I learned two things today. 1. God’s house needs cleaning. We were in an old church in Burgos enjoying the peace and serenity. I had spent some time in prayer and was about to walk about and look at the art and statues when the cleaning ladies arrived. Dressed in white, armed with mops, buckets and cleaning cloths they swept into the building. Bang! Bang! Bang! As the kneeling rails were raised. Screech as doors hundreds of years old yielded to their unbending resolve. Cleaning materials were scattered over the floor, as the ladies chattered and rushed with purpose as they went to work. The lady at the altar unconcerned over its reverence and holiness scrubbed with gusto and without any genuflection. They had clearly done this many times before and were going to ensure it was done right. I snuck out of one of the huge doors now open to the world with one thought; I suppose God’s houses need cleaning too.
The second thing I learned: I then went to the Burgos Cathedral where I had been before but I wanted to see the museum and historical artefacts again. I was caught behind a group of nuns as they were being shown through. Every time they came to a significant artefact they whipped out their mobile smart phones and took pictures. Now, nuns with mobile phones was not a concept I had ever thought about or considered. These ethereal, other worldly creatures wielding smartphones with dexterity and aplomb was not a thought I had ever consciously considered. The brides of Christ with smartphones – my second lesson for the day.
Last night we had the first night of a two day festival in Villamayor. The towns in the valley take it in turn to host this event. Although next weekend it is followed by the town festival as well. The evening started with lots of Spanish sausages, bacon and sardines all squashed into pieces of pan rustica, a long loaf like a French stick, washed down with local wines. This was followed at 10:30pm by a bull made out of a drum, bike wheels and other metal bits and pieces chasing children down the street with fireworks coming out of its tail. The kids screamed with delight as it chased them up and down the street. I suppose this is all in preparation for the real thing in Pamplona or another major city when they get older. And then, to finish off the evening a punk band with a rude name played strange music until after midnight. Some of the locals who were well lubricated by this time caroused into the night, or should I say, early morning and took one of our clothes line for a walk.
Spanish kids have returned to school after their long summer break so there are fewer locals on the Camino. However, it seems that September 1st is a signal for everyone else to begin. The albergue is full every night and we have to turn people away. Happily there is a network so that bedless pilgrims are directed to other possibilities. It can be quite distressing for some to find that there is no bed available, so it is important to calm their anxiety.
While walking a section of the Camino the other day we discovered many North Americans ( USA and Canada- I don’t want to offend either!), Irish and even the odd Aussie being dragged along by his wife whose idea it was – a fact of which he kept reminding her.
I also got a chance to take a photo of the albergue’s favourite local sitting on his tractor. He loves to welcome the pilgrims and sit and have a chin wag with them whether they understand Spanish or not.
Tonight a local festival commences – so we will see if we sleep or not. The wind is very gusty and time will tell if the gazebos stay up. However, we can be certain of one thing, nothing will spoil a Spanish party!
Today after setting up for the team’s breakfast I absconded and went for a walk up Montejurra. I made it into a 20 km round trip by taking a few unwise turns. The following are some photos from my expedition.
In yesterday’s blog (Discomforting Conversations)there was one person I didn’t mention. Accompanying the ex solder was a young lady. She was quiet, calm and occasionally acted as his translator when his words weren’t forthcoming. From where I was sitting she was everything he needed – support, encouragement and most of all, a comforting presence.
It made me think that we all need people like that in our lives with their words of comfort, support, challenge and even those words that cause self reflection.
For those with a Christian faith this can have an even greater dimension as the words and encouragement don’t need come from ourselves but can come from the very presence of God Himself.
On most evenings conversations around the dinner table at the albergue are light and breezy: where do you live, work, are you enjoying the walk, what do you do, how do you enjoy your retirement… and whatever.
But now again when when you ask, “Why are you doing the Camino?” You are given an answer that knocks you for six. I had learned that the relatively young man across the table was a blacksmith who wasn’t sure if his body could cope with this job for many more years. I told him how I would love to see him teach his skills to young people in this technological age. Then I asked him the dangerous question: why are you doing the Camino? The answer was not one I expected.
