Every Camino I walk is like my first. It doesn't matter how many times I walk this path, a new lesson or maybe a lesson I still need to learn is shown to me. Isn't that how life is? How many times does God need to show us something before we truly understand and learn. I pray that I am smart enough and have the wisdom to learn the first time, but I am human and sometimes I just need to be reminded again and again.
This one lesson seems to be shown to me over and over again. I know it. I believe in it. Maybe, the continuous reminder is a gift and a grace. Not a lesson. A reminder of Gods beauty, a reminder of His mercy, a reminder of His love. That reminder, that little nudge, that little gift is trusting in Him. Trusting that He is taking care of us. Trusting that He is guiding us.
He has carried me through a lot in life. He has brought me through the desert. He has helped me in carrying my crosses. He has always been there. So, why do I doubt? Why do I question? Why do I fear?
So, my little reminder on this Camino is beautiful and it is perfect. This past September, I lead a group from Rabanal del Camino to Santiago. It was a special Camino. Planned for my pilgrims. I liked the route so much, that I am now offering it as a pilgrimage. After staying our first night in a lovely Albergue in Rabanal del Camino and enjoying a beautiful and delicious breakfast, we started our walk to Molinaseca. Molinaseca is a beautiful village in a valley alongside a river. We started early and came to the Iron Cross. One of the things I like about this Camino is even though it is short, we were able to walk to the Iron Cross. One of the most important points along the Camino. We left our stone, left our burdens and continued along the mountain range. The day was perfect. It was sunny with a little chill in the air. We enjoyed good food and great company!
The next day was going to be different, a little walking and a little transferring by bus. Our day consisted of a short walk to Ponferrada. This was about 3-4 miles and then we will take a bus to Piedrafita. Piedrafita is a little town at the base of a mountain. This mountain road takes you to O'Cebreiro. After the bus ride, we will walk 2.5 miles uphill into O'Cebreiro.
We started our day at a nice pace and when we arrived into Ponferrada, we had a nice surprise. A festival was taking place. We enjoyed a nice cup of cafe con leche and headed to the bus station. As we made our way to the station, we were able to enjoy all the food and crafts at the festival. Remember the Camino is all about the journey, so enjoy every moment that is given to you.
When we arrived in Piedrafita, after a nice nap on the bus, we started our walk into O'Cebreiro. Again another important point along the Camino, the village of O'Cebreiro. This is the village where the Eucharistic Miracle happened. The church is beautiful and the miracle is on the side altar. We weren't taken the normal path, we were hiking up the road. We decided to walk and get lunch in O'Cebreiro. Its only 4 kms, we can wait and eat there. That was our vote as a team. We started our climb, it was a long 4 kms straight up. It was hot and it was long, oh wait did I already say that? We all started to get hungry.
We kept walking, because that's all you can do. I asked the girls if they wanted to get a taxi to O'Cebreiro. They said, no they were going to walk into O'Cebreiro. I was happy, because I wanted them to walk, but as a guide I had to offer the other option. As we walked, Nancy looked at the sides of the road. She started laughing, she said look at what He has given us! A snack! We stopped and looked. All alongside the road was blackberry bushes and to our surprise there were still some on the bushes. We thought how can they still be ripe and delicious in September? How can they not all be eaten? We stopped questioning the gift and enjoyed our snack. A reminder, He is taking care of us. He gives us what we need.
As we continued our walk, we started playing games. We sang songs, made up a few of our own. We laughed, we rested, we walked. We were almost there and we noticed a car pulled over to the side of the road. There was a little old Spanish lady filling bottles of water from a natural spring. We all got excited, our bottles were almost empty and not very cooling. As we approached the lady, she said, "the best water you will ever taste" as she continued filling like four gallons of water in her tubs. We waited our turn and sure enough, the water was perfect. Cold fresh spring water right out of the mountain side. Another gift. Another reminder. Thank you Jesus!
We continued into town, sat down and had the most delicious meal. As usual, our day was perfect in every way. Our Lord provides.
May we all be blessed with the many gifts and graces of Our Lord this day.
Buen Camino my fellow pilgrims!
