Camino de Jesús
Ten years ago I caught on to a medieval pilgrimage route across the north of Spain called the Camino de Santiago, the Way of St. James. Ever since then I imagined myself someday searching for my own miracle as I mingled my footprints across the same 500-miles as hundreds of thousands of pilgrims before me. I envisioned waking to watch the morning sun spill across the rolling green hills of the Basque countryside, my lungs filling with air more exotic than Texas. And when I heard about the water fountain flowing with wine, I took it as a sign. Never if, Spain was always a matter of when for me.
This past summer the field of stars aligned. After all these years my romantic notions of praying in medieval cathedrals and running with the bulls and sipping café con leche in some quaint village whose name I cannot pronounce became a reality. My pilgrimage dreams were coming true.
Well, sort of. I was going to the Camino, just not in the guise I always imagined.
I was invited to serve as a volunteer with a Christian community whose shared spiritual devotion to God overflows into hospitality for pilgrims along the Camino. What this meant is that I would be stationary, so instead of collapsing into bed with weary feet, I was the guy making the beds. Rather than watching the Spanish countryside subtly shift across each kilometer, I watched the swallows dance each morning and evening as they chased their meal. I participated in the rhythms of this tiny village. I called out buenos dias to the neighbor each morning while buying the daily bread, sweat under the familiar shade of the umbrella on the terrace every afternoon, bumped my head on the same low ceiling every night. I learned where the cups went, how to trick the stove into turning on, and what color towels go in which cabinet.
All the mundane graces accompanying the Camino de Daily Life.
Don’t get me wrong, there are worse places to spend a summer than northern Spain, so you’ll hear no complaints from me. I am more interested in minding the gap between expectations and reality. While less exotic than how I imagined my first Camino experience, being part of this godly community was a source of genuine joy and deep healing that I would not trade for all the Spanish bullion one could offer. Cathedrals and countrysides, bodegas and bulls, all that is well and good, but being invited into the lives of fellow pilgrims, sharing communion with this community, this was the Camino I longed for all these years.
I spent the rest of the summer in a delightfully simple routine: breakfast and devotion, cleaning the hostel, worship with my co-volunteers, swimming in the pool, reheated leftovers, welcoming the new pilgrims, making salad, setting the table, eating together, cleaning up, meditating on the Word. Somewhere in the midst of it all, I began to see more clearly how everything—the work, the worship, the play, the meals, the countryside, the pilgrims—was all gift. Pure, loving gift from God to his children.
More than anything else, this lens is the souvenir I cherish most in returning to the more demanding life of graduate studies. I want to receive the world with gratitude, in all its everyday
holiness, as the gift of a good Father. I want to respond with the loving attention to others, gracious acts of hospitality, and dependence in prayer that was modeled for me by my friends in Spain.
Over the summer, I kept returning to Jesus’ words in John 14:6: Yo soy el camino, y la verdad, y la vida. I thought I had to walk 500 miles to find what I was looking for; thought my Camino would be this extraordinary tromp across northern Spain. What I found was that I had been walking my Camino for some time already. And what a gift, this way of Jesus.