I have recently returned from a seven-week pilgrimage, walking the traditional Camino Francés across northern Spain to Santiago de Compostela. I was part of a host of pilgrims that this year will number several hundreds of thousands. As we peregrinos passed through villages and cities where (altogether) thousands more were attuned to our care and feeding, an old wonderment came to mind. How can God hold all of us in his mind, with our myriad paths and stories and destinies? He makes each of us distinct and uniquely who we are. And he knows all of us, all the time.
Along the Camino, every day one finds the cross. It sits atop churches. It is carved in stone monuments alongside the path. It is painted on rocks. It is on pins that some people wear. Sometimes, it is just a couple of sticks tied together to mark the place where someone died.
The Camino is an allegory of human life as a whole. Wherever we are, we are within view of the cross. Jesus on the cross, being God, had every moment of our lives in his mind.
It is beyond human comprehension, the breadth of God’s saving plan. When I was rector at the Church of the Resurrection in Hopewell Junction, N.Y., at midnight a hundred of us would hold candles and sing Christ is risen from the dead / Trampling down death by death. Under the stars, ringing bells, holding candles, singing—Easter was palpably true. By dying, Jesus had conquered death for us, for those buried in our cemetery, and for all those other people we can’t see and we don’t know.
Later, I was on staff at Saint Thomas Fifth Avenue in New York City. On Easter morning, the line for the eleven o’clock service started forming before the eight o’clock was finished. By ten or so, all the good seats were filled. Before eleven, every alcove or corner would be packed, and still there were people standing in the narthex peering through the glass. They kept coming (and some of them going) during the next hour and a half; indeed, to behold the church in its Easter glory, they came all day long and even throughout the following week. We are talking serious crowds here. They were looking. Some were kneeling, a few quietly weeping. Others were curious and sometimes rude—but even in the “touristy” cases, one wondered what might have been going on in their soul. What was the story of their life? What nudged them to come to church? Did they know what they were seeking? What was God doing for them?
I pondered similar questions as I made my way along the Camino. Some of us left trash on the way; others picked it up. Some rushed ahead; others lingered to sniff the shrubbery. Some were noisy, some silent. Many were looking for . . . something. Some were looking for God; others had rejected God. Some were ill-tempered; some were helpful beyond expectation. Each of us was a unique blend of good and bad, which is to say, each of us was a sinner on the road—even that professor of architecture who told me he was not a sinner.
God has all of us in mind, all the time. This, I believe, is the grounding of the claim of human dignity. And it is worth learning how to see it on our walk through this life.