It was a rainy day the previous day, and although we had only gone 18km, my group had to stop before hitting our goal of Astorga because of injury and failing waterproofing in our equipment.
That day, though, something in me told me I had to keep walking. I was two days away from Cruz Ferro, and for some reason, I could feel my soul being drawn to the place… Cruz Ferro is the highest point of the whole Camino, where there is a tall pole with an iron cross on top of it. The pilgrim tradition as of late is to carry a stone with you from wherever you begin representing something you want to let go of, and leaving it at the iron cross. On the whole walk to Astorga, I felt tension- the plan of the group was to stop at Astorga, but the magnetic pull was strong in me to keep walking. We sat for lunch Astorga and I was silent the whole time- strange for this extroverted American- and I told them, “Folks, I’m going to keep walking.”
The Camino is a push and pull between the discipline of community and individual discipline, and often, they are like opposing forces that battle fiercely in a tug of war within my heart and soul.
Accounting for elevation, I walked 22 more km after that. On that 22km… He began to speak to me again. Like he had begun to speak to me at the beginning of this trip in the mists of Northumbria, inviting me to open the curtains and stop hiding, where he replaced the voice “You should…, You didn’t…, Who are you…?” with “You are. You will be. I AM”.
He spoke to me as he had repetitively starting in Northumbria, and throughout the beginning of the Camino, and almost bellowing it over me during my first rainstorm walking from Najera, as lightning flashed and thunder rumbled in the darkness of the early morning, He shook my soul, “I AM in the storm, I AM in the shelter”…
He began to speak to me as he spoke to me earlier in the Meseta, where He challenged me, “Stop this passive agressive act. You’re not angry at the world, yourself, your situations… You’re angry at me. COME AT ME. FIGHT ME.” I tried to resist starting this fight… because I knew it was a fight I would lose… but as I fought Him, I felt His embrace, and the whisper… “I walk this camino with you…”
I didn’t hear you enter
But I know you have been circling my room
I listen for your footsteps
Close my eyes and wait for you to move
You’re hiding like a memory
Teasing like a girl I used to know
Tumbling and gamboling
Calling to the weakness in my soul
Telling me to speak
In one reckless moment
You move a little too close to my ears
I grab a hold with both hands
And scramble to make sense of what I hear
I try to tie you down
With synonyms and sad piano sounds
For a moment you surrender
One moment we both stand on the same ground
And I begin to speak
I begin to say something
And all at once you pull away
I’m lost within your atmosphere
As quickly as you found me
I panic as you try to disappear
I reach out with my fingers
And try to pull the letters back in line
But your words spin out of order
And the pounding in my chest is out of time
But I just want to speak
I just want to say something
I just want to speak
I just want to say something
Can anybody hear me?
-“Speak” by Ben Abraham
And as the calm following the storm of my anger came and I limped through the Meseta, He asked, “Are you ready to let go of the debts you are holding against me?”… that was the last time I talked with Him, I didn’t answer Him… What’s funny is that I had been carrying a rock the whole trip not knowing what it actually was- And I think it was the first time I realized what I needed to leave at the cross…
This time, I was pondering- why would James have made this trip? The original legend of James’ pilgrimage to Spain was actually a story of utter failure- He heard Jesus’ last words to go to the ends of the earth, so he went to the place that was literally called by the locals “Finisterra”- the end of the world- and got there and had almost no success with very few converts. He then had to leave without many results to take over a leadership vacuum in the church in Jerusalem… only to be killed there. I had been wrestling with this story- it’s a story of failure, of unfulfilled dreams, and not glamorous at all. It felt a little defeatist to visit this man’s burial place… “God, it doesn’t seem very fair for James- He obeyed You. Shouldn’t You have come through for him? Why the hell would he do something like this?” It reminded me so much of the fleeting success of community college ministry- sometimes it feels like sand castles that keep on washing away and that nothing I do has lasted… It wears on the soul.
“…James didn’t do it for the mission. He did it to be with Me.”
“Huh? What do You mean?”
