Today, we began walking the Camino in Spain, with about 16 miles from Sarria to Portomarin. I have never walked so far in a single day, ever. And what a different sort of day it makes to get up in the morning and know that the only thing you have to do that day is walk.
Our group of 9 did very well. After saying Morning Prayer together, we set out for what was a beautiful day of walking. Relatively cool temperatures, mix of sun and clouds, and while rain was forecast, it never happened. While we met other walkers (and cyclists) regularly, there were not as many people on the Way as I thought there might be. And as we walked, our group would break apart into different subgroups, always changing as we walked along. Sometimes, some of us ended up walking alone; different people would be in the lead at different times, and others trailing behind. Those of us on the older end of the continuum were reminded of that fact, as the young people would get ahead of us; and even when we started in the lead, they would easily overtake us. And all through the day, there was the constant rhythm of “Hola” and “Buen Camino” as pilgrims passed and met one another. And we were surprised at how many people walking the Camino are Spanish.
We took a longer break about half way through, at an albergue that was quite lively with a group of musicians made up of different nationalities playing together. When we finally reached Portomarin at about 5 pm, we had a beautiful walk across a bridge and then up a massive staircase as the city’s imposing Romanesque cathedral looked down on us. After checking into our albergue for the night, we shared the Eucharist together, giving thanks for having completed our first day of walking and sharing our reflections on the experience.
Throughout the day, I found myself thinking about how our walk so embodied my experience of Christian community. As parts of our group would go ahead and others lagged behind, I realized how much this reflects the life of every congregation I have ever been a part of. Because in every Christian community, there are people at different places along the path, some ahead, some behind, and others in between. As we walked, the group in front would become aware that they had gotten ahead of the others, and would stop and wait for the rest to catch them up. And this, too, is emblematic of Christian community, for wherever we are on the path, we come together on Sundays as one body, mindful of one another, attending to one another, renewing our relationships and realizing that wherever we are on the path, we are in Christ–and we can never forget about each other.
The Camino is both an individual journey and a group experience. It has the dimension of both the solitary and the communal. This, too, is exactly like the spiritual life. Sometimes, of course, we forget one dimension of the spiritual life, thinking either that it is only solitary or only communal. The Camino doesn’t allow you to forget either. Your own experience of walking, with the physical exertion is requires, never allows you to set aside the solitary dimension, while the rhythms of your fellow pilgrims never lets you forget the communal.
So, after the first day, it is clear that the Camino is Iife and life is the Camino.