Not long after "The Way," featuring Martin Sheen and the ancient pilgrimage, El Camino de Santiago de Compostela, hit the big-screen, Lorri and I saw it. Then we saw it again. And again. We were hooked. We kept saying, "We've got to do that!" But honestly, I don't know if we thought we'd ever trek The Way of St. James. And then one day, in 2012, the elders in the church I serve as pastor reminded me that I was qualified for a church-sponsored sabbatical. I told Lorri. We watched "The Way" again--now for the fourth time, and said, "Let's do that!"
We started researching everything "The Way of St. James" pilgrimage. In the process we found a possible funding option, the Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Program, applied and were awarded a grant in 2013. Fast forward a few months, and we found ourselves in the Pyrenees Mountains, starting a 500-mile trek along this ancient pilgrimage route and hoping to end in Santiago de Compostela. Over and over we said, "Thank you, Upper Room" and "Thank Eli Lilly."
The pilgrimage was an amazing gift in so many ways. It gave us a fresh sense and appreciation that our faith and calling to ministry has deep, deep roots. The pilgrimage route has been around for more than 1,100 years. We were aware every day that many feet had walked this way before us. We crossed the same bridge that St. Francis of Assisi crossed when he walked this pilgrimage. We walked down the oldest Roman road in Spain. We worshiped in old cathedrals that have been welcoming pilgrims for hundreds of years. We stayed in old hospitals and convents dating back to the 1300s that were built to serve pilgrims.
We learned in a fresh way how to be in the presence of God. We've always paid attention to the interior life. But walking hours every day for six weeks gave us an opportunity to pay attention like never before to our souls and to the God who loves us. We listened to scripture. We prayed. We "sabbathed." We marveled at creation. We practiced silence. We learned lessons about "soulcare" that are already serving us well since our return.
We loved lessons we learned about pace of life. On the first day we met a fellow pilgrim resting on a pillar. We stopped to rest and talk. Francisco was from Puerto Rico. We've talked many times about that conversation. As people rushed past us, Francisco shook his head and said, "Remember, it's pace, not a race." Over and over we said that to ourselves. It became our mantra: "Pace, not race." This one moment was worth almost the entire experience. It's proven a real challenge to transport "pace" back into our faster-than-fast speed of life here in this culture, but now we know: "Pace, not race."
As enriching as it was spiritually and relationally, it was challenging physically. We learned a lot about ourselves as we climbed more mountains and steep hills than had been advertised. We learned the importance of rest, hydration, and nutrition. We loved the opportunity to replace a sedentary life with a life of movement. We joked often that as we prayed we learned about soulcare and as we walked we learned about solecare. Both are important.
A major objective was not just to complete the pilgrimage, which we did, but to learn how to live a life of pilgrimage back here in the United States. We thought often of the verses in Hebrews: "They admitted...they were pilgrims here on earth." (H. 11:13) We are more aware than ever before that the life God has called us to here on earth is not the life of a settler but the life of a pilgrim. We are in the early stages of learning how to integrate that into our way of living here in California.
On March 29th, at the Upper Room Community Church, a dinner is being offered for our community so that Lorri and I can say "thank you" for the gift of pilgrimage we were given and to share the experience with those who are interested. We hope you can come. Sign up on Sunday in the lobby or email the Upper Room at firstname.lastname@example.org.