In some Native religions, God isn’t called the Father like he is in Christianity, but Grandfather.
I feel some holy envy of this designation because we all know our fathers to be fallible creatures. I think this sometimes makes people wobble in their trust of the Divine. Pray to my Dad? Mmm… no.
Grandfather, though… Somehow this extra generation, combined with how the later years add wisdom, reflectiveness, and stability, creates a warmer, more complete image of God that I can wrap my heart around.
I met so many sweet grandfathers on the Camino — many of whom reflected aspects of the Divine in our meeting.
Guidance and Tenderness
Muriel and I walked off the path into a sleepy town to buy bananas, oranges, and cheese. When we finished in the little shop, we got turned around trying to find an ATM. The map said there was one, but all the streets looked the same and signage was (like in most Spanish towns) creatively disguised on mosaic tiles high on the second stories of random buildings.
It was a grey day and as we looked up and down at the map and pointed in various directions (the universal sign for LOST), a little old man in a dark blue wool sweater and brown wool cap came up beside us and asked, “Camino?”
“Cajero automático,” we told him.
He moved between us, took one arm in each of his elbow crooks, and together we shuffled along the street in the right direction.
It was as if he’d been waiting all day for us to show up just so he could help.
I fumbled in my Spanish, and Muriel spoke a little, but my memory is of a gentle stroll along the high street, overlooking this town on a hill with a kind man, doing what he is supposed to do: help the stranger.
When we reached the steep stone steps that descended downward in the direction of both the ATM and the Camino, he gave us the directions three times with accompanying gestures.
“Buen camino,” he said to Muriel, grasping her hands and kissing her on both cheeks.
“Buen camino,” he said to me and repeated the tender gestures.
We thanked him and I noted a tear running down his cheek.
He didn’t have to give us guidance, or do it with such tenderness, but he did. We were both grateful.
I’d already been through the beautiful wine country of Rioja, so I was surprised when I found myself walking through another vineyard in Navarre. The rows enchanted me with their straight lines following the hilly contours. How the curvy dark brown vines looks so rooted in the brown earth, yet were topped with springtime growth in fans of bright green.
Katrin and I had met up and were walking through this lovely sight when we passed a large garage-like structure and saw a few friends hanging out in the entrance, holding wine glasses.
I did a double-take. It was morning. We were in the middle of an expansive agricultural area. And they’re hanging out, drinking wine?
We stopped to visit with them and an older Spanish gentleman, with nut brown skin and a smile that made creases around his eyes, asked, “Un vino?”
It became clear that this was his own winery, probably making the stuff he drank at home with his family.
“Para comprar?” I asked. To buy? I was happy to support his efforts!
He gave a small nod and asked, “Blanco o tinto?” White or red.
Katrin had the white. I had the red. In the morning. In Navarra. Enchanting!
And while we stood and sipped, I chatted with the man in my limited Spanish about his vineyard and the weather. The garage was rustic with a couple other men preparing lunch over a 2-burner electric stove, slicing bread on the rough wood table, the aroma of sizzing chorizo sausage filling the space.
I felt honored to be included even in a small way.
When we finished our glasses, a little warmer now, one of his friends rinsed the glass in water and left it out to dry. I asked him if we could pay.
“Para ti?” He waved his hand through the air. “Nada. Buen camino!”
Astonishment registered on our faces. Thank you, we told him. Thank you so much.
And with a kiss on each cheek as our blessing, we walked out onto the path that ran by his door.
We were hoofing it. Santiago was getting closer. You could feel it in the Galician air.
I was walking with Paula, a clothing store owner from Italy, who had newly joined the Camino because she only had a week available to do it.
I adored her from the start. Her kind eyes, her generous smiles, and her sweetness. We discovered within a few minutes of meeting that we walked the same pace. We also discovered that she spoke no English and I no Italian (except the names of pastas). Together we spoke a little Spanish, and with it we walked together and talked — me in Spanish and Paula in Italian with a little Spanish thrown in. You’ve gotta love Romance languages.
