In the weeks since my last posting, I’ve had the chance to see Martin Sheen’s new film The Way with which I was pleasantly surprised. Many times these pseudo-religious, find-yourself productions are smarmy, preachy, and simplistic. Not so much, here; in fact, it reminded me of many of the elements of my pilgrimage that I have the regrettable tendency to forget in retellings, but that are what make the Camino transformational.
They’re ancient questions: who’s your neighbor and what responsibility do you have to them? We most often simply define a neighbor by physical nearness: someone who lives next door. Our responsibility to that physical nearness: maybe a cup of sugar or a polite wave. If we expand our definition of neighbor to, say, a fellow follower of The Way, however, our responsibilities expand too.
What the film depicts beautifully and that I remember distinctly is the intimacy that develops amongst strangers amidst constant challenge and shared goals. While each pilgrim has his or her own motivations for making El Camino de Santiago de Compostela, all pilgrims wake up each morning with the singular goal of drawing closer to Santiago today than we were yesterday. Blisters, scarce ATMs, and emotional and spiritual vulnerability are constant. If we were walking alone, we’d never make it. But when you’re following The Way, you’re never alone. A pilgrim never asks who his neighbor is or what responsibility he has to him. A pilgrim receives as freely as she gives.
It’s not all philosophizing on the road to Santiago. There’s beautiful landscape, impressive architecture, and healthy challenge too. Go see Sheen’s The Way and then do like I did on my arrival into Hontanas after the long walk from Burgos: find a pub and get to know your neighbors.