When you begin the day of walking, you are refreshed from a night’s rest and fueling, and no matter the weather, you are filled with optimism and eager anticipation of what is to come on the journey. The unexpected moments of discovery: a dog poking its inquisitive head over a hedge; a statue of a laborer from another time; a shrine for the pilgrim Yo Soy El Camino (I am the Way); a cemetery full of dead people.
As the day unfolds, the weight of the backpack begins to strain the muscles, and the pads on the balls of the feet send your brain signals of elevating temperatures down there where flesh rhythmically meets the earth’s surface step by step. You try to ignore the discomfort, focus on other things.
There are the prayers you are carrying, over a hundred on little slips of paper. It’s striking how many prayers are for others: for their daughters or sons; for the cancer that is overtaking a friend; for the people of a nation—Nicaragua, Venezuela, Syria; for someone who is incarcerated; for a grandmother with alzheimers; for a child who did not make it into adulthood. All these prayers, all these people who wrote them, all the people for whom they were written. During a moment of rest, the slips of paper come out of the backpack, to be read again, reminding the bearer of one of the purposes of the journey. To be honest, sometimes they bring tears. Without knowing the people who wrote them, without knowing the identity of the subjects, there is something precious about carrying them all with me. As the day progresses and the weight of my stuff in the backpack grows heavier, I think of the people within the stories of the prayers, and the privilege of bearing them over this path. Is that not a grace? Is it not a grace we can all receive every day on the camino of our lives, carrying one another’s hopes and sufferings to the Source of everything?,
As bodily pain increases in the shoulders, on the hips, in the suffocating toes, as you labor to mount the steep path, you appreciate the enormous energy and back-breaking effort that thousands of people expended, to: build the wall that prevents the mountain from falling on the path and on you as you pass; smooth the road underneath your every step; delight your weary bones with a place of rest, and water and maybe even a piece of (stolen) fruit. Yet more grace, from persons now buried in full-up cemeteries, from generations of our laboring brothers and sisters who couldn’t even conceive of one like me walking this route. Nonetheless I thank them for shaping this good earth with their lives.
Which brings the mind to the physicality of our lives. On the Spanish label of a snack bar, where all the ingredients are listed, the calorie count is listed as “energetico”. Most Americans look at that count in terms of its impact on the weight it will cause us to gain (or lose), but when you consider food as energy that is needed to enable us to build the world, or the Kingdom, that is another perspective, isn’t it? You need to put fuel in a car to get you there, in a machine to build that thing, in a furnace to keep you warm and cook your food. What is the purpose of all our energies—physical, emotional, intellectual?
Which brings to mind the wild energetico I unleashed in a dog I passed on the Camino. He could not stop barking at me, and I felt for him, all that energy wasted on my dumb and unthreatening body passing his castle. Or, the wild physicality and energetico of the hand shower in my bathroom, which to my surprise and hysterical laughing, would not stop twisting and spraying me and the bathroom in every direction when I stupidly turned it on when it was unleashed from the wall.
Which brings to mind the physicality of a pilgrimage, and maybe especially of the physicality of the One whose pilgrimage across the land of Judea we purport to imitate in our lives.
There is not a lot in the great Book of Books that speaks about the physical capabilities of the carpenter’s son, save but a few small references to his “sturdiness”. Given the fact that the Book was written almost a century after his physical presence on this tiny orb (in an ocean of the universe’s orbs), and that the Book’s purpose was to evangelize his other-worldly holiness, it is not surprising that those details are missing. But he was one of us, was he not? He was born of hungry, energetico-requiring flesh and blood. And surely he used up that energy playing games with his friends, running with glee into the lake and sea, perhaps reluctantly carrying burdens for his mama, holding up timbers of birch for his papa. Did his chest swell in adolescent dares of strength with his cousins, did his arm muscles bulge as he climbed up high on a tree, were his thighs robust as he shouldered heavy stones to help build someone’s home? If he was truly like us, why not?
And off he was, on a pilgrimage that lasted three long years, which took him from places where he had no power (a prophet in his own neighborhood) to places where he began discovering the real purpose for all his energetico—miracles, and children, and the lost, the forsaken, the lonely, the dying, the suffering. Imagine how his shoulders felt, imagine how the pads on his feet screamed, imagine how his body fell into an exhausted heap at the end of a long day? What fueled that torso, gave strength to the legs that carried his heart so far, enabled those hands to lift up the child, raise the dead, melt the hardened heart?
There be the grace, for sure.
O strong-armed, six-packed, sinewy-bodied son of a virgin, show us how to best use the gift of our spirited-matter to walk with you and for you one step at a time, this day.
In thanksgiving for moving sidewalks, and railroad tracks and even hilly shoulder-busting paths.
With praise for adolescent self-absorption and creativity, which paints the world with color and hope.
For farmers who labor in earth and under sunshine and rainy skies, for the blessing and grace of the energetico they grow for us.