Roads: Sacred and Vulgar

I spend hours everyday walking along the roads of the Camino de Santiago. The roads are made of various surfaces.

Most of the time, as these photos reveal, I am walking alone. There is no one else in site. A good percentage of the time I am walking with other pilgrims, but…

From time to time I walk the roads with locals, villagers and workers going to and fro about their business. These are the people that capture my attention.

You see, for me (and the other pilgrims) these roads are SACRED, they are magical. They carry, in between their stones and mixed in with their asphalt, the very possibility of something unexpected and holy. We love these roads (even though they are beating us into submission with every step, as many as 50,000 a day.)

Not so for the locals. These roads are VULGAR to them. They are common, ordinary and completely devoid of magic. They are the equivalent of an elevator ride to a taupe cubical, nothing more.

How is this possible? How is it possible for me to overwhelmed by the suspicion that something transformative might be happening with every step and these sweet local souls are simply functioning (like riding the elevator to a cubical)?

I think it is a matter of association.

I have associated those steps, on whatever surface is presented in that moment, as a chapter in a larger story. It is a story that I care about and that I am somehow convinced that God might care about as well. And my association leads me to accept that surface as profound, as sacred.

I spent years riding an elevator every morning, to a job I dreaded, and never once did I feel like the elevator (or the traffic jam on I-5) was sacred. It was just vulgar. But the problem was not with the elevator, it was with my association.

I was not alone in that elevator (I never am). That elevator was a portal. It was a path to the opportunity to work hard, to experience meaning, to care for other people and to provide for my family. What could be more sacred than that? And I missed it.

Let me share another parallel.

I am getting to visit beautiful churches all along the Way:

They are gorgeous. And inspiring. And yes, I feel the sacredness when I stand inside of them, look up into those vaulted ceilings and listen to the Mass.

But here is the question I am asking myself: Are these ancient monuments to worship fundamentally different than say… my dining room back home? Are they?

Both have walls that are soaked with stories. Both have floors that are soaked with tears… and hopes. Both are filled with symbolism. Both are arranged around a table where “families” and friends gather. Both are the place where divine work takes place.

You see, the problem with me is not that I need to go out into the world and find more sacred places. The problem with me is that I am too often blind to the sacredness and divine narratives that saturate every facet of my life…

… if I am only awake enough to see it.

5 Responses to “Roads: Sacred and Vulgar”

  1. So profound and challenging! I love how God is giving you so much insight!

  2. Gah! I love that you are giving us a tiny glimpse of this journey and I love the parallels, too! Praying for you… and for all of us… may we find the sacred in the midst of our ordinary… in the midst of the mundane and vulgar!

  3. May we all become less blind with every step.

  4. Funny, as you wrote that I was writing this…
    The intentional mental posture that any person adopts towards life – the intentionality of one’s belief, awareness, and commitment – opens up specific views or perspectives and reveals particular information to certain implications inherent in a circumstance or context that are effectively invisible to one who does not share that same or a similar posture. A change of mental posture, then, towards a person or a circumstance, can suddenly produce the experience of a blind person gaining their sight; “I was blind but now I see” It’s the realization of a sudden revelation. It was there all along but inaccessible. I find it fascinating that certain attitudes, commitments, and approaches to life can cut one off from real knowledge implicit in every situation while other beliefs, attitudes, and commitments can flood a person with a healthy situational awareness and purpose that transcends the most difficult things in life. It’s fascinating that this is how humanity is wired and how it works. What this means to me as a Christian is that a posture or heart, warm toward God, opens us up to knowing God more intimately and knowing what God has for us in life.

  5. Tony, I feel like I’m rewalking the Camino as I look at your photos. I’ve thought about this walk every day since I returned home in October. I have a deep longing to return. Thank you for sharing your journey. So glad I saw you the week before you left (twice!) so I could follow along. Love and blessings to you!

Leave a Reply