There is an earlier post on this blog entitled "There Ain't Room Enough In This Town..." I just realized that the text of that post never got uploaded to the blog, only the title. I have lost the original text, but it said something like: "When I wander into these small towns wearing my habit and backpack, I stand out a little. The towns folk openly and unabashedly stare. I imagine myself like the outlaw coming into the desert town in those old Westerns. Everybody looks out his window at the stranger who has slowed up and in anticipation of the coming confrontation."
Rewriting this has given me another opportunity to reflect on the wearing of my habit on the Camino. A few days ago, at a coffee stop, a man asked me, in a rather condescending tone, "Do you WALK in that... 'outfit'?" It took him a couple of seconds to come up with the word 'outfit.' And I think he realized he had crossed a boundary with the question. My friends were amused as I sarcastically responded "No I just change into it for coffee stops..." I then explained that I was a Dominicahasn priest and that the 'outfit' is the habit of my Order.
I have met with lots of different responses to the habit. Most often, people simply ask me if it is hot walking in it (It is.). I am also asked if it is hard to keep clean (It is.). I really appreciate the kind of question that a young Spaniard asked me on Monday: "So what's your story?" I prefer that question because it makes the discussion about a person, nor about an object - the Camino us about people.
For the record, I made the personal commitment to wear my habit on the Camino, because I consider this a Spiritual Exercise and I tend to wear my habit for Spiritual exercises. Also, my walking the Camino is the last part of an amazing year of reconnecting through formation and education with my Dominican identity. I have been blessed to live this year with Dominicans all over the world in different international situations. That has given me an amazing reaffirmation of my Dominican vocation and the love I have for this Order.
As to people's reactions: it's a mixed bag. The habit definitely inspires conversation. For many people, it immediately identifies me as a religious. I get the occasional "wow, how refreshing to see a religious walkingsee the Camino in a habit!" For some, they simply don't know what to think (there's a lot of crazy people out here on the Camino). For some, it is a definite wall that makes them uncomfortable. For these people, it makes me less approachable. When I am aware of that, I can disarm the situation and be inviting in other ways. There is a noticeable (almost immediate) negative reaction by a particular segment if the population walking: middle-aged American women. I don't really know what to do with that unless they engage me in conversation (One lady from Berkeley went out of her way to explain to me that all these Virgin Marys in Spain are really fertility goddesses and that she loved sitting in the presence of the feminine energy.)
There are a couple of practical reasons to wear the habit: it is an excellent sun shield and makes me very easy to find in a crowd. Today while I was walking along a deserted road in the Castilian countryside, an approaching bus stopped, an attractive blond lady got off the bus walked up and gave me a big hug and said "You're Greg's friend!" Of the hundreds of pilgrims that bus passed this morning, the tour guide of my friends group knew I was me because I am wearing my habit. Many people say things like "I saw you about a kilometer ahead of me. You were easy to spot in the crowd."
Full dusclosure: knowing I was going to have to wash the habit by hand, and it would need to dry quickly, I actually had one made (thanks Kim Breen) of very thin poly-cotton fabric FOR THE CAMINO. And I still hate washing it by hand. So, when I can I spend the money to have it machine washed and dried. It is more wrinkled every day than I would typically wear it. But you do what you can. All in all, I am glad to represent. I am a Dominican. I am walking the Camino in the same way that Our Holy Father Dominic walked wherever he went. There is no real evidence he ever made the pilgrimage to Santiago, but we know he walked all over northern Spain' and I am very blessed to be walking in those footsteps AS A DOMINICAN.
My very favorite response to the Habit was from my Dominican brother in Burgos when I arrived at the Convent: "¡Fijate! ¡Andas en el habito! ¡Que testimonio!" He gets it. And I pray for the grace to be that walking testimony.
Follow the yellow arrow.
Follow the yellow arrow.
Follow, O follow, O follow, O follow,
Follow the yellow arrow.
We're off to Santiago - de Compostela....
