Camino 4: Rain

“Back home it is 20 degrees,” which means 68; he measures temperature in the funny way they do in the Netherlands. “And sunny. And here I am, bicycling through this s—ty weather. Europeans come to Spain for the warmth and sunshine. It’s crazy.”

It was a crazy day. The second day of rain, which means wet shoes, wet feet, wet almost everything. The wind was strong and the temperature was about 2 according to the locals (i.e., 35). I kept feeling sleet hitting my face. What was the landscape? This was a part of the Camino that is described as flat and expansive and unending, more than 10km (i.e., 6 miles) without a place to stop (unless you like stopping at a picnic table under a thin tree).

I had opened the door to the bar, stepped inside, put down my walking poles, struggled to get my wet gloves off my frozen fingers. He had greeted me. I had tried to smile. He looked concerned. “Are you all right?" I was all right. Shedding my rain jacket, ordering a jamon y queso sandwich, I came back to his table. I took off my shoes, took out my orthotics, peeled off my soaked socks, and felt wonderful.

He was a bit less than half my age, bicycling the Camino because he didn’t have the time to do otherwise. He had finished a very good job with the Salvation Army and was about to start his dream job. All his work has been to help people get along together, and soon he will be doing that with representatives of labor and management in various companies. We talked a lot about the difficulties people, and peoples, have getting along. It is very important to talk. One question he has asked couples is: Will this keep you awake five years from now? It helps put an immediate conflict in perspective to step back and think in terms of years.

Of course we mentioned Ukraine. There are times when talking comes to an end and war must be engaged. But they are rare times and it is preferable to keep talking if one can. That is another version of the five-year question: Is this something over which it is worth going to war?

Well, my socks and shoes were still wet, but my body and soul were refreshed. There is a young man in the Netherlands doing good things in the reconciliation business. He may not know it, but reconciliation is the true point of the Gospel. I suppose God wants us all to be in the reconciliation business.

Photo of an irrigation canal on a drizzly day.

Camino 3: Lost

On a single day, in two successive villages only a few kilometers apart, I was approached by elderly gentlemen concerned that I was lost. “Camino,” they said, with many other words I could not catch, “alli”—over there (they would point). In the first case I was deliberately off trail, wanting to see the local church. One imagines pilgrims centuries ago orienting their walks from church tower to church tower. This tower was remarkable, up close, for its sundial, which was just about exactly one hour off. When they made sundials they did not have daylight saving time.

But in the next village I was lost, although I did not know it. After seeking out its local church (both, by the way, were locked), I started going the wrong way, and who knows where I would be now if that man had not been kind to speak to me.

Endless are the helpful encounters of people helping pilgrims.

The night before I left Najara in the Rioja region it had rained heavily. The walk began in coolness on rocky trails, but soon we were in red mud that stuck to our footwear like wet concrete. I was focused on placing each step in the least bad spot, on the edge of the road or on the higher bits. My head was bent down; my attention was entirely on the mud, when I looked up for a moment and saw that mine were the only footprints on the road. I had missed a turn, or maybe taken one I should not have taken—I did not know where I was or how far back I needed to go.

But the mud! I did not want to go back. Ahead, maybe half a mile (I do not estimate in kilometers), there was a highway. I kept going. Once there, I sat down and starting looking at Google maps. The Camino did not seem to be on my map at all. I knew what the next town was, and I was just figuring out how to walk there on the side of the highway, when a farmer, driving his tractor, stopped. “Camino?” he asked. “Si,” I said. Then followed a lot of Spanish words very quickly. But his gestures were clear. I needed to go down this highway, up over the hill, then down, and “alli” was the Camino.

And it was so. Ten, fifteen minutes later I saw a sort of dotted line of pilgrims. Never did distant pack-carrying human beings look so good.

Grace is amazing. I was lost and then I was found, thanks to grace mediated from a host of the agents of God, people like thee and me.

 

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The Rev. Canon Dr. Victor Lee Austin is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Losing Susan: Brain Disease, the Priest's Wife, and the God who Gives and Takes Away."