The Cathedral of St. Philip - Atlanta, GA

Thoughts from the Camino

An article from the Cathedral Times
by Canon Dale Adelmann


One of the most profound experiences of my life was to walk the Camino to Santiago de Compostela last autumn. Camino means path, way, or journey. For nearly a thousand years peregrinos (pilgrims) from all over Europe have trekked to Santiago, prayerfully making their way to the magnificent cathedral which houses the relics of Sant Iago (Saint James). I chose to walk the last 200+ miles of the Camino Frances, the most-trodden of the routes, setting out on my journey from the charming medieval cathedral city of Leon, Spain.

The first two days I walked through verdant valleys into the gentle foothills of the mountains of northern Spain. It was like walking through a Cezanne landscape and I quickly relaxed into a “presence in the moment” that I have rarely experienced. On day three I began daily ascents and descents into and over ever higher mountains. The lack of technological distractions, the solitude of walking alone, and the grandeur of the wilderness scenery created space to enter into a deeper, thoughtful awareness. I spent days pondering this unexpected revelation:

This path is one immense metaphor for life, spiritual and temporal.

Sometimes the pilgrim Way is clearly marked, at others the markings are faint, hidden, and hard to find, or even nonexistent. One simply has to plow ahead, hoping for that wave of relief, even gratitude, when a scallop shell or a spray-painted yellow arrow marking the Camino reappears miles later, reassuring one that the path has not been lost.

The Way is smooth some of the time, rough at others. Usually there is more than one track within the larger pathway. Often the most traversed parts of the trail are to the extreme right and the extreme left of the path. Why do people insist on walking so close to the edge, I wondered? Sometimes one side of the path is so rugged that it is barely passable. One could stubbornly persist, refusing to cross over, and walk the entire route to just one side, but every peregrino quickly realizes that this would be foolish.

Sometimes the sensible way forward is found just by moving a few inches to the right or left. As a keen, albeit amateur photographer, I discovered that shifting just a few feet to one side or the other could remarkably improve the view of the breathtaking scenery. More surprisingly, sometimes the light was significantly better at the far right or the far left of the path, revealing a much more comprehensive and enlightening view of the landscape than could possibly have been had from the other side. On the other hand, sometimes moving to the far left or right allowed me to zoom in on a beautiful distant scene, ignoring a mess that was right in front of me and cutting it out of the photo altogether.

At one point I found myself walking on mercifully even clay, right down the middle of the path, surrounded by rocks to both sides. How Anglican, I thought. Then the Middle Way became untenable, and I had to choose one side or the other, searching for a way that would be less punishing. Suddenly the entire path became covered in natural landmines, with rocks far too big and unstable to step on, and crevices between them too deep and narrow for one’s foot. There was no clear or easy way ahead. Without the necessity of reaching the next hostel before nightfall, it would have been tempting not to muster on, or even to turn back. How much easier it might be, I thought, not to face and walk through the really big challenges of life, especially when there is no easy or obvious way through.

The metaphor of the Camino seems particularly relevant to me as we pause this week to give thanks for and consider the path our nation is traversing toward liberty and justice for all. Gratitude is in order! And self-reflection is also appropriate. As Christians, first, it is my prayer that we as Americans will also ask, how might we better walk in the Way that Jesus would?