I took a group of 8 students to Spain to walk the English Way of el Camino de Santiago. It was, perhaps as you’d expect, both transformative and deeply exhausting. We’ve been talking for months about how the Camino (“way” or “road”) isn’t just a line on a map and there’s no right way to walk it. The way you walk it—aches and pains, joy and misery, connection with or absence of God—is the Camino. Each of us has our own Camino, just as we all have our own burdens and our own revelations. In the words of Brian McLaren, “we make the road by walking.” Wherever your feet fall as you walk, whatever you do in your daily life that creates your metaphorical road, that is the road you’re on. Neither good nor bad, necessarily, just your road.
Now, I struggle with traveling. A lifetime of motion-sickness on most forms of transportation plus being something of a homebody makes it difficult. I like being in a place far from home, but the transition to get there is rough. Mercifully the plane flights were uneventful; the worst of the first leg was jet lag and Reeve losing his glasses. Irritating, but not insurmountable.
We spent a couple days in Madrid eating paella and touring the Palace and the Prado museum. This was my first kairos moment along the Camino, even though we weren’t yet hiking. One of the Prado’s most prized pieces is Heironynous Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights. Go ahead and Google it if you don’t recognize the name. Weird, right? It’s one of my most favorite paintings and one Leighton and I have had on our wall and then in the Edge House library for two decades. I know what it looks like inside and out; I’ve spent literal hours of my life staring at it in wonder. I was not prepared for seeing it with my own eyes. It was all there, everything I expected, but the texture, the detail, the sheer presence of it was overwhelming. Reader, I wept there in the gallery. God was present to me as God has been present in places like Dachau and the Rocky Mountains.
Once we began hiking, we had five days of the presence of God. It wasn’t constant—much of the hike was prosaic thinking about blisters or rain or what song to sing next—but all of it was tinged with the Holy Spirit. We were vulnerable in the walk to share our innermost fears and ponderings. We couldn’t go on at times, but we must go on. We arrived at the halfway point on our journey to great celebration (singing Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer”—perfection). We ate ridiculously delicious rustic sandwiches of bread and meat. We shared each other’s literal weight when it got to be too much. We cared for each other and received the care of our Spanish hosts who found us towels and tomatoes.
And then we arrived in the square in front of the church in Santiago de Compostela, inexplicably accompanied by the sound of bagpipes. I wept again, this time in joy and relief. We had made it. All of us. Ankles and fear and hunger and exhaustion and rain had not held us back. We, all of us, made it. We collapsed on the ground with smiles on our faces. For a thousand years, pilgrims have been walking to this place which may or may not house St James’ bones. It almost doesn’t matter if they’re real, because it’s the road we walk to get there and God’s presence with us as we do that matters.
I could write so many more stories about this journey, but I will stop here. May you feel God’s presence as you walk through your life, both the ordinary and the extraordinary.