Devotional Day 12
If anyone thinks of himself to be religious, yet does not bridle his tongue, but deceives his own heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.James 1:26-27
We set out early, after drinking coffee. Breakfast was supposed to be included in the booking, but it was all carbs, and nothing fit with my medical diet. The host had told us that the next municipal albergue was 28 km away (which is still pretty far for us), but there was a private one (Casa Alternativa) in about 19 km. We decided to see how we were doing physically when reaching the junction.
The first part of the day’s walk was pleasant, not going very quickly, but remaining consistent. In the last city before crossing into Spain (where prices tend to be higher) we stopped by a store and a pharmacy. While we successfully got some snacks, we had no luck on finding nasal strips for Dean. Crossing the bridge into Spain/Galicia there were some Oregonians in front of us, so we chatted with them while entering Tui. It was interesting to hear how the wife had done more training physically, hoping to break in the shoes, but was the one to develop blisters. Despite his lack of training, her husband was blister-free.
In Tui it was also fun to run into an entire field trip of young children discovering historical buildings, and shouting “Buen Camino” to us. We then saw the towering cathedral (which the children were also excited about), and briefly went inside, where we got our Compostela passports stamped. From there we followed the arrows through the fortress at the center of the city. Old buildings and new store fronts were all enmeshed.
After a few more hours of walking, we came to the last town with cafes on the day’s trek, and on the map there appeared to be three. We saw other peregrinos in the first café on the map, but decided to go onward, only to find the other two listed to be closed. With our feet very much needing a break and some caffeine being in order, we backtracked to the first café, to drink coffee before making a decision. At that point we thought we’d be able to complete the 28 km to next municipal albgergue. After trekking a couple more hours we had to make the final decision at a junction: 500 m to the right to see if there was room at the private albergue, or through the greener detour another 9 km to the public albergue in Porriño.
My feet hurt, but we both felt we could make it. It helped to know the last section of the day’s walk would be along a river. But along the way, there were stretches of street instead of nature. At a certain point, we sat in a parking lot, stopping for a drink of water and feeling pretty drained. There was certainly no going back. As we walked along, I thought about the many uses of the word religion, and how James presented it.
The word “religion” carries many definitions, but generally includes beliefs, practices, and communities. Recently I’ve heard a lot of people (mostly Westerners) talk about being “spiritual but not religious.” It seems a negative connotation has become attached to the word, and it may directly reflect these verses. People witness the “religious” who act in line with traditions established by the church, who identify themselves as being a Christian (or whichever religion they affiliate with), but still criticize, gossip, verbally abuse, etc. They function based on their own self-interest. This trend is nothing new. We see the Pharisees, the most “religious” of all, acting the same way in the time of Jesus, and at the time of James.
But “pure” religion, centered on God, means loving unconditionally, seeking nothing in return. In many cultures care for widows and orphans is the epitome of unreciprocated love. In places like Nigeria, upon the death of the husband a widow is often stripped of anything that belonged to the couple, claimed by the husband’s family. Helping a widow or an orphan is neither personally beneficial nor highly regarded.
As Christians, pure religion should emphasize caring for “the least of these” (Matthew 25) in our own communities, whether that be widows and orphans, or single parents, foster children, refugees, immigrants, people without a home, prisoners, drug addicts, or anyone else in need who does not have the capacity to respond in kind. Much of this selflessness is counterculture; even (unfortunately) in the Christian culture. The worldly desires are what draw us away from the joy found in caring for the needy with God’s love. Some haven’t even experienced that joy yet.
Along the Camino there were sometimes stretches with few places to fill up on water. Then there would be a faucet right by the side of the path, with fresh, clean water available. But there were also fountains that had a sign posted saying the water was not potable. Somehow the water that had once been a source of life was contaminated, “stained.” Even if it still looked clear, the water could now be a source of disease or pollutants. Drinking the water because it looked okay was deceiving oneself, especially with the warning sign posted.
Likewise, taking “religion” as sufficient based on the outward appearance of going to church and paying a tithe is fooling oneself. Religion is no longer a source of life when misused to elevate oneself in society or justify certain actions like the Pharisees did. Don’t let witnessing some practice a stained religion deter you from seeking pure, Christ-centered, love-saturated religion.
The Inconvenience and Eventual Arrival
After reaching the river and following it into the city, we finally arrived at the municipal albergue, only to see a handwritten note taped on the door saying they were closed that day (and “Sorry for the inconvenience.”) It was already late afternoon as we followed numerous signs to the nearest private albergue, but of course it was already full. Fortunately, the staff member had compassion for these two bedraggled pilgrims, and called a friend running another albergue, who told her they had room for two. An extra kilometer later, we arrived, grateful for a place to stay and impressed by the individually curtained bunk beds and decent showers.
After summoning enough energy to get some dinner and having some time for writing, I was very ready for bed. But in the middle of the night, I awoke to a loud whistling of wind through the vents, and I had trouble getting back to sleep. Alas, even the exhaustion felt did not drown out the sound.
In all we probably around covered 30 km over 9 hours of walking and resting. While the distance was the norm for some, it was definitely the longest I’d ever walked in a day! We were very grateful for the love shown in helping us find a place to stay.
Thank You, Lord, for the invitation to a religion centered on love, receiving salvation through Your love, and being called to follow Your example in showing love to others. Help us as the Body of Christ to set aside the audacities of religiosity and embrace humble, servant-hearted love. Allow us to share Your heart for the hurting and needy, and to find joy in actively sharing what we have to offer.
- How do you see religion? Is it centered on love?
- Who are the equivalent to “orphans and widows” in your community? How does the local church show love to them? What needs remain unmet?
- As you think about the people around you, ask Jesus to show you His heart for them. Invite Him to show ways to be a vessel of His love. Choose one or two practical steps to take this week.