“James knew it wasn’t about success… He saw that my camino was not about success, as my camino on this earth was cut short, in a bloody, ugly fashion, humiliated on a cross with my followers scattered in fear. But although it was worldly failure… I did not fail. My goal was not a path of power and success of the world… but it was the goal of a stricken lover; a parent looking for his child: I wanted to show that I- God, the I AM- desired with the passionate love of a father, a lover… to be with him, His people, his creation. And I wanted to be at the ends of the earth… so that is where James followed me out of love… And I desire to be with you…”
I pondered this at the end of the day, and went to sleep, tired from walking 34 km… But secretly I just didn’t want to keep going down this line…
…I woke up at 5am. God wasn’t done talking with me, and wasn’t going to let me sleep it off…
“Daniel, you refuse to give up these debts you hold against me because you believe that your covenant with me as a Christian and as a minister is a business deal… I AM NOT YOUR BUSINESS PARTNER. I am your Father. I am your lover, My covenant with you is not a business deal, but a marriage covenant… to be with you. I would do anything, and have done everything to be with you- not to guilt you into doing shit for me, but asking you to go with me to where I am… and sometimes that’s in the shitty storms of life, and sometimes it is in the places of peace. You have forgotten the point of suffering is not just to suffer… but it is to be with Me. I didn’t suffer solely out of empty duty like it was a job or a contract… I did it to be with you, out of my love for you… All I want is for you to love me back. You once knew how to do this… But these days you have forgotten how to love Me. You have made fake contracts with Me, putting prices on My grace, and I’m calling them out for the bullshit that they are- I tore those unjust contracts as nail pierced flesh; as curtain tore from heaven downward; as last traces of breath left my chest; as immoveable gravestone was moved… I freed you to love me freely as I love You freely; a choice I made not out of binding legal agreement but out of the wild yet resolute passion of One who is so in love with you. You are free to say “no” to this offer, but I am so tired of this halfway relationship built on duty and not love… Enough of this slavery. Come back, learn to love again… I ask not for your service, but for loving reciprocation out of freedom.”
…I found myself weeping in the cold albergue with the gentle sound of snoring from tired pilgrims. The love songs I had grown tired of that were the trend in worship music during the ’90’s began to play incessantly in my head, realizing how long it had been since I prayed:
“…I want to fall in love with You,
I want to fall in love with You…”
My walk up to Cruz Ferro was shrouded in mysterious fog, as it hid the striking contours of the mountains until the very last minute, as if the clouds and the mountains were in an intricate dramatic dance of concealment and revelation…
Usually you can see the cross for kilometers away, but the fog shrouded it well… Until I turned the corner, and there it was- a mountain of small rocks; of memories and mementos; of pictures tied to the pole of lost ones… It was a moving representation of the pilgrimage; people realizing, “Solvitur ambulando“- ” it is solved by walking”. The physical representation of surrender in this place created a sense of spiritual thickness I could almost feel like the thick fog around us.
“Are you ready to let go of those debts?”
I sat on the pile of surrendered rocks, and found myself weeping again.
My fingers clenched tightly to my stone; I had been used to holding the weight of this stone for so long… The weight of every student I knew who had fallen off the grid that I couldn’t save, the weight of having to bear the brunt of every racist comment and stupid Asian joke while living in North County, the weight of Alfred’s death, the weight of Anthony’s death, the weight of feeling so much responsibility for grandma before she passed, the weight of the limbo of transition in a place that was once home but so foreign, the weight of losing her in the midst of that transition because our callings diverged… The weight of feeling I was owed for all of this.
In Hollywood-dramatic fashion, as I sat there, it began to rain. “I am, and have always been with you in those storms. I am the lover of your soul…” Jurgen Moltmann´s theological response to the paradox of the existence of injustice in the world and an all powerful God is sometimes so unsatisfying- that God does not solve the injustice in our worldly timeline, but joins us in suffering in the midst of it all… but that day, sitting on the pile of surrendered stones, I understood it.
I’ve heard it said that a man would climb a mountain
Just to be with the one he loves
How many times has he broken that promise
It has never been done.
I’ve never climbed the highest mountain
But I walked the hill of calvary
Just to be with you, I’d do anything
There’s no price I would not pay
Just to be with you, I’d give anything
I would give my life away.
-Love Song by Third Day
“Teach me to love again, Lord…” And the rock fell from my hand.
…it has been as if I followed the wrong trailmarker somewhere back there from the path of love and have wandered into a path of obligated service and work… The paths aren’t actually that different- the only difference is that one of these paths is much more lonely than the other. Although this pilgrimage has been about me finding that loving path again… It was really God who sought me out, walked towards me in singular purpose and passion and found me. I entered into sabbatical with the prayer of Moses, “If You don’t go with me, I can’t keep doing ministry like this!” But really, it was God saying it to me, pleading with me, “If you don’t let Me come with you, You can’t keep going on like this!” Now, I find myself awkwardly re-learning the rhythms of love, like someone who has been paralyzed and is re-learning how to walk. I am learning again that the mission is not success, but to be with Him.
…if I have to walk with a limp in the path of love, it’s still better than being paralyzed, unable to even speak…
“And suddenly in my despair that I should now be so slow and awkward I longed more fiercely than ever for my new life. The longing had no words but I knew I was praying for a strength which had to be granted from without, not dredged up from within where my resources were so enfeebled”
-“Glittering Images” by Susan Howatch
…teach me again, oh Lord, to love You again…
I see the world
Breaking and falling apart
And I don’t know what to do with it
What to do with it
I see hate
Building up all of the walls
Turns family into enemy
What to do to do with it
I see love rising like a hurricane
Rising like a dead man coming up out of the grave
I feel love rising in my chest again
Rising like the burning sun into the day
-“Hurricane” by Gungor