I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Anne Knorr’s reflection, “The Gift of Pilgrimage.”
Arriving in Porto, Portugal with carry-on luggage in tow and feeling the anticipation of the adventure awaiting mixed with the fatigue and grogginess from jetlag, my traveling companion and I wandered through the modern airport where large expanses of glass let the warm Portuguese sunlight fill the space and exposed metal beams arched across the ceiling above. We rolled our twin red GoLite bags across the sleek gray tiled floor in search of an information desk and spotted a glassed-in room near the exit to the airport that looked promising. A small, sturdy, Portuguese woman in her mid-sixties greeted us with a smile when we walked through the sliding door, clearly happy to have a customer. She pulled out a stack of colorful glossy maps, detailed bus and train schedules, along with tri-fold flyers advertizing the highlights of the city that she enthusiastically displayed across the counter. When I asked about where I might obtain a Passport for the Camino, a walking document, she directed me to the cathedral at the center of town and then drew an “x” on the map with a red marker indicating the spot near the harbor where we could start our walk the following day. As we gathered our pile of information and left to hail a taxi she nodded and said, “Bon Camino.”
Her words startled me as it began to sink in that I was really going to do this – walk the Camino de Santiago. It was no longer just an idea in my head, a far away dream of an enchanting trek to the ancient town of Santiago. She was the first to speak the familiar blessing I would hear many more times along the way, “good journey,” and I was grateful for her kindness. A small, middle-aged driver with broad shoulders loaded our bags into the trunk of his yellow taxi parked along the curb then darted around traffic, expertly weaving his way through the narrow city streets as music played softly from the radio. Looking out the window from the back seat of the taxi, I watched as local scenes passed me by. A blue and white tiled wall adorned the face of an historic building, laundry draped from ornate metal balconies of an apartment complex held in place by brightly colored clothespins– red, blue, yellow, and green, a sea of deep orange tiled roofs juxtaposed against the backdrop of the blue sky, and a cat sitting contentedly in a window sill peering over the city below – all of it adding to the charm and texture of the Porto architecture.
In the heart of the city, our hotel, Infante Sangres, stood in the midst of the bustling streets, a tall, pinkish stucco façade accented with stone trim around windows and doors. We were greeted by a young desk clerk with dark brown eyes and hair neatly tucked into a bun at the nape of her neck. After handing over credit cards and signing receipts, she offered us two delicate glasses filled with deep auburn Port, a popular local drink. She then escorted us to a delightful courtyard enclosed by white stucco walls with black and white tile flooring, and lush green potted ferns along the edges where we chose a small bistro table in the sun to unwind from our travels. Relaxed in our garden chairs we soaked in the warmth of the sun on our shoulders and breathed in the moist coastal air, giving in to our travel fatigue. We sipped on the rich sweet wine and let ourselves arrive – really arrive – body and soul, and I began to feel the subtle pull of the pilgrimage already working her magic on me as I eased into a more spacious relationship with time. Rarely do I allow this pause of welcome and arrival throughout my day and I realized there is a harshness to being busy and rushing around as I focus on endless to-do list items, all the while blinded to moments of wonder that gently invite my attention. Here, in this courtyard garden, I sat contented without a sense of urgency about anything – no place to be other than here, nothing to see other than what was in front of me, nothing to do other than sit. As I consider being a Monk in the World, I realize the simple practice of allowing moments of arrival throughout my day, moments to pause and savor, are indeed what make for a good journey, a Bon Camino.
Anne Knorr is an architect, spiritual director and author of the book Sacred Space at Home that explores the connection between architecture and spirituality. She lives in Boulder, Colorado with her husband Bill and spends several months a year on their boat, Mystic Dancer, exploring the coastal waterways of the Northwest.