inside looking out
the ermita de san miguel (hermitage of saint michael) sits at the top of a hill just a short distance before the village of estella. not everyone stops here. it is off the path a ways and near the end of a long day, even fifty meters can make the feet shout don’t even think about it. but, if you choose to visit, you will find a humble building made of stone, surrounded by an audience of wise old olive trees with their branches outstretched and applauding. and if you aren’t fooled by the heavy iron gate shut tight at her entrance, you will discover that it is actually unlocked. with just a shimmy or two, it will swing open to you. enter, and find light spilling in through the small window high above. deep silence. two altars. a hundred love letters. more.
piled on these altars is where the brotherhood of wanderers and searchers leave their evidence. they were here. in every language you can imagine, you will find prayers, promises, stones, shells, trinkets, sketches, photographs. the sacred traces. these simple offerings speak volumes. first, an intention and then placed on the smooth slabs of stone — a bit of cloth, a snapshot of a man with a grey cat, a sea bean, a key, an old tube of mascara with it’s golden finish tarnished — these gifts take on meanings deep and significant. the experience of being human. and inside this stark sanctuary comes an opportunity. make your petition here. there is an innocence in these scraps. symbols of a letting go. the old story. it is subtle, this transformation. i am moved by this gentle ritual.
these days on the road, i am living my questions. who is the patient witness that lives inside of me. the one who is only stillness. and what would happen if i were to place all of ‘my stuff’ on the altar? every wrong idea, thought or belief that i ever had about myself or anyone else. or the way i had convinced myself of how the world ‘worked.’ who would i be beyond all of those things?
the camino allows us the time and space to get some distance from our old way of being in the world and invites us (sometimes wrestling us to the ground) and challenges us to take off these masks of who we think we are and to go deeper. to see this world, this experience from the inside out. with a new appreciation for what is possible. and a reverence for the simple. walking in nature. a bed. a hot (if possible) shower. a meal cooked together. soulful conversations. giving up. giving in. letting go. and a unique opportunity to lay down a few things on the altar.
i can tell you that i am not there yet, but i am getting closer. we are getting closer. i look around and i see this in my fellow man. i encounter more and more people looking for a new way. a more authentic way of being in the world. … but, it has to be in our own time, in our own way. we are all on our own unique camino. maybe, it first comes by taking a chance that the heavy iron gate that guards the entrance to our hearts is not really locked tight after all. it just needs a shimmy and a shake to open, and then we can go inside. and here, we will all find a place of light and deep silence. on our altars, we can place our own love letters, petitions, prayers. and in this humble sanctuary of our soul, we are able to meet the still witness who has been looking out, all along.
i am here.