Last month, two pilgrims visited our Information Centre on St. James’ Street, Dublin as they were in the city for a few days. On learning that they had walked the Camino de Santiago as well as further afield, we asked if they could tell us what has called them to pilgrimage. You can read more about Wilhelm and Sally’s journey at HojerCruX.wordpress.com.
Since January 2018, my wife and I have been on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. For our honeymoon, two years ago, we walked to Santiago de Compostela along the Camino del Norte. What called us to pilgrimage? What was the purpose of it? Why do we keep taking take these steps into a future we can’t clearly see, knowing nothing about the obstacles we will face, knowing nothing about the people we will meet or their language? Why don’t we just sit still, resting comfortably in what we already have?
In the very beginning of the Letter to the Hebrews we read: “Brothers and sisters, faith is the realization of things hoped for, an evidence of things not seen.” Is this describing faith as an intellectual leap? Yes, partly, but it’s more, it’s a whole attitude of life. Christianity is a religion on the move, it is a walking religion. Jesus was gathering the tribes of Israel when he walked on earth. He did it by stepping out, teaching, healing, drawing them in and he sends his disciples on the same mission. To go on a pilgrimage is learning to let go, to step out with your whole mind and your whole body into an adventure which we have no clear idea about. This can also be a definition of faith. To this day, after learning about Jesus, many Christians feel a calling to go on pilgrimage. In fact, our lives should become a constant pilgrimage.
Our experiences on the Camino de Santiago was also a constant wait for our backpacks to really mold to our bodies, waiting for our blisters to heal on our toes and for the purpose of our pilgrimage to become clear. It was, therefore, a time of expectation for us. We were expecting many good things from this pilgrimage, but we were unsure what that good might be or how it would look like. Sally, who had walked the Camino once before, said that the answer which so many fellow pilgrims are looking for is given in the questions we don’t ask. The good of the Camino was therefore received in a series of moments, insights and memories.
When we left for our Honeymoon we had two guitars strapped to our bags, which were gifts from the wedding. We were happy to have them even though at the end of long days we considered gifting them to the ocean to lighten our load. Yet we persevered and the guitars became the gifts that kept on giving. Not only did they become a source of comfort and entertainment, but they inspired us to write our own songs and even become our main source of income along The Way.
We started busking in a town called Santillana del Mar, along the Camino del Norte. Like most things, it was scary at first. At first, we both wondered if we were allowed to do it. Were we good enough? Would the police come to move us along? Would the babies start to cry? Much to our surprise, the first person to walk by put some coins in the guitar bag which we had laid out and with each coin our confidence grew. Slowly our relationship to the streets changed into something very familiar as well.
On the Camino our living rooms became the main squares in each town, the outdoor cafes became our dining rooms and when you live in a tent, a city becomes your very own mansion. Perhaps our favorite room, like in any house, is the music room. Creative thought and sound stretch to the very corners of the ceiling filling everything with something divine that makes us reflect and even bringing us to tears. We made the covered archways into our music rooms. Sometimes we would be standing on a street corner plugging our ears singing out of tune and laughing, but it seemed that people found this entertaining enough to stop and listen.
After a couple hours of playing, we would go sit somewhere and count our coins giving thanks for each blessing. God was providing for us in so many incredible ways. One day, we remember, we splurged on a hamburger hoping that we had enough money in our wallet to pay the bill but not daring to look. When we went to pay our waitress she insisted that everything had been paid for and wished us a good night. Some might say it was only a meal, but when things like that happen it means so much more than what meets the eye. God is creative, so we must search to see the blessings in all things, but every now and again his gifts are so obvious that we can’t deny that our treasures have come from a very mighty hand.
This year we are on our second large pilgrimage, this time to Jerusalem, and so far we have travelled both by foot, airplane and by boat. Providence has brought us from Estonia to Greece and recently from Dublin to Gibraltar. We were called on pilgrimage to meet God again. But in most countries, two wayfarers were still a strange sight. It has been proven hard to express, in any language, that we are two Christian pilgrims who are walking with Jesus on a spiritual journey to Jerusalem. Why shouldn’t it be hard? By nature we’re all rather self-enclosed, we tend to look at the world through the tinted glasses of our own egotism, behind the locked doors of our own desires and selfishness.
That is why the best moments of life are those rare moments when we step out to meet a God who is already running out to meet us. As we reflect over the year so far, there are three distinct ways in which we have experienced this. The first way it has happened is by entering a new country and being confronted by a new culture. By entering a foreign land and immediately being confronted with a new culture and a new identity, we have begun to wrestle with the complexity of it. Every town, city, and nation has a unique story, filled with tragedy and victory. Our eyes have necessarily been cleansed from self-absorption and we have begun to see the world as it is – objective. The second way it has happened is through language. Words are of great importance because words enable relationships to form and they communicate who we are and what we want. But it’s very hard to get a handle on foreign words. In more ancient days pilgrims were led by a priest or a monk who could converse in Latin along the way. Lacking this luxury, our pockets have been filled with prewritten notes in languages we don’t master, which have described our simple wishes: “May we ask for water and rest?”, “We are pilgrims to Jerusalem, may we set up our tent by your church?” “Yes” and “No” are important, as is “Thank you” and “God bless you”. We have become like children again and it humbles us, remembering that as Christians we need to be born again. The third way it has happened is when we have to ask for someone else’s compassion. People are genuinely generous. Next, to family and tradition, hospitality is one of the central concepts of human life. We spot the friendly and welcoming faces going through their ordinary days, doing what for them is ordinary, and suddenly they stop and see us as someone who is thirsty, hungry or
lost. We experience how our faces break into their consciousness, how our needs seize them and they choose to drop their plans. They choose to respond to us, not because it’s good for them, not because it earns them any money, not because it makes them look better, but because we’ve broken into their world. These repeated experiences have changed us because we become different people after them. A simple conversation over a dented and blackened teakettle breaks down our subjectivity, developing in us a passion for what is human. Both sides learn that we cannot fit individuals, or a nation, into a prepackaged box as though they existed for us and for our convenience or understanding, much like the Pharisees sought to force Jesus into being the person they expected him to be. These are true and good lessons from a life on constant pilgrimage. Please keep us in your prayers as we remember to pray for all of you. God love you!
Wilhelm & Sally Höjer