As I sit here, and the end of my day, looking out the window, I can tell you that today I found God. And it all started when my parents failed to raise me with any religion at all…
So, here I am in the north of Spain, leading a walking tour of an old Christian pilgrimage route called El Camino. Let me start off by saying that I get bloody nervous giving talks on anything that has to do with Christianity. Especially because my groups are of an older demographic, and are likely to have had a religious upbringing, whereas I, have absolutely none (other than my 2 week stint in self-inflicted Sunday School). So fast forward to day 8 of my tour, I’ve hardly slept the night before because I was up all night preparing talks to do along El Camino the following day, and again, it’s day 8 of so I’m extra tired anyway – and I have so much new religious information in my head I think it might explode. Let me emphasize that I am also on El Camino – there is absolutely no way of getting around doing talks on Christianity.
To sum it all up, I’m stressed and at my breaking point. Insert me, standing in front of the first stop of our day, the ruins of the monastery of San Antón – then it hits me, I’m too tired, and I have too much new religious information barely stringing on to the molecules in my head. “Well here we are at the old monastery of San Antón….”, I say, then que a long pause, and hands inadvertently in prayer position in front of my mouth. I look at my group, panic. I make eye contact with them, and they look expectantly at me to say something of significance, as they blink and sway side to side, and time seems frozen in place. All I can think is “What am I supposed to say? Something about leprosy and barley and fungus, and crap what is the date of this monastery??, why is the Tau Cross the symbol again??, where are we?, are the ruins open? (no, the door is shut), which way does the camino start?, they totally know way more about religion than me, I am probably going to say something wrong, what am I doing?” What followed was a no less than a vomit of information, with quite a few pauses and brows furrowed looking to the sky. But after that, we started walking, and we passed through the arch of San Antón, leaving the monastery behind us.
Maybe there was something a little magical about passing through the giant arch of San Antón, or maybe it was walking in the sun, with endless fields around us, reminding me how small I am in the world and how stressing over not getting things perfect is irrelevant to everything.
We then visited a silent convent, and somehow I got the nuns to communicate with me to let us in. That hilarious graceful ordeal involved secret doors, secret knocks, some money, funny nuns, and a very pretty church. We also climbed to the top of the hill to an old ruined castle, with stellar panoramic views of the Spanish valleys. I gave talks on different churches we passed, miracles, and I continued to not get lost on El Camino. Life moved on. Despite my feeling over the last 24 hours.
Tonight we arrived at an old monastery, which has been converted into a hotel. It is also a national monument, and I can understand why, as I sit here looking out from my room, into the cloister of the monastery.
The birds are chirping, I hear dogs barking far away, the clouds pass slowly in the sky, and today after all of that misery and panic I felt in the beginning, now I somehow feel closer to God. I mean, not THE God, or someone else’s idea of God, but my idea of God. Learning a lot about Christianity over the last couple of weeks, and history, and wars, and love, and loss, and peace – stirs feelings in me of ‘more’. I have always felt spiritual, whether I am looking at the figure of an enlightened Buddha, watching a colourful Hindu festival, entering a silent convent – I see God on a daily basis, it is in the stillness of my being, when I sit and listen, when I hear my niece laugh, it is in the simplicity of everything.
Like many people who make the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, it may not be for religious purposes, but regardless, something divine is in the air. Something special.
Thank you to all of my friends who have ever thoughtfully responded when I have asked them to teach me the “basics” of Christianity. And thank you Mum and Dad for allowing me to find my own way.