I recently watched the film, “the Way” starring father and son duo: Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez (http://theway-themovie.com). It is set on the Camino de Santiago (The Way of St. James), a 780km pilgrimage across Southern France and Northern Spain. Pilgrims have been walking “the Way” for over 1,000 years in search of finding themselves, and catching a glimpse of God among those steps.
In the opening minutes of the movie, Estevez sets out to walk “the Way” but ignores warnings of coming storm and is killed. Sheen leaves the U.S. to retrieve his son’s remains and instead walks in his son’s stead; using his gear, and scattering his ashes along “the way.” The story of the film centers on loss, discovery, friendship, family, faith, isolation, connectedness, seizing the moment and being part of a long history. The Camino, or “the Way” is about each of these things, as those who walk it find meaning, purpose, resourcefulness, trust and even redemption as they reflect upon what God is doing among them. “The Way” serves as both a metaphor for faith and the reality of life. “The Way” is about the burdens we carry with us and the release of those things when we realize we don’t walk alone. It is both about the forgiveness and restoration we seek, and our inability to gain it for ourselves. Walking “the Way” of St. James and walking “the Way” of faith are about essentially the same thing – moving toward redemption. You may recall that the early Christian movement was called “the Way” (Acts 9:2; 18:25; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22; 25:3). While I watched this film, I kept remembering one of my favorite hymns lines, “Walking the Way, Christ in the center telling the story to open our eyes…”*
There are some powerful moments in the film that open our eyes. When Sheen’s backpack falls in the river and his belongings are later stolen – we see him lose his son. Yet his son is ever-present, filling the landscape around each corner. The scenery itself is breathtaking. It is moving to see each of the characters reach the Cathedral of St. James at the movie’s climax and discover the meaning of their own journey. Each character seems to learn the theme of the film, “You don’t choose a life, you live one.”
The end of the film reveals many things about what this line means, about purpose, about resourcefulness, about trust and about redemption not only for the characters but for the viewer too. It is well worth the couple of hours it takes to watch it. But for me the most touching part of the film is that whether it feels like the high point or low point of the experience – people greet pilgrims every time they encounter them with a short phrase, “Buen Camino.” Whether they are fellow walkers or those who reside in the villages along the road, whether they have something to give or something to receive, each of the people depicted in this story seem to acknowledge the depths of what the very idea of pilgrimage can mean beyond the simple translation of “Buen Camino,” which means, “Have a good walk” or “I hope your Way goes well.”
In the few days since I watched this movie I’ve thought about a few things. My first reflection is how beautiful the Pyrenees Mountains and the small villages of Northern Spain appear to be and how much I’d like to see them in person. I love to travel, and have yet to see any of Spain. I’ve also decided that at some point in my life I’d like to walk “the Way” too. I’d like to walk it with my own son when he is old enough, or maybe even our whole family; perhaps even a bigger group if possible. I also thought about the long walk itself – how there is so much to be gained from the physical strain of such a journey and the sense of accomplishment in completing the task – both alone and with others. But I have also thought of the metaphor of “the walk” or “the journey” that is often talked about when it comes to our lives of faith. Faith in “the Way” anticipates movement – even if we don’t go anywhere geographically. Faith is constantly taking one more step, staying on the path one more day, getting up one more morning, and being stretched one more time beyond what we deem comfortable. We don’t walk about aimlessly, but the Spirit moves us forward revealing the Christ among us. His walk to the cross and steps out of the tomb change our steps too; if we only look, listen and follow where he leads.
As we approach summer and begin to scatter in many different directions, I’d like you to reflect on a few questions wherever it is God takes you over the next few months (even if you never travel). What could it mean for you to “open your eyes” whatever Way God sends you? Please consider for yourself:
How did I get here?
Where am I going?
Who did I meet along the way?
When did I notice I was not alone?
What did I bring with me and/or leave behind?
In the midst of answering those questions, I challenge you to further consider:
How did God bring me here?
Where is God leading me?
Who has God directed me to meet along the way?
When did God reveal his presence?
What has God taught me to show others?
Until the day our paths cross again I say to you, “Buen Camino.”
Hopefully that day will be soon.
“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalm 119:105)
*Herbert F. Brokering, “Alleluia! Jesus is Risen! Evangelical Lutheran Worship. (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2006), #377.