September 28, 2020

Ring them bells

It's hard for me to believe, but two years ago today, in a different world and on a different continent I had a peak experience on Day 3 of walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain. The day began with a fall and bloody knee and the pain from walking in new boots but it got better. Here's what I wrote at the time: 

One of my favorite Dylan songs is Ring Them Bells, a spiritual and prophetic  song from Oh Mercy. I had a Ring Them Bells moment on day 3 of the Camino de Santiago in Spain. About 40 some miles from St. Jean Pied de Port on a hot day, the arrow marking the trail led straight up a nasty hill. The place was Zabaldika.

At that point my legs screamed in protest at the slightest incline. But I came here to follow the Way so up I went.

At the top of a hard climb was a church built in the 13th century, before Dante penned the Divine Comedy.

An elderly woman there beckoned me to enter. It was like she was waiting just for me. I tied to refuse but she wasn’t having it. She led me in the empty church and played recordings of medieval chants. Then she guided me to a seat and gave me a laminated sheet with the history of the church and a page I could keep of Camino prayers and blessings.

I intended to attend to the spiritual aspects off the Camino but had been too rushed up to that point. This was a bit of a reset.

The church was dedicated to St. Stephen. Above the altar were statues of Christ, the Virgin, Stephen, and assorted saints. I just went with it.

After a period of silence, I prepared to leave, but she wasn’t having that either. She pointed to the stairs of the bell tower and told me to climb it and ring the bell two times and really hear and feel it.

It was a spiral stone staircase built like a screw that I had to craw up on my hands and knees. At the top was a huge iron bell. I rang it once and gave myself to the sound (Buddhists, yogis and meditators will know something about this).

It was a beautiful moment, but she wasn’t done with me. She took me to a statue of the crucified Christ and showed me where hundreds of others had posted their thoughts and prayers, I did the same, but all I had to say was "Thank you!"

By then she was ready to let me go. I thanked her and left with tears in my eyes. If I wasn’t so shut down, I would have cried for a hour or so.

For Alanis fans and viewers of the movie The Way, it was a “Thank You” moment.

(Note: I had to pay for that with several hours of heat and pain and bad food and thirst. But as Dylan said, ‘pay for your ticket and don’t complain.)

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