Greetings from Chateaumeillant, an outpost about 20 km East of La Chatre, my next stop on the Camino de Santiago. I don’t have a place to plug into today, so this post is being written against the clock–approximately 30 minutes left of battery, at last glance, so please excuse any typos or general disarray on my part.
The past couple days have basically been nothing more than long walks through the countryside, with the occasional stop through small towns for water and a brief rest. On the downside, it all is starting to look the same to me, but on the upside, the less captivated one is by one’s surroundings, the more likely one is to look inward and think.
So I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and it has occurred to me that most of my readers probably haven’t the slightest clue as to why I am walking the Camino de Santiago in the first place. And the funny thing is, not once as I was planning this whole adventure did I pause to really ask myself the same thing.
Let’s start from the beginning here: I am a Sephardic Jew. My father’s grandparents spoke Ladino, the Spanish-Hebrew patois of Jews who lived in Spain until the Inquisition. From a purely genealogical perspective, maybe I was always fascinated with Spain because hundreds of years ago my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparents were doing business, studying Talmud, and trying their best to coexist with their Moorish/Christian (depending on the time and place) overlords and neighbors somewhere in the Iberian peninsula. Walking the Camino de Santiago is one way–albeit not a Jewish way–of making a homecoming appearance.
I also obtained a degree in Art History, with a concentration in Medieval and Renaissance studies. I am one of those people who bristle when people mention “The Dark Ages.” There was no such thing. Sure, when the Roman Empire fell there was an entropic release of energy around Europe, and yes there was plague and war and famine (we’re in the 21st century and we still have those things though), but between the arrival of the Goths and Copernicus declaring that the Earth revolved around the Sun, a ton of really interesting, cool stuff happened. Specifically, a lot of it was happening in France, where the Romanesque and Gothic churches we see today sprang out of the ruins of old Roman towns and gave life to the surrounding countryside; where masterful architects, sculptors, and glass makers took what was around them and pushed ideas that were tremendously advanced for their time and created something unique and beautiful. Walking the Camino de Santiago lets me see, up close and personal, this rise from the ashes of Rome, and the creation of a new civilization, the one that we now know as modern Europe.
The question I have really grappled with lately is the spiritual one. Let me remind you that this is a CATHOLIC pilgrimage trail, not a Jewish one. When my feet begin to tire near the end of the day; when my pack causes my shoulders to ache; when the sun has beaten onto the back of my neck; when the only hostel in town (last night, in Le Chatelet, in case you were wondering) is booked and I am forced to wander the streets for a place to sleep, I ask myself: Who do I call on for help? What is the purpose for my suffering? I am not walking to Santiago for the absolution of my sins. I do not enter these ancient churches because I wish to pray to this saint or that. I am not religious anymore, so what am I doing walking this road? Fittingly, my laptop battery is about to die, and I think this is a good place to stop and let us all consider the answer. That, like the question of God, is something I don’t really have an answer for, at least not yet. Onward I go.
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