I seemed to be re-configuring myself all along the way. Who was I in any given moment? With a breath a fresh inspiration, with feet healing though patched, I immediately overreached myself on my humbled feet and walked some 20 miles to a town by a river tucked snuggly against a cliff. Najera sits astride its river holding at its heart a sacred cave beneath its central church where a goddess (virgin statue) resides deep within. After visiting her I knew I had to step off the conveyor belt of the Camino path again and head into the mountains to a cave of a great saint. Earth energy colleagues had said this was a “must feel”.
The local bus with a few people wandered through villages and fields finally arriving in a glorious green valley with snow capped peaks. There I encountered the monasteries of San Millán de Suso and San Millán de Yuso (Suso and Yuso mean the “upper” and the “lower” in archaic Castilian), UNESCO World Heritage sites.. First I entered the cave of Suso where the local saint had meditated. I read and listened to all the stories of the saint and the ancient elements of the oldest parts on the small building connected to the cave….What emerged for me was as sense of the very old relationship of the local people with cave and the sacred earth, the local god…Yes as all over Europe the story of a sacred place and local deity had been passed into the language of a man who had meditated and prayed there, receiving visions – making it into an acceptable version of honoring the ancient knowledge under the cloak of Christian forms. Every valley has its saint I realized…and once we had known the every valley and hill is sacred and has its own anima loci.
Then, down the hillside to the great monastery of Yuso below. Here encrusted in gold were illuminated texts, monstrances, huge books of holy song, ornate paintings and more. Somewhere underneath or within all this over-layering of material form was a seed of the simple love, the joy of pure presence that had unfolded in the nearby cave. This massive medieval monastery has been the focus of spiritual life of this region from the 6th century to the present day …now dusty, empty, yet filled with tourists who stare within the glass cases trying to see or feel a hint of the deeper divine of human presence on the earth.
Returning to Najera I felt glad to be back walking the Camino. How odd it had felt to ride a bus and miss all the earth vitamins beneath my feet. Off again through fields and villages over low mountains heading in to the meseta country. Cold weather and snow on the peaks kept me walking since I did not carry enough clothing to stay still. One night at an albergue run by a Dutch Christian group it was so cold we all came to evening prayers wearing our sleeping bags simply to catch the last bit of heat before we spent the night freezing in our unheated quarters. And during the days there was a splendor of early flowers and rising wheat.
I found I was not the only one wondering how to pace myself. Sitting by the trail on a forest near a German couple also taking a brief rest I saw another middle aged German coupe march up to them walking fast– relentlessly charging along. The second couple paused to speak to the couple who were resting. They said “the book says we must walk 30 kilometers a day and must rush along to do this!” The other couple nodded. I realized that the German language guide books suggested a different pace. My English language one suggested or mapped out 22-28 kilometers a day typically. Each nationality was following a different norm, walking in a different way: the Italians and Spanish in huge families chatting, the French gliding quickly, chatting quietly and stopping for good coffee or wine, the Americans (though few in number at this stage) a mixture of rushing and resting, the Koreans in small teams of two or three carrying their own food and nodding politely to all, the South Americans few in number and walking alone…….
At the monastery before the city of Burgos pilgrims huddled discussing what to do about Burgos . Would they walk through the endless industrial suburbs or would they hop on the bus. As we feel asleep in the cold stone rooms filled with pilgrims on ancient squeaking bunks. I was hatching a different plan. I was envisioning going AWOL! I would walk into Burgos straight to the train station and escape. I had given myself permission to end the horrible battle between my shoes and my feet. This of self-fladulation was crazy. I was not a pentente, though perhaps the crimes of the conquistadors and imperialism of the new world colonials needed this level of repentance and torture. I was going to flee!
Look for the next installment of the story in a future blog!