Our Camino – A Spiritual Journey?

Our Camino has always had a spiritual element. It’s just that it has changed a bit!,

We are following in the footsteps of many millions of pilgrims through the millennia across all faiths and traditions. Pilgrimage belongs to no one yet it belongs to us all. 

The Camino is known collectively as ‘The Way of St James’. It is a Christian pilgrimage following paths across Europe to the Cathedral at Santiago de Compostela established in the 8C as the final resting place of the relics of St James. In reality these routes pre date the Christian Era. Our specific route, the Camino del Nortė, was the ancient route to the edge of the world the Romans called Finnisterre.

This blog is about how planning our Camino has led to finding a little faith and that praying has brought me to a point of peace and stillness.

Rather to my surprise.

I have always believed that there is a God, not an all powerful male deity as portrayed in the Sistine Chapel, but something personal and within each and all of us.

I am 62. As a child I wandered the globe following my military Pa as he was posted to the far-flung outposts to defend what was left of Empire in the 50s and 60s. Despite attending a kindergarten run by nuns in Germany, and garrison schools in Malaya and Singapore, I have no recollection of church or religion in any way. My first memories stem from settling in the Nidderdale village of Hampsthwaite, at the age of 10, and being stunned and amazed to read the inscription on the church porch in memory of an early William Thackeray being burnt for his Protestant beliefs in the brief reign of a Queen Anne. It was both shocking and exciting. They burnt people!! And we are famous – that’s my name up there.

Church and religion were an integral part of life at Hampsthwaite C of E Primary School. Not in an intrusive dictatorial way – that came later – but in a subtle and gentle way  introducing me to the bible stories.

 Harrogate Grammar school awakened a questioning mind. I was trying to ask about the contradictions and discrepancies of mainstream religion that remain with me even now. A stern “Be quiet, boy! Stop asking questions!” shouted across a classroom by an elderly RE teacher, soon shut me up.

A couple of years at a Methodist boarding school had me vowing to never darken the door of a church ever again. But I had enjoyed singing some of the hymns!!

Island School in Hong Kong, following Dad again, was a revelation. So many nationalities, so many belief systems. Our 6th form religious meetings once a month were led by leaders of the religious communities represented by the students in the school. I remember a Sikh, a Rabbi, the local Mormon missionaries, clergy from the various Christian communities, pretty much every brand of every faith led an act of worship. 

What stood out for me was that the message was broadly the same, 

‘Be the best person you can be’

They all had a similar authoritarian controlling undertone too.

‘Do what we tell you to do or something nasty will happen to you’ was their less than compelling theme.

And they all believed theirs was the one true god. 

They can’t all be right, I initially thought, then realised that actually they were in each of their ways, entirely right. Each of their ‘The One’ is the same god, just different interpretations by different peoples at different times. They were all entirely wrong in their condemnations of other faiths and interpretations. 

As I settled into adulthood, marriage, children, break up, re marriage and grandchildren, religion and church became an irrelevance to me. Actually more than that. A belief that I certainly did not need guidance from a movement that was steeped in violence and oppression, that treated women as chattels for subjugation with no rights, breeding machines owned and mastered by the men around them. Does any rational, liberal 20th and 21st century adult really accept and believe these rules and attitudes that continue to this day?

Those that have known me for many years will be quite surprised at my attendance at St Peters  Church on Sunday mornings. I go because I find I enjoy it and not out of any sense of obligation or fear of reprisal.

Yes I have considerable distaste for the ongoing opposition of women as priests in the Anglican Church. It represents the wider discrimination against women that is still endemic. The sooner we have women as Archbishops of Canterbury and York, the better for me. 

The sex abuse scandals and obscene wealth of the Catholic Church appal me.

Marriage – should be about people who love each other and want it recognised publicly. It shouldn’t be a paternalistic contract about who owns who and what. I loved the comment by someone from the Quaker movement during the debates around gay marriage a few years back. As long as two people loved each other, that’s all that mattered. 

The list goes on……

What I have found at St Peters in Harrogate is that, despite the contradictions and discrepancies, the injustices, hypocrisies and corruption that characterise the management of religious organisations. I have found a place where the message is more important, focus on help and assistance for those in need top of the agenda. It’s a friendly welcoming place, vibrant with the noise of children and activity. It’s where I can genuinely pray and be heard and I am encouraged to ‘be who I am’.

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