We are all on a pilgrimage. Knowing we are on a journey, knowing we are made for something greater, knowing there is a destination – this is the root of hope. Walking the Camino de Santiago last summer brought light to the words of a talk I recently heard: hope is the virtue of a pilgrim.
As I listened to reflections on hope, pilgrimage, and journeying, my mind was filled with memories of the time I lived these experiences in a very physical way. One particular recollection from my three weeks in Spain was overpowering: the destination.
I remember it clearly. I remember the moment I was able to stand directly in front of the altar in the Cathedral of Santiago and fall to my knees. The hundreds of pilgrims that filled the Cathedral disappeared, the pain of worn and tired muscles dissipated, and the feet that had been sore for two weeks were forgotten history. Because at that moment, nothing else mattered.
Nothing else could possibly matter except the breath-taking beauty in front of my eyes, the knowledge that Jesus would be present on that magnificent altar very soon, and the realization that we had arrived. We had reached the destination.
This was moment that the whole journey led up to. Without the destination, the journey would have been a nice walk through northern Spain – enjoyable, but aimless. I would have been a wanderer, no cause and no reason for the walk. But this moment, this was what made the journey a pilgrimage. This is why thousands of others from all over the world walked alongside us, why we persevered up the hill before the small village of O Cebreiro, why we walked 25 grueling miles that day to Portomarin, why traveled across an ocean to “simply walk.” Knowing this moment was coming, without even grasping what the moment might hold, was what gave me hope every step along the way.
Of course, the journey itself was beautiful. There were countless laughs, many moments of amazing depth with old and new friends, beauty all around, and times of stillness that made me realize how wonderful it is just to be. The depth of encounter I reached with fellow pilgrims was different than any I had experienced. The journey itself was amazing. But the moment in that Cathedral as we waited in joyful anticipation for the Solemnity Mass of St. James to begin, I experienced an indescribable joy that overflowed from my heart into my whole being. This is why we journeyed to begin with: the destination.
This Advent, I am reminded that this experience of journey and destination is the experience of the Christian life. We live the pilgrimage hoping for a moment when we are able to stand in front of God and fall to our knees. We live knowing these experiences, although beautiful and challenging in themselves, lead to a destination beyond what we could imagine. This knowledge is what gives every moment meaning and allows every moment to be an opportunity to hope. As N.T. Wright says, “…what you think about death, and life beyond it, is the key to thinking seriously about anything at all.”
As Christmas approaches and I hear the lyrics I have heard hundreds of times, I’m reminded not only of Jesus’ first coming in a stable, but the second time we meet Christ face-to-face.
Fall on your knees
Oh hear the angel voices
Oh night Divine
Oh night, when Christ was born
(For a particular favorite version of the song, check out Point of Grace’s version)
For me, the closest taste I have that moment we hope for is that beautiful day in Santiago de Compostela. I relive the day I fell on my tired knees and was overwhelmed by the immense glory. As I remember that encounter with the Lord upon reaching an earthly destination in Spain, I’m reminded of the final destination for which I hope. I’m reminded that I am a pilgrim on a beautiful journey. I’m reminded that hope is the virtue of a pilgrim.
Post written by pilgrim on Creatio’s El Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage in Spain in July, 2015.