Thursday, May 5, 2016

El Camino de Santiago de Compostela Days 13+14: Dis-appointment or His-appointment?!

Easter Sunday dawned in bright sunshine and we started early for what would be our last day walking the Camino.
Everything looked better after yesterday’s storm: no longer were the eucalyptus trees only tall ominous sentinels, nor the clouds harbingers of darkness, but the Way took on a whole new light, like that Resurrection morning so many centuries ago that changed our entire world forever!
We had only 19km left to reach Santiago! You could sense the heightened anticipation among all the peregrinos as we neared our destination! Time itself seemed to fly as we walked.
But the weather changed just as quickly from bright and sunny to dark and blustery, began to rain, changed back to sun and then rain again! And we had to change… and not only our rain gear, accordingly!
Just before noon, we reached Monte del Gozo = Hill of Joy, only 5kms from city. From what we’d heard along the trail and seen in the movie, we’d expected a panorama of the whole city and its cathedral spires lying before us,
but trees blocked our view, clouds rolled in and it started to pour! A seed of disappointment was sown.
Then a long walk through boring suburbs, and my legs also started pulling up lame again?  Disappointment took root and discouragement set in. It was time to stop a while.
We found a bar abierto although much was cerrado on Easter morning, had breakfast and felt a whole lot better!
We also found we’d lost another hour to Daylight Savings Time overnight: first time I’d ever lost 2 hours in 1 year and wondered if I will ever get it back again?
Refreshed, we resumed walking: finally through Porta = Gate de Santiago and into the Old City. We made our way through its narrow, winding cobblestone streets and finally saw one of the catedral’s spires we’d seen in pictures. ‘Just keep on walking, Henry, you can make it!’ More bends and suddenly our way emptied into an open square with impressive-looking monuments and buildings all around us! On closer examination, they were very old, covered with moss and lichen, weather-eaten and, needing repair! One of two main spires was surrounded, or held up (?), with scaffolding, undergoing renovation; the other already stood clean and restored, pointing to a promise of how resplendent they would once both be again one day!
We’d actually reserved a hotel because we expected Santiago would be very crowded on this most sacred day of the Christian calendar in one of  its ‘most holy’ places; so after an initial look around, we just wanted to get cleaned up and rest a bit. It was close by, not hard to find and really quite inexpensive. Thankfully, my pack had also arrived!
So tired, I just pulled my shoes off and stretched out on the bed. So glad for our warm room and not having to get up and walk again tomorrow! I didn’t just have a shower, but a good soak in a HOT bath!
Afterwards, we ventured out and it started to rain – again! The lady in the Tourist Office said the forecast was for more rain the next couple days so a daytrip to Finisterra = The End of the Earth, on the Atlantic wasn’t favourable. A long, expensive bus ride in the rain didn’t sound too exciting. More disappointment!
We went inside the main catedral: the original focal point of the Camino, and  you could tell its interior needed some real TLC too. But too much ornamentation for me: overdone, ostentatious and out-dated Baroque!
The altar: gold and silver everywhere, probably stolen by the Conquistadores from the Americas?
And then a plethora of busty, rosy-cheeked, plastic-looking cherubim flying all over: very tacky!
Even the main entrance, The Tree of Life door, was temporarily closed for renovations.
This is the supposed burial site of Santiago = St James the Apostle, John’s brother who, it’s believed, preached in northern Spain, then after executed by Herod c44AD back in Jerusalem (Acts 12:1-2), his body was miraculously transported back to Spain. About 700 years later, a shepherd conveniently rediscovered his buried bones in Compostela = field under the stars, and  with Jerusalem having been cut off by Muslim conquest, El Camino became a major route of pilgrimage.
So we did what peregrinos do: embraced St James’ statue and gem-encrusted mantle, viewed his relics in a silver casket in the crypt, toured the many chapels… but too much religious hype for me!
It had been for Erica too, even moreso! When we’d visited Toledo and Rome with all their treasure displays,
rather than being impressed, Erica had been grieved and burst into tears!
We also picked up our ‘compostela’ with our names written in Latin to certify we’d actually completed pilgrimage requirements. And we met many other peregrinos we’d spent the last 2 weeks with who’d also arrived:
S from Seattle, Ohio and her mom, G from Portugal and his mom, D+B from Toronto, the lone Spaniard,
English Ben, the 2 Germans and the Irish couple we’d first met on the train. Of course we celebrated with gelato: almond chocolate and macadamia nut! but the first TV news I’d seen in weeks kind of put a damper on rejoicing: Pakistani terrorists bombed a park of Christians celebrating Easter, and many, including children, had been killed! Violent persecution continues against Christ’s body even in this day.
All the more we need to walk in the revelation and power of His Resurrection!
The next day we returned to the cathedral for the Pilgrim Mass: in Latin and Spanish, very formal, lots of ritual, quite empty and boring I thought, and when someone told me the priests only swung the huge censer on particular days or when a donor especially paid 250Euros and today this wasn’t happening – I was all the more disappointed!  
This was a Camino highlight I was looking forward to; especially in the movie, it had brought everything together.
And now I was feeling loss, cheated… extremely disappointed!
But this is when God turns our disappointments into His-appointments, really much better than what we expected!  During the mass, I’d noticed a number of young Oriental people in the congregation… seemed a little peculiar? Half-way through, in fact, 3 young women seated right in front of us, got up and joined others off to the side.
All dressed up, they removed some musical instruments out of cases… for what, I wondered?  
Then, right after mass finished, they stepped into the centre of the cathedral with string, wind and brass instruments,
a conductor stood up in front of  them and suddenly an entire symphony from Hokaido, Japan  broke into music and played for over ½ an hour! Sounds of Beethoven, (I recognized his!) classical and a modern Japanese piece filled the entire cathedral and its excellent acoustics magnified their excellent ‘sound’.
I forgot the surrounding kitsch and glitz and focused on its beauty. Disappointment melted away with my realization that again God had revealed Himself the ultimate Redeemer-Conductor in complete control!  This touched my heart deeply and tears flowed again, releasing me from my criticism and disappointment: tears of grief gave way to joy, overwhelmed by Christ’s victory! Such a special finale to our Camino: a symphony never before performed here and probably never again; a harmony of Word + Spirit so much better than a swinging censer!
And that’s how my Easter verse came to me: ‘exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think,’ Eph 3:20-21 and became my Camino highlight!
We had come full circle: from promise to expectation, from disappointment to His-appointment – so much better than anything I could ever have planned! And once again I’d seen God bring all things together for good into a fullness none of us can attain on our own. Through simple trust and following His Way, He brought us all the way,
to a more than fitting Camino conclusion.
And so it is with our lifelong pilgrimage: we often don’t realize what God is doing in, through and around us until He reveals Himself beyond ourselves, even in the midst of worldly or religious surroundings.

And with Job, we bow and proclaim, ‘but now my eye sees You!’

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