Learning to Walk 13


(36,252 STEPS – 27.20 KMS – 16.89 MILES)

“I say more: the just man justices;

Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces…”

– Gerald Manley Hopkins, As Kingfishers Catch Fire




The Last Will Be First…

I was the last pilgrim to leave the Hilarios Albergue this morning, at least among pilgrims heading towards Santiago. There was a pilgrim going the opposite direction to Fátima still sleeping when I left, but she was not a part of our competition.

A note about my pilgrim style, I like to leave later than most and I’m a slow walker until I get revved up, usually after the first coffee. But then when I get revved up, I’m a fast and strong walker, can tolerate the heat, and endure distance. So even with my unambitious beginning, I usually end up at the same place and around the same time as the early risers. It works for me.

There are parts of Central Route through Portugal (south of Porto) that are not well-marked, like my mistake yesterday. Today started the same way, no readily apparent signs, marks, blazes, or directional aids. And my phone app was mostly useless the first 300 meters. Unlike yesterday, I didn’t compound my problem by walking ahead in the wrong direction hoping for a sign. I backtracked until I found definitive proof I was on the right path. There’s a lesson to be learned here…

Unfortunately, the right path didn’t have a breakfast opportunity until 5 miles in. Doug had sent the coordinates earlier and that it was a gas station, not inspiring words for a coffee snob like me. Contrary to my assumptions, the Gas Station had a fancy espresso machine and wide selection of pastries, and it all was very good! I think it was a Pastelería that also sold gas, not the other way around.

Coffee to go, a rare bonus!

Grace in Hell

There’s a curious passage of scripture in the letter of 1 Peter 3:18-19, it says Jesus went to preach to spirits/souls imprisoned/in hell. Theologians call this the harrowing of hell; an Eastern Orthodox theologian wrote a super interesting book about this topic. There’s lots of debate what this passage means as the implications are big. I try not to get too wrapped up in theology and academia, I’m more interested in the practical, everyday aspects of faith. Today, I witnessed this passage come to life!

There’s a 2.5-kilometer section of today’s walk called Barró Industrial Zone, and it is a hell-ish walk. The Way is on the shoulder of a very busy highway passing through an industrial area. Noise, dust, vehicles speeding by – it was worse than yesterday’s short walk along the N1 Highway, and much longer. I passed through at lunchtime, this meant that the workers from all the factories were rushing out on their lunch breaks. There were cars moving in every direction and coming out of the many parking lots, one after another. It was not pedestrian or pilgrim-friendly, the workers unconcerned about my holy adventure.

As I played Pilgrim Frogger, a mini-van navigated the tangle of traffic and drove beside me. The driver rolled down the passenger window:

“Você é um peregrino que vai a Santiago?”

I’d pick up enough Portuguese over the weeks to understand that he asked if I was a pilgrim heading to Santiago. I answered yes. He then reached down to the passenger-side floorboard and handed me a bag with a bottle of cold water and two apples. What grace!

I thanked him and he started to drive off, but quickly stopped. He was concerned about a pilgrim he couldn’t get to because of the traffic. He handed me an extra bag of grace and asked:

“Você vai levar isso para e peregrina?” (Will you take this to the lady?)

Of course, I had to pay it forward, so I hustled through hell to catch her…

Nowadays I’m more interested in the outward expression of faith than the scholarly description. I’m more inspired by the grace given in a bottle of cold water and two apples by a wine consultant* (the modern-day Christ figure**) in a shitty environment (hell-gehenna) than read a book of theology in the finest library in a church.

*The kind man handed me his business card before he drove off. He was the president of a laboratory that tested wines from the surrounding area. He was not an expert in religious law, not a priest, and not a levite, but scientist performing acts of love on his lunchbreak.

**For more on the idea of the modern-day Christ figure, I recommend Eugene Peterson’s book, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, or better yet, read Gerald Manley Hopkins’ poem, As Kingfishers Catch Fire.

A copy of Picaso's Don Quixote is painted on the wall of a Portuguese home.
The good man of La Mancha.

The delicious bubbling beer in Agueda! The reward at the end of a long day.

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