I recently watched a movie titled, "The Way"
"The Way" is a powerful and inspirational story about family, friends, and the challenges we face while navigating this ever-changing and complicated world. Martin Sheen plays Tom, an American doctor who comes to St. Jean Pied de Port, France to collect the remains of his adult son (played by Emilio Estevez), killed in the Pyrenees in a storm while walking the Camino de Santiago, also known as The Way of Saint James.
Rather than return home, Tom decides to embark on the historical pilgrimage to honor his son's desire to finish the journey. What Tom doesn't plan on is the profound impact the journey will have on him.
Inexperienced as a trekker, Tom soon discovers that he will not be alone on this journey. On "The Way," Tom meets other pilgrims from around the world, each with their own issues and looking for greater meaning in their lives: a Dutchman, a Canadian and an Irish writer, who is suffering from a bout of writer's block.
From the unexpected and, oftentimes, amusing experiences along "The Way," this unlikely band of four creates an everlasting bond and Tom begins to learn what it means to be a citizen of the world again. Through Tom's unresolved relationship with his son, he discovers the difference between "the life we live and the life we choose."
The Camino de Santiago or the Way of St. James is a spiritual journey that pilgrims of all faiths and backgrounds have traversed for over a thousand years.
Pilgrims walk the Camino for various reasons. Some to seek penance, others enlightenment, and still others for a sense of adventure, yet all progress toward the Cathedral in Santiago where it is believed the remains of the apostle St. James are held.
Most pilgrims choose to carry a scallop shell with them to symbolize their journey in honour of St. James.
According to legend, scallop shells are said to have covered St. James' body after it was found on the shores of the Galician coast.
Another, perhaps more useful symbol is a walking stick to aid a weary pilgrim on his or her journey. Regardless of whether a pilgrim's journey begins for religious, spiritual or cultural reasons, the meditative nature of the Camino offers the perfect landscape in which to dedicate contemplation.
In the film, a father unfortunately comes to understand his son's life through his death and along the road finds himself as well. The film directs us to examine our personal struggle of choosing a life versus living a life. This greater question of finding oneself is a matter of acceptance and choice.
Given the circumstances of our lives, how do we understand ourselves, our family and our friends, and the choices we make? Do we blindly go through life unaware of our actions and how they affect not only ourselves but others, as well? What role does our community, friendships and faith play in our decisions?
The Camino, by its nature, serves as the ultimate metaphor for life.
Footsteps along a well-trodden path may be our guide, but do not shield us from the questions that most of our busy everyday lives prevent us at times from fully recognizing. The road offers very little to hide behind. The process of life is life along whichever road, path, Camino, or Way we find ourselves on.
Our humanity toward ourselves and others, our history and our future is what defines us.
In the New Testament we find that the Christians were first known as "Followers of the Way" The New Bible Dictionary supports this when it says that "The Way" is the oldest designation for the Christians.
The term "The Way" has two meanings. First, it refers to Jesus as the way, the truth and the life. But it also has to do with the way of living.
The early Christians believed that God reveals the way life is to be lived and used the Scriptures as their guide for life and faith, walk in the "right way" or find the "way of life."
In the morally lax culture of Rome, the Christians' irreproachable ethics was certainly an unmistakable trait.
Like the walkers of the Camino de Santiago we all are pilgrims of a kind. Our journey through life is trek through which we must constantly decide which Way we are to take. Many take the path chosen for them by others. A few choose to follow the Way which their heart calls them to follow.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said something, which to me describes the Way we are all called to walk. The quote below not only describes the obstacles along the Way, but the path through the obstacles. It also describes the final destination:
"People are often unreasonable, illogical and self centred - forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish ulterior motive - be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and true enemies - succeed anyway.
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you - be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, some may destroy over night - build anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous - be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow - do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough - give the world the best you've got anyway.
You see in the Final Analysis, it is all between you and God.
It was never between you and them anyway."
Which Way will you walk?
*Rev. J.S. Bhagwan is a Masters of Theology student at the Methodist Theological University's International Graduate School of Theology in Seoul, South Korea.