Saturday, April 23, 2016

El Camino de Santiago de Compostela Day 1

Ps 84:5-7 ‘Blessed is the man whose strength is in You, Whose heart is set on pilgrimage’
I’d asked God for a verse from His Word for each day we walked the Camino and He gave me this for a starter.
Too often people are too busy to attend to God refining and retuning their lives; we are too set on our own agendas. Like Martha, we become distracted with too many things/stuff/baggage and lose sight of God as our central Focus to walk us through each day’s demands of multi-tasking complexities. We lose the Big Picture and get lost in the details: where and how we fit.
I was fit … between 2 stocky guys on an early morning flight to Dallas then connecting to Spain.
The one, quite a well-to-do Surrey businessman, had woken up that morning to discover that the suitcase of stuff he’d packed and locked in his car the night before had been stolen! The other, a young guy with a big smile, told me how he’d emigrated from Venezuela where President Chavez had destroyed ‘paradise’; but his loss of  stuff once dear had led him and many other young Venezuelans to begin following Jesus and His Way!
Pilgrimage has a way of clarifying life’s true priorities!
You soon discover you cannot walk in your own strength and carry all the baggage you once presumed necessary.
On arriving in Madrid, we met an elderly father + daughter from Victoria also starting out on the Camino. They’d planned to walk a shorter distance and arranged to have their packs transported daily so they wouldn’t have to carry their ‘stuff’. I thought to myself, ‘That’s great for them, but I’m not so old that I can’t carry my 20lb pack.
And relying on others to transport your bag was kind of like cheating, right?
Not the true spirit of a pilgrim, eh?’
I later found that such self-righteous opinions would be some of my first ‘excess baggage’ items I needed to jettison.
Baggage also figured in other ways in this 1st stage of my journey. YVR Security had already lightened my load somewhat when they relieved me of my shampoo + a cherished Swiss army knife at the last minute by only allowing me 1 checked bag rather than the originally allotted 2 bags on an international flight. ‘But,’ they added, ‘you’re flying through the US!’ and that alone was supposed to explain the sudden changes?
Also, after our Camino, Michael was returning home to Canada, but I was traveling further to the UK and had to store a 2nd suitcase for this 2nd leg of my journey.  I knew I definitely couldn’t carry that on my back for 2 weeks! Fortunately, the hotel where we’d arranged to stay on our return to Madrid 2 weeks later had kindly offered to store this 2nd bag for me, so after dropping  it off, we headed for the train station. We didn’t have time to walk the entire 800km Camino from its start in the Pyrenees Mountains, so we planned to start from Leon, a city about 340 kms from Santiago. We calculated that we had enough time to make that distance.
Our train literally flew across the Spanish countryside, attaining 300 km/h at peak speed, covering in just over 1 hour virtually that same distance we would cover on foot in 2½ weeks! Quite the difference!
Signs of spring green life were poking through the landscape as it shed its winter grey; lots of tunnels also poked their way through snow-covered mountain ranges. I had no idea there were so many mountains in this part of Spain, still covered in snow! I wondered: had I packed enough warm clothes for these unforeseen weather changes?
Perhaps there was more I didn’t know about this hike… adventure… this pilgrimage!
We arrived in Leon early. We’d met an Irish couple on the train who were tackling the Camino in annual sections and now completing their 4th and final leg. They’d recommended a good pousada = B+B and, too tired to look any further, we settled in for a good rest so we could start our real journey refreshed the next morning.
We picked up our ‘credenciales’ = Camino ‘passports’ with spaces for stamps from albergues = cheap hostels, churches and stops we would encounter along the way. And we got lost in a maze of twisted, narrow streets, but found the city’s cathedral: a 13th Century Gothic-style edifice built in only 50 years by a mere 5000 people!
Its stained glass windows seemed like light hung from heaven, penetrating and warming an otherwise cold interior. Against much opposition, this community’s dreams ultimately found reality in a house of worship.
But, as our guide related, their stone roof ‘stuff’ proved too weighty and caved in upon its worshipers a few times through the next centuries!
I fell asleep, thankful to have safely arrived at our starting point, but also wondering how much of my plans were similarly of faith or excess stuff/baggage/stones that would weigh down my ‘pilgrim’s progress?

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