By: Mary Maddox, your fellow pilgrim
So, what is in your pack. What are you carrying along your Camino (life)? We each are on our own journey, each carrying our own stone. Who knows what the pilgrim walking next to you is carrying in his or her heart? Who knows the burdens they are carrying? That's why we, as fellow pilgrims, must welcome and greet each other like brothers and sisters in Christ. Only He knows how many stones each one of us is carrying. So we try to walk our Camino as we should walk through our lives, with acceptance, humility, knowledge, love, mercy and compassion.
The lessons we learn along the Camino de Santiago teach us how to live our lives with all of these virtues. We just need to remember to take these lessons home with us. Leave nothing behind!
Some of these lessons are simple ones....like accepting that we all walk at our own pace.... that our journeys are ours to enjoy in our own way. On my last Camino, I was walking with a friend. She walked fast. And because I was a bit slower, I called her the City Mouse and me the Country Mouse. What's funny is that she lives outside New York City and I am from the mountains of North Carolina. So we were definitely on our own Camino journey in our own way. We respected each other enough to not expect the other to change her city or mountain ways. Some days she walked slower and we shared stories, laughter and advice. Other days we walked alone to have our own private prayer time with the Lord. Isn't that how we need to accept others in our daily lives.....respecting them enough to let them walk their journey at their own pace, respecting them enough to not expect them to change unless they choose to do so. And finally to be present with them in the here and now....to find joy there.
On the Camino, weight becomes a priority. The rule is to not carry more than 10% of your body weight. You don't want extra weight and the burden of carrying it. And here too we see our daily lives happening. It's inevitable that we begin to think about the other kinds of weight we are carrying and hopefully begin to lay those personal burdens down. If we do shed a burden or two, it means we can walk with a lighter step, and have the lightness of being that we crave. Letting go and letting God take our burdens is possible. I found that wonderful truth on my Camino. I know you can drop them into His hands just as I did.
As you walk the Camino, you completely put your trust in the Lord. Especially when you have no reservations and end up finding a place to sleep when you arrive in town. I had this experience my first Camino. My son, Cale and his friend Cody and I were walking into O Pedrouza. This is the town right before Santiago. We were told a few nights earlier by a fellow pilgrim that you might want to reserve your rooms from here to Santiago because the Camino is getting more crowded. This was the summer of 2013 and we were entering Santiago on the Feast day of St. James! Due to poor wifi we were unable to reserve rooms. When we arrived in O Pedrouza, after walking for six hours that day, we walked another two hours looking for a place to sleep. We finally went to the church, each of us to separate corners and prayed. After a little rest, we headed back into town to find a taxi and to find a place to sleep. As we were standing on the street a gentleman came up to us and asked if we needed a place to sleep. His pension just had a cancellation for a triple room, exactly what we needed. We were given a beautiful room in a beautiful pension. God is so good! I took this lesson home with me. If you really trust in God, He takes care of you. Sometimes we get in the way trying to figure things out, but all I can say is truly trust. It might not be the exact answer you are looking for but He knows what we need. Just like a parent, He takes care of our needs not our wants!
These are just a few of my insights. So much more is waiting to be shown to you. Everyone's Camino is their own Camino. Pilgrims who have walked before you can share their experiences and give advice and that is valuable. But you will have your own spiritual experience. Different. But valuable to those around you.
There is a quote I have always liked and though I don't have it in front of me, it goes like this.....
”for spiritual growth we all need three types of relationships in our lives. We need those who are ahead of us to guide us, those who are on the path with us to share our journey with and those who are coming along behind us whom we can encourage.”
Yes every pilgrim needs to listen, every pilgrim needs to pray, every pilgrim is walking this Camino of life...going forth to find God.
Written by: Stephen Ervin.
Photo by: Stephen Ervin
Waters of grace
Silently I seek His face
Step by step
I trod in the foot prints of sinners and saints
Breathing in and out
Your name I shout
My heart beats
Your mercy it meets
On the paths
You are humble
Listening to my soul
Walking next to me invisible
From church to church I search for healing
All my senses alive
My feet my toes
Feeling the dirt roads
Smelling the eucalyptus
It calmed us
Beholding the Galatia greens
The wind made those hills sing
Touching fresh spring waters
Drinking with pilgrim forefathers
Café and fresh bread
Awoke me from the dead
My beads slip from my fingers
Your loving comfort lingers
with each step
My shell clacking
Against my rucksack
A pilgrim always going forward and never turning back.
