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Money and Pilgrimage

Updated: May 16, 2023

There has been some interesting discussion in the Camino forums about money and pilgrimage; in essence, that you must have money in order to go on pilgrimage, otherwise you are abusing or taking advantage of the hospitality of the Camino and those who live from it. Connected to that is the idea that you must somehow “pay your way” as a pilgrim, either with money, or by working-volunteering for the right to have shelter and food, or by getting other people to sponsor you, or simply delaying your pilgrimage until you have money.

It got me thinking that somehow this conversation is missing an essential point.

Pilgrimage is a spiritual calling. It has nothing to do with the material. In fact, its purpose is to transcend the material and all its demands and expectations, and reconnect us with Spirit, with the Creator of all things, with truth.

Making money is of the material world, and has nothing to do with Spirit. Money is a man-made concept, a form of “exchange” invented by an earthly mind that attempts to place a value on objects and experiences, but that can never place a value on what is true, what is real, what is Spirit… which is Who we are.

Pilgrimage and money are diametrically opposed. They cannot meet. Nor should they.

When a pilgrim follows that calling to leave the material world behind and embark on that quest to touch the Eternal, to once again merge with It, he is given all that he needs. I can tell you that when Alberto and I walked to Jerusalem, I had cash and credit cards, but they were often useless before the generosity and true good-will that marked our way. They were also often useless when there was no hotel or lodging with which to make this exchange. Every day, for six months, we walked in the unknown, not knowing where we would sleep, not knowing if that church door that we called on would be opened. We both had to learn to surrender our plans and fears, and trust in a Higher Plan, the one that would provide us with what we really needed.

Isn’t pilgrimage just that? An exercise, a practice, in surrender and trust?

My single biggest obstacle was me: my pride at being perceived as “needing”; my belief in the “obligation to pay back” and never be dependent on others; my belief that it’s my responsibility as someone with money to give to those who either “have less” or somehow are dependent on my money in order to survive; my belief that it’s better to give than receive. I looked upon all forms of generosity as charity, and often refused to accept gifts that genuinely came from the heart; or, if I received any gift, I immediately found a way to give it back. And because I carried those fears and ideas within me, they kept showing up in experience after experience… until I finally learned to lay them down, and became willing to learn what it means to give and what it means to receive, not as the world defines them, but as my Creator would define them.

It is at this level that I believe we are all called to work, whether we have money or not, whether we are on the Camino or not: at the level of our beliefs and expectations and judgments, because if we don’t, we will continue to perpetuate them, casting them as a shroud upon our brothers, obscuring our vision of Who they truly are, and keeping ourselves in that loop of judgment and self-righteousness.

If God or Santiago or that Small Still Voice has called a pilgrim, who are we to be the arbiters of how that pilgrimage should be made? Should that decision not be entrusted to The One who has called the pilgrim?

If we insist that the pilgrim must pay, are we not then placing a material value on a spiritual calling? Are we not saying that your value as a pilgrim - and whether we accept you as a pilgrim - depends on whether or not you can pay your way?

Isn’t that what we are saying about our fellow brothers and sisters every day? Are we not determining their value as individuals based on how much they contribute (usually economically)? Are we not judging them as worthy of our consideration based on their status, be it cultural, social, economic, political?

I share this reflection because this is something that I have wrestled with over the years, and that I continue to make peace with. This is all inner work for me, and where I believe true healing happens. That’s why I say: let it begin with me.

“Father-Mother God, Creator of all things, I give you my fears and judgments. I give you all that is not Love. In the peace of Your Shelter and safety of Your Love, I now rest, and listen to Your Voice whispering to me the truth You would have me learn.”

Buen camino! 🙏🏻💕

P.S. This photo was taken just outside Dubrovnik, Croatia.

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