One of the things I have realized is that I have been comparing myself to others. Why are they eating pizza and I the Pilgrim menu? How come they are walking 30 kilometers if I am only walking 20? Why do some pilgrims shop at the grocery store to cook up a great meal at the albergue kitchen and others get their meals from a restaurant? Should I go up to receive the Eucharist if all the other pilgrims do? Maybe I should rub Vaseline all over my feet or change my socks more like those Canadians. I guess there are lots of ways of being a pilgrim.
Some ship their bags from albergue to albergue, some carry everything, some do a bit of both. Some stay in the least expensive places to stay, some need a bit more comfort, some do a bit of both. Some just show up in town and see what housing is available and some use Booking.com (my new favorite app). Some stop at all the religious and historical sites, some eat lots of chocolate, some travel alone, some sing as they walk, some listen to music on an iPhone. Some hand wash their clothes and hang them out to dry, some are glad to pay for machine washing and drying.
There is a saying, “It is your Camino.” (In other words, do this journey in a way that makes sense to you.) I am working on trusting that, on removing all judgement, and just letting God show me what I need to do. But is is hard, because my ego has an assessment of what a “true pilgrim” is. It is helpful to know that even in ancient times, pilgrims approached this journey in different ways. Today many walk, some bike, and I even saw a canal boat the other day— evidently you can do part of your Camino on the water! Not everyone covers every inch of the Camino Frances, some walk some and bus or bike through certain parts. Some do only the last 100 kilometers (you need to complete that much to get your compostela, your certificate of completion). Many Europeans we met fly to Spain each year on a cheap Ryanair flight and walk a section of the Camino, so that after five or six years they have completed the whole thing. For me the message is, “enjoy and celebrate the Camino you are doing, and let others do the same.”
Here are two different albergues we stayed in (it’s your Camino!):
Last night we had a unique experience. We attended the evening mass at the church in Carrión. After the mass they called all the peregrinos to the front for the pilgrim blessing. What was unique about this evening is that there was a particular order of nuns who were helping to lead the service (kind of guitar-playing-singing-nuns). After the general pilgrim blessing was read, they offered each of us a multicolored star, which I took to be a way of celebrating God’s delight in any who walked a Camino – to Santiago or through all of life. After that, we were each offered a personal blessing. What was powerful was that the blessings were given by the priest and by one of the sisters. It was a serious business blessing, with two hands on our head and words of encouragement. Though I was in the line to revive the blessing from the priest, I was struck by how earnest and passionate the sister was in offering her blessing to those attending. I don’t know what she said, but as part of the blessing she put two hands on the person’s head and touched her forehead to the forehead of the person receiving the blessing. She took plenty of time. I was moved not only by how important it was to her, but that the church was offering not simply a blessing from a male priest, but from a female leader as well. Even our old institutions can shift.