2018-08_LT-Pilgrimage

My Faith/Why Do Catholics

5 Lessons from Pilgrimage

Not too long ago, I went on the Camino de Santiago — otherwise known as the Way of St. James — a Catholic pilgrimage trekking hundreds of kilometers westward, across the north of Spain. The pilgrimage originated as a means for Christians to visit the remains of St. James the Apostle, buried in the destination city, Santiago de Compostela. Since then, thousands of pilgrims have followed in these early Christians’ footsteps for spiritual reasons, or merely for the adventure of backpacking from town to town across the Spanish countryside.

I was ecstatic to make this pilgrimage, going along the Northern-most way, as it was a bucket list item I’d been itching to cross off — and it did not disappoint. The best part of the trip wasn’t the hiking itself, but the lessons I learned through it. But, you don’t have to go to Spain to be transformed by pilgrimage. The lessons the Camino taught me can be learned in our daily lives, from anywhere around the globe — including wherever YOU are reading this.

1. Crossing Paths

Along the Camino, our group crossed paths with a bunch of interesting folks from around the world. We shared meals with some and walked for days with others. Still others were simply passing conversations. Yet, each of these encounters impacted our trip. Each individual — from the priest who brought us dinner and helped us find a train when we were behind schedule, to the Anglican canon who kept us entertained for days as we walked together, to the American couple who offered us their hotel living room when many of the hostels were full — was placed in our path for a reason, whether or not we realized it at the time.

Some people come into our lives for a short time, while others walk with us for a long time. The two friends I traveled with fall into the latter. We spent every minute together. We got annoyed with each other at times, but we also grew closer and learned more about ourselves and each other through profound and lighthearted conversations alike. I thank God for them because life would be a quieter, lonelier journey without them by my side.

2. Mountains and Valleys

Sometimes the hike was easy and sometimes the struggle was real. All it took was a blister or a cramping muscle to humble you along the way. Similarly, some days we felt enthusiastic and joyful and other days, we were sick, tired, and grumpy. Everyone has their “off days” on the Camino, but luckily, our pace or pain level wasn’t what made the journey meaningful. Ultimately, the meaning was found in the intentionality and perseverance behind each step, each conversation, each decision to keep moving forward.

Similarly, in life, we’re not racing to a finish line. Instead, we aim to live well, come what may. Sometimes living well is easy. Other times, it takes a disciplined will and the grace of God to take the next step through trials and suffering. But we can get through the tough times in life the same way we can get through the Camino: one step a time.

3. Equally Valuable

Some pilgrims joined in the Camino at later points along the route. Some sent their luggage ahead as opposed to carrying it on their backs. And guess what?

That’s OK.

In life, we can’t compare our walk with Christ to others. Rather, we should rejoice that they have joined the path, aiming for the same goal of salvation. We each have different crosses to carry. For some of us, it means struggling forward with a load upon our back. For others, the burden of the load is lessened or completely removed. But before we judge, we must remember that Christ gives each of us what we can bear with Him. We are all equally valuable pilgrims in His eyes, though we each carry with us a unique story.

4. The Lord Provides

If you’re praying, God is working. That’s all there is to it. We can trust this fact, yet we rarely ever do. In fact, if the plan doesn’t look exactly like what we expect, we easily lose heart.

At one point during the Camino, I followed my app to a side trail closer to the ocean. Five minutes in, we stood in the middle of a field with a barely-noticeable, slightly trodden grass path — the only indication that anyone had ever stepped foot in the place. I kept my eyes trained on my phone, trying to see if I had made a mistake. But every time I doubted, sure enough, there would be a sign — a literal sign, a turn exactly where the app promised, etc. Finally, I put my phone away and decided to be present, to trust that I was on the right path and that the next step would be revealed to me when it was time. Not only did I worry less, but I was actually able to enjoy the oceanside view.

We have a finite vantage point, so we’re often surprised by how God works, constantly carving our path — even if that path sometimes takes us through a random field. We don’t necessarily need to know what the next steps are because God gives us the faith we need to do what He asks us in the present moment. We just have to trust that He’ll take care of the rest.

5.The End Goal is Worth it

The Camino involves some pain, but at the end of the pilgrimage, as we limped (literally) the endless stretch to the Cathedral of Santiago, our pain was replaced by glory. We arrived. And all of the sudden, all of our difficulties faded away. As we walked through the city, we ran into friends we met earlier on our journey. We celebrated together and visited the relics of St. James — a saint who, like us, walked a pilgrimage long ago, following in the very footsteps of our Savior as He preached the Gospel from town to town.

I imagine walking into heaven will feel something like this. We enter weary from life’s tribulations, but our weariness is quickly replaced with rejoicing as we encounter all those God put along our path to help us to His Kingdom. The struggles of our journey are nothing compared to this glory. Even the joys of our former lives pale in comparison to reaching our heavenly destination.

Find Your Camino

Your pilgrimage starts here, right now. So walk forward with purpose. “Don’t slug it out for mediocrity,” my pastor used to say. “Sprint for glory!”

Each day is another day to sprint for glory, a God-given chance to prepare for the heavenly goal that awaits you. The Way is right in front of you! ¡Buen Camino!

About the Author

Faith Noah

I’m a college student at Vanderbilt University studying neuroscience. I’m from the great state of Texas, and my hobbies include rapping along to Twenty One Pilots, jamming out on guitar, and watching NCIS marathons. However, at the end of the day, you’ll find me either engaging in sugar-induced fits of hyperactivity or having a deep stimulating theological discussions. One extreme or the other. Fun fact: my whole name (together) is in the Bible. Hebrews 11:7. No big deal.