For medieval pilgrims the travails of travel were part of the pilgrimage: were it not for their intent to join the Camino, they would not have left home.
But we have to weave a spiritual intent into the secular drudgery of modern travel. It is not usually a mark of piety to suffer cramped legroom and flight delays. It might be a mark of piety to ask, as our group leader has urged us to do, where God is in Terminal 2 at Madrid-Barajas.
Actually, he didn’t specify that we should look for the divine in Barajas in general or Terminal 2 in particular. But that is where we all converged this morning, most of us several hours later than planned. So the lesson of accepting the vicissitudes of travel with patience and grace has already started.
By this afternoon we were walking the streets of Segovia and through the vast and chilly halls of the Alcázar, where we fought jet lag as our animated guide raced us through several centuries of Spanish history. Feisty Queen Isabella. Poor Queen Juana “La Loca,” locked away in a castle for forty-six years. Poor little Prince Don Pedro, who fell over one of the 250-foot high parapets, according to some accounts while he was playing soccer; but he was only one of sixteen children.
Beyond the Alcázar stands a monastery where St. John of the Cross lived, the mystic facing the military might of the Spanish monarchy across the tiny Eresma River. Beyond Segovia is a rolling, glaciated countryside, rich green and yellow, studded with small oak and olive trees. And above everything soar the storks, their white, black-tipped wings in sharp relief against a blue sky.
It was an afternoon that called for physical stamina, and more than that for the stamina to bear so much beauty and history.
Physical challenges await even us abbreviated pilgrims. In three days we will begin to walk like all pilgrims through the ages, over the same terrains. But perhaps the real work for modern pilgrims is to absorb these natural and man-made landscapes. One wants to incorporate everything one sees or to become part of it, but the landscapes are too rich and too beautiful and pass by too quickly. The question may not be only where God is in this countryside, but also how to endure His presence, how to find the strength to take Him in.