By Brett Webb-Mitchell
For Christians, Lent is a season that is almost synonymous with the word “journey”. In preparation for Easter, for 40 days, many people choose either to give up something, as Jesus did when he practiced fasting in the wilderness, or to re-focus on a Christian spiritual practice with a renewed sense of purpose. Whether one relinquishes something favored or adopts new habits, such activity is meant to lead people to remember the pattern of the Last Supper that prefigures an act of Godly love, the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross, culminating in the celebration of the divine resurrection of Christ.
While I am usually drawn either to surrender or take on new during Lent, my attention this year is on the high incidence of traveling metaphors commonly used by writers, speakers, pastors, and priests alike, when describing Lent. The intent of using this language is to assist believers in focusing on the progress or process of transformation in this hallowed season. As I read and hear from religious leaders, some of my favorite ways of traversing over the 40-day period of Lent is as follows: one goes on a mysterious journey as one follows Jesus; Lent is a sacred pilgrimage into the desert of our lives accompanied by Christ’s spirit. Or it is a solemn trek into an unknown land requiring us to rely upon the Spirit to give us strength in our time of praying and fasting. Other teachers talk of wandering on the road of temptation and forgiveness, or maybe a trail of remembrances, reflecting upon what Jesus has done and is doing for us. A few seek to be on a quest for a deeper understanding of the mystery of forgiveness as we make our way along a pathway toward more meaningful faith, one step at a time.
Such use of metaphors is fascinating, because this language is so far removed from our contemporary Christian experience in this modern age. This is not a condemnation as much as it is observation: in our contemporary age more people will choose to drive, bike, ride a horse, fly, paddle, or if possible select Star Trek’s transporter, as a way of moving from point A to point B. The purpose is to find the most comfortable and convenient way to travel over the distance in the quickest period of time. The journey is not the point; being at our destination is.
But when we use the convenience of modern modes of transportation, we live lives largely detached not only from the land, water, fire, and air that is the stuff of our lives, but also from the engagement of our minds, bodies and spirits. In a sedentary manner we often travel through a neighborhood by opening Google Maps to tell us the most expedient passage. Then we read books, see movies, and listen to music that can take us to faraway lands. But until the last two hundred years — thanks to marvelous inventions like bicycles, trains, powered steamers and ships, and finally cars, buses, and planes — travel was never easy. More than a walk in the woods or a jaunt through one’s neighborhood, to move great distances was an arduous challenge to ordinary capacities, because a journey over considerable distances involved one’s mind, body, and spirit.
And what does this have to do with faith and Lent? While fewer people these days choose to peregrinate by foot, fewer people can envision the journey of faith — language commonly used during Lent — as an act of not only mind and spirit, but also body. In a sense, our discipleship today — which is primarily in the form of teaching and preaching, reading and writing — echoes how we travel today: it too is largely an act of mind and spirit, relegating the body to being merely a vessel to carry what is deemed essential to our daily existence.
In attempting to find a way of entering and sojourning anew in this season of Lent, along with daily devotions and exercising our intellectual life, our fasting as part of a spiritual habit of life, consider going on an actual pilgrimage by foot for over a mile or two and actually walking. The grounding of Lent as a walking pilgrimage is symbolically connected with “40,” which is not only attached to Jesus wandering in the wilderness, but also Elijah’s pilgrimage to Mt. Horeb, and Moses leading the people in the Sinai wilderness. All of these were intentional walking pilgrimages. People’s feet hurt from walking on the rough ground; blisters appeared when sandal straps rubbed on bare feet; backs ached from carrying satchels of one’s clothing and supplies for daily life; and disease spread quickly among people when one’s body, mind, and spirit were worn down from the tedium of walking. By walking, we learn what it literally means to walk in the footsteps of those who know the trail better than we do, or the peril and thrill of charting a new path of faith when walking in a forest. We learn to walk as a community of care and faith, to support those who are most weary, and what it means to be a wounded healer in tending to someone else’s blisters when they tend to ours. We experience the challenge of walking with and being with each other, accompanied by the Spirit And at end of day we will have gained insight into a simple, beautiful act of hospitality as we receive a cup of water and daily bread, an echo of the Lord’s Prayer.
The late Bros. Roger of the Taize community talked about Jesus being the Pilgrim God. A way for us to be in touch with the Pilgrim God in and beyond Lent is not as daunting as it might seem but quite simple: go on a one day or two day walk that pushes you beyond your comfort zone, maybe 10 miles each day, reciting a Psalm or prayer along the way some weekend with a family member or friend.
Or consider an intentional pilgrimage, Jesus invites us to not only go on a metaphorical pilgrimage when extending the invitation to “Follow me” during Lent. We are invited to drop everything, and move mind, spirit and body to be on pilgrimage with the Pilgrim God.
By Brett Webb-Mitchell
Join us for a Lenten pilgrimage!
April 7 - 18, 2017
Spend Holy week on a pilgrimage!
Semana Santa or “Holy Week” is one of the most special times to be on the Camino de Santiago. This celebration fills the streets with processions. It is a tradition made famous in Spain as the population turns out to celebrate the Passion of Christ.
Special Holy Week Pilgrimage!
Masses, processions, and celebrations!
Paschal Triduum along the Camino, Easter Day Mass at Cathedral of Santiago
Processions are lead by religious brotherhoods known as hermandades, or cofradías. They carry large floats known as pasos which depict different scenes from the gospels related to the Passion of Christ or the Sorrows of Virgin Mary.
