Moonset on the Meseta

Moonset on the Meseta

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Spiritual Lessons of the Camino

The following piece was written almost one year ago, and presented at one of our local chapter events.  I realized I should save it and share it somewhere, so here it is:

Spiritual lessons of the Camino

Camino Sanabres, November 2016

With the death of my husband two and a half years before I departed on my first Camino in 2010, a light had gone out of my life.  I had lost the person who loved me best of all, and with whom I had shared everything for 30 years.  What was the meaning of life without him?  Ed had been my anchor, my best friend, my life’s companion, my center, and my rock. 

My Camino was both a good-bye and a beginning.  I set out alone to walk on the relatively untraveled route from Le-Puy-en-Velay in France, and I set out on a new life.  There would be no Ed to bail me out in times of trouble. No Ed to share my joys, my sorrows and my frustrations.  Who would care if I never came back?  My children and friends would miss me, sure, but they had their own lives that would go on quite well without me.

Despite my fears and sometimes panic, I trusted that God would take care of me.  Whatever was going to happen would happen.  Much was out of my control: ATM machines did not work, the train didn’t go through, I arrived in the dark and couldn’t find the hostel, my trekking poles would not lock into place, and I missed a turn on my first day of walking.  I was alone, and not everyone was friendly.   But sometimes strangers — camino angels — came to my rescue.  Despite my fear, there was freedom in being on my own, setting out in an unknown land, with everything I would need for the next six weeks on my back.  I was a self-contained entity, reliant, however, as Blanche du Bois would say, "on the kindness of strangers," and on the grace of God. I was a pilgrim, as so many had been before me.  I walked in the footsteps of those long gone.  I had already lost so much that was important to me.  What more did I have to lose?

As I walked, forgotten French words and phrases surfaced from buried recesses within me.  Memories awakened by sights, smells, and sounds along the trail, came to me unbidden.  I found myself remembering people, events, and places from my entire life.  I would sometimes find myself in tears, and sometimes laughing out loud and singing at the joy and freedom of walking, of feeling the earth beneath my feet, the sun, wind, rain, and snow on my face, and beauty all around me, never knowing what I would encounter around the next bend or over the next hill.  Life was so simple.  No dithering over what I should do, and whether I was meeting my responsibilities or the expectations of others.  All I needed to do was put one foot in front of the other, keep my body going, and find something to eat and a place to sleep at the end of the day.

I feared I might find walking drudgery, and indeed sometimes the last miles of the day seemed so long and hard, that I thought I might expire before they did.  However, as exhausted and sore as I might be in the evening, each morning I woke refreshed, full of energy and anticipation after a much longer sleep than I ever had at home, eager to put on my boots and see where my feet would take me that day.

What did I learn?

Let go. There is only so much I can control.
Take it one step, one day at a time.
Rejoice in the moment.
Know that the hard times, the moments of sadness, and the times of panic are opportunities for growth.
Sometimes I have to be at the end of my rope, with hope extinguished, before I can recognize that an angel has been sent to help me, and I am not really alone.

Back home again, I try to remember to live as a pilgrim, but it is hard to do.  The pilgrim is both in the world and outside of the world, but at home the world is too much with us.  That is why many of us are called to return to the pilgrim path again, and why i continue to reflect on that time apart long after my walk is over.

Did I find a new life?  I did.  My pilgrimage continues to have a presence in my daily life.  There are constant reminders, and when I have doubts about my path and whether I can do something, I remind myself of what I accomplished as a pilgrim.

I have since walked Caminos with my new husband, and learned that walking day by day with a loved one presents different challenges than walking alone. We bring some of the safety and some of the responsibility of home with us when we walk with another, and we need to negotiate between I and we, and us and me.

What did I learn?

Be patient.
We walk alone even when together.  No companion can walk for us.

The pilgrim constantly walks through new landscapes.  When we stay at home, it is an illusion that nothing changes.  Everything changes all the time, even though we stay put.  Pilgrimage helps us recognize that sometimes we are the tree standing by the water, and sometimes the passing stream.  What remains forever?

Linnea Hendrickson
January 17, 2016
Martin Luther King Day


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