Saturday, October 24, 2009
Things I was Wrong About, Part I
When Marty and I began talking about this project, I thought I had a fairly clear sense of what the camino would be like. We were setting out to compare "traditional" pilgrimage to immersion experiences and service learning. We wanted to do the camino as a benchmark, and basically I thought my sense of what pilgrimages like the camino are about would more or less be confirmed. And while I bought several camino books, I'd stayed away from them on grounds that things like the camino (as also, e.g., the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius,) should be experienced first, and only then read about.
Well, my understanding of the camino changed considerably in the walking.
I'd like to begin to 'fess up about some of the things I was wrong about in my intellectual noodling about pilgrimage. Some of these repeat themes picked up before, but now I begin to see them as lessons--or un-lessons, since these are things I was wrong about before we hit the road.
1. I expected more explicit religiosity among the pilgrims, and within myself. While many pilgrims doubtless had religious motivations for the trek, many more that we spoke to did not. I did meet one man wearing a two and a half-foot crucifix slung across his chest. He asked where the closest albergue was. I told him, but didn't pursue the conversation. Most of the churches we passed were closed, which contributed to this post-religious sense. The rare open churches tended to have a person sitting by the door stamping people's pilgrim credentials (the cards we carried to get stamped at the various towns,) and collecting donations. The few congregations we intersected at worship times tended to be a few elderly locals, an elderly priest, and a number of pilgrims. I don't know if the other pilgrims felt "fed" by these half-hearted services, but I did not, and didn't stay more than a few minutes. Marty had more patience for these than I did.
The churches are magnificent, and closed or nearly empty. The pilgrims are often motivated by a powerful spiritual purpose that is no longer, for most of them, expressed in the language of traditional Christianity. Immersions and the kind of non-walking pilgrimages that people go on tend to be much more explicitly religious--really, I think many times people who travel with religious motivation call their trips pilgrimages, even though those trips bear little resemblance to the camino and its ilk. Marty has written here about the incarnate spirituality of the trail that, even for us theological/religious types, was more about experiencing the walking of the day and the companionship of the road than praying across Spain. This may be a failing on our part, but if so, we seemed to share it with most of those we met.
The camino, like many people in the contemporary West, is spiritual but not religious. I am not certain, but I wonder if this has always been the case.
Next mistake--next post--pain.