Walking the Camino

One year ago today, I took my first steps out of St. Jean Pied de Port along the Camino Francais route of the Camino de Santiago.

Many of you who are regular readers followed the blog posts I occasionally wrote along the way to Santiago and on to Finisterre, so you know what a powerful experience the Camino was for me. Arriving in Santiago after almost 500 miles of walking was amazing and deeply emotional.

Almost from the time I returned, I began thinking about my next Camino. Lately those feelings have grown stronger, doubtless because of the approach of this one-year anniversary. I still can’t decide between walking the Camino Portuguese or the Camine del Norte, but I do plan on walking one of them.

For today, however, I just give thanks that I was able to take the time to walk the Camino, that I had so many friends and family members praying for and otherwise supporting me along the way, and that it was such a wonderful experience.

For those who may be interested, upon my return last year, I gave a talk at the law school on Lessons from the Camino. You can listen to a podcast of my talk and see a short slide show of some of the pictures I took here.


The Next Camino

I got a phone call yesterday from a woman who had seem the posts I wrote while on my Camino. She is interested in walking it and had some questions about how to proceed. Yesterday morning I opened an e-mail from my Camino friend Rocky, who sent some great pictures from the trip. Then I got on Facebook this morning and saw that another of my friends had changed her profile picture to one of her on the Camino.

All of this whets my appetite for my next Camino. I’m planning to walk this coming May and the big question is whether to walk the Camino del Norte, which begins in Irun and largely tracks the northern coast of Spain, or the Camino Portuguese, which goes north from Lisbon. (If anyone who has walked the Camino has any comparative evaluations about the two routes, I’d be glad to hear from them.)

It is not just the walking I’m looking forward to – although the process of getting ready to move from one house to another has meant I’ve done far too little hiking this summer. And not just the sights and colors. Or even the wonderful people I know I’ll meet. It is all that, but it is also that shift from chronos time to kairos time that is inherent in an experience that pulls us out of our normal schedule for such an extended period. A shift that changes both our own perspective and makes us open to God in a different way.

May is a good ways off, and I have plenty to focus on between now and then. But I am smiling in anticipation. And if those of you in the Twin Cities see my walking around town with my pack, you’ll know I’m just getting some early training in.

An Invitation to Meet Jesus

I love the writing of James Martin, S.J., and have benefitted from each of the books he has written as well as from many of his articles in America and otherwise. This is no less true of his newest book, which I just finished reading: Jesus: A Pilgrimage.

Martin describes his book as “an invitation for you to meet the Jesus I have studied, the Jesus I follow, and the Jesus I met in the Holy Land,” with the aim of prompting readers to explore more about Jesus. He does this through chapters that explore major stories of the Gospels through the lens of his own life and prayer (and Martin’s honesty about his own weaknesses is both admirable and encouraging), stories from his teachers, and his pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Each chapter ends with the Gospel passage, the story of which was the subject of the chapter, inviting prayerful reflection before moving on.

I should have been writing posts about the content of this book as I read it, because there is way to much to share in a single blog post, although I suppose I could simply say (a) put this on your summer reading list if it is not there already, and (b) Martin’s descriptions of his time in the Holy Land increase my desire to visit there.

But I will share here just three of the things that I found particularly helpful and worth reflecting on. First, in Martin’s discussion of Luke’s account of the miraculous catch of fish (Luke 5:1-11), Martin zeroes in on Peter’s reaction to the miraculous catch: “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” Martin suggests we “can try to imagine Peter’s possible frame of mind when he asked Jesus to leave him, but it is just as important to understand why we say to God, ‘Go away from me.'” He spends the next several pages looking at the some possible reasons, discussing our feelings of unworthiness, fear (of God and God’s power), fear of change, and fear of intimacy. He ends this helpful discussion with the reminder of Jesus’ response to Peter’s “Go away” – Jesus does not depart form Peter, but calls him to join him in his mission. Likewise, he does not depart from us when our fears cause us to move away. Continue reading

Way of the 88 Temples

Knowing that I am already thinking about what might be my next pilgrimage route, my husband gave me for Christmas Robert Sibley’s The Way of the 88 Temples. The book recounts the author’s experience walking the 1400 kilometer Henro Michi, one of the oldest and most famous pilgrimage routes in Japan. The route is a circuit of 88 temples around the perimeter of Shikoku, one of Japan’s four main islands.

