The day ahead:
Clear blue sky, little wind, few clouds, a steady morning’s walk, mostly through a national park, but with a slight ascent throughout the entire walk, from 300 metres to 500 metres – the guide book told me, my legs telegraphed it to me, my lungs gasped it to me, my arms and walking poles pushed me up, the mantra was invoked deliberately and intentionally to carry me!! I exaggerate, of course. It actually wasn’t too bad. It can’t have been, because I completed the first 15.5kms in 3 and a half hours – but I was conscious of a sustained effort.
The first part of the morning was along a wide, dirt road (as in the above photo). Then there was an interval on a fairly rough, rocky, dirt track for a short while, but then the camino joined up to another long stretch of dirt road, a bit smaller than the earlier one.
There were a couple of pilgrims ahead of me. I overtook two pilgrims early along the way, the same 80 year old as yesterday, and another more my vintage. I became aware that the one ahead has extra responsibility. If s/he goes astray, the one coming on behind, if s/he sees the pilgrim ahead, or even sees his/her boot tracks (I have found confidence in following boot tracks on various occasions), is likely to follow that leader and also go astray! I thought of Jesus’ words, “Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray.” (Mk 13:5) And even more chillingly, “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Mt 18:6)
I was feeling good about overtaking, about not being overtaken, of being able to keep up the pilgrim pace. But then I reminded myself that it wasn’t a race, it wasn’t a competition, so I determined to follow my own steady pace, and take time to take in the scenery around me.
However, I was myself overtaken around 11.00am, by another pilgrim, a man who I guessed is in his late 20s, North American accent, who, for a man of his size and build, not unlike my own, was moving, I thought, rather nimbly! So a little prick to my ego!!
As the morning went on, I enjoyed the wild flowers that were in full bloom.
At one stage, I felt I was passing through an avenue of flowers, thronged on either side of the road, waving in the breeze, nature celebrating my passing that way, petals beneath my feet, and I thought of Palm Sunday and Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem.
I remembered some lines from a poem that I had on an LP at home many years ago. It was about the donkey. I only remembered snatches, “sickening cry”, “ears like errant wings”, “fools, I too, once had my hour”, “palms beneath my feet”. Later, I looked it up on the internet. The poem is by G.K. Chesterton and is called The Donkey. Here it is in full:
BY G. K. CHESTERTON
When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born.
With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil’s walking parody
On all four-footed things.
The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.
Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.
Source: The Collected Poems of G. K. Chesterton (Dodd Mead & Company, 1927)
I reflected as I walked along this avenue of waving flowers, reminding me of Palm Sunday, that no matter what the world, or others, or even we ourselves may think, of our appearance, our beauty (or lack of it), our talents (or lack of them), our abilities (or lack of them), that in God’s universe we each have our time and place, we each have our moment, we have our place. The donkey carried Jesus into Jerusalem at the beginning of the 1st century. Each of us has carried Jesus too, to people and places during our lives. Our looks (or lack of them), our talents (or lack of them), our ability (or disability), were precisely what He needed at that time for that person. What a wonderful thought! I thank God for the times that I have been an instrument for Jesus, that I have carried him to others. I pray that in the future I may be a more docile and more frequent instrument for his visitation and ministry in the world.
After 15.5kms I arrived at the Cruz de San Juan (Cross of St John), also known as the Cruz del Nino Muerto (Cross of the Dead Child), because years ago a young shepherd coming that way on Midsummer’s Day, 24th June, to attend a fiesta on the anniversary of St John the Baptist, was eaten by a wolf. I hoped all the wolves were long gone! When I arrived there, I found a couple of other pilgrims having a rest. I too had a rest. The others moved on, but more pilgrims arrived and had a rest, and I too moved on.
6kms later I arrived in the town of Alcuescar, booked into the Residencia for handicapped men run by the Hermanos Esclavos de Maria y de los Pobres. I had lunch in a local restaurant where I used their wifi for this blog.
This evening there is a Mass in the Residence, including a blessing for pilgrims.