.I think that it is more helpful to think about this subject as pilgrimage of narrative. When we set off on that first walking pilgrimage' we begin a new story. We have never done this before, we do not really know what to expect and we wonder what it going to happen to us and even if we are capable completing the task. It is the beginning of a story. This story has a beginning and we hope a middle and an end. It is linear in nature following the secession of days and places. However it is not the only story in progress. It is part of the bigger story that we call our life. Our story has become complex and parts of it seem to repeat in such a way that we wonder if it is going around in circles. For many the whole reason of going on pilgrimage is that personal story has become so complex and difficult that 'I need to get away and sort things out'. We take time out of our big story to engage on the small and simplified story of the Camino. Easier to handle! .
.To help think through these thoughts I would like to introduce a set of labels of these stories. The labels are the Camino narrative~ the framework that doing the walk imposes on all who set off. i.e days of walking, time for reflection,staying in the Albergue, eating with other pilgrims etc; My narrative~ the story of my life; Finally the Meta narrative~ the story of God in relation to mankind that some call the Gospel story, the life of Jesus and the life of faith. ( For those who are theologically or philosophically savvy I would like to say that I do not at this point want to debate the whole post~ modern thing about the existence or not of the meta narrative. On this blog it is a given) ..
.So I start walking from, say St Jean. Up the long hill to Spain and Santiago. As I walk on that first day all is new to me. I marvel at the breathtaking beauty.I converse happily with a few other pilgrims, just odd exchanges at first. These folk are strangers at the moment. It is hard work and I wonder if I am going to make it to the top of the hill let alone Santiago. But all too quickly the day ends as I enter the campus of our lady of Roncevalles. Check in, get a sello, and walk down the hill to my bunk. I shower, put on new clothes, sink a beer, book dinner, go to mass, eat and before 10pm, go to sleep. Next day I get up and start the same again. On this second day things are a little different. There is that interesting bloke I talked to over dinner last night. I walk along with him for a while, we begin to tell each other a little about ourselves. Slowly a pattern emerges to the day. This we fall into and enjoy. We are discovering the Camino Narrative. The narrative is similar everyday, with different scenery until it delivers me to Santaigo. .
.Let's look at the bloke that I have had dinner with, and have now walked with. Call him John! I have never met John before and I know that I will never meet him again. He is becoming a friend. This friendship is contained. He lives in Canada in a small town I have never heard of, I will never go there.He is not sure if he will ever come to Europe again, let alone the town I live in. We are however sharing a demanding task that is drawing us together. This friendship is not of the normal kinsd that I have experienced before. It has a strange intimacy. This is in part due to the ' brothers in adversity' syndrome and in part to the fact that in truth he knows nothing of me except what I choose to tell him. After the Camino I will never see him again and those who are part of my normal daily life will never meet him or hear what he can say about me. So he is safe. I can tell him me deepest secrets, opening up areas that I have not visited for some years. I can do this in a place that is more secure than any confessional box. So I am liberated to tell him anything and everything. This bring it own joys and therapy. .
.I am not however always talking to John. I am talking to others, sharing and hearing secrets. Added to this, there are times when I am on my own. In this space I reflect on My Narrative, turning it over and over in my hand. This stone of my past may be sharp. It cuts me as I think about it over and over, but as I turn the stone over, I am able so see think a little more clearly at this distance. Over and over it goes. After a while I begin to notice that the sharp stone is not so sharp, it is becoming a pebble, smooth and shiny. I get to the point where I don't even have to turn it over. After a further little while I don't what to carry it any more, so without fuss in my own quite way, I put it down on the ground. I walk on away from Cruz Ferro, healed. .
.There is a pattern building up here. Think of it this way if you will. Along the ground, laid out for me to walk, is the linear Camino Narrative. It is more or less fixed and the yellow arrows hold me on the way. As I walk I overlay the Camino Narrative with My Narrative. I do this by the things I share with others, my own thoughts as I go and the pebbles of now tamed past hurts that I lay down on the camino and walk away from. In so doing the Camino Narrative becomes My Narrative and I am changed. This is the common experience of all who go on pilgrimage. .
.A little aside. If I say to John that is is not a real pilgrim because he is not interested in spiritual things He is deeply offended and argues with me,' who can define pilgrimage. I have no right to tell him that he is not a proper pilgrim.' I would like to say that there is a total miscommunication here. He hears what I say as 'You do not have a a Camino Narrative'. He has however a very definite Camino Narrative. If I am saying to him that the has no Camino narrative he feels like I am saying that he has no narrative at all. He is a non person. No wonder he is upset. I on the other hand have been trying to say that he has not gone to the third stage of the narrative. And perhaps he would agree on this form of understanding, that is if he accepts that there might be a third stage. .
.Stage three pilgrimage is when I lay My narrative on the Camino Narrative and use the two together to overlay the Meta-narrative in such a way that I enter into an experience of God. The classical term for this is prayer. ( Don't be put of by the word. It can mean going down on one's knees, but it is mostly about being with God). As we reflect on our narrative, we also reflect on the Christian Narrative and draw from it ways of understanding what is happening to us. This is school of prayer is to help us navigate our future narrative. When the pilgrimage is over the Camino Narrative , a sort of template, is removed. The lesson we are invited to take away with us is how to walk the Meta~Narrative in the same way as we have walked the Camino Narrative. Or to put it another way. When we cease to walk the Camino we take with us the understanding of how to walk with the one who said ' I am the Camino~I am the the way, the truth, the life'.