A couple years ago, my friends and I decided to walk The Camino de Santiago — the way of St. James. One of the oldest pilgrimages in the world, besides Rome and Jerusalem, the Camino ends in Santiago, Spain. We began at one of the designated pilgrim departure spots in Saint-John-Pied-de-Port, in France, and spent 30 days walking to Santiago.
I would walk 500 miles…
No joke. We spent 30 days walking. We walked over the Pyrenees through France into Spain, through the vineyards of the Rioja region, on the freeway leading into the city of Leon, and into the hills of Galicia. We’d wake up in the morning, have breakfast and coffee, walk, stop for second breakfast (more coffee), walk, eat lunch, walk, check into wherever we were staying that night, eat a snack, do laundry, eat dinner, eat a snack, go to bed. We repeated this for about thirty days.
One of my favorite things from the Camino, besides a life that included about five meals a day, was the phrase “el camino es la meta” or “the way is the goal.”
At first I thought it was philosophical mumbo-jumbo, but as I walked, it started to make more sense. See, when I began the camino, all I could think about was getting to Santiago. It seemed like it was hundreds of miles away (which technically it was) and the first week, as I battled bad knees and blisters, all I could think about was the end.
Then the more I walked, the more I started to actually notice what I had been missing in my initial rush to just get through the day.
The nice truck driver who gave me a ride when I was too sore to keep walking and it was getting dark.
The other pilgrims who shared their snacks and offered encouragement in languages I didn’t understand.
The beauty of the villages and cities I was passing.
I also started to realize ways I could be a better pilgrim — greeting people with a smile, offering some snacks or water when another one was out and just cracking a joke when people were tired. Slowing down and focusing only on the way and those I met was helping me to see things about life I had previously missed.
This is what “the way is the goal” meant. That while I was walking to Santiago, it wasn’t just about the final destination — it was also about savoring and learning from each moment along the way… not passing up a single opportunity to be the person God created me to be.
Advent is The Way
Just like walking the camino was an opportunity to focus on each step that brought me to Santiago, the four Sundays of Advent (and the weeks in between) is the time that the Church has carved out of our year to focus on the events that lead up to the moment that God came into the world and to anticipate His promised return. The temptation of advent can be to see it as the necessary hurdle to jump before Christmas. But if we spend our whole advent simply anticipating the end, we risk missing the lessons and opportunities the season holds.
Not everyone does advent — some folks skip right ahead to Christmas. Others observe advent, but see it more as candles they light in between checking things off their “to do before Christmas” list.
If I had taken a plane to Santiago or stayed focused on just getting through the 500 mile hike, I still would have gotten there, but I would have missed a lot along the way. Christmas will arrive whether we really focus on the opportunities the season of advent offers or not.
Throughout advent, the readings will challenge us to “prepare the way of the Lord.” Here are some suggestions to help you do just that…
Suggestions for the way:
- Commit to advent reflection in your prayer. Meditate on the readings for mass and imagine what it was like, living in anticipation of the arrival of the Messiah.
- Appreciate the liturgical symbolism of this season. The interior of your church is probably one of the few places not yet decorated for Christmas. The advent wreath — with it’s candles being lit on week at a time — is symbolic of the light of Christ. Spend some time inside your local church soaking this in, praying about the areas of your life that Christ can bring light to.
- Give for the sake of giving. God gave us his only Son, we can understand the depth of this love a little more when we give, expecting nothing in return. While Angel Trees and Family adoption programs provide many opportunities to give materially, the gift of your time would be greatly appreciated by many. Do you have a neighbor or parishioner who is far from family and might need company or help getting ready for Christmas? What about a busy mom who could use babysitting so she can sneak away for shopping? Ask your parents, pastor or youth minister for suggestions.
- While we think of Lent as a time of sacrifice, “giving something up” for Advent can also help us appreciate all that God has freely given us and recognize our dependence on Him.