By: Rick Lewis, Aug 2013
I committed to walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela on an impulse. A friend casually asked if I would be interested in walking it with him one day. Immediately, without thinking it through, I was hooked and determined to make it happen. This is not normal behaviour for me. Although I still can’t fully explain it, I think there was something of a tug from the Holy Spirit involved. Yes, there was an appeal to my sense of adventure, but the Camino is not just any old walking trail. This is a bona fidepilgrimage – one of the big three that date back to medieval times: Jerusalem, Rome and Santiago de Compostela. So perhaps I was also motivated by my love of history and connecting with ancient practices of discipleship. And yet I knew in some visceral way that my urge to go on pilgrimage was far more than an educational history excursion. It was to do with working out how I would follow Jesus right here, right now.
Getting ready to go took me two years. I’m sure others could manage to get themselves organised more quickly but that’s how it was for me. Those two years form the boundary between my ministry in the past and my ministry in the future. It’s been two years of realigning myself to a new call, and the Camino was to be a pivotal moment in that transition. When getting ready for a major pilgrimage, there are four major areas of preparation to be attended to. I’ll go through them one by one because each of these areas has direct relevance to disciplines and practices that may sustain and develop a missional life in our communities. I won’t tediously spell out specific applications of implied principles but I encourage you to make the connections that relate to your particular context.
Firstly, you have to prepare your schedule. That means clearing the necessary time in your diary. In my case that was five weeks – not an easy task! And it involves researching and planning your route. There are several Camino pathways. They all end in Santiago de Compostela but you can start in many different places. I ended up choosing to walk the 800-kilometre Camino Frances route, which starts in St Jean Pied de Port on the French side of the Pyrenees. John Brierley’s Pilgrim’s Guide was very helpful in planning daily stages. Preparing your schedule builds anticipation and resolve. As your imagination gets fired up you start enjoying the journey before you have even taken one step.
Secondly, you have to prepare your kit. I was not at all experienced in outdoor pursuits and had very little of the necessary gear. On pilgrimage, when you’re carrying everything on your back, you don’t want to be lugging stuff you don’t really need. And you want whatever you do take to be efficient, light, strong, durable, multi-purpose and easy to use/wear. Some obvious life lessons to be drawn from that. My biggest surprise in this area was to realise the usefulness of walking poles. In my vanity, I thought they looked a bit silly and a bit unnecessary for an able-bodied man, so I almost didn’t buy a pair. That would have been a serious mistake.
Thirdly, you have to prepare your body. I had only a basic level of fitness when I decided to walk the Camino, so my body needed some serious training. My schedule for the Camino required me to walk an average of 27 kilometres each day. The first time I tried walking that distance in one go in training I really hurt myself. There was so much to learn about hydration, stretching, massage, blister prevention and so on. I began walking 5 kilometres daily in the boots I intended to wear on the Camino. I built this up to 10 kilometres per day over the course of a year, with the occasional longer walk. By the time I headed to Spain I was confident I had done the necessary preparation. I was wrong. Three days into the Camino I was in a lot of pain with dreadful blisters. If not for the help of the Spanish woman who ran one of the albergues I don’t know what I’d have done.
Fourthly, you have to prepare your soul. Well, maybe you don’t have to. But if you want to approach the Camino as a pilgrimage and not just a long walk, some soul work is crucial. My processes for preparation were reading, praying and conversations. I devoured several books to get in touch with the issues. Martin Robinson’s Sacred Places, Pilgrim Paths is full of fabulous quotes arranged around some thoughtfully crafted themes. In terms of soul preparation I was especially grateful for Charles Foster’sThe Sacred Journey. I can’t recommend that book highly enough. I also read through Exodus and spent many hours meditating on Psalm 84. My prayers centred on the question of what God wanted to do in me over the month I was away. Early on I was keen to be prepared to witness to others on the Camino but I became convinced this was not the first matter on God’s agenda. My soul work in prayer was to get to a place of receptivity. Conversations with a few people who had walked pilgrimages were useful, mostly for dispelling romantic expectations of Damascus Road experiences!
