I have spent the better part of the past two days looking for signs – not messages from God or anything like that, I’ve been hunting down literal signs as I have visited some of the key pilgrimage sites in Paris (as well as some of the traditional tourist ones).
Yesterday I visited the Tour Sainte-Jacques which is all that remains of the Church of St. Jacques La Boucherie- the traditional start of the Camino in Paris. I wandered around the tower and surrounding park hunting for shells or other Camino symbols. I found the Tower itself – which is hard to miss – and a plaque, but there wasn’t a shell to be found. When I got to Notre Dame it was very crowded with a line up around the corner to get in so I decided to take a rain cheque on that particular site.
Today, I made a pilgrimage to two other sacred sites with significantly better results. First, I stopped at the “Cafe des 2 Moulins” for creme brule and thoroughly enjoyed cracking the top with my spoon just like Amelie. Then I headed up the hill to visit Sacre Coeur. (Side note: My fitbit says I walked less than 10 kms today but climbed 68 flights of stairs – that seems pretty accurate.)
Now, if you haven’t read Amanda Palmer’s “The Art of Asking,” you really should stop reading this and go read that instead. It is one of the best books I’ve ever read on community written by someone with a truly pastoral heart. (Although, fair warning, Amanda might be rather surprised by that description.)
If you have read the book you will have at least a sense of how I felt when I came around the side of Sacre Coeur and discovered this:
Did I hug the Bride? Absolutely and it was a powerful experience that is hard to put into words. I was also clearly not the only person who felt that way as countless onlookers also took the Bride up on her generous offer, many walking away with tears in their eyes. Many more, however, simply sat and watched, unable or unwilling to receive.
In “The Art of Asking,” Amanda points out that sometimes the gift we have to give others is ours willingness to receive from them. The Bride embodied this concept. She had sometime to give, would we receive it? (Curiously, I waited until the end of the performance in order to make a financial contribution but the Bride did not pass a hat. She just picked up her things and left. The gift was completely free.)
One thing I was struck by as I prepared for the Camino is how many people wanted to share things with me. On my first visit to a meeting of the Winnipeg Chapter of the Canadian Company of Pilgrims I sat next to the only person I knew in the room. He asked me when I was leaving, and then handed me his copy of “The John.” “Just return it when you’re back,” he said, “Buen Camino.”
It was the first of many such gifts: advice, prayers, equipment, a beret (raspberry of course), this blog, and its logo would follow. I received the wish for a “beautiful and deep Camino,” from a sister in a Benedictine monastery in Santiago and the assurance that, “You sound well prepared and I’m sure your path will unfold in right and perfect order.” All gifts, none of which I could, or needed to reciprocate.
In addition to those things, my spiritual director told me she was carrying something to remind her of me while I am away, several other people promised to walk each day for a set period of time in solidarity, others are following this blog, and my church sent me off with a beautiful pilgrim blessing which several people also promised to put on their fridges as a reminder to pray for me.
As I arrive in St Jean Pied de Port tomorrow and begin my walk on Monday I will need to become a master at the twin arts of asking and receiving from others. I am so thankful that so many people have given me the opportunity to practice these arts in the months leading up to my departure. I am deeply grateful for each one of you.