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Pr. Ruth Dantzer:   As already mentioned, I am the Anglican chaplain at Multifaith and I work alongside Lyle and Lyndon on UVic’s campus at the Interfaith Chapel.  As part of the regular programming I offer, I lead an annual pilgrimage that allows students to travel overseas to experience the ancient practice of pilgrimage to some of the most sacred Christian sites.  Last April, myself and Henri Lock, the United Church Chaplain, took a group of eight students to Spain, where we all walked 280 km of the renowned Camino.

The gospel reading today is very fitting, as it begins with Jesus going “up the mountain” before delivering the Beatitudes, which as we know are teachings of incredible weight and importance in the Christian tradition.  The journey up the mountain, the pilgrimage, is an invaluable time of spiritual formation, preparing the pilgrim for their life ahead.

Before setting out on the Camino with the students, I was given “The Beatitudes of the Pilgrim”.  I am unsure of its origin, but it seems to be a common prayer among pilgrims on this path.  Some of my favorites read: Blessed are you pilgrim, if you discover that the “camino” opens your eyes to what is not seen.

Blessed are you pilgrim, if you discover that the authentic “camino” begins when it is completed.

Blessed are you pilgrim, if your knapsack is emptying of material possessions.

Blessed are you pilgrim, if you discover that one step back to help another is more valuable than a hundred forward without seeing who is at your side.

Blessed are you pilgrim, if you search for the truth and make of the “camino” a life, and of your life a “way”, in search of the one who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Blessed are you pilgrim, if you discover that the “camino” holds a lot of silence: the silence of prayer and the prayer of meeting God, who is walking with you.

As a chaplain, walking this pilgrimage was the perfect environment to truly be with the students. The role of a chaplain is to “walk alongside” those whom I encounter in my ministry, and it was a privilege to be able to literally “walk alongside” eight students on the Camino.  As a group we met on campus on a weekly basis for the 9 months leading up to the trip to Spain.  In this time of preparation, we entered deeply into relationship, sharing from our hearts our personal life stories, our losses, our joys, our dreams, our fears, and our individual intentions for walking the Camino.  We developed deep connections with one another, all of which culminated on the pilgrimage in Spain. 

As it turned out, the journey was not easy. There was much pain and many tears, long days and sleepless nights.  However, with the web of support that we built together in the months prior, we were able to hold each other with gentleness and patience, and to show up for one another when things were tough. As one of the chaplains in this group, I was able to practice again and again the art of “walking alongside”.  I was not there to “fix” anything.  I was not there to take away anyone’s pain in effort of making the journey more comfortable.  I was simply there to listen and to bear witness to the struggle and growth that was unfolding for all.  Yes, the pain was abundant, but so were the laughs, the joy, the astounding beauty of nature and the power that came by walking an age-old pilgrim’s path.  Many of the students now refer to this group as a family, for a deep bond was created that will hopefully carry us through a lifetime of friendship. 

We are so grateful for the support we received from the various communities that made this trip possible for the students.  Church of the Cross generously donated funds to help support the students financially.  Both Maya and Scott were recipients of these funds and were eager to share some of their experiences of the Camino with the people of this church.  We will begin with Maya and then we will hear from Scott.   

Maya Bridger:   The Camino was one of the most intense and transformative experiences of my life, both physically and emotionally. Although I had to carefully measure going in whether I could shoulder the financial and scheduling aspects of the trip, as well as put myself far outside my comfort zone, I felt excited and called by the prospect of walking the road that so many others had before me and taking the time out of my day-to-day life to embark on an intentional spiritual journey. When I look back on all the memories of that ten-day trek, from the laughter, togetherness, reflective moments and many occasions of being stunned into silence by the majesty of the landscape, to the times of tears and frustration and exhausted despondency, I feel indescribably grateful. Grateful for the group of incredible, strong, and loving people who I walked alongside, grateful for the amazing communities of faith, family, and friends who supported us and made this pilgrimage possible, and most of all grateful to God for giving me the courage to step outside my door and walk, and to continue putting one foot in front of the other until I was done. Walking a route that so many others had walked before, and knowing that many others would walk it after me, I felt very humbled and privileged for the blessing of life, in all its intensities of joy and pain and every shade in between. During the pilgrimage I thought about and wrestled with questions and burdens, some of which were old and some that were fresh,  and I watched as others around me did the same. We each had our own weight to carry that was unique to our experience, but we came together and supported one another through times of deep vulnerability and emotional openness. I gained a deeper understanding of what my needs and limits are, and also what my gifts and talents and abilities are. Although everyone on our pilgrimage was walking their own path, I saw how we were all striving to be as loving, conscious, and Christ-like as we could be on our journey, for those ten days and beyond that. I became more confident in the knowledge that I and everybody around me is marvelously made, and precious and loved by God. The challenging times on the Camino reminded me to be receptive to being shaped and changed by my experiences, and open to discomfort and risk and the opportunities for growth that they can bring. I trust that God is holding me, and that even the times when I shatter are a chance to be remolded and come out stronger and sturdier. Walking the Camino was an empowering, humbling, and life-giving experience, and I along with my fellow pilgrims are deeply thankful for all the support we received which made this transformative trip possible. Above all, we are thankful for God’s constant love and presence, as he traces our journeys and our resting places, and is with us through all the steps of our path.  

