In September and October of 2019 I walked the Camino de Santiago with 2 good friends. These are my recollections of that five week journey.
Today we left the city of Pamplona and we made our way out and up to the iconic image of the pilgrim’s silhouettes on the Sierra Del Perdón outlook and then down and further on to the smaller city of Puente La Reina. This will be the day I always remember as the day God was interested in talking about the same things I wanted to talk about.
Since learning, as a follower of Jesus, that hearing God speak to my heart was supposed to be normal, a birthright for those who are adopted as sons and daughters of God, my experience of his voice has often been frustrating. I, myself, am the source of that frustration but it comes from discovering that God seldom wants to talk about what I want to talk about and nearly always has his own ideas about what he and I should discuss together.
But on this day, as we ascended to the windmills and pilgrim’s silhouettes, I had on my heart and mind topics that I intended to pester God about over the 500 miles of the Camino until he finally relented and gave me the answers I was looking for. I wasn’t thinking of it as a reward for walking the Camino, just the most likely way for me to wear him down to finally talk about the things on my list.
As I walked out of Pamplona with my friends Bill and Derrick, I chose one of my questions and started an internal conversation with God – with little expectation he would engage with me on the topic I had chosen. To my surprise, he seemed eager to tackle my list.
On our way up, I not only engaged in this internal dialog but God brought another pilgrim up beside me and without any prompting from me, this pilgrim started to talking to me about the very topic I was having and interior conversation with God. Between the two conversations, I felt at peace with a clear answer. It all happened so fast and it had been something I thought I would labor over the entire Way, I didn’t know what to do.
I walked on silently for a few minutes, still upward, and then thought, “Why not?” and I proceeded to engage God in big, angsty topic number two.
We talked for quite a while. I was again amazed that he was kindly engaging with my list rather than his own. Suddenly, another pilgrim I had never met before and never saw again, was walking beside me. He and his wife were on the Camino from their home in the U.K. He had heard from one of my friends that I was a pastor and he had a couple questions for me.
I tried to hide from everyone I met on the Camino that I was a pastor. People tend to start acting – well – not like themselves once they find out I’m a pastor. When he said he had a couple questions for me “as a pastor” I sighed – internally – and externally asked, “What are you thinking about?” And he proceeded to bring up two questions about the very thing I had at that moment been talking to God about.
I was, as my U.K. friend might say, gobsmacked.
Before we had even reached first lunch for that day I had engaged with God over 2 of my 3 major questions I had intended to wrestle with God about over the course of the Camino. I felt God had given me clarity, wisdom and confirmation about what I was to do, how I was to think which led to me feeling a sense of peace. At some point on our final ascent to the pilgrims silently pointing the way above us, I am certain I laughed out loud.
Arriving in Puente La Reina, the experiences continued. That evening we walked into a very old church. It was low light, I was exhausted and in a little pain from the day’s walk but feeling very raw about the experience of the day. Here’s what I wrote that night in my journal…
“Tonight I knelt and prayed in a very old church. I started to pray the Lord’s prayer in the dim light. The presence of God felt rich and thick. Suddenly an organist somewhere in the dark loft above started to play a familiar hymn and my eyes filled up with tears. The presence of God was so rich, so restful.”
Derrick, Bill and I were gifted to a room to ourselves in our albergue that night. We ran into pilgrim friends who, thanks to Derrick’s introduction had become “special friends” along the Way. Bill looked after one of my toes that was turning into a painful problem as the little toe on my right foot grew a huge blister and then, just for fun, another blister on the blister.
That evening we enjoyed our first Camino burger and Sangria which helped sooth my belly and my toe.
Along the way, I would record a consolation and desolation from each day. I’m not sure if I told you that before. I would reflect on my day and then write down a consolation, a moment I felt God particularly close, I felt “blessed and highly favored.” Then I would reflect again and write down a desolation for the day, a moment when I felt God was distant, far off, a moment I felt an empty lack inside of myself. That night, as we turned in, my desolation was this, “the speed at which people move on from conversation with me. I must be boring. God loves me still.” I wanted you to know about that because it felt then and still feels now, very important.
I was glad to get a good night of sleep that night because the next morning was going to begin with a bang. A very bad bang. And it would end with me trapped in a bathroom.