Walk, eat, walk, shower, eat, sleep, repeat.
Two years ago at this exact time I was walking the Camino de Santiago. Is that the reason why in the past few weeks, I find myself craving simplicity? That may seem crazy in light of a pandemic lockdown where we couldn’t go out and gather and do our normal busy lives. So maybe I’m anticipating the return to “normal” life and which could be a return to busyness. Or perhaps I yearn for the simple because I am involved in two very complex institutions: a very large hospital and a very large church.
One of things that I loved about the Camino was that I felt Spirit everywhere. Every town, hill, forest, plain had some aspect of the holy. Ironically, the places where I felt deeply connected to Spirit was not in functioning churches, but in the ruins of churches.
Moritz and I always found them irresistible. Whether cathedral or ruin, we always entered silently. If there was a place to sit, we sat for a good while. This particular church was for sure a ruin: crumbling in places, the tower cross askew. The inside was clogged with bird droppings, rocks and dirt. But then there was the altar. On it Camino pilgrims placed prayers, shells, olive branches, and flowers—some now dried to dust. But these were not just random tchotchkes, they were pilgrim prayers and hopes and dreams.
We knew that hundreds of thousands—maybe millions—of people just like us passed through here. It was a sacred space and so we sat—on the ground. Birds flew in, bees buzzed by, we closed our eyes and breathed. I felt all those Pilgrims—the Body of Christ down to my bones; felt immersed in the Body; immersed in Christ himself. Time passed—I think.
Then, as if we were in a Quaker meeting, we looked at one another and nodded. Time to go. There was no after church activity except to walk silently for a while and digest that spiritual meal we had just shared.
One thing the pandemic has forced me to do is find my own “church ruins,” a spiritual meal wherever I can. Often they are literally in my own backyard, digging among the ajuga or deadheading the rhodies. Sometimes it is in a hospital room, the “ruin” in this case being the body before me as the soul makes its way out.
I’ve grown to love these kind of accidental churches.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
So for those who are not yet ready to gather in person, besides the online worship, how can you find your accidental church, your holy space, your spiritual meal, not just on Sunday, but every day?
Maybe we just have to remember we are walking churches.