Camino de Levante: Setting out from Valencia
Oranges and a word from Theresa of Lisieux.
On 8th Feb. 2011, I arrived by slow train in Valencia and headed south on the Camino de Levante to Santiago de Compostella. This was my second long distance Camino and I had chosen it rather than the Camino del Norte which was my preferred route because I had injured my knee in training (coming down a steep mountainside off-track). The nothern coastal path is very hilly and this one from the Mediterranean begins gently with a sweep south before swinging back up to Castilla La Mancha.
Valencia produces wonderful oranges and the Camino makes its way through plantations for several days. My first night I slept between rows of orange trees. The next day I ate one or two, but moderation became difficult, especially when confronted by the great variety of fruit. When I lost site of the yellow arrows marking the Camino I asked a man for directions. He was loading his van with sacks of large Oranges which I knew were especially good since I’d just eaten a few. He said they were good quality but that the prices paid to the farmers barely made it worth while growing them. When he came to shake my hand I had to appologise for their being so sticky from eating the fruit whereupon he offered me more to take with me. So many Spaniards have an easy generosity and are open-hearted to strangers, even those who pick oranges off their trees.
I began this Camino with a great desire for silence. The previous year I had made my first pilgrimage to Santiago by the Via de La Plata and had begun to learn about praying. I had found that at times of the day, or in special places, I was drawn to prayer. I had a practice of gathering myself together at the beginning of the day, once all the chores of getting on the road and finding the path were out of the way. Usually, I composed myself by acknowledging God as the God of Compassion and Love to me and through me. This equates to the advice of Ignatius of Loyola on placing ourselves in God’s presence at the start of prayer. I don’t have much idea about God, but I believed I knew what compassion and love meant.
The Camino initially follows the Roman Via Augusta and on this Roman Way, on my second day of walking, I composed myself for prayer. No sooner had I begun than I was aware of the presence of Theresa of Lisieux. I knew some things about this saint but none of them drew me to her. There was nothing I could identify with in this girl who died aged 24 after a very sheltered life. When I say “aware of the presence” I am hoping to convey that I wasn’t consciously bringing Theresa into my mind. Indeed I was surprised. Sensing a presence is very different from thinking about a person.
This St. Theresa is known as “The Little Flower” and is an fine exemple of 19thC (French) spiritualty. In my childhood there were remnants of this piety such as Lents without sweets and very early Mass every day. Ever since I gained a bit of common sense I ignored this apparently sweet and soft spirituality and headed for liberation theology.
As I continued walking it appeared to me that she was saying, “Pray all of the time, John.” It was not a voice yet I heard clearly this message: it seemed to be delivered with very much love. This is the best I can recall of that moment but from then on I have taken that message very seriously. I am still learning what it means. Since then I have read about contemplative prayer and was given a copy of the Way of the Pilgrim. And I have tried to pray all the time. For me this experience marks one of those significant moments in life which become a “before and after”. There was no dramatic change but after years of unemployment I now had a job.
This was Day 2 of a pilgrimage which was to last a further seven months.