The second time I saw the movie "The Way," the scene in which Tom, Sarah, and Joost meet Jack (the blocked writer) reminded me of the scene in the Wizard of Oz in which Dorothy meets the Scarecrow. Inevitably, every time I have seen the movie since (probably more than 20 times), the Oz metaphor has extended: Tom is Dorothy, Joost is the Cowardly Lion, and Sarah the Tin Man. It is not a perfect metaphor, but like the Oz quest story, our travelers find no wizard or magic in Santiago; only the realization that what they had been seeking was inside them all along. Like Dorothy and her fellow travelers, this improbable community of pilgrims became so focused on the mythical destination, that they failed to notice the transformations happening along the yellow-bricked road itself.Now it is I who am on the Camino, making my way, little by little, to Oz. From the time I crossed into Spain, I have been singing "Follow the yellow arrow..." and that ubiquitous arrow has become the constant reminder to me that there is no wizard in Santiago de Compostela. In fact, if you listen to the post-modernist skeptics, there are not even relics of one of Jesus' Apostles in Santiago. (For the record, I am not one of those skeptics. I believe that there is a real possibility that Santiago's relics are there, but that is another post for another time.) Regardless, there is no magic in Santiago de Compostela. Yes, for millions of pilgrims over the years, Santiago has been a destination. But in one sense, it is just that: a destination; a plot on the map. The yellow arrows, like Dorothy ' s yellow bricks, are a constant reminder to keep moving forward torward that destination. But to do so cognizant that there is no man behind the curtain and that the miracles are happening, not in Santiago, but on the road marked with yellow arrows.
My pilgrim's hat is decorated with pins and "campaign ribbons" from various pilgrimages that have made up my time in Spain. Two of them have yellow arrows and say "El Camino es la meta." ("The Camino IS the goal.") The yellow arrows do not so much point to a destination as remind us that each day, as we walk, as we make our WAY (CAMINO), we have reached that day's destination. Each day, we, like Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion, are to discover in ourselves and on the Way, that which is inside...
Last night, at Mass in Zubiri, the priest read the Gospel from John 14 in which Thomas asks Jesus to show them the Way, to which Jesus responded "YO SOY El Camino... Nadie va al Padre, sino por mí."
Tonight when I heard the same Gospel again at Mass here in Pamplona, I checked to find out that the priest yesterday read today's Gospel.
So, by some coincidence, I have, in the midst of my Camino, heard Jesus say "YO SOY EL CAMINO..."
Think he's trying to tell me something?
I wrote this on April 28, but could only post it today...
Poco a poco is practically a town motto in Salamanca, where it refers to advance in language studies. The many students in Salamanca to study Spanish assured that it will come poco a poco. It is an admonition to patience. In the last 4 months I have heard it from my teachers at the language school, from friars San Esteban, from the server at my favorite cafe/bar, and even from the young clerk at a store. That was the day I decided it was the town motto (and should be on the official town seal.
For the last week, it has become my metaphor for the Camino. As I have slowly carved away pieces of the 1000 km journey, I have done so poco a poco. At some point, it occurred to me that these distances that I was struggling to cover in a day on for Camino could be done in less than half an hour by car. I knew that thought came from the evil one because it was somewhat discouraging.
Today I only walked a little more than 6 miles. That was the plan from the beginning. Only 6 miles. Straight up 2100 feet. Today is the day that I did the lion's share of the work to get over the Pyranees to cross our of France and back into Spain. And, given the foot problems I have had, I decided to stay at the refugio on top of the mountain at Orisson. It is a beautiful spot (you will see from the pictures) and I got to meet many people who are staying here or who stopoed for a beer or coffee or lunch on their way over the hill. Tomorrow I will cross into Spain and stay at Roncesvalles (made famous by the Song of Roland). And at the end of the day tomorrow, I will be 10 miles closer to Santiago. Poco a Poco.
The Pilgrim Priest
Fr. Bart Hutcherson, OP is a priest of the Dominican Province of the Most Holy Name of Jesus in the Western USA. From April 20 - June 1, 2015 he walked from Lourdes, France to Santiago de Compostella, Spain. This page contains observations, images and reflections from the Way of St. James.