Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Being a tourist or a pilgrim?

Today, I left the Camino (the Way) on foot and shifted to being a pilgrim by bus and train. Because I need to visit a Đồng Hành-CLC in Munich, I am traveling to Burgos by bus and to Santiago by train.

Interesting, I notice my attitude begins to shift. I find myself becoming more of a tourist as I leave the Camino. I find myself more demanding, more anxious, and easily irritable. For example, I catch myself complaining because the new hostel is not as comfortable as the previous one. I am disappointed because the rain makes it more difficult to visit an ancient monastery; yet a similar kind of rain did not phase me on the Camino a few days ago, even though we plodded through mud and puddles. As I visited the magnificent Cathedral of Burgos, I found myself faced with a pull and tug within. On the one hand, I just wanted to be present and soak in the holy site; on the other hand, I find myself wanting to take pictures to capture the experience. My rationale goes like this, "I'll just take as many pictures as I can so I can enjoy them later..." Whereas the previous day, my companion and I witnessed the following scene ...

Captivated by its grandeur, we simply enjoyed and cherished the moment. We did take pictures while verbally stating what was on our minds: "A picture can never capture the scope and depth of reality, or the experience ..."

I wonder about this shift in attitude. Then I remember the following words written on the walls of the abergue in Azorfra: "The tourist demands; the pilgrim thanks."

How true. Although there is nothing wrong with being a tourist, there are marked differences. A tourist has more things in his/her luggage than needed, for bags can be checked in. A pilgrim takes only the essentials, because he/she has to carry everything on back. A tourist is focused on destinations, to cover a list of sites to see, things to do. The pilgrim needs to focus mainly on the path. A tourist is more easily tempted to complain and demand proper service entitled to the greater money spent. A pilgrim is more likely to accept things as they come, simply because he/she did not pay much for them.

The above contrasts highlight a key difference in attitude. That of trust. The pilgrim mindset tends to trust that God knows best and will bring about what is best. The tourist mindset tends toward greater self-reliance. I don't mean a black and white distinct such that the pilgrim is purely passive and the tourist is entirely active. Both have to plan. There is a dance here between taking initiative and relying on grace. The difference lies in where one puts one's trust. In oneself or in God? Yes, I need to plan, but do I put more trust in my own abilities or do I trust that God knows best and will bring about what is best, despite the best of my intentions (or others' intentions).

It's like the difference between expectation and hope. When we expect, we rarely trust. When we expect something, we have particular ideas about how it will turn out: there is a specific set of outcomes we want to see happen. Whether we are aware of them or not, we feel disappointed or even disillusioned when these expectations are not met. When we hope, we are trusting in God’s goodness, to provide what is best for us. It is more open-ended.

Five days on the Camino gives me a taste of a genuine pilgrim, of adopting such an attitude. On the Camino, one really needs to focus on walking each day. Taking in the beautiful scenery, visiting ancient churches, talking to people, enjoying local cuisine are all nice. But first, one needs to focus on walking, on taking step-by-step, and the care of one's back, knees, feet, of having enough water, or making to the next village in time to check into a hostel. The very basics of walking the path. Everything else becomes secondary. What a wonderful corrective to the tourist mindset of needing accomplish everything on the to-do list, things that are really secondary. Hence, it's easier for the pilgrim to give thanks, for all is GIFT. And easier for the tourist to demand, because of expectations, appropriate or unrealistic ones.

Walking the Camino day in and day out deepens this mindset: focusing on the path today, walking each step, trusting God's goodness to care for whatever I need to live today. This is what pilgrims and people since ages past meant by trusting in Divine Providence. I am grateful for these days on pilgrimage. It's easier to learn on foot, but also possible to learn through other means.

It is not realistic for us to expect ourselves to be like a pilgrim on the Camino, given our busy, hectic pace of life. However, we can simply ask for the gift of trust, to let go of things that make us overly worried today, and to acknowledge the need to be saved from over-worrying. I remember that helpful prayer the priest prays out loud after the Our Father during Mass: "Deliver us Lord, from every evil and grant us peace in our day. In your mercy, keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety, as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen."

Everyday, you and I have this choice: will I walk this day with an attitude of a pilgrim or that of a tourist?


  1. wow, powerful thoughts to contemplate upon. Thank you Father for your words of wisdom through the HOly Spirit. Indeed, something to ponder on on my way to Spain. god bless u Cha.

  2. Most kids love surprises! So, as adults, if we can remember how much we loved (and still love) surprises, and if we begin w. the assumption that God's surprises will always be good ones -- even if we cannot figure them out right away, or sometimes ever -- then we may more easily find the "surprise," the grace, God, in all things. It will help us to be more open to the surprises that come our way and even to notice them where we might not have before." God is a "God of Surprises!" This is what I heard from mom & dad when growing up.