The nazarenos wear a penitential robe. The robes look like a tunic and cloak and have a hood with a conical tip called a capirote. The colors vary between processions. They are very medieval looking and were worn back then so the penitents could carry out their penance without being recognized. Sometimes they carry candles or crosses. Some walk barefoot or shackled in chains, all done as a penace. Marching bands usually join the processions with loud, slow and rhythmic drumming.
The week of processions are an amazing sight! A sight for all to see, religious or not, you will never forget this time on the Camino.
by email@example.com / Oct 29, 2013
Why did I decide to walk nearly 500 miles in a foreign country where I knew no one and could not speak the language? I am still discovering the reasons, but this is what I know so far.
Routines are very natural and common in our lives. I have many of them, including eating the same Kashi cereal almost every day. I find the best way to disengage the autopilot and take over the aircraft is to put myself in an environment or a situation where my comfort boundaries are stretched, pulled, and shattered.
It also sounded like an awesome trip––a historic route walked by millions since the Middle Ages, with hostels to stay in along the way and an official Compostela certificate to receive from the cathedral at the end.
I was attracted to the physical challenge of it. I’d been on cycling trips in Europe before, but this would be something new. It was epic in scale, starting in France, crossing the mountains into Spain, then cutting across Don Quixote plains to the coast. Despite my size and fitness, I wondered if I could do it.
I wanted the alone time for an interior journey. Although I had quit drinking 12 years before, I was still recovering from the aftermath of a long unconscious youth. I had retired early and wanted to contemplate how I was spending the time I had earned for myself. Most of all, I wanted to think about the love of my life, our four-year relationship, and where it was going.
“The first third of the trip is for the body, the second third for the mind, and the last third for the soul,” the Camino saying goes. It was all that for me.
The route began with St. James the Greater, one of the 12 apostles chosen by Jesus to spread Christian teachings to all nations. St. James is believed to have traveled to northern Spain. In 44 A.D., he returned to the Holy Land and was promptly beheaded by King Herod and made a martyr. Legend says disciples stole his body, placed it in a sarcophagus of marble, and transported it to the Iberian Peninsula via a small ship. When the ship sank, his body washed to shore where it was covered and preserved by scallop shells (another symbolic meaning for the scallop shell that I carried on my pack). When found, the body was quickly buried in a non-descript tomb.
In the ninth century, the St. James legend continued when a shepherd named Pelayo was drawn to a certain field by a shining star. The Latin word compostela refers to the “field of the stars.” A bishop was notified of this event and initiated an investigation into what was believed to be the body and relics of St. James found at the site. King Alfonso II declared St. James to be the patron saint of the region and built a chapel on the site that eventually became the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.
Today, at least nine established routes converge at the apostle’s tomb in Santiago. The internal grooves on the scallop shell come together at the base as a metaphor for the different trails. Most modern-day pilgrims walk the Camino Francés (The French Way). The roughly 500-mile walk begins in St. Jean Pied-de-Port. A strong infrastructure has developed to support the estimated one million additional pilgrims who have made the pilgrimage in modern times. These numbers are exploding, with an estimated 200,000 pilgrims arriving in Santiago in 2012.
The modern-day walkers come in all sizes and shapes from every corner of the planet. Some seek religious affirmation while others aspire to a spiritual awakening. Many are there solely for the physical challenges of the adventurous journey. It provides an appealing escape from the day-to-day routines of our busy lives.
I had no eureka moments on the Camino. At kilometer marker 348.6, I uncovered no little vault with all the answers to life. Instead, just like life, I experienced a series of meaningful and small insights. I believe we all have an internal light, and the Camino acts as a rheostat to greatly increase the intensity. With care and awareness, I hope to keep that light glowing brightly until my last breath.
I continue to treasure the small moments that make up each and every day. A simple smile, a nice cup of coffee, a beautiful sunset, or some random act of kindness provides fuel for my light. When it all becomes too hard, I still use my “Refresh” move, walking in a circle, with or without my walking stick, to get a completely new perspective.
I am letting go of worry. Chronic worrying is detrimental to happiness. It is impossible to be happy and to worry at the same time. It is like trying to view a sunset with pirate patches covering both eyes.
For many years, people had extolled the virtues of deleting worry from my life. This was easy to say, but difficult to implement. During my million steps of reflection on the Camino, I spent some quality time focusing on the significant portion of my life that had been completely wasted on worrying about things outside of my control. The only thing we ultimately control is our reaction to events in our lives. I am spending much more time aligning myself with what is happening as opposed to trying to control what will or will not occur.
Another of my foundations for keeping the light aglow is to live in the Now. It is impossible to eliminate the past or avoid all pleasant or unpleasant memories. However, when I visit my past now, I try to go in, learn, and get the hell out! I am not going to be anchored by some event or trauma from my past. The same goes with the future. While hopes and dreams for a bright forecast are always present, I refuse to walk the rest of my life with eyes solely focused on the horizon. I yield to the current moment.
The Camino strengthened my relationships with friends, family, and myself. While meeting many friends from various nations made the trip a wonderful experience, the most enriched friendship I developed was with myself. It was a joy to rearrange my emotional backpack. My spiritual awakening made me realize that we are all connected and have a purpose. I am much more open to letting people into my life, and more importantly, to learning about their lives.
Kurt Koontz is the author of A Million Steps, a book about his journey on the Camino de Santiago. www.kurtkoontz.com @kurt_koontz
All photos courtesy and copyright Kurt Koontz
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