It's been a crazy couple of months. I became a grandfather. I came face-to-face with the sudden death of someone I loved. And then, it happened a second time. For a while, it seemed like I lived on an airplane.
The fast-forward button on my life seemed stuck in the "on" position. I needed more than just a break – I needed time detoxing from the pressure and stress. My spirit felt brittle.
The two weeks I'd scheduled walking the Way of St. James in northern Spain couldn't have come at a better time. I joined three of my best friends and eight 20-somethings we were mentoring as a part of a discipleship adventure.
My friend Dave Iglesias describes what happened:
For 1,000 years Christian pilgrims and others have walked El Camino for a dizzying variety of reasons. I knew it would be a different kind of trip, but had no idea how spiritually and physically intense it would be. I didn’t expect to get injured and I didn’t expect to be healed. El Camino is full of miracles it is said.
It was overwhelming at times.
I’ll never forget the American man in crutches in Triacastela who was on his seventh attempt to finish El Camino. He’d failed the prior six times. The Kingdom Journey guys prayed for healing.
I’ll never forget seeing Norb from Munich limping along by himself. Damon went along side him and asked him if he needed prayer. When he said yes, Damon prayed for healing of Norb’s leg. Shortly thereafter Norb was healed and walked with us for a couple of days. He had the biggest smile on his face when he said goodbye to us.
I wasn’t prepared for the openness of the fellow Pilgrims. They would share the most amazing things about their lives. The community of El Camino was refreshing.
You are not comfortable on El Camino. You’re tired, you get hurt, you smell bad and the water at the albergue may or not be as hot as you’re used to. You sleep with lots of other pilgrims in big, sometimes clean rooms; some pilgrims snore.
You carry everything you need on your back. Things you don’t need get thrown away, mailed home or donated. El Camino has a way of forcing you to decide what material things you really need.
On the other hand, there are lots of wonderful surprises and tender mercies along El Camino. The café con leche is fabulous, the pastries are freshly made and delicious. The scenery is world-class, the fellowship is wonderful. You are greeted with “Buen Camino” hundreds of times by complete strangers and fellow pilgrims.
There is community along El Camino. It doesn’t matter if you’re European, Asian, North American, Catholic or Protestant or something else. You share your life. You are known. You are greeted. God’s love is evident in many people. I think of the Franciscan Friar Fabio who hung out with us for several days. He radiated God’s love. He said of our group of 12 Americans that we showed God’s joy.
Rediscovering joy. That was what I needed and it's what I got on the Camino. One morning on the trail, I met a 31 year-old German mother of three girls named Sylvia.
"Why did you decide to go on pilgrimage," I asked.
"I want God to surprise me," was her response
That's it, I think. God is wanting to do just that with us, his kids. We trudge through life, sometimes overwhelmed by all we have to carry. God sees us and wants to surprise us with joy like a dad surprises his kids on Christmas morning with gifts.
Going on pilgrimage postures you to be surprised by God. I needed it. Perhaps you do too. What do you think?