This man was a veteran of the war in Afghanistan. He had been indoctrinated to see enemies everywhere and not trust anyone. In war his life depended on a high degree of paranoia. He was on the Camino to reestablish contact with people, overcome his paranoia of enemies around every corner preparing to shoot him and to also overcome, unsurprisingly, his anxiety attacks. After he had described his struggles in detail I was in tears. I did not have the words to respond. Desperately I was asking God for words but nothing came to mind. All I could say was that I would pray for him for his journey and hoped he could achieve the peace he so desperately sought.
There were so many other things racing through my mind that I wish I had the words to speak but the meal ended, the tables had to be cleared and other duties performed. I felt so, so, inadequate in the face of such pain.
After the 8:30 Jesus meditation that occurs every evening at the albergue I asked him how it went. He told me he was blessed by this time of reflection. He then picked up the guitar and spent some time making gentle music. … and I was still lost for words.
Currently it is very warm at night. The one metre thick stone walls take a long time to cool down. In the morning they still contain a lot of heat. Sleeping through the night can be tough with the small open window letting in little air and lots of noise from the local bar and the neighbourhood dog chorus.
The bar plays lots of awful music through to the early hours of the morning making falling asleep a mite difficult. This represents the contradictions in this village: Old houses, old church, lots of old people but touches of modernity. There are traditions that go back centuries accompanied by young people on quad bikes. There are crosses on houses next to the satellite dish.
Stirred into this whole mix is the daily conga line of pilgrims coming through.
Over the years, where ever we have travelled, I have made it my business to pray for the congregations and leaders of the various church buildings we have encountered. Large or small, magnificent or modest they have all had the Pieter prayer treatment. From my window in the albergue I can see 3 church buildings – all many hundreds of years old, and down the path just over the hill is another. This morning I went to visit that last one and pray for the people who come in and the priest that leads it. But there are many more close by that I haven’t been too. The small village of Luquin actually has a Basilica and a church. I haven’t discovered the history of that yet.
Travelling the Camino can be very cheap. The accommodation is inexpensive, restaurants offer cheaper meals and there are no transport costs apart from a little shoe leather. All you need is a ‘credential’ – a camino passport and these benefits are available to the walkers
But not everybody is a walker, some do it on bikes or with donkeys and horses. Perfectly ok. However there are others who do it by car. They get a credential, have it stamped regularly but use the Camino as, essentially, a means for a cheap holiday.
It is a sad reminder that even the simple pleasures and experiences of life can be spoiled by some. The albergue I am in has a policy that if it is ‘Completo’ – full and someone comes along who has been walking all day and also discover someone, who has driven to the albergue, has registered, then the driver will be asked to leave to make space for the walker.
On the Camino you are often impressed with human nature and endurance but then, occasionally, the opposite occurs.
This morning around the breakfast table we had a lively discussion around cultures and how we perceive them. How come, in Spain, the fiestas are the same every year and children’s birthday parties always have the same cake and the same ritual?
What are the rituals we engage in that someone else from another culture would consider weird. I remember once at theological college a discussion about body odour occurred. One group of students had complained about the odour of another group. The other group replied that white people smelled “sour”. Even our olfactory function, it seems, has a cultural dimension!
Our world-views are shaped by so many different factors; culture, religion, experiences, family upbringing(was it ever ok to lick the bowls and plates in your family?) and numerous other factors. The first argument after my wife and I were married was who would put the rubbish out for collection. In my family my mother did it because dad’s business was very time consuming and my brother and I helped dad with it. In my wife’s family even though the mum did it, the myth was active that dad would have done it if he was still alive. And yes, I lost the argument.
So here we are in Spain with enough time to get a sense of how a small community ticks. If I transferred these people to Hamlyn Heights what would they say to each other in the privacy of their homes about these strange people in Geelong. Where is the bar? Where do they meet without a bar 100 metres from home? And no siesta! The climate is the same so why not? And, they eat so early!