Dec 12, 2009

the way of a pilgrim

Most of the people who read my blog will be familiar with the text The Way of a Pilgrim. For those who are unfamiliar with it, all I can do is provide a link to more information about it, since the English translation is protected by copyright and doesn't seem to be available online. In fact, even if you've read The Way of a Pilgrim in the past, that article may prove to be a worthwhile read.

Do I expect to gain and articulate great spiritual insight as a result of my pilgrimage? Well, not exactly, and certainly nothing at all like the work from which I have taken the name. The title of my blog is descriptive in that I am viewing my journey along the Camino de Santiago as a pilgrimage rather than a really long walk. Initially, I had thought that "wanderin' phool" would be an apt description, but I am not going to be wandering. I have a specific destination, and while I may dawdle or get lost on the way, I will not be wandering aimlessly.

It is not accurate to describe this as merely a hike, either. Some of the authors I've read in preparation for the Camino have expressed the idea that it is not the destination so much as the journey. While this has a certain element of truth to it, the notion that "getting there is half the fun" misses the point of religious pilgrimage. If all I cared about was a good physical challenge and camaraderie along the way, I could have saved myself the price of a plane ticket to Europe by hiking the Bruce Trail.

From the very beginning of the Biblical tradition, there are stories of people on the move. Cain was a vagabond, Abram was called to leave his country and go to a place which God would show him, the Israelites spent forty years in the desert between captivity and freedom. The descendants of these wandering Arameans wound up in a land of their own, but once they were settled they were still expected to leave their homes and journey to the Temple in Jerusalem for the major feasts. Even those who did not do this still remembered the flight from Egypt and the wandering in the desert every year at Passover. To this very day, the meal concludes with the cry, "Next year in Jerusalem!"

Turning to the Christian era, we find St. Paul hurrying to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the Day of Pentecost. (Acts 20:16) Jerusalem has been a destination for pilgrimage for millenia, but there have been other major pilgrimage sites. Some of the earliest ones were associated with the martyrs, whose relics were lovingly preserved by the local believers. Rome and Santiago de Compostela fall into this category.

Although the connection between St. James and Spain seems tenuous to skeptical modern eyes, the tradition of pilgrimage to the tomb of St. James in one which dates to the ninth century. In the Prologue from Ohrid, we read of St. James that "his body was translated to Spain, where miraculous healings occurred over his grave and, do so even today." (The author of the Prologue, St. Nikolai Velimirovic, died at St. Tikhon's Orthodox Seminary in 1956.)

Other people go on the Camino for their own reasons, but I am going to Santiago de Compostela to pay my respects to the saint. I expect that the journey will be fruitful and worthwhile, but for me the destination is what makes this pilgrimage what it is.

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