I’m not sure after reading the book (which I finished on my plane ride yesterday afternoon) that I’m ready to tackle the Henro Michi (although I am not ruling it out). Apart from the fact that it sounds physically more daunting than the Camino, I get the sense from Sibley’s description that my lack of Japanese language ability would be more of a problem than not speaking Spanish was on the Camino. Having said that, his descriptions of walking in Japan reminded me of much that I love about Japanese culture and tradition. But whether I do this pilgrimage or not, reading the book offered a vehicle for me to spend some time reflecting further on my Camino experience.

Many of Sibley’s observations about his pilgrimage on Shikoku resonate with my experience of the Camino – how pilgrimage invites “an immediate empathy you wouldn’t normally feel for those who aren’t friends or family,” how the stopping points become less important than the space between them, the need to let hardships come and go without obsessing about them, the way pilgrimage seems to turn the ordinary into extraordinary and the effect of the mindfulness that develops when one is on the trail. His description of post-pilgrimage restlessness and depression also resonated.

Reading Sibley’s book reinforced the conviction I developed on the Camino of the need to take time from the demands of ordinary life. Sibley writes

We all possess a spiritual life to some degree, a sense of inwardness shaped by personal experience, the climate of opinion in which we live, and our psychological dispositions. It’s surely a mark of sanity to find a way to reflect on the spiritual dimension of your life to discover, if possible, a thread of meaning and purpose in the tapestry of everyday experience…>The challenge, of course, once you’re aware of your dissatisfaction, is finding the time, place, and circumstance that allow you to cultivate those habits of reflection and introspection tha tmigth open you to the “true dramas” of your life.

I often talk about the value of daily prayer. But I think we need more than daily prayer, that we need something like pilgrimage experiences – the ability to take “respite from the demands of ordinary life, a chance to step out temporarily from the magic circle of the modern world.”

For me the question is only where will I walk next.

Prayer for The Pilgrims

I remembered this morning that I had placed some prayer cards and other papers in the back sleeve of my prayer journal during my Camino. One of the things I pulled out was the Prayer of the Pilgrims that was prayed at the church in Los Arcos.

As I read the prayer this morning, it struck me as a wonderful prayer for all of us as we continue the pilgrimage that is our life. Here it is, with its single reference to the Camino deleted:

Lord, you who recalled your servant Abraham out of the town Ur in Chaldea and who watched over him during all his wanderings; you who guided the jewish people through the desert; we also ask you to watch [over us].

Be for us,
a companion on our journey
the guide on our intersections
the strengthening during fatigue
the fortress in danger
the resource on our itinerary
the shadow in our heat
the light in our darkness
the consolation during dejection
and the power of our intention

so that we under your guidance, safely and unhurt, may reach the end of our journey and strengthened with gratitude and power, secure and filled with happiness, may join our home. For Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen.

I pray this prayer this morning for all of us.

Pilgrimage: Lessons from the Camino

Today I gave a talk at the law school about my Camino experience. I scheduled the talk before I left, confident I would have some Lessons from the Camino to share.

As I told the audience at the outset, the graces and learnings from an experience unfold over time and I’ll doubtless have further thoughts and insights as time goes on, but it was fun to share a little of the experience today. I spoke for about twenty-three minutes or so, after then took questions for another twenty-five minutes or so.

You can access a recording of my talk here or stream them from the icon. (I only recorded the talk, not the question and answer afterward…which I’m kind of sorry about, since the questions were great.)

I opened our time together today by sharing a brief slideshow with a very small sampling of the 600 or so photos I took along the way:


This is it! Later today I fly today to Paris, from where I will travel to St. Jean Pied de Port (via Bayonne) to begin my Camino. I have been waiting for so long for this day, it is hard to believe it is really here!

I have some of my own ideas for what I hope to gain clarity on as I walk. But, as with retreats, I know that God has God’s own plans in mind, and so I will be open for whatever God has in store for me on this pilgrimage.

The beginning of this walk also marks the end of my run of posting daily – a run which has lasted over five and a half years and over 2000 posts. I do plan to post as I can – short audio reflections, pictures, and some thoughts, but those will be occasional. (If you are not already subscribed to Creo en Dios!, if you scroll down the right sidebar you will see a link to subscribe – that will ensure that you get an e-mail when I do post.)

