On the pilgrimage, Camino de Santiago, I walked with literally hundreds of strangers. There were people from almost every country and Americans from many different states. What was most surprising to me was that very few of the pilgrims were Christians or really knew much about Jesus’ close disciple and the first disciple who was martyred—St. James.
As you walk the way, you can’t help but connect with those who walk with you. You have an instant commonality simply by walking the same path, taking in the same breath-taking views, and being challenged by the similar hindrances. This camaraderie creates a sense of intimacy. If you are brave like me, there is one question that is acceptable to ask a perfect stranger on the Camino. The question is: Why did you come?
Every time I asked this question, I received insightful answers. One young man told me he came to experience Spanish culture. Another explained he and his wife love to hike on their vacations and this was well-known, safe and beautiful. After more reflection he entrusted me with his deeper thoughts. He said that only after experiencing the Camino that he discovered another reason. As he walked, he found himself turning his problems over and over in his mind. By the time I talked with him near the end of the pilgrimage, he had discovered is that he has no problems. The way he learned this was from fellow pilgrims. He told me that along the way he met many people who have big problems (much bigger than his own). What he realized was that people who have big problems don’t ruminate on them. He decided that only people with little problems seem to worry about their problems. He didn’t want to be like them, and that’s how he learned that he didn’t have problems. He didn’t come to the Camino to learn anything, but the Camino taught him something invaluable anyway.
I had a clear answer to the question of why I came long before I arrived. I was walking the Camino to commemorate my 55th birthday and to rededicate the last third of my life for God’s glory. In addition, I brought a heart rock with every name of my family (including Baby Farrow who I just found out is a girl and I will meet her this December). I prayed for each one during my long periods of solitude. The day before I started walking, my devotional reading led me to ask two other questions that significantly contributed to my spiritual blessings. The author, Thomas Keating, sent me back to Genesis Chapter Three to answer questions all sinners should answer. Where are you? And Why are you hiding? I diligently answered those additional questions in my journal but didn’t ponder what I had written until today.
The answer to “Why did I come?” was important, but the questions “Where are you?” and “Why are you hiding?” were insightful in different ways. Without conscious consideration of these later questions, I realized that God used my journey to chip away what would keep me from truly dedicating my life to Him. When I answered Where I am, I discovered that I was in hiding. I honestly didn’t believe that God would touch me in such intimate and powerful ways. The whole Camino was an experience of following God as He asked me to come out from hiding. He invited me to believe in His love. He wants me to believe that He will come through for me even though I am afraid that He could never be that good to me, His undeserving servant. Like the man I met, I thought I knew why I was there, but God showed me why He was there and challenged me to stop hiding from His goodness. Ecclesiastes 11:5 explains my experience on the Camino clearly:
As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things.
The Camino confirmed for me that I have absolutely no idea about expanses of God’s love for me.