Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Camino Continues: Ávila

We had a long day Friday, leaving Finisterre in a rented car at 11 a.m. and arriving at Ávila, home of Santa Teresa de Jesús, by 7:30 p.m., in time to put Marian's friend Caro on the 8 p.m. train to Madríd. In two days, since leaving Santiago to meet Marian on Thursday, I had driven as far as we had previously walked in five weeks on the Camino de Santiago: 800 kilometers. The reality shift was harsh. What were we doing in a car, and where were we headed?

The Camino continues, or so I tell myself. If there was any lasting value in our pilgrimage from St. Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela, then it must be with me now, and I am taking it home to the States with me on Tuesday. Taking what?

Saturday in Ávila was a good day for reflecting on this question. Can you name another city in the world where a Catholic woman saint is so prominent that there are two statues of her outside the city gates? A white marble St. Teresa stands on top of a column facing the entrance to the old walled city of Ávila, with the names of city notables at her feet: military and political leaders, artists and writers, and fellow saints, like John of the Cross. Another marble Teresa is seated in ecstasy to the left of the gate.

There are several other places in Ávila where Teresa's memory is lovingly preserved. I was particularly struck by the friendly attentions of the two men who attended the small museum at the Convent of San José (St. Joseph), the first of seventeen reformed convents founded by St. Teresa. And to be reminded of Teresa's devotion to St. Joseph: In both the church at this convent and in a chapel erected on her birthplace across town, the central icon above the altar is neither Mary nor Jesus, but Joseph.

Yet this is a modern, secular city that may not always remember the saint for which it is famous. Unlike most of the villages we passed through on the Camino, there's money here. People are prospering, and reveling in their prosperity. We sat in a café on a plaza last evening, stretching dinner to watch the quarterfinal football match between Spain and France. Into the square came a bachelor party blowing horns and singing rowdy songs, while children kicked soccer balls around them and parents turned to laugh and applaud from wide-screen TV's set up in all the cafés. The groom was dressed in drag, and one of the celebrants carried what you might call an inflated female effigy. A far cry from a marble saint.

There is one clear lesson the Camino has given me, and it is something St. Teresa explains in her "Book of the Foundations," about her experiences founding new convents. It is the freedom that comes with obedience. While we were walking, Marian and I were obedient to the Camino. We could set our own pace, deciding when to set out and when to knock off each day. But to follow the Camino meant walking toward Santiago, always west, and accepting the seemingly random people we met as fellow pilgrims. This gave us an unusual freedom: from anxiety about present or future life, or even about who to hang out with. Sure, we had blisters to tend and we got tired. But we were following something as unambiguous as a series of yellow arrows on the ground.

This is one of the Camino's secrets, I think, the freedom that comes with following. Others credit endorphins for the high they feel, or just being "free" from daily duties. Now that I'm headed back to daily duties, I no longer need to obey the Camino, and I feel a growing anxiety. As our drive yesterday revealed to each of us, we are adrift again, wandering in the "real" world.

This (Sunday) morning we attend mass at the cathedral in Ávila, then take the train to Madríd. We're about 115 kilometers from the Spanish capital. As Marian said this morning, that's five days on foot or 90 minutes by train.

No comments:

Post a Comment

If you have trouble posting comments, please log in as Anonymous and sign your comment manually.