact experience. What we need to realize is that we are all called to be participants in a much larger story. That is the lesson, and it is also the struggle.