The Hudson Branch – Down By The River
Donald Miller wrote that people who have hard lives, lives steeped in sacrifices, will see heaven differently. The pain of getting there, and the pain of the scenery changes the way you experience the destination. That is how it was on the Camino, because after walking 794 kilometres, the destination is experienced differently than if you had taken a bus. I think heaven will be like this; in fact, I think we got a taste of heaven when we reached Santiago de Compostela.
Specifically, the cathedral at Santiago de Compostela, is unlike any other place on earth. It is easily my favourite. When we reached its huge plaza, oddly enough to the jovial tune of a busking bagpiper, our faces were plastered with grins, raised eyebrows and looks of disbelief. I kept saying that I couldn’t believe we made it, that this was really the cathedral and city that we had talked about for the past month. We hugged, high-fived and took photos before sinking to the ground against an assumedly ancient pillar. From there, we began to notice the other pilgrims arriving at their destination.
And this is what makes me imagine a heavenly comparison: individuals and groups of pilgrims from every corner of creation come into that plaza with nothing but joy. There is no entrance barring it; but there is an understanding that every traveller experienced pain and took a great deal of endurance to get there. There is a grand story held in the eyes of every adventurer, and the look of elation and relief upon arrival is unmatched. There are a lot of silent tears, a lot of hugs and cheers and congratulations. And my favourite – the reunions. Pilgrims are often running across the plaza to meet each other, people we never thought we would see again this side of heaven. I’ve never experienced anything like it.
K recently commented that she misses the cathedral, and I completely understand why. We visited the plaza a couple more times that weekend, once to go to the pilgrim’s mass to see the swinging ball of fire. Another time we laid on the cobblestones with our heads to the cathedral and our faces to the clouds, so that the cathedral looks like it is floating above us. We went to be a part of the experience, to savour the feeling of arriving at the destination. Part of the privilege of travelling is garnering another glimpse, another taste of heaven, and the great wedding feast that is to come. The smell of Paris in spring; the hospitality of those who have nothing but want to give something, like my friends in the mountains of Guatemala; the sharing of a simple meal that becomes a feast; a dance shared on old cobblestones or the sound of a song coming from deep inside a home. Some pictures are just clearer than others, like this one.
(Image via 3191)