By: Jessica Chaffee
On June 16, 2016, after almost 24 hours of travel, I arrived in Burgos, Spain at 2:35 a.m. After years of dreaming and months of planning, I was here, about to start a journey of 13 days and 300 miles along the Camino de Santiago with my best friend and my 17-pound backpack.
The Camino de Santiago, or the way of St. James, is an ancient and holy route across Northern Spain that ends at the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela which holds the remains of St. James. Each year hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from around the world make the journey for various reasons. Each of these reasons, each of their stories, resonates along the path.
With the distractions and noise of everyday life removed, a simplicity quickly set in. As we followed the shells and yellow arrows that mark the way to Santiago, a daily routine developed that allowed me to be more present, to appreciate the beauty surrounding us, to listen more carefully, and to connect with other pilgrims in a meaningful way. We drastically changed the way we lived for those 13 days. No cell phones rescue when we were unsure if we were heading the right way. No nagging feeling that we should constantly be checking our email to solve problems at work or at home or with friends. No pressure to be in any given place at any given time. And as a result of these freedoms, I was drawn more deeply into my relationship with God. Suddenly I wasn’t seeking Him-- He was just everywhere.
For 8 to 10 hours a day, we walked forward toward our destination. Through beautiful fields of flowers, along aqueducts and farms, over a few mountains, and through small villages and bigger towns. It was liberating to worry only about the most basic of needs. Where would we sleep? What is for breakfast? How does my body feel? Each day we covered anywhere from 20-26 miles. Each day we found ourselves in wonder and awe of everything and everyone who crossed our path. It was very clear that all these encounters served a special purpose or contained some sort of lesson. My heart was open and God was doing His work.
And then we arrived. With sore feet, strong backs, countless new friends, and a million stories we stood in front of the Cathedral in Santiago. We went to Pilgrim Mass and then sat in the plaza watching our friends arrive, sharing in their joy. We laughed and cried at the same time because it was over. But it wasn’t the end. “The true Camino begins with the homecoming.” It was now time to take all I had gained on the road back to my “real life”. If we simply went home at this point, reverting to our former lives, then our pilgrimage led to nowhere.
When I contemplate my Camino I cannot find enough words to give thanks for all the blessings and surprises that I encountered along the way. It isn’t always easy, but every day I work to hold onto this pilgrim mindset-- to truly see the possibility that each day holds. And when those hard times come, I remember to keep walking forward with the faith that God walks with me.