Exactly what makes walking the Camino de Santiago so impactful is hard to express. Part of it has to do with being away from the myriad of annoying little details that complicate normal daily existence. A decision has to be made about how ‘in touch’ one wants to be on pilgrimage. It’s a very personal matter, with no right or wrong. Apart from a phone call to my wife every few days, I chose to switch off all my devices – no phone, iPod or computer, no Facebook, Twitter or email – and I was very glad of that choice. Life became very simple on the Camino. It gave space to think, space to talk with others without the pressure of time or agenda, space to simply be. Another source of the deep impact is the earthiness of the experience. Walking is an effective way to get connected to a landscape and the people and culture embedded within that landscape. It’s a very different experience than travelling in a car or bus or train. And, of course, when walking significant distances you become very aware of your body – both the pain and the strength – which is an experience that gets pretty earthy. Engaging in pilgrimage as a deeply spiritual exercise is a powerful antidote to Gnosticism.
Walking through Spain on this pilgrim path creates wonderful memories, but the deeper value of it is in the personal transformation that takes place. No doubt this is slightly different for everyone who does the Camino, with, perhaps, some common threads here and there. What was the personal transformation that happened in me? I need to be a bit careful here because it’s too early to tell whether, in fact, I have undergone personal change or have simply become aware of areas of my life that are in need of transformation. I hope that at least a start has been made in certain aspects of my character. So, at the risk of setting myself up, I’ll have a shot at naming them. Something in me is shifting in terms of patience, perseverance, tolerance and acceptance of others, gratitude for simple things and resisting drivenness so I can manage my energy levels wisely. I cannot transform myself in these areas through the effort of will, but God’s Spirit can change me. The Camino has focussed my attention so that I am now tuned in to cooperate with his power at work on those things. It’s the process Paul was talking about in Colossians 1:29.
For the first 24 days of the Camino I read slowly through the gospel of Luke, one chapter per day. I expected that my different context would cause me to come to the text from a different angle. But I was not prepared for the degree to which this was the case. It was as if I had never read this gospel before; there were new insights and perspectives popping out at me every day. The most impactful and enduring of these was a fresh appreciation of how direct Jesus was in his dealings with people. There was no beating about the bush. He was, as we sometimes say, “in people’s faces”, with challenge, confrontation, even provocation. To my middle class, western sensitivities he seemed a bit rude at times – lacking in tact. Yet I felt drawn (and disturbed!) to consider how I might emulate this aspect of Jesus character. That was not a comfortable thought at all.
At the same time I was reflecting on the conversations I was having with people along the road and being convicted by the Holy Spirit about my tendency to be judgemental of others. Later I shared this with one of my friends in the UK and she said, “Rick, that can’t be right. I’ve never known you to be judgemental.” Well, that just shows how cleverly I hide my inner thoughts. But there’s no pulling the wool over God’s eyes. He sees it all very clearly. Anyway, being challenged about being less judgemental and more direct at the same time put me in a bit of a tangle. I realised that my way of being more direct with people usually involved a dose of being judgemental along with it. And I could work on being less judgemental, but that would usually result in me being less direct as well. I can see that Jesus was both non-judgemental and direct at the same time, but I don’t see that in me. Plenty of room for growth then! Then I realised this is simply a restatement of John 1:14, that Jesus came full of grace (of which non-judgement is a part) and truth (of which directness is a part). This has been a personal paradigm for ministry practice and character development for me for well over ten years. Here I am STILL working on it! Lord, help me to make some progress.
I was able to have spiritual conversations with others doing the Camino every single day, and several times each day. This is not my normal experience in day-to-day life. I would think I’m doing well if I have a spiritual conversation with a stranger once per week. Why was it such a rich time of deep conversation? There are several factors. Firstly, the Camino de Santiago is consistently presented as a spiritual pilgrimage, both by those who offer support services for pilgrims and also in the literature. Over a thousand years of history lies behind this walk, and those who follow the route can’t help but be affected by that history of religious devotion. Secondly, physical pilgrimage – taking a long walk – is a very apt metaphor for the inner journey of spiritual seeking that is common to all human beings at some point in their lives. These first two factors, taken together, explain why pilgrims will routinely ask one another, “Why are you walking?” The question makes perfect sense and drives immediately to the inner journey for which the outer journey is a symbol.