Scott Constantine:   “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” - Matthew 5:3  

On my spiritual journey, I have always placed such a high premium on “getting it right”. On having the right beliefs, the right method of worship, the right sense of consolation. Having walked the Camino and carried a spiritual cross, however, I have been humbled by the realization that sometimes the way to authenticity and to a deeper relationship with God is to become poor in spirit, to surrender absolutely everything. Or, more accurately for me, to be made to surrender. Paradoxically, in this loss of everything we hold dear, we are able to engage with others and our own lives in the light of God’s relentless love. The cost of being a disciple is great, and the process of becoming poor in spirit is often painful and certainly not glamorous, but the reward is far greater than we can imagine. As I had to accept, becoming poor in spirit doesn’t consist of well-defined tasks. It isn’t always achieved by heroic actions with a well-defined endpoint. Sometimes becoming poor in spirit requires wandering nebulous, dark, grey wildernesses. I embarked on my Camino soon after the brutal and isolating deconstruction of my Roman Catholic faith that I held dear. The year or so leading up to my Camino, I had fallen from a faithful Catholic to someone who couldn’t believe in almost any of its major tenets. My views on many social issues had diverged from the accepted party lines, and I had been repeatedly told that my dissent was not welcome in the Catholic Church. Simply dissenting in favour of certain progressive social issues, according to the Vatican and many of my friends, put me in a state of “mortal sin” which, if I were to die in that state, would send me to hell. I believed this repressive ideology for so long before finally rejecting it. I grew out of a rigid view of God. And my new conception of God was no longer welcome in my predominantly conservative Catholic religious and social circles. I became the “wolf” among the sheep that they had always feared. I had been trying to occupy an infinitesimally small space of advocacy for social justice within the Roman Catholic church.

I tried hard to be an underrepresented voice.

I collapsed from exhaustion.

I am so grateful for the Anglican and Lutheran communities here in Victoria, who have welcomed an ex-Catholic like me with open arms. It has been so nourishing to be part of an inclusive spiritual community that has maintained so much of the ritual and mystery of Catholicism that made me fall in love with God. Still, I was sifting through the burning rubble of my old faith, taking a relentless and unflinching look at what I would try to recover from the ashes and what I would leave behind and let burn. The Camino came as this process was well underway and taught me that I still had a lot more rubble to search. It was a super-stimulus that broke me down. The daily rhythm of the Camino, the pounding of my feet on the trail that soundtracked my itinerant existence in Spain, has a way of sounding as loud as a jackhammer on a busy city street when you have interior tumult that you haven’t addressed. The rhythm slowly and anything but gently drills right into your soul and you’d better be ready for whatever bubbles up once it’s no longer constrained.

I wasn’t ready for the cost of this cross.And I wasn’t ready to be hit by the realization that God’s mystery and our connection to each other are far more vast and intractable than we’d ever know.

I’ve structured my life around self-reliance. I’ve always wanted to be a pillar of my community and be someone that others can lean on in their times of need, a competent leader no matter what the situation. Unfortunately, as is the case for most of us law students, I thought this translated to a need to know and control essentially everything so that nothing could surprise me. This need to know everything in its entirety extended to my faith. I thought that if I could just work out every last little detail, then I could lean into God’s love and mercy. Thankfully, God is far too vast for me to put him in the small box of my limited human understanding. The Camino taught me in no uncertain terms that God is infinitely more vast and loving than I could possibly comprehend. In other words, my Camino taught me that although God can indeed be known to some degree, sometimes we just need to live and love and surrender to a reality greater than ourselves, whether or not we’re intimately familiar with that reality’s inner workings.

Un buen camino, “a good walk”, may not always feel good. In fact, it might be excruciatingly painful and full of blisters and breakdowns. But it’s exactly what I needed and it’s helped to shape me into a more loving person who *knows* God, not merely one who can speak about Him. I’m certainly not done bearing this cross, but I am on my way, and my Camino helped me kick-start the process of rebuilding a faith that can weather the storm and the elements out here in my own spiritual wilderness. The cost of becoming poor in spirit, of carrying the cross of self-exploration and developing an authentic relationship with the divine, is high, but the payoff of intimacy with the creator, ourselves, and others in this beautifully dizzying life is worth every ounce of effort.    

Thank you.