August 25, 2019: Walking the Camino by Sheila Arbury

By Sheila Arbury

This May, my sister Catherine and I spent a week in northwest Spain, walking the last 110 kilometers of the Camino de Santiago. The Camino has been a pilgrimage route since medieval times, only exceeded in importance by the routes to Rome and to Jerusalem. The endpoint, Santiago, is the reputed burial place of Saint James (“Saint Iago” in medieval Spanish), a disciple of Jesus who, according to legend, preached the gospel in Spain.

The route was beautiful, lush green landscapes of farms, streams, and a few challenging hills. Each village had a small Romanesque church, most of which were open to visit. Walking the Camino is a centering exercise: as you put one foot after the other it becomes automatic, freeing your mind to unite with the earth, sky, birds, and all God’s beautiful world.

My principal memory, other than the beauty and peace of the walk, was the strong sense of community. We felt related to all other walkers, enjoying the assortment of languages we heard, and greeting everyone with “Buen Camino.”  On a deeper level, we felt connected to all the pilgrims of the past centuries in whose footsteps we walked. I remember a stream which we crossed on large flat rocks; those ancient feet had worn the rocks smooth for us.

Other reminders of community were the trail markers, stone pillars marked with a blue square, a gold scallop (the symbol of Santiago), and a gold arrow pointing the path’s direction. Walkers placed small stones atop the markers, and sometimes affixed photos or messages. My sister is a Buddhist. She placed a stone on each marker and told me a famous story: one of the Buddha’s disciples announces that community is the most important thing. The Buddha says “Not so, it is the only thing.” I felt this resonate in me as I thought about the vibrant and loving community of All Souls and how I draw strength and delight from it.

In Santiago, we walked the beautiful medieval streets of the Old City and visited the cathedral, where we embraced the statue of Santiago and saw the silver reliquary box under the altar. What an unforgettable experience this was! I was sorry to leave the Camino, grateful for its gifts, and happy to have been part of more than a millennium of this religious practice..

Last Published: August 22, 2019 4:31 PM
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