Reflections along El Camino de Santiago
Why did I walk El Camino de Santiago? Simply, I wanted God’s direction in my life. I was ready to close a nearly 30 year military career and didn’t know what was next. Unlike the famous Frost poem, there was no “road less traveled” ahead. The road ended and I saw no exits, just a wall ahead.
Or so I thought.
For 1,000 years Christian pilgrims and others have walked El Camino for a dizzying variety of reasons. I wanted God’s direction and wanted to share some of the mistakes and tips I’d learned over the years with the Kingdom Journey guys. I knew it would be a different kind of trip, but had no idea how spiritually and physically intense it would be. I didn’t expect to get injured and I didn’t expect to be healed. El Camino is full of miracles it is said. I agree with that.
It was overwhelming at times.
I’ll never forget the American man in crutches in Triacastela who was on his seventh attempt to finish El Camino. He’d failed the prior six times. The Kingdom Journey guys prayed for healing. I’d like to hear if he was healed. I’ll never forget seeing Norb from Munich limping along by himself. Damon went along side him and asked him if he needed prayer. When he said yes, Damon prayed for healing of Norb’s leg. Shortly thereafter Norb was healed and walked with us for a couple of days. He had the biggest smile on his face when he said goodbye to us.
I wasn’t prepared for the openness of the fellow Pilgrims. They would share the most amazing things about their lives. The community of El Camino was also a refreshing change to the “rugged individualism” that posits everyone pulls themselves up by their own bootstraps. I suppose you can do it that way, but in the process you lose community and you lose your soul. “What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul” is how Jesus described the headlong pursuit of material comfort. (Mark 8:36)
You are not comfortable on El Camino. You’re tired, you get hurt, you smell bad and the water at the alburgue may or not be as hot as you’re used to. You sleep with lots of other pilgrims in big sometimes clean rooms; some pilgrims snore and you have to deal with that. You carry everything you need on your back. Things you don’t need get thrown away, mailed home or donated. El Camino has a way of forcing you to decide what material things you really need. I wish we had something like that at home. We Americans are buried in materialism, everyone is a hoarder to some degree. I’m no exception.
On the other hand, there are lots of wonderful surprises and tender mercies along El Camino. The café con leche is fabulous, the pastries are freshly made and delicious. The scenery is world-class, the fellowship is wonderful. You are greeted with “Buen Camino” hundreds of times by complete strangers and fellow pilgrims.
There is community along El Camino. I doesn’t matter if you’re European, Asian, North American, Catholic or Protestant or something else. You share your life. You are known. You are greeted. God’s love is evident in many people. I think of the Franciscan Friar Fabio who hung out with us for several days. He radiated God’s love. He said of our group of 12 Americans that we showed God’s joy. I sure hope so. We were all on much more than a “really long hike” to quote Sarah from the movie, “The Way.”
I looked for God’s direction and found it. I tried to dispense a little Christian joy and love along the Way and received so much more than I received. It was awesome to walk for two weeks with my old friends Seth, Mac and Damon. I’ve known these guys since the late 70’s and early 80’s. It was great to make new friends in Daniel, Dusty, Hugh, Justin, Sunoh and Zeb.
I sit here in America drafting my last post. My ankles are still a bit swollen. I am marked by the Camino. My walk, like Jacob after he wrestled with the Angel, is changed. I am changed. To paraphrase Norman McLean, the writer of the simply beautiful “A River Runs Through It,” in the end all things merge into one and a road runs through it. I am haunted by El Camino.
I will be returning next year with my wife and daughters. I need to finish El Camino.