The Camino de Santiago was pretty quiet during Covid, just like everything else. This year, several of my friends have made the pilgrimage and it reawakened my own memories – and reminded me of the on-going gifts of the journey.
It was so interesting for me to see people posting photos and reflections – almost simultaneously, they were about a day or two apart from one another – of pathways I had trod six years earlier. Although many of my friends went after I did, I don’t recall feeling as passionately as I did this year. Not sure what that’s about, but I’ll stick with reawakening.
So much time and effort went into preparing for pilgrimage. Physically preparing myself to walk 500 miles, practically preparing in various ways from travel plans to what to bring. With so many books, films, websites, and more, there is almost too much information about how to “do” the Camino. Of course, the minute one sets foot on the path in St. Jean Pied de Port, the preparing and the doing becomes something else – it is about fully being. You can kind of prepare for that, but honestly – the Holy Spirit is pretty clear about making stuff very real at that point.
In any case, I have relived many of my memories, and I am drawn more deeply into what I am called to do as a result of my journey. That’s the thing about the Camino, it never really ends. Once you go, nothing in your life is the same after it, and one must open to what comes next.
If you think you have to go go France and Spain, or anywhere for that matter, to “get” to this, I offer you perhaps the most important element of Camino… While being outside of your normal circumstances is a big game changer, and one I highly recommend, it does not have to be afar. Immediately I think of the 2016 film, Phil’s Camino. It was made by the indomitable Annie O’Neill, about someone perhaps even more indomitable, Phil Volker, now of blessed memory. Having Stage 4 cancer, Phil could not leave Vashon Island, Washington, so he made his camino right where he was. Fate intervened and he did end up in Spain and in many other places, but the point is, he made his camino where he was. (Note: Annie became my hero when I saw her in Six Ways to Santiago, another wonderful documentary film. That I get to know and interact with her online is a gift.)
That is where any transformational journey will begin. You don’t need to go anywhere special or buy anything particular, but an open heart, a willing heart, and a mind to match are helpful. If you lack those things as I did, the old fake it until you make it rule can apply. Resistance can, like an ugly old bulb thrown in the ground to freeze in the dark of winter, can become a most beautiful flower. So push on, because if you cannot do it in place, going to Spain ain’t gonna help!
The camino is an ongoing journey within. If you are fortunate enough to go, as I was, go. If you can go on any kind of life-changing pilgrimage, go. Whether it is in your backyard, at a retreat house, in the labyrinth at your parish or somewhere local, or just in your heart – begin. The first steps are the toughest.
And know this – once you set forth you can count on one thing for certain, the journey is never ending, infinite and full of all the grace and glory that we are willing to accept. Six years on, I am opening up to a new level of this. Let’s pray for one another that we begin and that we keep on going.
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