Looking down the road, sitting reading by the front gate, I am reminded of the Prodigal Father: Will he come? When? How will he be? How long have I got to wait? Somehow it is being available that mattters. Not only here, but generally too. Yes, I feel I may have something to offer other than drinks and visits to the toilet – and sometimes it is right to offer the possibility of prayer, or the T.S. Eliot poem, or the picture of the Emmaus story. It is amazing how many people have not heard that story. Many have said how they appreciate the fact that someone would volunteer to sit, waiting for pilgrims. ‘The pilgrimage is in the heart’, someone said, so I am a pilgrim too.
I have been reading Pope Francis letter, Evangelii Gaudium, and have been especially touched by paragraph 279: ‘Sometimes it seems that our work is fruitless, but [it] is not like a business transaction….. It is not a show where we count how many people came as a result of our publicity, it is something much deeper, which escapes all measurement’
Pilgrims have many reasons for being on the Camino – a love of walking and nature, a love of meeting others from different countries, something to escape from, a need to think or get to know one’s self better, a decision to be made, a need to be alone.
Sunday was a very encouraging day with sixteen pilgrims coming in for drinks, chat or a visit to the toilet. Five were from Lille, and two from Brussels, one of whom had just retired and planned to walk all the way to Santiago, thinking about the next step in her life. Many older pilgrims say something like this. Younger ones seem to be looking to escape from stress or to get to know themselves better. We met a young man who had set off from Germany and was hoping to get to Santiago in October – very fit. Then there was the young woman from Ireland who was delighted to find someone who spoke English. So were we! Our conversations are bits of English, bits of French and bits of sign language, but something seems to work. We have been able to have Mass and evening prayer each day this week. One of the neighbours came for Mass on Monday.
With the arrival of our new volunteers, Jo and Stephen, morning Mass has been celebrated in the tent since 14th August (and will be for the next few days), instead of the usual Morning Prayer. For a change, the house and garden are also full of music!
A beautiful dawn over Arthez this morning with even a violet sky:
We also received a lovely appreciative postcard today:
Après notre retour du Pélerinage de St Jacques nous jetons un oeil dans le rétroviseur pour savourer les moments d’accueil que nous avons vécus. Merci encore de donner au marcheur l’occasion de s’arrêter pour prier…..
Today a distressed pilgrim arrived just before our 8.30 morning prayer. We sat together for a while – mostly in silence. Then a lady turned up (sent by the Holy Spirit?) who slowly drew him out of himself. At that point it just felt better to get out of the way. They eventually talked for more than an hour with, it seems, much weeping. She then sent him on his way with a big hug and rather happier than he had been on his arrival. Sometimes it’s better just to stand back …..
Later we went to Lourdes, about an hour and a quarter away, and took the waters – a different sort of pilgrimage!
Today, 25th of July, is the feast-day of St James. Many pilgrims aim to arrive in Santiago de Compostela for this day. Perhaps that is why so many more pilgrims passed by here in May, than we are seeing now. Those arriving in Santiago today will be celebrating both their arrival as well as the feast of Saint James, who is believed to buried there and after whom the Spanish town is named.
This corner of South West France shares a passion for bull-fighting with its Spanish neighbour and many such spectacles are taking place these days. There may indeed be a connection between the courageous facing of raging bulls, so dear to this part of the world, and the feast of St James. One of the medieval legends of Saint James tells of the miraculous taming of wild bulls. In The Golden Legend we read:
And then they made the sign of the cross upon the bulls, and anon they were meek as lambs. Then they took them and yoked them to the chariot, and took the body of S. James with the stone that they had laid it on, and laid on the chariot, and the wild bulls without governing or driving of anybody drew it forth.
So last night we went to the nearby town of Orthez, which also lies on the Way to Santiago – the Camino Lemovicensis – to join in the local taurine celebration as spectators of the Course landaise. However, the Course landaise may be better described as bull-teasing rather than bull-fighting: while the band plays, the animals charge towards the ecateurs, who twist away at the last second from its horns, and the sauters, who dive, leap or sommersault over the charging animals. These young people demonstrate great courage and agility without any spilling of blood.
If you have not yet made it to Santiago for his feast-day, and are still on the Way, we invite you to stop by for refreshment and rest and to celebrate St James. Bon Camino.
George stopped yesterday for an hour or so. He was trying to make his pilgrimage without any money, relying on the generosity of people he encountered along the way. His intention was a kind of practical witness against the way modern society had become so dependent on money. He had in fact succeded all the way from Le Puy-en-Velay, until he arrived in Athez where a trip to a cash machine proved necessary. He had lost his cap and and felt that under the searing heat of the sun he had to buy a new one. Needless to say, we made him sandwiches to take on his way!
After a short break, we reopened again in the afternoon of Monday 13 July. This morning, Bastille Day, two ladies joined us for morning prayer at 8.30. And a couple of others have stopped by during the day.
The weather is still very hot, over 30 degrees, and the village exceptionally quiet. But then our neighbour reminded us that, not only is it a holiday, but that the Tour de France was passing today within about fifteen kilometres from here. Everyone has gone to watch. We should have gone too, since Chris Frome is wearing the Yellow Jersey today.