I’m sitting in a small cafe in the middle of Los Arcos, Spain. Yes, my friends, the journey has begun. For the last part of my sabbatical, I am trekking across Spain on the Camino de Santiago. 31 days. 500 miles. And my feet are killing me...after only five days. But I figure that if millions of monks and “regular” people have made this pilgrimage over the past 1,000 years, surely I can, too.
One of the questions we sojourners ask each other when we sit down for the “Pilgrim Meal” at albergues (hostels) all along the way is, “What inspired you to walk the Camino?”
I’ve heard everything from, “I’m trying to figure out what to do next with my life,” to “I just like the challenge of these long hikes.” When people ask what was my motivation, I move quickly past the part of Laura and I watching the Martin Sheen movie, “The Way,” years ago and saying, “Wow. That would be fun.” And I tell people that my motivation was nothing more than wanting to connect more with God on a pilgrimage.
I’m learning that most people don’t know the true meaning of a pilgrimage. It comes from the Latin word “peregrinus,” which means a person wandering the earth in exile searching for a spiritual homeland. That’s why the first settlers in what became the United States were called pilgrims.
On the Camino, I finished an excellent book that I read years ago, but this go-round has given me much deeper insight. It’s called “Chasing Francis,” and is about a mega-church pastor who experiences burnout (and worse) and travels to Italy to rediscover his faith and calling. In the book, author Ian Cron says, “A pilgrimage is a way of praying with your feet.”
I can tell you from my short five-day experience, that’s true. It sounds rather obvious, but I hadn’t thought about how much time I would be alone with my thoughts for 7 to 8 hours every day where all I do is walk.
Walking slows down time. You’re not as focused on your destination as you are on the path before you. In other words, walking forces you to be present.
So what have I been doing while I walk? I pray. I sing. I work on Scripture memory. And I talk to myself. I’ve discovered I’m not a very good conversationalist. Sorry.
But a pilgrimage is a way of praying with your feet, and my feet hurt. I wonder what that says about my prayers? Do I pray so much that I get spiritually fatigued? Not hardly.
Do you know what I pray for as I walk? I pray for you. I pray for Laura, my kids, and extended family. I pray for friends. I offer up prayers of praise, confession, and thanksgiving. And all the while I think my “feet prayers” are changing me as much as anyone else.
So be it. Tomorrow is Day Six—another 16 miles or so, which means my feet, and my heart will be offering up a lot of prayers.