The Present Moment

“The meeting of two eternities, the past and future… is precisely the present moment.” — Henry David Thoreau

The Credencial del Peregrino is the modern-day successor to the original document given to the pilgrims during the Middle Ages. It records that one is taking a spiritual journey to Santiago on foot or horseback for at least 100 kilometers or by bike for 200 kilometers. Pilgrims mark their progress on any of the routes by collecting stamps in hostels, councils, parishes and even shops and bars. Upon reaching Santiago, it is your “credencial” to certify completion of the Way.

Getting the stamps on our credenciales has become a part of our routine. Each stamp is unique to the location, and we look forward to seeing the creativity and pride put into the design. So far, I have 29 stamps. The most special is the one from Art Balsa.

We almost missed the opportunity to meet Art, which would have been my fault. We’ve been starting the trail early to beat the afternoon sun, so on Saturday morning, we were about 45 minutes into our walk and on a mission. I saw Art’s unique house from a distance and stopped to take a picture. His house is right on the path and, as we passed by his front door, he was just opening his studio. Chuck asked if I wanted to go in, and I said, “No, it’s too early.” I heard Art say from the inside, “Too early?” but we moved on. Well, that should have been the end of the story, and the artist should have been a distant memory. But again, the Camino had a surprise for us.

Art’s house.

Later that day, we walked with Maddie from Detroit for about three miles and shared great conversations with her. While we were talking, she asked if we had seen the artist’s studio that morning. We said we had not and she told us we had missed something special. The regret began to sink in. But what to do when a moment has passed, and you try to reclaim it? Usually, it’s just not possible, but this time we were going to try.

The next morning was a day of rest so we asked Padres Reynaldo and Miguel to drive us back and try to find Art. We were successful. However, when we first spoke with him, he said it was Sunday, and he was closed. That was until he discovered we were the group with the two padres that he was expecting. Expecting? Apparently, our friend Maria from Poland had told Art about our group, and he was expecting us. He had been disappointed when we had not shown up.

Talking with Art was a sacred encounter. His work is beautiful, and we found a piece that spoke to us, but his story was even better. Art was a policeman for 35 years, and he prayed that God would find a way for him to use his love and talent for painting. He said he knew that someday God would find a way; he just didn’t think it would take 35 years. Now, his presence and his work are his ministries. He puts a special seal on each pilgrim’s passport, but he also takes the time to share his faith and his home with those who walk the path. Art is a holy man, and it is clear we were meant to meet him. It was another inexplicable but wonderful moment on the Camino. I will never tire of them.

Lessons from the day:

1) Be present to the moment because once it passes, you usually don’t get a redo.
2) God’s time and our time are different. We need to be patient -even to 35 years
3) Grace is all around us. Like Mary, We should accept it and “say yes.”