Saturday, 24 August 2013

Entering the second phase.

The walk to Conques was one of the hottest and there was a sense of expectation amongst the numerous pilgrims. As we began the descent I noticed something unusual in a tree. I was sure that it was a raptor and sure enough as I watched it took to the sky in search of prey. The descent became quite precipitous and reminded me of the paths above Dulce Nombre. I was soon alongside Carolina and I recounted how the entrance to the museum at Copan is through the mouth of the serpent. For the Mayans this signifies entering a new reality. Arriving at Conques was quite like that. Amazingly you only get the first view of the Abbey when it is less than 50 metres away!
I took Carolina to see the tympanum before we checked into the Abbey guesthouse. As they were not ready for us we went off for a beer. Having checked in and discovered that there was no wifi I had a rather hot and restless afternoon. For the first time I questioned why I was on the pilgrimage. I felt very disenchanted.
At 6.30 there were Vespers and it was incredibly moving to be in such a holy place where prayers had been said for over a thousand years. Before supper the community came to welcome us . After supper I made a vain attempt to book somewhere for tomorrow. Compline was at 8.30 and was followed by a pilgrim's blessing and then we processed to the medieval carving of the Virgin to sing the Salve. As we did so we sung Ulreia the pilgrimage song which I had first met on the second night. The tranquillity in the Abbey after Compline was tangible. Frere Daniel then took us outside to lead a reflection on the Tympanum. As I was heading to bed I met the two men from Normandy who were at the Gite where I was thrown out. They were still very embarrassed and told me that there had been two empty beds. During the night I heard an owl and it reminded me that the owl is a symbol of wisdom. Reflecting on my dark mood of the afternoon I realised that I would need both wisdom and the help of others to complete this pilgrimage.
Next morning something significant happened. I had gone downstairs to fill my water and found Carolina ready to go. I love the early morning, she said and I want to make the most of it. As I returned to my room I decided to imitate her. I was ready for off before 7.00am. The ascent from Conques is a veritable Via Crucis- an hour of unremitting climbing punctuated once by a view back to the Abbey. It allowed me to reflect on the mood of the previous afternoon. Firstly I realised that it was caused by hunger. A number of people have warned me to take care to eat well during the day. Secondly there is a real sense that the pilgrimage is entering a new phase. The section from Le Puy to Conques is very focused and there are two great sources of refreshment in the Churches. Beyond Conques the route is less travelled. I reflected that the Pilgrim prayer refers to the archetypal journeys of the Old Testament. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews says of Abraham that he "journeyed to an unknown land" I am soon learning that walking the Camino is the same. Getting to Santiago soon becomes irrelevant. The pilgrim has to face their own unknown land which is the dislocation of their relationship with God. The physical journey is the medium for the far deeper journey. Eliot puts it like this: "Not less of love, but expanding of love beyond desire and thus liberation from the future as well as the past. "
I can vouch for the fact that there is much liberation from the past when you are walking at less than 2 miles per hour!  The second biblical journey is that of the Exodus which has been described as "wandering in the desert" Again the Camino involves a lot of wandering. By now I was at the top of the hill and my dark mood far behind me. After two hours I came to a village and hoped that the store would be open. I was heartened to see Carolina come out of it. I ordered a coffee and bought some fruit. Carolina gave me a yoghurt. Since there was a phone box across the street I decided to phone a Gite only to discover that the box only takes cards! I wandered back into the shop and asked for help. Of course there was the usual hilarity about my surname. The first gite did not answer and then the man tried one called the "Blue Shell" When it was all done I asked how much it would cost he said nothing. As we prepared to leave I bought some bread and cheese remembering my experience of the previous day.
Carolina and I set off and soon reached an ancient chapel. Many of those that we have passed have been beautifully restored, often with remarkable stained glass. There were two windows in this chapel. The first reflected on life and eternity, but it was the second which took my breath away. There was an exquisite crucifixion with a naked Christ. I don't think that I have ever seen this before but this is precisely what would have happened. Crucifixion involved the total humiliation of the victim. Again there analogies for the pilgrimage. The pilgrim has to be stripped of everything that separates them from God. "A naked intent unto God" as the author of the Cloud puts it. I was also reminded that the "covering of nakedness" is one of the first symbols in the book of Genesis for the dislocation of our relationship with God.
I did tell Carolina two stories about Michealangelo's Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel. When it was first shown some of the Cardinals were incandescent with rage since Michealangelo had put them among the damned. A few decades after the fresco was completed the Pope had many of the naked bodies covered over.
Today was the first time that I walked most of the day in the company of another Pilgrim.
We had two picnics on the way and arrived at Livinhac- le-Haut just before 2.30. On the final stage we saw a large snake It was quite long and lay at the side of the path. When it did dart away we both agreed that we were happy that it went in the opposite direction to where we were standing.

1 comment:

  1. Dislocation arises from our fallen sinful nature, as well as our current despair, disarray, or confusion. However, from dislocation comes relocation and the story continues to completion as we are reminded of God's saving action, how He saved us fully through the work of the cross. We can also be reminded of how we have been "relocated" by reciting how God saved, healed, and delivered His people through the Bible, or in the lives of those in history, or in our own friends and acquaintances.Many of the Psalms that begin in dislocation end in relocation, a remembrance of God's saving action in history and then praise. How wise wise of you to pray the Psalms on your journey.