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Camino Reflections – Approach to the City

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One of the passages of the Bible that I find most inspiring and encouraging is Hebrews 13:14:

For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come.

Although not everything in life fits smoothly, not everything feels like home, that is only to expected because we’re not meant to be settling here but pressing forward to what lies ahead. Taking on Christian faith means taking on a lifelong pilgrimage; becoming settled inside because we know we are not settled here.

Perhaps that deeply ingrained perspective is why I remain relatively unexcited by arriving at the end of the Camino de Santiago compared to the process of walking and experiencing it. Santiago de Compostela is an old city but it is not a lasting city, any more than mighty London where I live.

Last year, Jane and I turned off early from the route to go and help set up the camp, as we’d already toured the city when we arrived a week before. This year, I kept with the main team interested to see just how long it would be before the spires of the cathedral hove into view.

It turned out that the answer was a very long time. From Monte de Gozo, you descend into the suburbs of the city and the markings that have guided the pilgrimage largely dry up. Every now and then a signpost or yellow arrow will be seen but it is confusing, compounded with the return to a large urban setting where the majority of people are going round and round in daily life rather than pressing on to a goal.

Eventually, as you walk down Rua de San Pedro, the spires finally become visible, only to disappear again a few steps later. Frustration on frustration! However, while I would be all in favour of the city fathers laying a yellow brick road to guide pilgrims on the last stretch, there is perhaps a certain value in the way it is laid out.

When you finally reach the old city, it is a beautiful contrast with what you have endured. Eventually, rounding the last corner, the sight of the suddenly-revealed cathedral is a welcome relief. In the journeying of life’s pilgrimage, press on, press on and do not lose heart; the night might seem darkest just before glorious dawn emblazons the sky. The lasting city cannot always be kept in sight but every step keeping the goal in mind brings it closer.

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