My summer is in its full “manic mode,” with work and pre-release book stuff and social engagements filling up every corner of the weeks, and travel every weekend, and my poor Camino del Norte story sitting neglected here on the blog. I’ll get back to it, I really will. But before that, I need to tell you what happened last week:
I had the opportunity to meet one of the people who first inspired me to walk to Camino.
If you’re a reader who is interested in Camino stories and memoirs, you’ve probably come across Kevin Codd’s To the Field of Stars. (I first reviewed it a few years ago on this list of Camino Frances memoirs.) Published in 2008, Kevin’s whimsical, practical story of his long walk on the Camino Frances drew the attention of an English-language previously unfamiliar with the Way of Saint James.
“I am about to share here a story about stars that dance. . . . If the very thought of seeing stars dance piques your curiosity at some deep level of your soul, then pay attention to what follows, for the walk to the Field of Stars, to Santiago de Compostela, is a journey that has the power to change lives forever.”
(Kevin A. Codd, To the Field of Stars)
Then, about a year ago, I heard rumors that there was going to be a sequel. Father Codd (yes, Kevin’s a priest) had returned to the Way, and this time he walked through France.
Kevin Codd on a French route? Sign me up.
I pre-ordered Beyond Even the Stars, which released in February, and took my time reading it, finishing it the night before we left for Camino del Norte.
This was a different kind of pilgrimage story – not as much the joyful, communal walk across the heat of central Spain, surrounded by memorable characters and plagued by blisters. Instead, this was a quieter, introspective story. This pilgrimage starts not with a train trip to a common gathering point, like most of us have, but right from Kevin’s front door in Belgium. There are no other pilgrims to keep him company here, far away from the marked, historical routes. There are no rushes for beds in albergues; in fact, Kevin is almost always the only pilgrim in the refugios that exist, scattered few and far between.
In the place of those familiar themes, though, Beyond Even the Stars is full of devotional contemplations about life, faith, nature, and family. And there are even deeper moments of loneliness.
There are setbacks on Kevin Codd’s long walk to Compostela…to say more would be a spoiler. But the honesty that he brings to his unexpected detours are what make the story worthwhile. The more I talk to people who walk The Way, the more I see that most pilgrimages don’t unfold quite as expected, but that doesn’t make those experiences less important…or less holy.
As I read, I found myself marking passage after passage.
“I hear a swelling swoosh; from the south a bullet train whizzes into view on the tracks, knives through the landscape in a matter of moments, then disappears with a whoosh. It has just covered in a few seconds what has taken me hours to walk. That very fast train reminds me that, as a pilgrim, travel is made holy in its slowness. I see things that neither the passengers of the train nor the drivers of the automobiles see. I feel things that they will never feel. I have time to ponder, imagine, daydream. I tire. I thirst. In my slow walking, I find me.”
(Kevin A. Codd, Beyond Even the Stars)
When it was time to seek out endorsers for Walking to the End of the World, I approached Kevin with more than a little nervousness. I mean, this was THE Camino memoir writer! What if I did something embarrassing?
Well, Kevin was quick to respond and gracious enough to agree to endorse, even though, as he gently pointed out, I’d done SEVERAL embarrassing things, including a pretty major mistake in explaining the story of Saint James himself. (Which, thanks to Kevin and the quick work of Mountaineers Books to fix the page proofs, you’ll never see.)
Despite that, here’s what he said:
“Beth Jusino doesn’t pull any punches in her vivid and engaging account of the pilgrimage she and her husband made, but happily she also shares with us her small victories and the many lessons she learns about herself, her marriage, and just plain life. Perhaps most universal of those lessons is contained in her ‘Santiago Moment’ near the end of the book: gratitude!”
I’m all tingly just reading it.
In our exchange about the book, Kevin mentioned that he was going to be in Seattle in July, at the appropriately named St. James Cathedral, for a reading of Beyond Even the Stars, and would I like to come? Well, of course!
In person, Kevin is the same warm, funny, whimsical, faith-filled person that he is on the page. His audience filled the parish hall and peppered him with questions. He patiently stayed and signed books and chatted with visitors long past the time he should have gone off to dinner. And he did it all, it’s clear, because he loves the Camino.
So okay, maybe just one more quote:
“To feel the pull, the draw, the interior attraction, and to want to follow it, even if it has no name still, that is the ‘pilgrim spirit.’ The ‘why’ only becomes clear as time passes, only long after the walking is over.”
(Kevin A. Codd, Beyond Even the Stars)
If you’re curious about the idea of pilgrimage “off the beaten track,” or experiencing the history of pilgrimage through the eyes of someone who’s dedicated his life to God, this book is for you.