Roads to Santiago

“Blissfully Ignorant” Chuck, USA (2012)

“I’ve been asked if my pilgrimage was a transforming experience. I’m not sure that I can answer that in fewer than 36,836 words.”

“I first became aware of the Camino de Santiago during a vacation to Portugal and Spain in 1992. I learned a bit about Santiago (Saint James) at the time, but didn’t give it much more thought. 16 years later, in 2008, I ordered a book, ‘The Roads to Santiago.’ I never read it. By 2011, however, I had revisited my journals from that 1992 trip and became curious again about the Camino. Thanks to a change in my employment situation (unfortunate at the time, but good in hindsight!), I could allow myself the luxury of four weeks to travel across Spain.

Peoples’ reasons for walking the Camino are as varied as the people themselves. ‘Jack from Ireland’ in the Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez movie, ‘The Way,’ made an observation that stuck with me: ‘No one walks the Camino by accident.’ Someone else said, ‘You don’t do the Camino, the Camino does you.’ Even now, I can’t explain what my motivation was. It was just a feeling – something that I felt compelled to do. And so I did. However, I did make it clear to family members that if we were comparing my trip to the movie, I intended to be the old guy who finishes the walk across Spain, and NOT the young guy who dies on the first day in the Pyrenees! I eased my worry by reminding myself that many thousands have taken the route before me. Plus, I planned to be friendlier than Martin Sheen’s character so as to meet more people along the way, and, jokingly, I thought maybe I’d befriend a Dutchman who was generous with his pot, too! The journey was not physically easy, and I completed it using a combination of foot, bus, and train.

I’ve been asked if my pilgrimage was a transforming experience. I’m not sure that I can answer that in fewer than 36,836 words. At the time I thought a lot about the coming together of ideas and experiences that had occurred during my adult life. Everything that I knew or felt seemed to codify during the last week of my camino. My real spiritual awakening happened a few days before my arrival in Santiago. In 1977, during my first solo vacation as an adult, I had read a declaration in San Francisco’s cathedral that said, ‘Every generation must speak to God in its own way, or it does not speak at all,’ I wanted an applicable sentiment for non-Catholics on the Camino, as this journey nowadays has a kind of universal appeal. I re-thought it as ‘All people must speak to the One Force that sustains and protects us all in their own way or they do not speak at all. I think that on my Camino I made contact with that One Force – the Absolute. A few other names came to mind during those final days in the forests of Galicia. In the Star Wars movies, it is called ‘The Force.’ In one popular musical theatrical production it is called the ‘Starlight Express.’ To me, all of these are naming the same thing. I would stretch it even further to include names like Intellect, Reason, Nature, or any Higher Power that inspires, sustains and protects us. I think sometimes we are hung up on language. I decided out there among the eucalyptus trees that it does not matter what you name it. Whatever its name, as long as you do give it a name that is meaningful to you. Right now, I like The Force. My miracle was nothing neither new nor profound. But it gave me a oneness and a connectedness to all that I knew and felt since my early adulthood. I had gotten it together.

I eventually wrote a book, “Blissful Ignorance,” about my 2012 Camino. I first used the term ‘blissful ignorance’ in an e-mail I sent to friends and family on August 31, 2012, just two days into my Camino. It appeared more frequently towards the end of my pilgrimage in September as I reflected on the improbable sequence of events and happy coincidences that occurred along The Way. Later I would be reminded of all of the things that could have gone wrong but didn’t, of which I was blissfully ignorant at the time. ‘Blissful Ignorance’ set the tone almost immediately for my pilgrimage across Spain. I believe that no one can be fully prepared for the month-long, sometimes very challenging walk. But with determination, people of all ages do attempt and do complete it successfully. And, with a little bit of ignorance, these same people don’t worry so much about why they might NOT be able to.

In the end, I had walked 250 miles, and ridden 114 miles by bus and 126 by train, from St. Jean Pied de Port, France to Santiago de Compostela, Spain. It was a transforming time. Almost a year later, we sang a hymn at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Spokane, Washington. The final verse of that hymn was:

Wake now my vision, of ministry clear,
Brighten my pathway with radiance here,
Mingle my calling with all who will share,
Work toward a planet transformed by our care.

This stanza to me sums up what I have learned from my Camino. I believe that I am more connected and more compassionate to the misery that surrounds us. I believe more deeply in peace, I am more critical of war, and I seek to be more of a reconciler. This discipline makes me a better Unitarian-Universalist. The Camino helped me want to work toward a planet transformed by our care.

May the Force speak to you.

-“Blissfully Ignorant” Chuck, USA

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