My want to travel has abated. That has everything to do with the spring we’ve had; nearly a month of seventies and eighties with sunny skies….well deserved after a winter that put the city through the grinder. There is no place that celebrates its gentle warmth like Chicago and that is true only because it is rare the climate of this town is not either frigid or oppressive. The rare days between these two extremes always makes me think all the world can be contained in our geography.

Today was a day to forget all the other places….85 degrees with the wisp of clouds…..lunch at the mid-eastern stop across the street from work and then buying fruit off the street just two blocks away. (The best law enacted in the city over the last couple of years has been the right granted to families and small merchants to sell fresh produce from small stands and the backs of trucks.)

Soon the desire to wander will return, however. In a small way it has already. I have recently had one friend return from Colorado and another who has just left for Spain. Hearing the accounts of the rebuilding of route 34 after the horrendous flooding of last year and the pristine air of the Rockies has made for some wanderlust. Such things always makes me want to go out there, but the question remains as to why do so at all.

I  recently found myself in a conversation with my friend who is now in Spain where she walks the Camino. Elsewhere I’m working through the idea of going out there and if the place matters at all. I draw liberally from the accounts and photos of someone who has spent the better part of the year not on a pilgrim’s trail, but living out of her car on the American highway. And I think the place must matter for the Rockies or Appalachia are not the Alps or the Pyrenees and comparing the Camino to the American road is like comparing wine and cheese to trail mix and microbrews and the romantic to the rugged.

But does it matter really? Does the geography matter? Does who we go with? Does the purpose we go? My friend in Spain would say yes. Spain does matter and the Camino does. It is different than other places. And a colleague’s photos and stories of life on the road tell me this is true of America too.

I look at the pictures from the United States and the north of Spain. One way is marked with shells and arrows and the other with signs that say “cheap eats” and “lowest rates.” One is the legacy of pilgrims and the other pioneers. Certainly the reasons to travel both landscapes are different. And when comparing the Camino to the open road, they certainly are.

The Camino is an ancient path walked for centuries by those wishing to end their wandering at the cathedral where the body of the apostle James rests. Here in the States we can lay claim to no apostles and the idea of pilgrimage usually does not involve our roads or anyplace in our country for that matter. (I have yet to meet an American who has gone on pilgrimage in the United States, though I’ve met a few who have done so elsewhere.)

This is the subject on where the conversation with my friend turned for I have never made a pilgrimage and I have never come close to walking the number of miles she will to complete hers. In Europe I was oblivious to pilgrim routes and in America there are no pilgrim routes of note on which to travel. Still there is no doubt one can find God as assuredly on the roads of Nebraska and California as one does in the cathedrals of Europe and if God may be found there, does an ancient route really make a difference?

I thought of that quite a bit since that conversation and I think the answer is yes, though I do not know why I feel this way. The greatest part of it is the devotion my friend has to her trek, but this is not the whole of the matter. Some of it also has to do with how profound of an experience the Camino is even to those who did not undertake it for any profound reason, but that also does not get at the whole of the matter either.

Ultimately our treks matter because the days we spend “out there” are different from other days, the people we go with different from other people and the place  different from other places and different in a way that is more than about appearance. They are different in that these are the places you find yourself and maybe you even find God, who you find because, in spite of His omnipresence, you are more receptive to Him in certain places on certain days in certain company. No one can tell you what that looks like. It may be the place is marked with shells and arrows or it may be marked by drive ins and rest stops, but wherever it is, it is different because out there you find yourself and that larger than yourself.

Image: Its hard to find a picture that says both American road and the north of Spain. This 59 Chevy El Camino should work.

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