The End of the Journey

 T. S. Eliot suggests that the end of all our life’s journeys is to arrive home and to know the place for the first time. (See “Little Gidding.”) There is a sense in which we are always students, but our subject-matter is not really history or culture or mathematics or engineering or any other such matter that’s “out there.” Rather, we are learning about what’s right around us, our home, the place in which we are who we are. You leave home in order to understand home. You go away so that you can come back. And what you bring with you when you return is not knowledge about some other place, but rather something much more humble, something, really, much smaller.

Samwise Gamgee was part of the great quest to destroy the ring of power. In his journeys he met people of vastly different sorts. He had his own subsidiary role in the great struggle of his time between good and evil. But how wise it is, how true, that his story ends with him greeting his wife and children at his door. “I’m back,” he says, and (as I recall, I don’t have the book with me) those are the final words of the very long book. (See J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings.)

I write these words from Santiago, at the end of the road. I arrived yesterday in rain, and this morning am mostly dry (for which I give thanks). I saw the west facade of the vast cathedral yesterday, with Santiago—Saint James—as pilgrim high above. Today I hope to pray at his tomb, which will be the true end of this journey. By the time you read these words, I am likely to have left this city for another; I might be in Madrid, or even back in Dallas, the place which for nearly eight years has been home to me. I don’t think I’ll know Dallas as if for the first time, but there is something about home that I feel more strongly now than before walking the Camino. 

To walk day after day on the Way to Santiago has something to do with the battle, which is really a cosmic battle, between good and evil. Saint James is depicted here not only as our fellow pilgrim but also (if somewhat disturbingly) as Matamoros, the Moor-slayer. The Camino is rooted in the historic battles to protect Christianity in Spain, battles in which (one must acknowledge) there were mixed motives all around. That history is a chapter, but not the only chapter, in the struggle of right and wrong that will never be resolved until Christ returns. The Camino thus invites the pilgrim to contemplate this deep struggle between right and wrong and to wonder about his participation in it. That is to say, among other things, the Camino is an invitation to a soul-struggle.

Every one of us is engaged, in some subsidiary way, in the struggle of good and evil. Ultimately this is the effort to join with the apostles (like Saint James) to make a place for the gospel to be seen and heard. So we make crosses. We remember the meal and the death. We erect churches. We ponder the mystery that Jesus had enemies, and, with Jesus, we pray for them. We walk. We try to purify our own deeds and the motivations behind them.

All of this, it seems to me, is not far away and long ago. It is at hand now. In a complex and mysterious and wonderful way it makes possible for us to have a home.


    Out & About: I am to preach on May 26, Trinity Sunday, at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Dallas. And the next Good Books & Good Talk seminar will be at St. Matthew’s on June 2, on Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro.


The Rev. Canon Victor Lee Austin. Ph.D., is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Friendship: The Heart of Being Human" and "A Post-Covid Catechesis.: