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Saturday, October 20, 2018

Day 12, Stage 11: O’Pedrouzo – Santiago (20 km / 12.4 mi)

Sunrise at Casa da Torre Branca
The day began at sunrise at the Casa da Torre Branca, a lovely farm house in Lavacolla which has been in the same family for over 400 years, where we had spent the night. We traveled through Pedrouzo and the remarkable, large stretches of eucalyptus forests and pine and fir reforestation areas.

Leaving Lavacolla, we began the ascent up to Monte De Gozo (Mount of Joy), a hill from where we caught our first glimpse of Santiago’s cathedral, which was breathtaking. There it was! Our destination! In plain sight! And yet, so much more walking to be done.

Suddenly, we were thrust out of the bucolic forests and meadows into the city of San Lazaro. Cars, buses, taxis – all jarring street noise which was a sharp reminder that a pilgrim’s journey is not one of sterile piety. The spiritual journey must go right into the heart of humanity – with all of its noise and clamor, its anxiety and suffering, its joys and sorrows – or it is meaningless.

Mount de Gozo (Mount of Joy)
I caught the first glimpse of the towers of the Cathedral from the small square of San Pedro (St. Peter) on which there is a small stone cross.

I must say, it took my breath away. I was flooded with a mixture of emotions. I wanted to go and yet, going there meant that the journey would end. I would have attained the goal of my destination.

As much as I wanted to be there – to ‘make it’ – I wanted to savor these last few steps.

I walked through Cervantes Plaza, via Sacra, Azabacheria Street, Plaza de Azabacheria and then, there I was, with hundreds of other pilgrims of all ages, at the Plaza del Obradoiro, looking at the baroque grandeur of the Cathedral de Santiago.

There I was, standing in the place which had once been the forest where the beheaded body of St. James had been buried, along with the two disciples who had carried his body there from Jerusalem.

There I was! I had made it to the place where for thousands of years millions of people had come to pay homage, to seek forgiveness and be absolved, to be granted a plenary indulgence, to be assured of entrance into heaven, to find an answer, or healing or a cure; or perhaps had no expectation and found nothing or, instead, found exactly what they didn’t know they had lost.

There I was! I found myself filled with a deep sense of gratitude and joy, full measure, pressed down and overflowing.

It was in the midst of that moment that I had a deep insight about how the pilgrimage is more than just a metaphor for life. It is the way of life.

A pilgrimage is filled with hot sunshine and cooling rain, with blisters and bruises, as well as times of unknowing and times of certainty. Life has its many challenges and trials, losses and blessings, its time of sweetness and joy as well as bitterness and sorrow.

A pilgrimage is made step-by-step, one foot in front of the other, in long periods of boredom and tedium, and moments of intense beauty and inexplicable happiness and profound insight. Life is best lived moment-by-moment, day by day, staying as much in the present as possible, marked by periods of clarity as well as uncertainty, sometimes with hope and other times with despair.

A pilgrimage does not necessarily have a lofty spirituality or sense of the holy; neither do some lives. Nevertheless, the Spirit of the Holy One is an ever-present companion, silent only because that Spirit is unrecognized or unacknowledged. 

Cathedral de Santiago
Hospice professionals talk about patients who have a “rally” – a few hour or few day burst of energy where the patient will suddenly ask for a favorite food after several days or even weeks of taking only bites of food and sips of liquid. 

They will ask to have someone in particular come and visit for no particular reason. Or, they will seek forgiveness from someone and/or ask for forgiveness from another.

I believe they have caught a glimpse of their “destination” and they want to slow down their journey a bit and savor for just a little while longer the fruits of their labors here on this side of Eden.

I think I had that “rally” in the Square of San Pedro when I caught my first glimpse of the towers of the Cathedral de Santiago. With my destination in sight, I wanted to savor where I had been and where I was going.

Oh, and then there was the exquisite, unspeakable joy of arriving at the beautiful city!

In the Eucharistic preface of the Burial of the Dead, the Book of Common Prayer of The Episcopal Church has these words, “… for we know that life is changed, not ended…”.

Those words have always been profoundly important to me.

 I believe them with all my heart. I believe them even more deeply today.

When we were in Madrid, the leader of The Camino gave us a white rock to keep in our pocket and a Pilgrim’s Blessing.   I have that white rock near me as I type the words of that blessing.
1.     Blessed are you Pilgrim, if you discover that the Camino opens your eyes to what cannot be seen.

2.     Blessed are you Pilgrim, if what concerns you most is not getting there but getting there with others.

3.     Blessed are you Pilgrim when you gaze out at the Camino and you see it filled with names and sunrises.

4.     Blessed are you Pilgrim, because you have discovered that the real Camino begins when the walking ends.

5.     Blessed are you Pilgrim, if your backpack is getting emptier but your heart is so full that it doesn’t know where to keep more emotions.

6.     Blessed are you Pilgrim, if you discover that taking one step back to help a fellow Pilgrim is worth more than one hundred steps forward without worrying about others.

7.     Blessed are you Pilgrim, when words fail to express the gratitude you feel for every surprising moment on the Camino.

8.     Blessed are you Pilgrim, if you seek truth and make your life a Camino in constant search of people who embody the Camino, truth and life.

9.     Blessed are you Pilgrim, if you find yourself on the Camino and you present yourself with the gift of time without hurries so as not to neglect the image of your heart.

10.  Blessed are you Pilgrim, if you discover that a great part of the Camino is silence, and a great part of silence is prayer, and prayer brings you closer to your (Creator) who is waiting for you.
Life is changed, not ended
I hope that you have found some blessing as you have journeyed with me these last few days. 

I know I feel deeply blessed, full measure, pressed down and overflowing.

I will be posting a few more blog posts as I have a few more days here in Santiago.

Tomorrow I will travel to Rias Baixas by boat to watch the folks on that island harvest mussels and clams and scallops.

They will be brought on board the boat and steamed for us and served with the wine that is also produced on that island.

I travel to Madrid on Monday and will spend a few more hours discovering that magical city. I make my way home on Tuesday.

I am so very grateful for those of you who have kept me in prayer, sending me words of encouragement and support, cheering me on when I was afraid I wouldn’t make it.

As the Spanish say, “Gracias a la vida que me ha dado tanto.”

Thank you, Life, for you have given me so much.

Buen Camino, my friends. Buen Camino.

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