In the spirit of Kathleen Norris and Anne Lamott, Kerry Egan describes her journey from grief to faith in this candid, spiritually profound account of her pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago, the medieval pilgrim route through Northern Spain. ^Kerry...
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In the spirit of Kathleen Norris and Anne Lamott, Kerry Egan describes her journey from grief to faith in this candid, spiritually profound account of her pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago, the medieval pilgrim route through Northern Spain. ^Kerry Egan, a student at Harvard Divinity School, became a pilgrim at the age of twenty-five, a year after the death of her father. Watching her father die had shattered the image of God Egan grew up with and undermined the theology she studied in school; she embarked on her pilgrimage full of hope and dread at the same time. ^"Fumbling "is the moving journal of Egan's experiences as she and her boyfriend traveled from the Pyrenees in southern France through the valleys of Navarra and westward through Spain to the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, said to contain the remains of Saint James. The idea of pilgrimage rests on the belief that in some places the Divine is especially available to human beings and that the journey itself--the
1. Along the walls of the church in Navar, there are oil paintings of saints instead of windows. Yellow bones in tarnished reliquaries, faded plastic flowers, and plaster statues crowd tables pressed up against the stone walls. Since the only light in the dense darkness comes from the candles reflecting off the swirling columns of the gold altarpiece that stretches to the ceiling, objects emerged from the murk only as I passed by them, disappearing again as I stepped away. The cool dampness turned the layer of dust on my skin into a paste. I knelt in the back of the church, my forehead on the top lip of the smooth, varnished pew in front of me. The wood was hard against my forehead, but not rough or uncomfortable, and after a while it felt as though my skin had begun to wrap itself around the pew, and that the wood had begun to mold to my head. I hadn't noticed that the evening's pilgrim's Mass had ended. I'd been crying for a long time, and I was startled and confused when I first sensed a gentle hovering presence all around me. Then I heard rubber soles squeaking against the stone floor. Five or six old Spanish women in black cotton housedresses and thick glasses, with wrinkled necks and lips fallen in on themselves, crept down the aisles and slid across the pews toward me. Their backs hunched over in the light cardigan sweaters they wore to take the chill off in the still church air. They held rosary beads and pocketbooks close to their bodies. Very slowly and wordlessly moving closer, the women were encircling where I sat, until they stopped, scattered in the pews twelve or so feet from me. The women said nothing, never got too close. They didn't make any motions to comfort or interrupt me, and though they could not know why I was crying, they did not ask. They did not know my father died one year ago on that day, or that all day I had steadfastly refused to think about him. Instead, I spent the afternoon as I walked along the Camino de Santiago, an old pilgrimage route in northern Spain, seething at the sun that burned the backs of my legs no matter how much sunscreen I put on, the prickly heat that erupted all over my belly no matter how long I soaked in cold water, the landscape with nothing tall enough to create shadows long enough to walk under, and the sky without a single cloud in it. There was nothing I could do to make it rain, to create shade, to cool the sun. I could not move the Camino under the trees in the distance. I could not move the towns closer together. I could not tell my father the things I wanted him to know, and I could not apologize for the many things I said to a sad, sick man. A year had gone by and I could not change any of it, even if I worked very hard, was kind to strangers, begged God. I tried all those things, but I still quivered with regret all the time. I didn't know why I'd ever thought that walking four hundred miles to look at the supposed remains of Saint James--believed to have been washed ashore in a stone boat on the west coast of Spain after his death in Jerusalem--was a good idea. I didn't think I believed in God, let alone all these trappings of the religion I grew up with, for I saw little evidence to prove that God exists. The women in the church did not know any of this. They just sat, breathing deep and long sighs, murmuring as they said their prayers around me, clicking their rosary beads as they settled their heavy bodies into the pews. Slow breath in, and a pause. A steady exhale. A rest. And then it began again. Their steady breathing steadied my own, and with ragged gulps I stopped crying. Just as slowly and silently as they came, they made their way away from me and out the door. I sat in the pew for a few more minutes and watched the gold light at the front of the church pulsate through the remnants of tears in my eyes. Alex walked over, slid down the pew to sit next to me and said, "There's a wax effigy o
Egan grew up on Long Island, New York, and received her B.A. from Washington and Lee University and her master's of divinity from Harvard University Divinity School. She now lives in Iowa.