Now that I have settled out of the routine of the Camino, I am able to really reflect on it. What I feel now more than I was on it is a sense of peace, acceptance of the Providence of the Almighty. The problems that were pricking me like gnats along the Road have ceased to trouble me, even if they have not disappeared. What I have received as the boon of the journey is the calm acceptance that no matter where I roam, no matter what I confront it is welcome. I do not fight against the burdens I carry, I have covered the path with a white train of prayer. I feel so much closer to God now. I can feel His Presence in my soul. Even with the threat of war and the rumors of war, I feel comforted because God is in me. I have been given more patience to bear the brunts of others, the nasty, the indiscreet, the malevolent, the disgusting. I try not to meld the sinner with the sin itself. But this attitude does not come without testing first. Here is one test I received to truly see if I had kept the peace of the Camino.
Ironically, the nastiest reception I received on this whole journey came from a member of my own religious denomination. I traveled a long way through the rain, my raincoat and backpack soaked, to find the one Orthodox church in the city I had stopped over. As the website of the church cited vesper services occurred every day at 6 pm, I entered the church. It was quite dark except for one solitary candle. I took the liberty to light two candle stands in the corner with the icon of the church’s patron saints. It was only me in the church until I heard the draw of a heavy side door. I greeted the rasaphore reader? deacon? Twice with the normal ecclesiastic salutation. He did not say a word. He only trudged on and make a gesture with his right hand as if to say “what’s the meaning of this?” and he hurried to the candlestand and snuffed out the candles. He noticed that I had plugged in my cell phone, which was at 2% and this was my map through this unknown off-the-beaten path of the city. He made a point of taking the chair I had laid my cell phone and backpack to stand on to light the vigil lamp.
Now perhaps I was reading into his actions. Maybe he really did use the chair to light the lamp every day at this time. But my gut told me otherwise. I trust my intuition. I kept silent and followed along with the prayers, trying to focus on my own internal ineptitude and weakness. “I am here to worship the Lord,” irregardless of the way I am treated by those who serve Him. But as he said the prayers, something started troubling me. Even though he spoke in Greek, he mumbled the words so quickly with a strange gallop that I had a hard time understanding. Even if Greek is not my language of strength, I know when I hear it cogently or not. What synched the experience of disrespect was when during the part in the vesper service when the deacon/priest is supposed to incense the icons and the laypeople, he purposefully incensed the entire perimeter of the church but did not incense me.
I was incensed! In all my years of attending services, I have never been so rudely treated. In my head, I had thoughts racing: “This must be what the Bible warned against—the worst enemies of the spirit are those like the Sanhendrin who so hold to the power of their clerical positions that they lose the spirit of mercy, love and God Himself. The worst enemies of the Lord were not even the Romans, at least Pontius Pilate found no fault and would not have carried out an unjust death penalty, but those holier-than-thou clerics, the religious leaders who with their pride and their hard heartedness could not see that they had condemned God Himself to a heinous death. What can we expect if these are our spiritual leaders. How hard is it to find a decent spiritual example in the end of times? Lord have mercy on the clergy and the leaders of our Church. It is a wake up call that World War 3 might be unleashed through the actions of a so-called devout Orthodox Christian. Woe, woe to us in the Orthodox Church. We who go around so righteously believing we know the Truth. Woe because we might be so deluded in our own pride that we have become devils.”
I left that church without a word. I was not wanted there. I had to wrestle with my own passion of anger. I had been tempted in the most crucial spiritual moment. Should I find out who this man of the cloth is and denounce him? Was he even Greek?
His obnoxiousness had cut to the core of my own pride. How dare he ignore me? Was I not worthy of blessing? That was my first reaction. But I settled myself with the Jesus Prayer. The words act as a cool cloth to wipe the heat from a molten iron bar. I have to be humble. I cannot understand why he would act in such an unkind manner, but I cannot judge him for it. I should not let the passions of others prick my own. This is how the devil works. I am sure that the devil worked his magic through this man of God to tempt me in my thoughts. If I were more godlike, more patient, more humble, I would accept his actions calmly without negative backlash.
To not react in kind, to be accepting and humble—that is one of the lessons of the Camino. I do not know how long the Grace of the Camino will stick to me especially as I return to the “normal” trials of my quotidian existence. But if I keep the Jesus Prayer, it embraces my heart like a luminous force field that lets no evil penetrate it. Like a center of peace that does not bend or break no matter what external turbulence prevails against it. That core of peace –that is the boon of the Camino. When you have that “peace that passes all understanding” it is easier to understand how the saints could have suffered so much pain, so much anxiety, so much temptation not only to survive but to thrive in it. This is a gift of the Holy Spirit. And if you do the Camino right, you will get to taste a drop of it. It would be worth your swollen ankles, your heartburn, blistering callouses, heat rash, dizziness, and the eternal aches and pains in your spinal column and your back.
If you go on the Camino, beware. You will most definitely run into temptations, distresses, turns of fortune. That is because whenever you struggle to do good, evil will persecute you. One of the unwritten laws of the spiritual is the infinite struggle between good and evil. Like strange bedfellows they are inexplicably linked. There is something that does not like the good in this world. When evil senses something pure, something noble, something good, it goes out of its way to destroy it. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. (John 3:19)
The dark is attracted to the light in its fury to destroy it. The darkness does not like the light because it works to expose it. This is why the pilgrim on the spiritual path must fight the good fight. He or she must be girded like a knight to do battle with the forces of evil. One must not be naïve enough to believe that evil will not unfurl its dark mantle over the course of the Camino. This delicious attraction evil has for the good manifested in the life of Christ Himself. He, the most pure, most benevolent, most perfect Being in the universe, was tormented, tortured, put to death in an excruciating form. Why? Because He had done nothing wrong. He was without blemish.
The halo of the Camino is that it fills you with its light. That light infuses into your soul and it glows with love. When love resides in your soul, you do not get flustered when things do not go your way. You are not short-tempered or easily frustrated. You accept all that comes to meet you with equanimity. If it does you ill, well, you will endure it; if it does you well, well, you will embrace it. Whatever may come, your soul is suffused with Divine Love and it smiles at whomever it encounters. Nothing can take away that power, the power of Love, to change the way you interact with those, even the most cruel, around you. This is why saints pray for their enemies and love them. They see beyond their evil to the possibility that they can be redeemed by Love. When you have Love in your soul, you react to life lovingly. You radiate with the Light of the Lord, the All-Powerful Sun/Son.
The lessons of the Camino are hard to understand because they have God’s logic not human logic attached to them. Now that the Camino is finished for me, I glow with the light those lessons have illuminated me with. Even if I am exhausted in body, my soul is strengthened. I go back to my everyday life taking the boon of the journey, the gifts of the Spirit placed deep in my core, and shout them for all to hear:
Oh Love, Light, Goodness, Beauty–live in me as Your Source has gifted you to me, the most unworthy of pilgrims, in return for bearing the long, arduous Camino, the one true Road of Life. Amen.