If someone would have asked me for a list of spiritual disciplines a few years ago I would not have included pilgrimage. Now I would.
Apparently every year more than 200,000 people walk the Camino in Spain. And for some of them, like for me this summer, it is a spiritual discipline.
I walked with my wife and six children and our daughter-in-law. That alone was quite incredible – that it worked for all nine of us with our very different schedules to walk together. It’s safe to say the experience bonded us in a way we’ll never forget. We loved it.
I guess walking is like other spiritual disciplines in that it’s about making space. When we walk from one town to another (we could bus, train or fly) it simply takes a lot of time. And in that time I found myself opening up to God and to those who walked with me.
We were told beforehand not to plan too much. “Let things unfold” was the message. That was a helpful piece of advice, as it is for other spiritual disciplines. We learned to trust rather than work at controlling the outcomes of our days.
As I tried to let things unfold one thing I experienced during my times of walking alone was gratitude for my family and friends. Almost every time I was walking alone I found myself giving thanks to God as people came to mind. When walking for hours I found it is easy to pray in a more relaxed way. So I took time to pray for my family and friends and I became amazed again at how many fabulous people I have in my life.
I read and memorized one story from the Gospel of Mark during the walk. A story that seems to start with one man trying hard to please God in his own strength, but as Jesus tries to help him he can’t open up and let Jesus take the lead in his life. He’s unwilling to let go of his precious cargo and follow the God who created him, so he goes away sad. At the end of the story one of Jesus’ disciples says, “We have left everything to follow you…” And then right there Jesus makes an interesting promise to his disciples. He tells them if they are willing to give up, let go and follow him they are going to end up having family and friends all over the place in this life and into eternity. If they are willing to let go of controlling their lives, they’ll experience the blessing of watching God multiply their family and friends, homes and fields.
For me the experience of being grateful for family and friends and the promise from Jesus in the story from Mark came together shortly after our walk. We were in Portugal staying with a family we had come to know when they were in missionary training in Abbotsford. They welcomed us into their home and extended care to us that we won’t forget. Their home became our home. When I said goodbye I thanked them for being the brothers and sisters Jesus promised I would have as I follow him.
So I’m back to gratitude for family and friends. That’s one thing the discipline of walking the Camino did for me this summer. I am still marveling at how many incredible people God has chosen to surround me. What is God saying to me through my amazing family and friends? I think I’m hearing and receiving a rich and simple whisper – I AM WITH YOU.
I would love to walk the Camino one day, too.