Saturday, July 26, 2014


Cathedral of Compostela
Friday July 25 was the feast of the apostle St. James. He's the one whose relics are venerated at the shrine of St. James in Compostela, Spain. His name in Spanish is Santiago. During the Middle ages a million Christians walked the pilgrim roads that led from various European cities to the shrine of Compostela. These routes were known collectively as el Camino de Santiago, the road to Santiago.

I've done a few posts over the years about pilgrimages, but circumstances are leading me to reflect a bit more on this rich topic. First, of course, is yesterday's feast of Santiago himself. Then there's this: about ten days ago, on vacation, I was walking out of a bookstore in Virginia and saw a table on the sidewalk marked "Free Books." It contained dozens of paperbacks, all seemingly in good condition. When I stepped over for a look my eye was immediately caught by an author's name, Joyce Rupp. She's a Catholic sister, an author and speaker. Just as interesting was the title of her book: Walk in a Relaxed Manner: Life Lessons from the Camino. Since the price was right, I immediately took the book and continued on my way to my car.

Later I explored Sr. Joyce's book and found out that at the age of 60 she had spent 30-some days walking the Camino in Spain with a companion. The book was a series of lessons that she drew from the journey. I'd like to share a couple of paragraphs from the book, if I might:

Each sacred site has spiritiual energy for those who deliberately visit it. Not only is the spirit of the one who is honored present at that site. The good intentions and prayers of untold pilgrims add to the source of energy found there. What makes the Camino so special is that this source of renewal is present, not just at the destination point of Santiago, but all along the road one travels to reach the sacred site.
As with numerous other pilgrims on the Camino, [my companion] and I experienced the spiritual potency of the Camino in the walking of it, rather than in reaching the destination. Initially we thought getting to Santiago was the purpose of our walk. We soon discovered it was in making our way to the cathedral that we were to receive spiritual empowerment and renewed enthusiasm. Our life lessons unfolded among the numerous ups and downs the Camino provides. ... It was there that we deepened our knowledge of how to walk through life in a relaxed manner. (27)

I like this idea that the journey has more to teach us than the goal itself. It sounds a lot like many of Jesus' teachings. For example, "The Kingdom of God is among you!" The Kingdom is not pie in the sky when you die, it's a reality that we must strive to live right here and now, every day. And it is in this striving that we become the people God needs us to be.

St. Benedict in his Rule for Monks often stresses not so much the accomplishing of the task itself as the manner in which it is done. If you obey with a grumbling heart, you don't get credit for obeying. If you chant the psalms with your lips but not your heart, the prayers are just noise. Our interior dispositions are crucial for Benedict. I see a connection here with Sr. Joyce's description of the Camino: the accomplishment of the task at hand is often less important than what happens to you during the process of accomplishing it. This is an important reminder for me as I begin teaching class here on Monday.


We've all had or heard about teachers who accomplish their task through a scorched-earth policy, charging through the material without much regard for collateral damage to the students. The teacher supposedly gets to his or her goal, but at a high cost in terms of the students' self-image, feelings of self worth, and their love of learning. But getting to the specific measurable educational objectives of the course is, in the Christian view of things, NOT the most important thing going on in that classroom. It's what happens on the way to those goals that really matters.

"I don't remember what you taught me, but I remember how you made me feel."  This is a chilling remark to hear from a former student. Uh-oh. How did I make him feel, if he still remembers it? I'd like to think that he means something like  "I remember the way you guided us on on that journey, how you made me feel capable and competent, and how I learned about perseverance, patience, intellectual curiosity and a sense of humor." 

I don't know about other teachers, but if my kids learn lessons like that from walking the educational Camino with me for a semester, I'll feel that I've done a decent job.

Saint James, pray for us!


No comments:

Post a Comment