Today we left Pamplona and headed for Puente La Reina, about 15 miles west. The first part of our journey was a long climb up the "Alto del Perdon," or "Heights of Forgiveness." From Pamplona we could see the top of the mountain ridge, covered with windmills too tall for Quixote to challenge. This is agricultural country, and all day we passed fields of working farms--hay, corn, vineyards (this is wine country!) and the occasional artichokes, and others. We walked through where others are hard at work. It was a glorious bright day, especially once we summitted Forgiveness and headed down the other side.
It seems people in general are more comfortable with forgiveness if we think we've done something in exchange for it. Especially if that something is hard. One of the good aspects of the Catholic sacrament of confession is that, especially for those with a lively sense of sin, the penance often doesn't seem like enough to "earn" forgiveness. "What? Say a few prayers? Be kind to someone? After all the evil things I did?" The tradition is full of people making spectacular expiation with this or that building--pilgrimage itself has been used as a penance, in which we earn our forgiveness with blisters (and in the past danger.) Instead of sending people on pilgrimage as penance, wouldn't it have been better to say, "hey, try to be a better farmer--be grace for others wherever you are, instead of seeking forgiveness on the road. Forgiveness isn't on the mountain--it just is, right here." In fact, it's even easier than the tradition has it. Forgiveness is just given. Like grace. It's scarier that way--the quid pro quo of "I'll say my prayers, then be off on my sinful way again, thanks very much," yields to a more challenging "yup. Forgiven. Simple as that. Now how do you LIVE as forgiven?" So we crossed the "Heights of Forgiveness" today. But at the top, looking out over the country ahead of us, laid out in glorious tapestry...didn't feel penitential at all, at all.
Once we hit Puente and were situated in our hostel, we traded boots for sneakers and set out to explore the town. The first building we went into was Iglesia del Crucifijo, a little church just beyond another hostel here in town.
In my touring of Spain, I went into a bunch of churches, most of them stunning landmarks. But they all charged admission, sometimes not even pretending to call it a "donation," or any minimal fiction. It added to the post-Christian feel of much of the country--the Church is merely a historical landmark that one visits like any other relics you pass on your travels. Here, though, we walked un-charged into a cool, dark sancturary lit through mica windows with a large, simple but evocative crucifix on one wall. The quiet was enveloping. The day had been a long and strenuous walk--15 miles with a pack is a long way! We wound up, at least for a short visit, just where we needed to be. And were met in the quiet.