I would like to introduce you to a Professor of mine, Dr. Antony Lilles. (“Catholic theologian, married father of three, living in Colorado since 1992. Having completed doctoral studies in ’98, his research is dedicated to the wisdom of the saints and mystics of the Church. He has recently published Hidden Mountain Secret Garden, Omaha: Discerning Hearts (2012).” You can follow him on his blog: Beginning to Pray.
What does a pilgrim find in Spain?
A land of paradox. Extremely modern communist style apartments can rise above very ancient and warmer architectural forms on the same street. Miles of the old primitive path are interrupted by brand new roads or in other places bordered by electric fences (a deterrent for livestock or pilgrims or both). Beautiful silence is sometimes swallowed by the droning of “power generating” windmills. The spirit of Don Quixote and the spirit of materialism, idealism and cynicism, faith and skepticism, ancient Catholicism and new religions of drug culture, simplicity of rural living and the complexity of over technologized souls, joy and sorrow; all of these movements one picks up on while treading the via primitiva.
Asturias was very beautiful but the chapels and sanctuaries were all locked or else in ruins. This made finding a place for daily mass very difficult and, really, our greatest hardship. Now in Galacia, chapels and masses are a little more available.
The other hardship which we are still contending with is the walk itself … About 18 miles a day. The body adjusts to this. And there are only two days to go. Still, more than half way and drawing closer to Santiago, I still find the last three miles always a little more difficult, but because of that, the very best for prayer.
It is not a deep mental prayer of insight, or or delving introspection, but a prayer of intercession that comes easiest, “I offer this hundred yards in reparation for the scandal I caused in the hearts of others…please let them know your love and draw them close to you even in the face of my failure to witness- because no matter how great my sin, your love is greater.”
Or else “remember my friend who died. His life was filled with so much ambiguity and difficulty, but you were with him through it all. Now, as he stands before you, let this little act of love I offer with my feet open up the floodgates of your mercy on him.”
Or again, “I offer this stretch of path in thanksgiving for all the blessings you have lavished on meand my family. I did nothing to deserve them. But you blessed us anyway. Let these steps be for your glory …”
The one phrase however that returns time and again is “Into your hands I commend my spirit. With this step, I give myself to you completely, I abandon myself to you, with all the love of my heart, with total confidence, for you are my Father.”
As I wrote this reflection in the Albergue, in the room next to me, graduate student Lucy Ridsdale’s voice echoed over the 1970s pop song playing on the local radio. It was paradox: sachrine tunes suddenly overshadowed by something deeper and richer, and more fully human. Everyone stopped. The radio was turned off. One young man broke down in tears.
I will post that recording in the future but here is a rendition of the chant dedicated to St James, sung in Santiago almost 800 years ago, when Saint Francis trod this path during another age of paradox and contradiction, penance and renewal: O adiutor omnium seculorum