Camino de Santiago ~ Lessons Learned ~Kindness and Hospitality

Camino de Santiago ~ Lessons Learned ~Kindness and Hospitality

My time on the Way of Saint James is already fading into memory. The lessons learned, however, are something that I am trying to apply on a daily basis. One of the basic practices on the Camino is the practice of hospitality and kindness. Wikipedia says that “Kindness is a behavior marked by ethical characteristics, a pleasant disposition, and a concern for others. It is known as a virtue, and is recognized as a value in many cultures.” kindness and hospitality go hand in hand.

This seems like a basic idea, but unfortunately, where I live in North America, the practice of kindness and real hospitality is slowly disappearing. It seems like people are too busy, and too wrapped up in “self” to pay attention to “other life travelers.” Theologian William Barclay once said, “More people have been brought into the church by the kindness of real Christian love than by all the theological arguments in the world.” Hospitality, for the most part, is alive and well practiced on the Camino de Santiago.

Hospitality, the practice of caring for another person, has been part of the Christian heritage since the beginning of the Hebrew Bible. One of my favorite stories of hospitality is in Genesis 18 when Abraham is visited by the three strangers. He offered hospitality and discovered that he was entertaining the ambassadors of God.

My experience on the Camino was filled with hospitality, welcome and wonder. Small gestures empowered those of us who were pilgrims to go the distance. First, there was the language barrier itself. I do not speak Spanish, I wish I did. While I have a few words under my belt, there were many times when a shop owner or someone I met in the street would patiently try to help me out, in spite of the language barrier. I saw more than one shop keeper go outside of their shop and show directions to an inquiring pilgrim.

The host at the Auberge in Saint Jean Pied de Port was another one who went out of his way. He and his wife not only made us dinner, for a small fee, but they had all of their guests share some of their story. That evening the owners turned us into family, which was a gift as we began our walk on the Camino. All along the route we would run into other “members of the family” from our first night; that all happened due to great hospitality.

The man collecting garbage in Pamplona exhibited another act of kindness when he called to me and my walking friend asking, “Are you pilgrims?” We replied yes, and he told us we had missed the turn a block beyond where we were. He went out of his way to ensure we would not get lost.

Or, there was the woman who sold me an orange in the heat of the day, and she came outside of her shop where I was sitting to ask if the orange was good! (Yes, it was delicious.) Over and over again, from the ones who hosted in the hostels to the food servers to the law enforcement riding their horses in the Basque country, people went out of their way to be kind.

Another hostel is run by the English Society of the Way of Saint James. Volunteers come there to serve for two weeks at a time. They volunteer to run the place, and they offer to massage sore feet as well! There are hostels that run just from the donations you are willing to give, and others that help you all make a meal together. Hospitality is astounding and welcoming.

 We have lost this art of hospitality in the busyness of our societies. While it is true that some say walking the Camino is like living in a bubble, we can at least take these lessons learned and apply them to become changed lives in our own neighborhoods and work places. In order to make these part of our daily routine, we have to slow down, and take time to talk to people, and hear their stories.

The very of nature of exhibiting kindness to another person makes that person have a sense of worth and usefulness. By exhibiting kindness to another person we are affirming their worth as a person, we are telling them that they are important enough for us to be inconvenienced, by them or that we would give them special attention. It is also closely related to being gentle.

Jesus modeled the practice of welcoming the stranger and the practice of hospitality to those who felt unwelcome, and unworthy. How can we bring this practice back into our own lives? I think a challenge is in order. What would it look like to “outkind” your friend, or your family members? What would it look like to have a “kindness contest” on a regular basis? I believe we can change the course of our future by offering hospitality and kindness, and it can begin with us. Where can you begin to plant those seeds of kindness?

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Camino De Santiago ~ Learned Lessons-1

Camino De Santiago ~ Learned Lessons-1

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(Above, descent from the iron cross~ season, late May.)

It has been three months since my return from El Camino. While the time spent there seems so distant, it also seems so near. Perhaps, that too, is a life reflection. As we get older and wiser, it seems that our “childhood days” were just yesterday, when in reality, it is usually much farther away. How can we put the brakes on so that we can enjoy the moment that we are experiencing? One way, is to take “time out”, such as a walk on the Camino de Santiago.

It is long since overdue the areas of wisdom that I learned from my hike on El Camino. Each learning point will have a separate post. In each case, I also preached about the correlation between my own learnings during the journey and the story of the Israelites’ deliverance from slavery in Egypt. Here is the first sermon on lesson’s learned called, “Time Out.”

One of the first things that I relearned is that life is about the journey. So often we are eager to get to the next “thing” in our lives. We are eager to finish this class, we are eager to get our license, we are eager to graduate, we are eager to start our career, we are eager to get married, have kids or retire. How can we simply enjoy the present moment, and the people whom God has placed in our path to enjoy?

In my own life I am constantly on the run. One of the things I have been trying to do in this year is be an “abiding presence” with the people who are around me. I am not always successful, but at least I am trying. El Camino helped me to slow down and enjoy the people around me. The people around me were fascinating and engaging. They came from all over the world. Each life encounter truly was a treasure. For me, I was intentional about the experience of walking the Camino. I did not need to finish, I did not need to be first each day, I was intent on the experience. Not everyone walking felt that way. Some wanted to go as far as they could each day, others wanted to be first. I just wanted to “be.” In fact, I rarely used my I Phone headset as I wanted to hear the sounds of the Camino. You can hear and see a four minute sound byte of the Camino here at this recording I made. (Honestly, the cuckoo bird’s call makes me laugh.)

After my walk, I am more convinced than ever that God wants us to learn lessons on our life journey. God places people in our lives for a season or longer from whom we can learn and whom we can teach. Sometimes they speak life into us, and sometimes we speak life into them. But most of all, it is about how we build those relationship along the journey. El Camino taught me to listen to those around me; taught me that I can learn from them. How are you building the relationships in your life journey that God has put in your path? Are you leaning into them, or are you tearing them down? This applies to all the ones on your journey: There are ones who are hard to love, and there are ones that you would like to spend more time with. Lean into the relationships that God has placed before you. They are part of your learning in your life journey. Before you know it, your life journey will be near its twilight years. What relationships will you have spoken life into during your life journey? It is not too late to begin!