If there was ever a bunch of pilgrimage groupies, that has been us. We’ve been following Philip’s progress across Spain every night, moving an arrow along the map in our book, we’ve been reading in the morning about what kind of day it looked like he was going to have and have even checked the weather.
I think we’ve participated in the Camino as much as we possibly could without actually walking the whole ‘Camino Frances’. He’s sent photos and we’ve been in touch. We left out our hiking boots to remind us that we were still pilgrims, in a way, too.
Through some amazingly grace-filled circumstances (and generous parents) I was able to go out to meet Philip in Santiago de Compostela at the end of his 500 mile walk. It felt like a very precious gift.
We went to Mass in the Cathedral packed with pilgrims and breathed the incense of the huge Botafumeiro and we looked for scallop shells on the beaches of Fisterra. We watched the sun set from the lighthouse at the westernmost tip of Spain. We drank wine and ate tapas with pilgrims from different countries. It was wonderful.
I probably could have been mistaken for a person who had just walked the Camino, wearing hiking boots and carrying a backpack and doing lots of things that pilgrims were doing. But actually, I wasn’t really a pilgrim in the sense that others were. I hadn’t joined in their struggle to get there, or been anywhere near as vulnerable.
At home, my job is about co-ordinating an internship scheme that encourages youth participation in the church. I’ve been thinking, the last few weeks, that I don’t really like the word ‘participation’; that for me, the word has connotations of following the rules, fitting in the with norm, joining in the ways things are usually done. I’ve been trying to think of a better word.
The more I’ve thought about it, however, my dislike of the word has changed. I’ve remembered that Jesus used the analogy of being part of an organic vine to describe the interconnectedness of God and people, and that, more than once, he said ‘come and see’ to people who were searching. Come and see what things look like from where I am standing, come and experience this life for yourself.
Several years later, when Paul was trying to explain this way of Jesus, he often used language that was about participation. I have to confess that some of it is still quite mysterious to me. I imagine Paul, sitting hippie-like and cross-legged on a beach, when he came up with phrases like being ‘in Christ’, ‘through the life of Christ’ and ‘alive to God through Christ’. Being a Christian for him was about participating in the life of Jesus, jumping with joy into that river of faith and seeing where it might take you.
Perhaps this is a teeny tiny bit of the rebel in me, but I still don’t feel drawn to participate in institutions or classes or even causes. I do, however, feel drawn to really participate with others in the life of Jesus, worked out in the way of the cross, through faithfulness, vulnerability and love. To be a pilgrim and not to just act like one.