And I think there were other conditions, not general ones like the two I’ve mentioned but particular ones relating to my experience, which helped me to have so many spiritual conversations. I was practising being non-judgemental. I’m sure that opened some doors. I was not seeking to ‘sell’ my point of view. I was having genuine, mutual interactions with people whose stories and perspectives were of real interest to me. At the same time I was prepared to ask fairly blunt questions of others. You could call it being nosey, but my conversation partners were up for it. It was as if they had been longing for someone to open up these lines of discussion. Further, I was trying to be as honest and vulnerable as I could about my own uncertainties and frailties. I was not saying, “I’m a Christian and have it all together and wouldn’t you like to be like me?” Finally, I was trying out some different language. If I had said, “You know, God really loves you”, that would have been dismissed as religious claptrap. Instead I tried saying things like, “The universe is a friendly place, don’t you think?” I found this engaged people far more readily and we would be away into an interesting chat within seconds.
The people who were so open to have spiritual conversations with me on the Camino, had only days before been in another setting and undoubtedly were not nearly so open to have those conversations. On the Camino the right conditions were created that put people in the sort of headspace (heartspace?) in which they were ready to talk. Now I’m asking myself if those conditions can be replicated away from the Camino. The first two factors above – the environment that reflects a history of devotion and participation in the powerful metaphor of walking – cannot be readily reproduced in daily life. However, I do think that if I am non-judgemental, have a respectful, listening stance, take the chance to ask probing questions, am willing to be vulnerable and carefully choose my language to use interesting turns of phrase that avoid religious jargon – if I do these things, then perhaps I might have more Camino-type conversations in my daily life.
Arriving into Santiago 30 days after setting out, my feelings were mixed. My heart was yearning to be with my family and friends once again, and yet I had come to love the road. There was a sense of accomplishment, but that was swallowed up by the prospect of a new beginning in which I wanted to weave the best of my pilgrimage experience into my everyday way of life. I went to the midday Mass they hold for pilgrims at the Cathedral. I was touched by the hospitality shown to me and all the other non-Catholics there. Technically, I don’t think they are supposed to offer communion to us, but they don’t ask questions and all are invited. I didn’t participate. Not because of any problem between the Lord and me or because of any negativity toward Catholicism on my part. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but something was not yet finished.
With a few days up my sleeve, I took the bus out to the coastal village Finisterre, a place name which means, ‘the end of the earth’. In medieval days pilgrims would burn their clothes at Finisterre in a cleansing ritual. Those threads were probably so dirty, worn out and flea-ridden that’s all they were good for! These days many pilgrims still burn something they have worn on the Camino, or leave it behind under a rock when the weather is so cold, windy and wet that they can’t get a fire started (which is often). The most common items burned or left behind are shoes/boots. That might be less about cleansing and more about exacting revenge for the pain that footwear has inflicted. Glorious weather prevailed the day I was there and as I sat on a rock overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, I experienced a sense of being initiated into the next season of my ministry. The transition of two years was complete, and I stood up released from the past and ready for the future.
Arriving back into Santiago on a Sunday morning, I had a few hours left before my flight back to the UK. I had just enough time to attend a service at the Baptist Church near the bus terminal. What a delight to gather with this small but lively bunch of disciples! It was their first service in their brand new facility and the place was full of joy. On my way inside I saw their sign, which reads, ‘Iglesia Bautista: Jesus Es El Camino’ (Baptist Church: Jesus Is The Way). I was hugged and kissed and fussed over and had multiple invitations for lunch even before the meeting began. Six adults who had been baptized the day before were welcomed into membership. I had just enough Spanish to get the gist of the preaching – a message about living hospitably. When it came time for communion I was eager to celebrate the end of my Camino with these folks with whom I share the same passion for living on The Way.
Not everyone can go on physical pilgrimage. But if you can possibly manage it, I encourage you to give it consideration. Of course, the heart of Christian pilgrimage is not essentially a matter of geography but a matter of walking with Jesus. Yet I have found that getting out on the road has opened up a fresh imagination for that journey of divine companionship.
