Finisterre

After 19 days and about 300 miles on foot, I’ve finished my camino. I arrived in Santiago yesterday, and today I’m writing from Finisterre, “the end of the earth” (referred to in my last post). Pilgrims traditionally end the Camino at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, since the route began as a pilgrimage to visit the remains of St. James, interred there. There is a “pilgrim’s mass” held at the cathedral at noon each day for those who finish their journey that day or the day before. Many visit the tomb of St. James and embrace his statue in the cathedral, or visit the museum that is also located inside. To receive a “compostela”–the certificate that officially recognizes each pilgrimage–peregrinos wait in a long line, sometimes for hours, to submit their stamped credential for approval. (Pilgrims gather stamps along the way at albergues and other stops, such as restaurants or chapels.) The pilgrim’s mass is extremely crowded and feels like a production rather than a worship service, and for me it did not feel like a very holy end to my walk. Likewise, the hour long wait for my compostela felt a lot more like a trip to the DMV than the punctuation of a pilgrimage.

I’ve often felt frustrated at ostentation in churches and the way our culture’s consumerism pollutes places that should be sacred, or at least respected, and I felt the same way in Santiago. Of course, I didn’t fully realize my frustration until I was sitting on the cliffs of Finisterre journaling about my experience. This is the best way I could express my frustration in Santiago, followed by the wonder and closure that Finisterre brought me:

 

The road ends not at Santiago,
But at Finisterre.

It is not the shrill music of the Pilgrim’s Mass
In the great cathedral
That sounds the end of the Way,
But the quiet voice of waves and wind
That welcomes me here,
As no city ever could.

So I approach these cliffs,
Leaving the road for a ridge of rocks
Called End of Earth,
And I am struck silent,
Caught fast between sea and sky.

Quickly I discard my shoes and socks,
To stand with naked feet
On the holy cliffs.
I walk slowly
A few more steps
And sit,
A truer pilgrim
Alone before the God of the ocean
Than among the jostling crowds of the cathedral.

A jut of rock,
Stretched out like an offering
Over the foam
Beneath the clouds;

A seat of stone
For a weary wanderer
With road behind
And more ahead.

Swarms of floating bugs about
Clinging to clothes and skin,
Sunburn spreading on my nose and cheeks
Remind me that the world is not mine;
I am the world’s.
I am a creature,
And sometimes a humble creator.

There is no cathedral, no dome or buttress
To match the mountains to my left, or ocean on the right.
No proud basilica
Gold-gilded, strong-walled, high-ceilinged
Is like this temple of sea and sky.

This place is free
From the storms of flashing cameras
From the cacophony of clinking coins there,
In that place,
Where gold above,
If sold,
Could quench dry mouths,
Fill aching bellies below.

This little yellow flower
Sprouting at my feet
Between my toes
Is a truer altar
For the spirit of God
Than any table of gold.

Here,
Before the skyline,
Salt-wind on my face,
I receive my benediction.

Here,
With bare feet,
Bruised and battered,
Scarred and scored,
But stronger than before,
I will start walking.

The still, small voice:
“You’ve learned to walk,
But only a little way.”

There are miles and miles ahead, I know.
Even farther than that thin line I barely spy,
Pressed between sky and sea.

I watch for hours,
Unwilling to turn from the ocean.
For when I go from here,
Nothing so bright as a yellow arrow,
No golden seashell
Calls me forward.

From destination back to journey,
From rest again to road,
From simple walk to convoluted life,
I must go.

“Wander, wander far
But come back home.
Share what you see,
Find a companion,
Some humble seeker,
And wander again.”

Reluctantly, reluctantly
Socks slip back on,
And shoes are tied.
For the road is rough,
Not often so holy as here.

But my feet are stronger than before.

 

 

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