One of the commonly asked questions as you meet other pilgrims along the Camino is “Why are you here?” I always had trouble answering this question. I could tell why I decided to come – basically, I had the money and the time, and it had always been at the back of my mind as something I might do one day. But I didn’t have a clear idea of my purpose in being there, or what I hoped to gain from it. Traditionally, walking the Camino absolves you of your sins, so many Catholics were doing it as a religious pilgrimage. Other people would say that they enjoyed the physical challenge, or wanted to lose weight. Some wanted the cultural experience of really seeing Spain, or they were going through a transition in life and wanted to do some soul searching. I was doing it for all those reasons, but none really stuck out to me.
If they weren’t locked, I ducked into churches along the way, and yesterday I was in a monastery chapel when I realized why I was there: I was on a religious pilgrimage. Given that this is the precise reason the Camino even exists, that this is why people have been doing it for the last millennia, maybe I should have realized this earlier. Hey, I’ll never claim to be an especially self-aware person.
Part of the reason I wouldn’t admit this even to myself is that it’s always been hard for me to talk about my faith or my religion with others. Because some of the loudest, most visible Christians in our society are those who are judging others, telling them they will burn in hell and need to repent, identifying yourself as a Christian can bring a whole lot of baggage. A lot of people have had negative experiences with Christianity, the Bible, or “The Church,” and it’s hard to know what’s going to come up if you start talking about your belief in God. Ironically, I worry about people judging me as a “judgmental Christian.”
But I am a Christian, and a judgmental God has no place in my beliefs. If I believe in God, I have to believe in a God that is wonderful, loving, and accepting, whose presence in your life serves only to make your life better. If people meet and come to understand that God through the lens of Buddhism, Islam, or even yoga, I believe it all comes back to the same divine source. I think belief in religion or spirituality improves your life, because it has improved mine I’ve always had an interest in religion, a drive to be involved in a faith community, and an interest in learning more about God. Maybe it was my mother’s influence, or the wonderful church I grew up in, or just something in my own personality. I wanted to go to church as a child, I got involved in high school seminars even though I had no friends there and was a socially awkward teenager, and I read the entire bible before I was 20. Since then, I’ve learned a lot about other faiths – especially Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam. I think a lot of people in the west find meaning in eastern religion, especially if they have negative experiences with Christianity, but for me, learning about other religions helped me to see that Christianity is the language of my soul. It just makes sense to me. I pray to God, I learn from Jesus, and I feel the presence of the Holy Spirit. I was drawn to the Camino as a religious experience, even if I didn’t consciously realize it myself.
So, I am here on a Christian religious pilgrimage, to grow closer to God and better understand His presence in my life. It’s hard for me to say that, to shout it to the world via the blogosphere, but I think I need to say it, and I need to say it loudly. The more that people like me can drown out those “fire and brimstone” preachers on their pulpits, the more that everyone can search for the belief system that makes sense to them, the more we can all learn from each other, and the more peaceful the world will become. At least that is what I believe.