I teared up as I realised what Mishal had said…
“We finished it Rob.”
I’m overjoyed that after 29 days walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostella, we finally covered the 800km to finish the chapter. I enjoyed all of it but I think you only understand the emotion of it all if you’ve done it. I’m sitting now in a stark paroquial albergue on a white couch, with a green lawn stretching out from the tall glass window while the wind sweeps through the birch. Stark modernist buildings block the San Lazaro albergue while the brightest and strongest sunlight glares down from on high. This unusually sunny weather belies a normally rain drenched Galicia akin to Ireland or the North Sea.We have just received a lovely warm welcome from the hospitaleros to a clinical but very functional and spacious albergue. The showers have little shelves, we have a bunk each, we can stay as long as we like for eight euros per night, free access to wifi, a kitchen and some space for reflection. Oh the little things!
Today, Mishal asked a couple of great questions on walking into Santiago that got me reflecting on the whole experience. Here are some thoughts:
1. How has your view of God changed during the Camino?
- Listening to some podcasts by Dale Martin (from Yale) on New Testament history and literature has given me the freedom to critically reflect on the bible. Moreover, studies last year as part of my Masters introduced me to Michel Foucault (thanks Clare O’Farrell) and opened up an avenue for a much more critical view of my own faith. I don’t think I realised it at the time but on reflection, these thinkers prompted me to deconstruct my faith and give the room to go about reconstructing this entire exercise. A postmodern view of Jesus? A respected friend of ours, Charles Ringma, suggested in a book study at our house that yes, it’s possible.
- What remains are different pictures of the same Jesus that I venerate but interpretations abound that allow me much greater freedom to respond to Christ. I cannot ignore the person of Jesus but have a much greater appreciation of the early Christianities and this gives me the freedom to go about relating to Jesus directly rather than the Bible and correct doctrine being of utmost importance over relationship with God.
- What have I questioned? Probably everything related to the church and religion that have continued to generate power, conflict, violence and exclusion. It’s been quite difficult actually, trying to square away this whole Camino, seeing the different representations created of St James -the apostle, the pilgrim and the ‘moor (Muslim) slayer’ based on who is telling the story (i.e. who is in power). The Guardian writes a great article on the ¨metamorphosis¨ of Saint James and the representations of him for different purposes. I find it horrific and offensive to relate to St James the ¨moor slayer¨ (Wilkinson, 2004) and have seen countless images of this spread throughout the Camino Including major statues of Saint James’ horse crushing Muslim soldiers above the main altar in prominent cathedrals. History is written by the victors evidently, although there is now a return to see St James in pilgrim guise.
- I would say then, that I’ve come to a much more critical view of my own faith and therefore have had to accomodate a much bigger view of God. I can’t wait to read Elizabeth Johnson’s book “Quest for the living God” and then going to find expressions of this for myself and add my own voice to the conversation. It’s like Oz Guiness (1996) says: “your questions are too small and your view of God too narrow.” Or, in the words of wise Rita:
“God’s not scared of your questions Rob. It’s as though he says ‘You can punch me and I can take it, go on, is that all you’ve got?’ We find a safe place if we seek and knock.”
2. How have your feelings towards God changed?
- Hugely. I think in answering the first question, it allows the freedom to question institutions, power, religion and other forms of “boxed religion.” It’s as though I constructed this little box of God and then after asking some critical questions this nice neat view of God gets all smashed up and needs a much bigger space. Similar to Bouma-Prediger and Walsh (2008) who conceive of a thinking space “with doors and windows for faith” – my concept of God can’t just be all open planned with a laissez faire approach so that anything goes. I need to adhere to some thoughts and perspectives and reject others. I need boundaries but it’s just that these are now much bigger and they require rebuilding and re-shaping. The doozy question for me though was:
“Wouldn’t a loving god who tells us to forgive his enemies, not also do so?”
- Previously I would have responded with some complicated answer about the tension between justice, anger and sacrifice in God the father. The feminists critique this by saying: “an abusive father holding all this ‘tension’ needs to go to jail and the son requires counselling.” I think that they’ve got a point. So, where does the anger go? I think that there’s much room for dialogue with God like Rita, Foucault and Bouma-Prediger and Walsh all encourage. Having a different view of God allows the freedom to even ask the question in the first place.
- Previously, I would have feared being excommunicated or expelled for the wrong answer. Community, though, is where it’s at. As Elizabeth Johnson comments, these new expressions of faith is akin to a renaissance in theology not seen since the reformation. As we re-read the God who is “beyond us, with us and in us” – we cannot but help but respond in creative and yet traditional ways.
I’m still processing and reflecting all of these ideas and more is yet to come. I think our final days of walking to finis terre (previously thought to be ‘land’s end’) will allow some of these thoughts to continue to ruminate and develop into something else.
Bouma-Prediger, S. & Walsh, B. (2008). Beyond homelessness. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
Deboick, S. (2010). The enigma of Saint James. The Guardian, July 24.
Guiness, O. (1996). God in the dark. Wheaton, IL: Crossway.
Johnson, E. (2011). Quest for the living God. New York, NY: Continuum.
Martin, D. (2009). Introduction to new testament history and literature. Yale University: iTunesU Audio.
O’Farrell, C. (2005). Michel Foucault. London: Sage.
Wilkinson, I. (2004). Public outcry forces church to keep moor slayers. The Telegraph, July 22.