Contemplations in Burgos

Burgos Cathedral

Yesterday, we moved leisurely around Burgos. Cafe con leche and some pinchos for breakfast, then off to explore the Burgos Cathedral – a jaw-dropping work of artistry built and expanded over the last 750 years. The Cathedral of Saint Mary of Burgos draws our eyes heavenly capturing time and spirit in the enduring beauty of stone spires, vaults, arches accented with gold, iron, wood, and glass. The structure itself is massive and so ornate as make it difficult for one’s eyes to absorb all of the intricate detail. There is one active sanctuary where Mass is still held and where we saw a wedding being celebrated under vaulted ceilings completely covered in biblical scenes. The rest of the structure is a series of chapels which hold massive, gilded altarpieces, beautiful statues, paintings, carvings, various other artistic treasures, as well as the remains of bishops, nobles, or famous figures like El Cid, who happens to be buried with his wife beneath the floor of the central and most dramatic chapel. Each chapel honors a particular saint and the carvings and artwork typically reflect stories from the Bible. Walking its halls is a stroll through time and one can almost hear the halls echoing with prayers from voices over the centuries.

Two weeks in and we have settled into the routine of our Camino experience. The daily cycle of eating, walking, and sleeping has become a physical meditation marking our journey. Within that waking meditation, we’ve found pain, peace, joy, disappointment, and even confusion as we’ve wrestled with our own inclinations contrasted with what we feel called to as faithful Catholics. Deprived of many of the luxuries which mark our life at home, we’ve become acutely aware of those gifts in our lives and appreciative of the chance to experience self-denial in a way that is difficult to engage in our American existence. Though we are not suffering through a lack of facilities or decent places to sleep, we have experienced the loss of many comforts – an edge that provides sharp contrast for the comfortable life we live.

The people we’ve encountered have triggered many thoughts and reactions. Often, I am not proud of my harsh reaction to small irritants. These are opportunities for self-reflection that bring me face-to-face with my own challenges and my need for Grace – the kind that changes hearts. On the flip side, my heart has soared in the presence of grace of another kind, and graciousness that melts hardened hearts. In this way, the Way of St. James is a reflection of the path we follow through life. In life, there are those who share our journey for a while, the effects they have on us, and who we become in that process. And more importantly, there is the effect we have on them. The human capacity for kindness and love is as staggering as its capacity for cruelty and hatred. I have yet to see hatred on our journey but the news is never far away and reminders abound that the bubble that is a 500 mile walk across a civilized nation is never far from being burst. Rioting and violence in Barcelona, where we were just a couple of weeks ago, reflects the fragile nature of that bubble.

The Last Supper by Vanancio Blanco

I have been told that the Camino will change me. I have been told that the Camino will reveal things of which I was unaware. I have been told that the world will look different at the end of this journey. I can’t speak to any of those statements. I suspect that pilgrims tend to find what they are looking for along this Way and whatever change they experience comes from a kernel that was growing within long before they started down this path. As in the life that exists before and after this journey, the big question centers on determining what it is you seek and asking the harder question: Am I seeking the right thing(s)?

Tomorrow we leave Burgos and head west to start our journey across Spain’s Meseta. The first third is complete. I wonder what we’ll find within and without as we cross the vast plains ahead. This morning I will say a prayer asking for guidance in seeking the right things.

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