Learning to Pray as We Walk (El Camino de Santiago de Compostela, Part 3)
This past June, I traveled to Spain to walk part of The Camino de Santiago de Compostela (translated The Way of Saint James), an ancient Christian pilgrimage. I’d heard about it, read about it, planned for it, and I was finally there, with no expectations except to reconnect with God.
As I embarked on this journey with God, one of my favorite Bible verses was echoing in my head, “Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him.” (Deuteronomy 30:19b-20a).
Yes, this walk was a symbol that I am indeed choosing life, and the first steps onto the Camino were exhilarating.
The sun was bright, the days were warm and the initial days of the journey were easy. I’m grateful that God eased me into this walk without overwhelming me at the start. Some plan out every day of the journey, but I did not travel in this manner. Every evening I would consult the guidebook and have a general idea of what the next day held, but I completely trusted God with every step of the way.
Walking the Camino is an extremely personal journey – solitary at times, and lonely at others. Those who journey the Camino are called peregrinos (pilgrims). Each person who chooses to walk the Camino has lessons to learn; lessons that will be unique and special to each pilgrim.
The Camino is full of signs (mostly yellow arrows) that point the way to Santiago. I learned to pay attention to the signposts as I walked. I came to depend on the signs as a much as I depend on God’s Word and his leading, and was reminded of the verse: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” (Psalm 119:105).
I treasured each sign and felt utter gratitude when there was one, reminding me that I was indeed on the right path. The signs made me wonder if there are signposts along our way in everyday life, pieces of wisdom from others and God’s word that he offers us? I believe there are, but we miss them because we are not looking for them, so I committed to be more attentive to these signposts when I returned home.
The Camino taught me when the path ahead seems overwhelming, focus your eyes right where you are, put one foot in front of the other and keep moving.
There were days on the journey when the weather was crummy (rain, cold, wind) or when the hills seemed impossibly steep, and in those moments when I focused on the challenge ahead, and not right where I was, the path seemed daunting. Isn’t that also a metaphor for life? I would refocus my gaze directly in front of me, and then take one step , and then another, and then another until the challenge had passed.
By the end of day eight, about ¾ into my walk and a little less than 100 miles traveled, I was hurting, slowing down and becoming discouraged. Walking on my left knee had become painful and I was uncertain if I should keep traveling or stop. As I journeyed that day, praying and worshiping, I prayed specifically for four physical needs. I prayed for a pharmacist in the next town so that I could purchase a knee brace. Most of the villages I ventured through were quite small and did not include pharmacies. The second need I prayed for was a quiet rooming house. The night before I had been in a very noisy one with 65 bunk beds in one room – all occupied! The third thing I prayed for was a rooming house with a washer and dryer, for the past eight days I had been hand-washing and line-drying my clothes and bedding. The day before it had rained, so my clothes never fully dried. The last prayer was for an ATM, as I was running very low on cash and cash is the only currency on the Camino.
When I settled into my rooming house that afternoon and cuddled up on my bed to take a nap, I realized with gratitude that God had granted every one of my requests that day!
This was a very humbling and intimate realization to know that God heard me and attended to my every need.
Here’s some questions I ask myself now that I’m home, so that I remember the lessons of the Camino. Hopefully they will help you as well:
Are there signposts along your daily journey that you are missing? Open your eyes to the opportunities in front of you that may not look like what you expected.
Does your daily struggle seem overwhelming? Keep your eyes focused on exactly where you are, and not on the path ahead, and simply take one step, and then another.
Are there prayers that you too don’t even realize that God has answered? Take a moment to stop and thank God for all that he is doing in your life.
Read an earlier post in this series here.