We’ve just finished a communal dinner at a volunteer-run hostel in a small village in Spain. Our hosts are volunteers from the Netherlands who welcome new pilgrims every day.
We are walking the Camino de Santiago, an ancient 800 km pilgrimage across northern Spain. It was one of the most important Christian pilgrimages in the Middle Ages. People have been walking this path for over 1200 years.
Many Christians still walk this path for religious and spiritual purposes. Other people hope the walk with help them through a life transition. Others want to enjoy a walking holiday.
As the dishes are being cleared from dinner, one of our Dutch hosts stands up. He invites us to Jesus Mediation in about an hour.
I decide I’ll go. It will be my first time participating in something Christian in over a decade.
I was raised Catholic. In my early 20s, I became quite serious about religion, even taking on leadership roles in the Church.
Then I started realizing that there was no space in the Church for the person I was growing into.
As I tried praying to be turned straight. That (thankfully) didn’t work. But it also didn’t make leave.
A healthy dose of sexism finally did the trick. I was called a “good little helper” one too many times, while my male peers were offered leadership roles.
And I decided to take my queer, feminist self somewhere else. That was over 15 years ago.
Now I’m halfway through a solo trip around the world. I loved visiting Buddhist and Hindu temples as I travelled across Asia, learning as much as I could.
I arrived in Spain deciding that I need to give the same amount of respect and intellectual curiosity to Catholicism in Spain. It’s hard to see it with clear eyes, as it feels so familiar and so fraught.
I’ve been visiting every church along the way. I’ve been reading the pamphlets and taking to local volunteers. I’ve sat for hours meditating in quiet churches. I even attended Mass, which is very interesting in a language I don’t speak well.
And now Jesus Meditation. I first checked if it was OK to come if I wasn’t Christian. A volunteer assured me it was.
So I went and sat myself on a little cushion in a circle. Someone pressed play on some classical music and read a few Bible passages. After a half an hour, we had tea and talked about our experiences on the Camino.
I have never felt more sure that Christianity has no role in my life. But I felt honoured to be invited into their community and thanked them for having me.
I miss religious community sometimes. People who care for their community. And want to be of service to others. And trust that the universe will take care of them.
Being with a group of people who are trying to be their best in this way is a beautiful thing.
I think it’s that’s what that draws me to the Camino.
There is a saying that “The Camino provides.” Whatever you need will magically appear as the walk along the way.
It could be something “good” that you want, like a fountain when you’re thirsty. Or something difficult, like a challenging experience for you to learn from.
I know some people believe it’s God doing the providing. And that’s fine for them.
But for me, I can’t help but see that the people behind each lesson.
People have freely given me food, money, blister pads, directions. People have entrusted me with their small children after knowing them for short while.
People have really frustrated me. I’m sure I’ve really frustrated others.
I’ve had many heart felt conversations. Some friendships lasted hours. And one person in particular I’ve been with the entire way!
It brings it back to another Camino cliche that it’s all about the people.
I am find that when I’m honest, I find community that accepts me the way that I am.