Note that the following blog post was written by guest blogger Joyce deToni-Hill.
Ten days ago I returned home from my two month pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago in Spain. Camino wisdom tells us that the pilgrimage begins upon returning home as we re-view our lives in “ordinary time” through the lens of lessons learned while on the journey. As I unpack my literal and spiritual backpack over these past ten days I’m rediscovering the gifts of the journey. Here are some of my important lessons.
Responding to the Call – A pilgrim pastime is to share call stories- When did we first “hear” the invitation to walk? What are we looking for? How did we rearrange our lives to respond? Prevenient grace taps us on the shoulder, inviting us to seek and find. Responding requires risk as we intentionally enter the threshold of liminal space and time. Wisdom tells us to stay in that liminality for as long as we can so that God can mold and shape us.
Pray without Ceasing –The hours of walking alone and with others activates memories, hopes, joys, and even deep grief. I was often mystified in the times I spontaneously teared up with feelings of gratitude or grief. The camino communities provided daily opportunities to step into small chapels to pray and leave a monetary offering. By the end of the pilgrimage I made it my practice to step into every church to pray. I have concluded that the practice of praying without ceasing continues to shape our spirits to have the mind of Christ.
The Camino Provides – “The camino provides” is the common mantra on pilgrimage. The pilgrim is called to let go of control and trust in providence each day. It was difficult to trust in the journey’s process especially when I felt vulnerable around language skills, and walking solo. But the act of trusting allowed me to let go of my insecurities and experience more fully than in the times I pre-booked and scheduled my day. Trusting and letting go enabled me to meet new people, stay in unique villages and hostels, and delight in serendipity. It taught me to not only be a gracious giver but a gracious receiver as well.
Simplicity – Pilgrims pack lightly and sensibly. To walk further we carry less. That doesn’t mean the pilgrim skimps on quality and investing in proper equipment. The exercise of preparing to walk far by carrying less offers the opportunity to assess the most important things and to keep the main thing the main thing. After living simply for two months I returned home feeling a deep need to significantly lesson the contents of my home. And the spiritual practice of sorting enables us to make room for the new directions and beginnings jump started by the pilgrimage.
Discernment – Walking simply outdoors each day required a constant check-in with myself. “What do I need today? Rest? Patience? Companionship? Privacy? New Equipment? Better food choices? A Bus? Is the road I’m on a good one or shall I reroute to option two? Pilgrims on the “Way” expected this daily discernment and respected their walking partners when they needed to make different choices. There was such a grace in recognizing that each one of us had various daily needs. Daily discernment is the gift we need to offer ourselves when we get stuck in our daily trajectories. We often forget to check in with ourselves and others.
Trust the Arrows- Really! – Ninety-nine percent of pilgrims have some form of guidebook. Books are not necessary because the entire way is marked by yellow arrows. Each community marks their portion of the route with yellow arrows and some provide beautifully designed shell signs in an extravagant act of hospitality to the stranger. There were times I wondered if I was still on the correct path only to look up to spy the yellow arrow at exactly the moment I needed assurance. Each morning I stepped out of the hostel and took a 360 degree look for that blessed yellow arrow. It was an act of pure trust to traverse from one community to the next in unfamiliar territory guided by a simple anonymously placed arrow. Camino wisdom now leaves me with the urge to look up a lot more often with both head and heart and to pray with the psalmist, “Make Thy way plain before my face.”(Psalm 5:8)
Going Home by Another Way – One of my big surprises on the Camino was the yearning for “more”. As I neared Santiago, I overheard walkers making plans to continue the journey as far as they could go. Some cancelled hotel and plane reservations in order to continue past Santiago on an 80 mile walk to the villages of Finesterre and Muxia on the Atlantic ocean. Ancient Celts and Romans regarded these two locations as the literal ends of the earth. Historically these were places where people burned a clothing item or changed a name or set new intentions for their lives. Today the parade of pilgrims still marches up to the lighthouse to burn items on the rocks, and squeeze their paper prayers into the slots of the lighthouse fence. I met other pilgrims with extra time who decided to extend their journey home by way of other countries. The journey expands confidence as we test our strength while walking in community with the world’s people. The Camino expands our boundaries and vision to embrace more in a time when we often settle for less.
As I reflect on the pilgrim journey and its gifts, I recognize that the Way has blessed my spirit. I did not, could not, know the gifts it would bring, as I followed its whispered invitation across the threshold. As our Christian story models for us, walking in faith is like that – at the Spirit’s invitation we go, and the Way is revealed as we walk.
Joyce DeToni-Hill is a native of Michigan. Ordained for nearly 30 years she currently serves with her spouse Derek as pastor of Central UMC in Colorado Springs CO. You can contact Joyce at email@example.com.