At times we are so distracted by the pitfalls of living in a fallen world that we miss the intimate love of God that is present in each day. I discovered this reality over and over in my pilgrimage. I could not imagine the personal affection that God demonstrated for me in a multitude of ways. I am not saying that God made my journey painless or easy. It was painful and difficult. I am saying that He personally guided me and walked with me and helped me not miss the abundance of His grace that was all around me. If I had walked that pilgrimage in my flesh, I would not have much to write about. I could tell you that I had a really good time walking through beautiful forests between villages and cities leading to a cathedral of significant history. I was frustrated by pain, people and inconvenient rain. I was proud of myself for finishing in spite of my pain and delighted by beautiful sights. Yet, I have so much more to say because when you add God’s intimate love into that equation, your pilgrimage takes you to all new levels of spiritual truth and beauty along the exact same path.
Some people look at my life and hardships and wonder how I could be so cursed to face such hard realities. I know there are many who pity me and feel sorry for me, but I don’t feel this way about myself and my reality. I don’t know how I got so blessed! Why, you may ask? It is because I absolutely can’t believe how God reveals beauty in the harshest realities I walk through. This was highlighted on the Pilgrimage. Right from the beginning God provided a spiritual leader to guide my soul in a priest named Father James Walker. What a name for a priest who is your spiritual guide along the Way of St. James—or the direct translation of Camino de Santiago which means the walk of St. James.
This man did not travel to Spain in a sling from a recent shoulder surgery to get a free European vacation. He came out of love for the mission God gave him to enhance the spiritual focus of pilgrims on the Camino. I never asked him why he came. It was obvious in every word he said and how he made himself available to each person on the trail, even a cute little Baptist minister like me. While we were still in Madrid, he began asking us important questions and prescribing significant spiritual instruction. He challenged us to see our pilgrimage not as a journey but as an encounter! From his experience, every pilgrim is on this journey because they still haven’t found what they are looking for. He gave us the hint that what we are looking for is not something, rather it is someONE. Fast forward to our last spiritual lesson from Fr. Walker, which was once again on the topic of encounter. He further explained that the encounter he advised us to look for on our pilgrimage was meeting the true Christ. He explained why these encounters in the here and now are so vital. He said, “We have encounters now while we can, so we will know what it will be like when we meet Him face to face.”
The next morning, I was up early and alone with an important task on my heart of finding the post office in the maze of Santiago. I had a limited time to hobble up and down slopes with my sore knee, and be back at the prescribed time. I am hopeless with directions in a city with avenues and boulevards, so you won’t be surprised to know that I have a history of being lost in these European cities. I got a map and directions from the concierge, confident it would not be enough. I prayed for God to lead me to the post office.
As I walked through the crowded city of strangers losing hope that I would be successful in my quest, I looked up and saw the only person I knew in Santiago greeting me. It was Father Walker. I asked him if he knew where the post office was located. We looked up to discover that we had met exactly in front of the post office for which I was searching—AN ENCOUNTER. Indeed, Father Walker had been like Christ to me all along the journey.
He had encouraged, advised, inspired and prayed for me. There were so many other ways God showed me His intimate, caring love. He gave me specific Scriptures that guided my soul through problems I was facing—it was literally as if I was complaining to a best friend and received immediate understanding and advice in Scripture. He slowed me down through my knee pain, so I didn’t miss the beauty nor the solitude with Him. He even led me to the strongest Wi-Fi in the country, so I could have a skype call with my husband to keep me going. I’m out of room to record for you the intimate and personal ways I encountered God on this pilgrimage. All I can say is that He is an intimate and personal God. I certainly felt the way Isaiah 62:3 describes God’s intimate love for Jerusalem:
You will be a glorious crown in the Lord’s hand, and a royal diadem in the palm of your God.