If you’re a long time reader of this column you might remember that in the fall of 2016 I talked about walking the first 200 miles of an ancient Christian pilgrimage, the Camino de Santiago. What I didn’t say in that article was that I was nearly positive that I was through with the Camino. I wouldn’t be going back and that’s what I told just about everyone who asked me.
So of course it should come as no surprise that I went back in October of this year and finished it. I pick up where I left off in Burgos and walked just over 300 miles to Santiago de Compostela and then on to Finisterra on the Atlantic Ocean, which is the very end of the Camino, to finish things out.
In just over three weeks I walked about 365 miles. It turns out that Spain is number two in Europe for the number of hills and mountains and I can certainly testify to the truth of that! The French Way (or Way of Saint James) has a total elevation Gain of 18,666 meters (61,240 feet) and a total elevation Loss of 17,778 meters (58,328 feet).
Or as I took to saying, “If there’s a hill, the Camino will climb it.” (With no switchbacks as for some strange reason they don’t do those in Spain.).
I had started thinking about going back when I heard from a friend who I’d met on the Camino in 2016 that she wanted to return. So we talked about meeting up there. Turned out she couldn’t go, but I went ahead anyway and spend all of my vacation time for this year in one huge bunch.
When you walk the Camino the main thing you look for to determine which way to go are yellow arrows. They are painted on buildings, roads, signs, trees, etc. Often they are made up of rocks in the dirt and they aren’t always yellow. That’s the sign you look for as you walk (or ride your bike or horse) towards Santiago.
Sounds simple enough doesn’t it? But of course you won’t be surprised to hear it’s not always that simple. Sometimes they arrows are very hard to see and sometimes they are quite simply just not there. At other places the Camino splits into different routes and the arrows can be more than a bit confusing.
Most pilgrims carry guide books complete with descriptions and maps. I had one on both my trips. I also had an app that I used on my smartphone which saved my bacon quite a few times. It was also very wrong twice and took me off the trail for several kilometers.
So on the Camino things aren’t always as simple as they sound or first appear to be. I remember knowing a split was coming up ahead, reading the guidebook and checking the map and app and thinking I was prepared. Only to arrive and find myself quite confused. Hurried discussions with other Pilgrims (many of whom spoke little to know English – so these “discussions” were often mostly pantomimed!) took place before choosing a route and hoping for the best.
I made it, proof of which is my standing behind the very last mileage marker on the Atlantic, which reads 0.0 Kilometers, with a big smile on my face. Along the way I walked further than I had too by at more than several miles at least. But in the end all that guidance, and more than a little prayer, saw me safely to my goal.
Of course, life is a lot like this, isn’t it? Things seem well laid out and simple and we’re just sure we’ve got it. This surety remains right up the moment when reality smacks us right in the face and we discover that what looked simple and sure at home or in the classroom, can be very complicated indeed in real life.
And real life doesn’t provide us with lots of little arrows to point us in the right direction either. Happily there is quite of bit of guidance available to us however. Lots of other people’s experience, many books filled with both wisdom and foolishness also abound.
But just like on the Camino, it all comes down to my choice. I remember many mornings, standing in the cold, pre-dawn darkness in Spain, consulting my map and my app and still not being 100% sure of which way to go. But being the type of guy who doesn’t want to waste too much time, in the end I made a choice and struck out along that path.
Was I always right? Heck no! But I wasn’t always wrong either. And when I was wrong I could always retrace my path (which grumbling at myself for wasting time and adding miles to my day) and take another tack.
The truth is that we are in charge of the choices we make. We need to consult whatever guidance is available and then make the best choices we can. And if we’re wrong we need to own our choices, without blaming others, and try it again.
Eventually we’ll get to where we’re going. And if we walk with humility we might even have a lot of fun along the way. I know I did.
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Louie Marsh is pastor of Christ’s Church on the River on the Parker Strip. Visit his website HERE.