Pilgrimage

With all the racket of wedding planning and travel filling these summer months–including my trip to New York which will prevent me from joining you in church this Sunday–I can’t help but think back to where I was this time last year: On pilgrimage walking the Camino de Santiago, or the Way of St. James, in northwest Spain. I was delighted to share stories and reflections from my experiences walking the Camino with our St. Simon’s community at Walk In Wednesday.

Pilgrimage. I love that word. It’s one of those “religious” words that calls to mind very pious activities like meditating for hours on end or walking barefoot over hot rocks. Thankfully, that’s not really what it is; which is good, because I hate meditating.

Pilgrimage is about our presence, our attention to the deep and meaningful things that lead us on our journey, whether that’s around the corner or around the globe. It’s not ticking off sights on our to-do list, but rather focusing on following the movement of the Spirit and the presence of the Holy. We let it carry us. We savor the sights and smells. We amble. We stay awhile. As pilgrims, we understand that we are connected to the place where we stand, knowing that we walk in the footsteps of a story that includes us.

The Camino de Santiago is an ancient Christian pilgrimage that draws hundreds of thousands of pilgrims every year to the sacred Cathedral believed to house the remains of St. James the Apostle. Last summer I journeyed the Way with twelve Episcopalians from Kentucky (and one delightful Methodist) ranging from age 27 to 70. Just as millions have done before us, we walked more than 60 miles through the area where James would have preached the good news “to the ends of the earth” as commanded by Jesus.

Without maps, we follow the path guided by yellow arrows. At first, you feel nervous–What if I miss an arrow and end up lost in the woods? But soon enough you fall into the rhythm of scanning the path, Yep, there it is. I’m going the right way, and onto the next. At some point or another, as in life, you find yourself without a direction forward. Where was the last arrow? Looking, looking . . . still no arrow. How did I get here? How long have I been going in the wrong direction? Panic creeps up the back of your throat. The air in your chest feels heavy. You will yourself into calm, measured breath and then suddenly, there it is. Right under that eucalyptus branch. It was there all along.

At my very best, this is how I walk with God. Cautiously and easily distracted. And occasionally I find myself looking around wondering where I am and how I got there. But then, when I’m ready, I steady my breath and scan the path, longing for the warm safety of God’s presence. And always, always, it appears. In fact, it was there all along.

Holly Milburn
06.29.17