I will take my first steps out of St. Jean on Friday – feast of one of my great heroes, St. Vincent de Paul. Be assured of my prayers for you as I walk. And I ask you to keep me in your prayers as well.


Feast of St. James

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of St. James, said to be the first of the apostles to be martyred.

In the Gospel for today’s feast day, the mother of James and John asks Jesus to “command that these two sons of mine sit, one at your right and the other at your left, in your Kingdom.” Jesus responds by asking the sons if they can “drink the chalice that I am going to drink.”

As I sat with that passage this morning, I was amazed at the alacrity which which James and his brother respond to Jesus. I’m not sure I could have answered so quickly. Were there really sure of their strength? Or were they just anxious to secure a promise to sit at the head of the class, first in line, at the right hand of Jesus?

As I put it that way to myself, I realized what a misconception of Jesus’ Kingdom the mother’s question and the sons’ ambition reveals.

It is a very human way of thinking of things to envision some people getting to stand closer to Jesus and others (the less important, less holy, less whatever folks) being pushed to the back. James and John want to make sure they get the good seats. But I think when fully realize Kingdom, there is no line, no hierarchy of closeness, no back of the bus. We all get to be fully with Jesus.

Apart from today’s Gospel, I mark this holiday for another reason. Tradition holds that St. James preached the Gospel in Spain and he is especially honored at Compostela in Spain – the end point of the Camino de Santiago (also known as the Way of St. James).

Four or five years ago on this feast, I wrote that it was one of my great desires to walk the Camino and that I planned to do so at some future point. As regular readers know, that point has come and I am only two months away from beginning my Camino.

And so I pray to St. James as I prepare for my pilgrimage to the place at which he is so honored.

A Pilgrim Spirit

I have been thinking a lot about pilgrimage, as I begin early stages of planning for my pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago this fall.

The other day I thumbed through a short book written some years ago by my friend Ed Sellner on pilgrimage, titled (fittingly enough) Pilgrimage.

At one point Sellner observes that there are bound to be hitches on any pilgrimage, even days when nothing seems to go right. One reponse to the inevitable hitches is to get frustrated and irritated. But that, he suggests, is not the “pilgrim spirit.” Rather, “the pilgrim spirit is about trusting that everything will (eventually) turn out for the best.”

Of course, what Sellner says about pilgrimage is no less true than in the rest of our lives. No matter how blessed we are, things don’t always go according to our plans. We face set-backs and suffering, large and small.

We are, thus, no less in need of a pilgrim spirit at home than when on pilgrimage. A spirit that trusts that (in the words of Julian of Norwich) “all will be well, and all will be well.” Maybe not today, and maybe not even tomorrow, but all will turn out to be well.

A pilgrim spirit is about trust. Trust that enables us to give up on our need to control every aspect of every situation. Trust in the God who loves us and is always with us.

St. Ignatius and Pilgrimage

Yesterday I gave a Day of Reflection for the Twin Cities Ignatian Volunteer Corps. It is a group I have presented for before and I always enjoy my time with them.

Every year, the IVC has a book that is the focus of discussion at their monthly meetings, and this year the book is An Ignatian Spirituality Reader (ed. Traub), which contains essays on various aspects of Ignatian Spirituality. Pulling themes from the chapters they have read thus far, my theme for yesterday’s day of reflection was The Wisdom of St. Ignatius.

One of the themes that emerges from the portions of the book the IVC folks have read thus far has to do with pilgrimage. Pilgrimage was something that meant something to Ignatius. Howard Gray, in one of the essays in the Ignatian Spirituality Reader, called Ignatius a pilgrim of God. Gray refers to pilgrimage as the central metaphor of Ignatius’ life. Ignatius himself referred to he and his companions as pilgraims constantly ont eh move.

In my two talks on the subject (in my first talk of the day I talked of God’s Love as both Necessary and Suficient) I focused on three things implied by this pilgrimage metaphor that was so central to Ignatian Spirituality. The first (which I addressed in the first talk) is the idea of traveling light. The other two, which I addressed in my second talk are: first, a patient willingness to find God through the journeying, and, second, working for the kingdom in the midst of the world, not secluded from it.

You can access a recording of the two pilgrimage talks I gave here and here or stream it from the icon below. (The first podcast runs for 29:32 and the second for 26:40.)