Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Way

I watched The Way on Ash Wednesday. It was a good day to watch it as Lent begins. Lent is a journey to Easter that involves a greater awareness of our sins, and confession of our need for forgiveness, and the importance of the Community of Christ. The Way included all those themes. The Way is El Camino de Santiago or the Way of St James. It is a 500 mile trek through Spain that ends up at the Church of St James - the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela - locacted in Galicia in northwest Spain. It is said to the be the place where the bones of the apostle James are buried. The Way is a well worn trek used by pilgrims for thousands of years. Many people walk the Camino every year - for all sorts of reasons, religious and other. In the movie, The Way,  Martin Sheen plays a doctor whose wife has died and their one son has dropped out of a doctoral program in anthropology so he can travel to some of the places he has studied about. His father is not in favor of his decision and tells him not many 40 year olds can afford to drop out and travel all over Europe. His son wants his dad to take off with him for awhile. His dad tells him he is more responsible than that and he is fine with the life he has chosen. His son replies, you don't choose a life, you live it. And those are about the last words the father hears his son say. One day on a golf course he gets a call from a French police officer who tells him his son has died walking the Camino de Santiago. His father has never heard of it. So, he goes to France to pick up his son's body. While there, on impulse, he gathers up his son's gear and decides to cremate his son and take his ashes with him on the trek scattering them along the way. Along the way, he meets fellow travelers, all of whom are carrying their own burdens. Sheen's character, Tom, is aloof and distant not wanting to share the reason for his journey. Still, he ends up walking with a threesome of characters who alternately try to draw him in to their lives and leave him behind in frustration because of his indifference.

On the walk which takes several months things happen just like in life. There are mishaps and wrong turns and dead ends and people out to take advantage of the travelers. Together, they face all these things. Together, they begin to share their lives, their sins, their mistakes. Together, they learn to trust and forgive each other and themselves. Tom is a different person at the end of the walk.

The Way is a metaphor for life but also for the church. Sometimes it seems the church can be a place where people are the least honest and transparent. We get ready to go to church and put on our best face as if we are going to meet saints not sinners. It's impossible to be at your best on the Camino trek as you stay in large dorm rooms, and go days without showers, and have to use a pit toilet outside.  People get to know you at your worst. There is no place to hide your irritability, or moodiness - or what personal demons you are fighting. And because of that real community can happen - it does not have to but it can - and when it does as it does in the film - it is a powerful thing. Especially when it is centered on Christ - in a real way - pay attention to the scene at the end of the film when the characters reach the Cathedral of St James.

See you on the Way.