Deepak Chopra defines spirituality as
the experience of that domain of awareness where we experience our universality. This domain of awareness is a core consciousness that is beyond our mind, intellect, and ego. When we have even a partial glimpse of this level of awareness we experience joy, insight, intuition, creativity, and freedom of choice. In addition, there is the awakening of love, kindness, compassion, happiness at the success of others, and equanimity.
Jack, one of the pilgrims featured in The Camino Documentary, states, “Life and spirituality are so intertwined and connected that it’s impossible to separate them.”
Before I left for my Camino journey I wondered if I would find a deeper meaning to life, a more balanced view of the unseen, of the intangible, and of my purpose in life; quite an imposing feat for such a short journey.
What I discovered was much more than the balance I sought. I discovered the joy of simplicity and the resulting opportunities for introspection. I discovered that beauty lies in everything we see, touch, smell and feel. I discovered the power of silence, be it while walking alone, sitting with other pilgrims during an evening mass, or simply looking into someone’s eyes and feeling the unspoken kindness and connection.
What I developed was gratitude for everything I saw, heard, felt, tasted and experienced. What I relished were the unexpected memories that surfaced in the strangest of times and places – those memories allowed me to honor the beautiful people who were or are part of my life and my personal growth.
What I rediscovered were the joys of feeling at peace and at one with nature. Walking with only the sounds of my footsteps and my heartbeat brought me to a level of mindfulness that I had pushed aside in my busy corporate life.
What I learned was to appreciate the equanimity of all pilgrims. On the Camino, we are not defined by our job, title, position, age, or accomplishments; we are defined as pilgrims seeking our own enlightenment. We look alike as we walk with our backpacks, poles, hat and boots, yet each one of us carries our own stories.
The Camino experience allows us to live life without hundreds of daily distractions. For me, it was simplicity at its best. Decisions were minimal—where to sleep, what to eat, when to take breaks; the other 23 hours and 30 minutes of the day were spent living . . . living each moment to its best.
Upon my return to my usual world I found myself aiming to live a bit of that “simple” life. It may have been a simple life in terms of responsibilities, chores, and time-wasting activities but it did have its abundance of sensory experiences.
Did I experience a deeper spirituality on the Camino? The spirituality I gained while walking the Camino can best be described as a painting with 12 basic colors becoming a masterpiece of millions of colors. I’m reliving life with a whole new palette!
¡Buen “colorful” Camino!
By: Mary Maddox
As I walked the Camino de Santiago I was praying. Praying the way all prayers should be, conversations with Our Lord. I was alone for most of the walk because the two boys walked a lot faster then myself. So they would head off ahead of me and we would meet up at a cafe along the way or they would be standing along a wall waiting for me. It was something to look forward too. I would come around a corner and look to see if I saw them.
The Camino consisted of at least six hours of walking. We would head out in the early morning, the light fog would still be thick as velvet in places. The early chill in the air would be welcoming to start the day, as by afternoon it would be nearly ninety degrees. I will never forget the early mornings, the time we had filling our water bottles in the square and our slow walk out of town. As we headed out, we talked and shared thoughts. No cell phones, no distractions, just you and your fellow pilgrims sharing time together. Just you and God sharing time together!
Everyone along the Camino was so nice and helpful. As I was heading up one long hill, I stopped to rest half way up. A gentlemen stopped and asked if I was OK, I told him, " just resting, I am fine." The tradition on The Camino is to greet all pilgrims with a simple greeting, "Buen Camino". "Buen Camino" means "Good Way" or "Good Road" or "Good Path". I believe most pilgrims feel it says more, "May you have a good Camino de Santiago". Wouldn't it be great to take this tradition home, to greet others with a simple "Buen Camino". Just saying to our fellow pilgrims in the world, "May you have a good path".
Isn't that what we all are, just pilgrims in this world walking our path, walking our prayerful path!
So, I will say to all. "Buen Camino"!!
Your fellow pilgrim, Mary Maddox
Saint James, pray for us that we may be willing to leave everything to follow Jesus as you did. Help us to become special friends of Jesus as you were. Amen