Several weeks ago, my friend Ben set off on an amazing journey: he hiked the Camino de Santiago, “a 500 mile pilgrimage across Northern Spain to the city of Santiago de Compostela and the Cathedral of St. James, where bones of the Apostle James are said to be located.”
Of course, I was raised a Southern Baptist, so none of that makes any sense to me. Europe? Saints? The only pilgrimages my family went on involved wandering through fusty mansions in Natchez. Which, for antiques aficionados, is pretty much the same as a “real” pilgrimage I guess, but for grade-schoolers, not so much.
As a professional writer, Ben kept a great diary of the whole experience — and at 14 entries, it’s an easy read. As each new post went up, I found myself wondering, “What could possibly motivate me to do something like that?”
Certainly not religion. Not organized religion, anyway. In my experience, religion is all about stress and division. Even if I weren’t gay, I think that’d still be the case: Are you a member of this church or that? This denomination or that? Have you committed sins today? Have you repented? Are you saved or not? Either/or, good guys, bad guys, clean, dirty, binaries, binaries, ugh, ugh, ugh.
There are groups bent on trying to bridge the gap between gays like me and organized religion — groups like the Marin Foundation, a Christian group that stood along the barricades at Chicago Pride and “apologized” for their fellow Christians’ homophobia. The story got a lot of good press, but as you can see from the Foundation’s website and from interviews with its founder, Andrew Marin, it’s not entirely clear what they stand for. They say they want to rebuild the relationship between gays and Christians, but they never affirm that homosexuality is normal and acceptable. As far as I can tell, they’re just a kinder, gentler version of Exodus International. And so I say, with a tip of my hat, fuck ’em.
Frankly, I’m not even sure that I’m a “spiritual” guy, like I used to tell people. Sure, I enjoy a good dose of yoga and meditation once or twice a week, but the euphoria that goes with it is more physical than anything: the “wow” of a really amazing stretch. There are a few lingering vestiges of my religious upbringing — superstitions, really — but I’m doing my best to shrug them off.
So: no religion, little/no spirituality. I don’t know what, if anything, would make me want to skip town for a couple of months and trek along a mountain trail. Well, except for the fact that it sounds like a great vacation. Ben’s thinking on the matter isn’t that different from mine, except he’s a lot more thoughtful:
I’m doing this for a variety of reasons: I’m turning 40 on June 6 and want to celebrate by doing something very out-of-the-box for me. I’m conflicted about the religious aspect; I do want to ponder my spiritual growth and relationship to god (small “g” or large “G”) outside of a Church hierarchy that has rejected me. And to be honest, I’ve been ground down by 18 years of working as a freelance writer in this impossible city. I’ve lost some essential spark. I hope to find it again as I trudge over hill and dale across Northern Spain.
Anyway, give it a read. It’s short and he’s smart, and if nothing else, it makes an excellent travelogue.