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: 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.
“But I don’t think I can walk that far.”
“You can,” I protest.
“The Camino is completely different from the Appalachian Trail.”
This is a sample conversation that I have had with countless potential pilgrims. Believe it or not, some of these conversations have been fruitful (resulting in the person deciding to attempt the popular Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in Europe).
The Camino de Santiago was actually a big part of European life during medieval times. It is said that 500,000 pilgrims per year attempted the cross-continental journey on foot to the great Gothic Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. At the end of the Middle Ages, the Camino fell out of favor for almost 500 years; but in the last twenty years it has staged a stunning comeback. What accounts for this storied pilgrimage’s continued success?
Since the earliest human peregrinations, people have wondered how to travel more fruitfully, more fulfillingly, more soulfully. Interestingly, the word travel is derived from the word travails, which connotes beleagurement. That brings up an interesting irony–in this day and age of supersonic jet travel and instantaneous electronic communication, it has become harder to travel well. Modern tourism so often seems to be about destination. One can often subtly hear the frustrations of travelers who return from their long journeys. Deep in their sub-conscious seems to be the thought, ‘Is that all?’ The hope of the sublime, life changing encounters somewhere along the way usually proves elusive.
Pilgrimages on the other hand are much more about transformation. The nature of the daily routine on the Camino is such that it is virtually impossible to not make authentic relationships. Pilgrims typically walk about 25 kilometers (15 miles) per day, taking a coffee or sandwich break along the way. In the early afternoon pilgrims usually begin arriving in the pueblo of their destination, and reserve a bunk at either municipal, private, or parochial albergues. It is then customary for most pilgrims to take a shower, do their laundry, and perhaps take a shower. In the early evening everybody heads off to local restaurants, usually looking for taverns that offer a ‘Menu del Peregrino’ (Pilgrims menu). This includes a first and second dish, bread, olive oil, dessert, and red wine (Hint: Bad wine has yet to be invented in Spain). Everyone then heads back to the albergue for a typical 10:30 curfew.
At almost all times, a person can expect to be surrounded by fellow pilgrims, hailing from countries the world over. It virtually impossible to not make some acquaintances. Better yet, these will not be the superficial ‘waiter-customer’ or ‘desk clerk-guest’ conversations that typify more conventional travel, but rather more authentic human interactions. Relationships just develop naturally and organically on the Camino. I spent a large amount of time joyfully traipsing through the Spanish countryside with a large group from Paris. Of course, the cultural rivalries and differences of French and Americans are legendary; but the Camino reaches beyond such narrow concerns.
Perhaps the best part of the Camino routine is its sheer balance. It is a compelling daily equilibrium of struggle, socializing, spiritual, history, food, and wine. Besides being a babble of languages, the Camino casts the widest possible net in terms of age, abilities, and gender. I’ve seen pilgrims as young as six (which make for great photos), as well as pilgrims in their eighties struggling valiantly to Santiago de Compostela. While the Camino is certainly not an easy trek, it is clearly less difficult than America’s trail of the masses, the Appalachian Trail. For starters, it is a much more manageable size (500 miles to 2,180 miles). Better yet, pilgrims carry less weight, you never feel terribly isolated or fear getting lost, and there is no serious danger from either rabid animals or crazed humans. The Appalachian Trail has made great progress in gender participation; but the Camino de Santiago is probably the only popular footpath in the world where women equal roughly half the participants. And given that women are the fastest growing segment of adventure travel, I would look for women to eventually outnumber males on the Camino de Santiago.
The bottom line is this: If you like people, you will love the Camino de Santiago. This is all very fitting. While modern pilgrims have all kinds of motivations, the fact is that this storied pilgrimage has Christian roots. And Christianity by its very nature is a religion of the masses. Absolutely no one is excluded as, for instance, the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca which requires its pilgrims to be members of the Muslim faith.
The modern Camino almost reminds me of a grand social experiment. Sizable chunks of humanity are thrown together for an intensive several weeks of travel on foot. I can honestly say that I have been struck over the course of my three pilgrimages at how civilized the vast majority of pilgrims are able to comport themselves over such a lengthy journey. In fact, it is striking how much less coarse language one hears or gawdy acts are committed on this pilgrimage compared to the other footpaths I have walked.
Yes, this old-new way of travel is here to stay. Let the masses go forward.
Bill Walker is the author of The Best Way – El Camino de Santiago He is also the author of Skywalker–Close Encounters on the Appalachian Trailand Getting High–The Annapurna Circuit in Nepal.
1. Blessed are you pilgrim, if you discover that the “camino” opens your eyes to what is not seen.
2. Blessed are you pilgrim, if what concerns you most is not to arrive, as to arrive with others.
3. Blessed are you pilgrim, when you contemplate the “camino” and you discover it is full of names and dawns.
4. Blessed are you pilgrim, because you have discovered that the authentic “camino” begins when it is completed.
5. Blessed are you pilgrim, if your knapsack is emptying of things and your heart does not know where to hang up so many feelings and emotions.
6. Blessed are you pilgrim, if you discover that one step back to help another is more valuable than a hundred forward without seeing what is at your side.
7. Blessed are you pilgrim, when you don’t have words to give thanks for everything that surprises you at every twist and turn of the way.
8. Blessed are you pilgrim, if you search for the truth and make of the “camino” a life and of your life a “way” in search of the One who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
9. Blessed are you pilgrim, if on the way you meet yourself and gift yourself with time, without rushing, so as not to disregard the image in your heart.
10. Blessed are you pilgrim, if you discover that the “camino” holds a lot of silence, and the silence of prayer, and the prayer of meeting with God who is waiting for you."
Source:The Church of St. Stephen in Zabaldika, Spain
Life itself is a sacred journey but when we decide to join a pilgrimage this sacred journey gets interesting. We get to learn and experience so much. During a pilgrimage, we experience two types of journeys.
The outer journey lets us leave everything behind. We get away from the everyday routines, and all the technology and distractions of the world. We get to exercise daily (which we are always told to do, yet never do). This journey also allows us to meet knew people or spend time with a loved one and experience the history and culture of another country. Its fun and exciting.
Then there's the inner journey. This journey is your own. This is the one that is not as simple as the outer journey. For this one is where we receive gifts and lessons. Sometimes we receive and understand while on the pilgrimage and sometimes not until we return home. The excitement of a pilgrimage and the inner journey is we never know what to expect. You might think you know why you are doing the pilgrimage, but usually we find out during the pilgrimage there is another reason. The best thing to do is open your heart, your ears and your eyes and let the Lord guide you. He will show you the way.
A pilgrimage is a ritual journey with a hallowed purpose. Every step along “the way” has meaning. The pilgrim knows that life giving challenges will emerge. A pilgrimage is not a vacation; it is a transformational journey during which significant change takes place. New insights are given. Deeper understanding is attained. New and old places in the heart are visited. Blessings are received and healing takes place. On return from the pilgrimage, life is seen with different eyes. Nothing will ever be quite the same again. ~ Macrina Wiederkehr, Behold Your Life,p. 11
We are inviting you to join us not as a tourist, but as a pilgrim. Our lives are filled with moments of brilliance often overlooked. As we walk “the way” let us acknowledge those moments. Let our journey take us within and just be. Step by step, mile by mile, day by day let us trust in Our Lord and spend this time walking the same path so many have walked before us. Through the exploration of our landscapes may we uncover deep and soulful inner healing and growth.
"The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page" ~ St. Augustine of Hippo
There is still room, join us for an adventure of a lifetime! Click here for more info!
Your fellow pilgrim, Mary Maddox