Day 23. San Salvador de Monte Irago, Benedictine Monastery, Rabanal deal Camino. Retreat Day. 0km.
In a quiet unassuming village situated along the side of a mountain is a Benedictine Monastery that with the assistance of some Jesuits, opened a retreat house welcome to pilgrims who wish to rest, reflect, and pray. This simple house, open to less than 10 pilgrims, extends itself to the origin of the word hospital: a place for pilgrims to heal their body and rejuvenate their soul. I did not know how much I needed this retreat. The constant going on the Camino was not only a drain on my body, but a pull on my soul as well. Even during our “rest day” in Leon we walked 11k and indulged in the luxuries of a modern city. Here now, in a simple retreat house in a small village, I can only sit, pray, rest, and reflect. These moments have given me a chance to consider the long Camino I have been walking all my life.
One of the tenants of this retreat house is to attend the liturgy of the hours with the three international monks, to simply be, and to allow yourself to receive the help you need. While simple rules, this has been surprisingly difficult. My natural disposition is to offer assistance in anyway possible. Receiving is difficult as it requires a level of passivity that out of the ordinary for me. By allowing myself to receive and not to give, I recognize a change in my character. When you regularly give of yourself, you continually find yourself empty and longing for a sense of purpose and connection with other people. By only allowing myself to give, I create a relational barrier with others that puts me off balance. Can I fully come to know myself and God, if I do not allow myself the peace of mind to receive help and love from God and others?
Silence. There is a great myth about silence. “The sound of silence” they say can be overwhelming, yet it is impossible to hear absolute silence, even in the absence of space, silence still does not exist. For when you try and allow yourself to enter into silence, the world within and around you becomes alive. Water babbles from a near distant stream. Wind and air whispers past rocks and plants. The earth churns from the movement of the plates and the insects tilling its soil. Animals scream into the silence as they call upon one another. Your breathe too, along with your heart, dances into the void reminding you that you are alive and that you are not alone. It is in these moments of Divine Simplicity that we recognize our absolute unity. God speaks to us in this noise and enters into our essence filling our lungs with the same silence that exists in every being and envelopes the entire world. The “sound of silence” is not a darkness, but an illuminating voice that ties us all together.
Dirty Laundry. When you only have two outfits, you get to know your laundry fairly well. From dirty underwear and socks to sweaty shirts and pants, you can only alternate your selection so many times before it is time for a wash. This cycle of rinse and repeat, is dependent on the road walked upon and the heat of the sun beating upon our heads. Sometimes you can get away with an extra day or two, but before long a change will be necessary.
On the road to Santiago, a pilgrim can not always afford the luxury of a modern washer and dryer and often must resort to washing their clothing by hand in a sink or bucket and handing them out to dry in the sun. Because of the added weight and size of detergent, not every pilgrim has or carries all the necessary supplies to reduce the stains and the stench. Resorting to begging, borrowing, or fashioning hand soap, pilgrims pillage to find what is necessary to rid themselves of what is unwanted.
Under the cold water of the tap and the vigorous numbing hands rubbing past the same spots, we work hard to return our wears to their original color and smell. Even after the back bending frustration of cleaning ones clothing, the sun often reveals a missed stained or lingering blemish.
Life too can reflect the laborious cleaning of laundry as we all have our own blemishes and stains that can only be revealed under the intense rays of the sun. This reminder calls us to try more actively to rid the stench of days past. To sit more intentionally with our underwear and scrub out what is unwanted. Moreover, it also reminds us that oftentimes to truly be cleaned we need the help of a good machine and good detergent (others) to fully be cleansed. For if we wait too long before a proper cleaning, we become toxic and reek of a stench that no one wants to walk next to.