Friday, May 26, 2017

Walking a Pilgrim Route

This is Part Two of excerpts from Jennifer Lord’s essay in the Spring 2017 issue of Liturgy, the quarterly journal of The Liturgical Conference, which deals with pilgrimage in a number of ways.

Here, Lord describes the experience of the walking itself––an undertaking that she and her husband completed over an 8-week period in 2014 on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. This was a 750-mile pilgrim route.

In 2013 I led a seminary travel seminar called The Way of St. James. Ten days into our pilgrimage. . . some group members discovered a booklet for sale showing each stage’s elevation gain and loss. One of our members chastised our guide: “You kept saying the day would be flat walking! And it wasn’t flat!” According to our guide’s definition, if we started and ended at relatively the same elevation then it was a flat day. We laughed: this, after a week and half. . .  (and still more days to go) of climbing in and out of river valleys! . . . 
At some point there are adjustments––to our packs, to our water supply, to bandages. . . there is café con leche and breakfast. . . there is lunch whether from a bodega, a bar, or from our packs. We stop at the chapels and churches that mark the route. At some point, there is an afternoon break or the end of the walking. . . The anxiety for a bed at the day’s end manifests as competition on the route: some pilgrims leave by 4:00 a.m. so they can walk in the cool air and also arrive ahead of the masses. . . We show our pilgrim’s passport for entrance, leave our hiking poles and boots in the appointed area, and claim a bed. We unroll bedding and hope for a shower with hot water (don’t run the water while soaping!). We rinse or wash clothes in the designated area. Perhaps we soak our feet; people trade foot rubs. Nap. Shop for supplies for the next day. . . and perhaps for a communal dinner. Have a beer. Nap or cook or attend Pilgrims’ Mass. Dinner. Camaraderie. Sleep. All of it: again. And: again. . . 
We always studied our maps and read about the coming day’s terrain. We checked the weather and our food bags, and topped up water bottles. We bandaged our feet, took anti-inflammation medicine, chose our clothing layers. But then we stepped into the day, into the unknown. We did all the familiar things and then walked into discovery. Over time, we discovered that we had become more at home in the walking than at any of the stops along the way. 
In the walking, we discovered that our sensibilities of interiors and exteriors had been inverted. Philosopher Frédéric Gros observes: “When you go ‘outside’ it is always to pass from one ‘inside’ to another: from house to office, from your place to the nearest shops. You go out to do something, somewhere else. . .” 
Walking the Camino inverts those sensibilities. . . It comes from walking the permutations of outdoors. . . Cold rain and sloppy fields, we walk it. 
The day after day after day walking is what inverts because we find out that we want to walk no matter what. . . The walking becomes the way we live in the whole world.  

Jennifer L. Lord, is the Dorothy B. Vickery Professor of Homiletics and Liturgical Studies at Austin Theological Seminary in Austin, Texas, and president of the North American Academy of Liturgy.

Jennifer L. Lord, “Walking the Camino,” Liturgy 32, no. 3 (2017): 3-13.

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