Friday, September 20, 2013

The Power of Old Bones

Today I feel like a refreshed peregrino.  When I arrived yesterday, I was so tired!  I walked by the cathedral and went to get my compostela.  Then to my hotel (there is even tv in English here - BBC and CNN - too bad not much has changed in a month!).  So, I recovered.

Today I was up and about with new zest.  After I dropped off my laundry, I headed off to the cathedral.  First, a bt of background.  For most of my adult life I fought with the church. I definitely do not like the way so many Christians spend so much energy judging others - that does not seem Christ-like to me.  And, especially in my work, but in my own life, I have seen the wounds of misguided Christians.  Not happy in the church, I also learned that I am not happy without a spiritual community. A few years ago I made peace with the mystery of Christianity - I am comfortable with "not knowing" what the truth is.  I believe that spiritual life can offer much comfort and connection.

On this trip, I have made a practice of pausing before churches, being quiet and expressing a gratitude.  I have also understood that the impetus for El Camino floes from Christian beliefs.  There are so many crosses along the way, there are numerous altars.   There are abundant stacks of stones, indicating some sort of belief or expression.  But it is those sole crosses that have provided the most reflection for me.

I tend to be a wonderer about so many things.  On this pilgrimage I have wondered how the institution of the church got so separated from Jesus' teachings.  I am encouraged by the actions of Pope Francis I As he seeks to shift the emphasis away from condemnation and power to service.  I have wondered how the church clings to the notion of religious relics with such intensity.  This is especially true after visiting the cathedral at Burgos - truly a magnificent building, but one that seems to stress wealth and power over religious substance.

So, you get the picture?  Doubting Bob approaches Santiago, ending this part of his pilgrimage.

Today I entered a quiet cathedral.  I could hear the chants of mass in one of the chapels.  And, somehow I walked straight to some steps going down behind the altar.  I was alone,  the building was almost empty.  And suddenly I was standing in front of a silver casket that many believe contains the actually bones of St. James.  If true, here I am a few feet away from the remains of someone who knew Jesus, who came to Spain to spread this religion.  I do not need to know if these are the REAL bones.  It really does not matter if they are real or not.  I have walked a long distance just as others have for the past 1100 years.  And, here I am standing in front of a silver box.  I have experienced kindness and concern from people I will never see again - thoughtfulness that has no ulterior motive.

So, these bones, this religion, this church inspire me to be a better person.  How that will play out remains to be seen.  There is no conversion, nor is there a desire to become active in a church community.  But, there is a strong hope that I will be kinder and more loving towards all.

The Pilgrim's Mass that I attended at none did not really speak to me.  It was in Spanish, I had to stand, and my legs were aching.  After a while I decided that I wanted to move around a bit.  I began to see people I have walked with and warm smiles ensued.  I watched as the incense burner made its wide arc over the gathering, inhaling the aroma and a bit awed by all of the drama.  As the mass ended, a woman and her husband who had walked with me two weeks ago stepped forward with a warm smile and a genuine desire to know how I was.  Such tenderness!  And Frank, a man who had been along with way with me for a few days, was suddenly standing there!  Antonia, a Swedish woman who has kept popping up over the past two weeks joined us.  The joy of being together again swirled around us!  For me, this was the real mass - this gathering of people who had not known each other four weeks ago and who are not likely to ever be together again - this mass of loving without expectation.

That silver box of bones surely brought us together.  And in the coming together, my life has been enriched.  I am grateful for that.

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