By mid-morning, we were making our way along a paved, empty road in the countryside. There were stone fences along it like those in Ireland and New England and sheep grazing in the bright green grass. The sun was peeking out behind grey puffy clouds.
Pilgrims were scattered along the road ahead into the distance, except for one man walking in the opposite direction toward us. He wore a tan coat over his dark wool sweater and a wool cap on his head. I think that’s the official fashion for old Spanish men.
I was feeling so happy that day and I beamed a big grin at him, making eye contact warmly as he approached.
“Buenos dias, senor!” I said enthusiastically
“A Santiago?!” he asked me excitedly.
“Si! A Santiago!”
“I can’t go myself,” he told me in Spanish. “But will you take this with you?” And he handed me a stick he’d carved. The perfect height for walking.
I was shocked! For me? Out of all the people he had just passed?
“Gracias,” I told him, feeling moved and elated. “Que regalo! I will say a prayer for you in Santiago!”
He chatted with us a few moments and then wished us a buen camino.
On cloud nine, I tried out the stick — its peeled surface feeling cool and smooth in my hand, the top of it coming to a Y that made it perfect for gripping.
I tried it out for a few minutes. And then I realized — I already had high-end telescoping sticks I’d purchased in Burgos. His generosity was lovely and had filled up my heart. But this gift was meant to be received fully — and then given away.
So I asked Paula, “Would you like this stick? I think you should have it.”
She took it from me with with a tentative smile.
“You don’t know,” she said in halting Spanish. “What a gift this is for me. Everything was so crazy before I left — with my children, my husband, the business. I had no time to get myself a walking stick. This is a treasure. Thank you so much.”
And she felt the stick’s coolness and texture. Moved her thumb into the Y and adjusted it to her hand. And we walked the rest of the day basking in the lessons of generosity and friendship and how small gestures nourish the heart.
I already told you the story of Pepe, the man with the stamp and the candies.
The thing I loved about him was his joy in meeting the pilgrim.
In the US, if an old man parked his car outside the entrance to small town with a basket of candy, someone would eventually call the cops about a suspicious creeper.
Not here, though. Not on the Camino. The air is rarefied. And old men, who might have nothing else to do, they go out of their way just because they can.
Pepe had a light in his eyes. He joyfully shared his love, his candy, and his words of wisdom with anyone who passed.
And then there was Moisés. You will read more about him. A lot more.
His name means Moses and is pronounced in Galician MOY-shuss.
When he introduced himself to me and Meg, he said, “You know? The man in the Bible who split the waters?” He waved his arms into the air and swept it aside.
“Aha!” Meg and I both laughed. “Moses!”
We’d been walking into Cee, along a dusty busy street with nondescript businesses to one side and a large bay to the other.
He pulled up in his old silver hatchback, double parked, and greeted us. Out of nowhere.
Meg’s Spanish is stellar, having lived in the country for a year, so I let her do the talking. He wanted to show us the huge crabs he had caught that were in his trunk. Honestly. So we looked. And there they were, enormous and red, trying to scramble (and failing) out of a burlap bag. I learned later that he’s a widower and one of his sons helps with his fishing business.
“Can I buy you a coffee?” He asked us.
It was surreal. I looked at Meg trying to ask her telepathically, “Who is this guy?”
But there were no red flags. He was just being nice.
We went into the nearest cafe and he chatted us up. Meg was carrying most of the conversation while I grinned and sipped my coffee. Where we’re from, where we’re going today, and other topics I couldn’t follow as easily.
After a bit, I headed to the restroom and when I came out, Meg was standing out by his car and Moisés was playing music for her on his car stereo. He’d been to an outdoor music festival the year before and wanted to share the beauty of it with us.
My description of him makes him sound maniacal, but he was just being nice. Welcoming. Turns out he’s a fisherman and his boat is moored in Corcubion, although he’s lived all his life in Finisterre — where we were headed. Which is why we saw more of him later — and have more great Moisés stories to follow.
5 men, five aspects of the Divine
I’m amazed at the connections were possible just because I made eye contact and used the little Spanish I have.
I’ll never forget the kindness and wisdom and the scratchy feel of stubble on receiving my blessings from these gentle grandfathers.