catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 4, Num 13 :: 2005.07.01 — 2005.07.14


Camino de Santiago

?Amigos, no hay salvaciones que pague este sufrimiente!?

This is the message we found scrawled on the wall of an albergue, or lodge, that we stayed in during our 270 km, 11-day pilgrimage across northern Spain. This past winter, a couple of our friends who were living in Madrid asked us to join them on the pilgrimage known as the Camino de Santiago, a thousand year old Catholic pilgrimage to Santiago, the home of the apostle James’ tomb. There are several routes one can take to get to Santiago, and we opted for the primitive route, which meant difficult trails, large changes in elevation, and long hikes (avg. 25 km a day) between albergues. That’s probably why we weren’t terribly surprised to find the message from above, which when translated reads, “Friends, there is no salvation that is worth this suffering.”

Honestly, we quite enjoyed the first few days of hiking. We had (sort of) trained and had broken in our boots, and we were excited to be out in nature and seeing the beautiful views in northern Spain. Soon, however, the novelty of the experience wore off. We began to see what the author of that message meant by suffering. We experienced the physical pain of throbbing and blistering feet, aching legs, sunburn (even after putting on sunblock!), and sore shoulders at the end of the day. We also experienced the mental challenge of getting out of bed at 5:30 am only to face another day of pain and increased muscle soreness. We repeatedly had to face incredibly steep inclines and declines while carrying 10-pound backpacks.

Why would we do this for our vacation? Why would we willingly put ourselves through this when all we had to was call a taxi or hitch a ride to Santiago in the next town? For some, the purpose of the Camino is part of a quest to earn salvation. We knew that walking 270 km in 11 days?or anything else we did?would not earn us salvation; that was already done. Going into the Camino, we knew it would be physically challenging, but we hadn’t expected it to be so mentally and emotionally challenging, or fulfilling.

It was challenging to persevere. To some people, the physical challenges we experienced on the Camino would not be considered suffering, and we, in writing this, even struggled with using that word to describe our experience. Neither of us have ever suffered from serious physical pain in that we have never had cancer, fibro myalgia, or other debilitating, painful diseases. The unique thing about this pilgrimage is that we chose to put ourselves through a physically challenging experience to better ourselves. What is pain? What is suffering? Our suffering was the day-in, day-out experience of pounding our feet and our bodies.

It was challenging to be patient. Anyone who has traveled a long distance with a group of six knows what we are talking about here. It’s really easy to be mean to each other and feel sorry for yourself when you are undergoing physical and emotional stress. More than once we had to bite our tongues to keep ourselves from making rude or sarcastic comments, like, “Why is it again that you bought brand-new hiking boots for this trip and DIDN’T BREAK THEM IN BEFORE WE STARTED???” when we were going approximately 1 km/per hour in the early morning because of preventable feet problems. We discovered that each of us can turn inward and selfish when physical suffering is prolonged and how difficult yet necessary it is to put yourself in the other guy’s shoes (forgive the pun). The idea of long suffering with a Christ-like attitude took on a whole new meaning in the Camino context.

It was fulfilling to have time to tell the long story. In our culture of quick fixes and flash stories it was satisfying to be able to say, “We’ve got time, tell the whole story of your 6th grade soccer match that altered the course of your life.” Imagine, old college friends, apart for two years with 11 straight days to catch up. In fact, we both had the experience of not even realizing a whole morning had gone by (and a host of physical pain for that time) because of deep and meaningful conversation.

It was fulfilling to appreciate the simple things in life again. A daily rhythm that was paced to the speed we walked at rather than the frantic pace of life in the fast lane. A daily menu del dia (or pilgrim feast) of Spanish cuisine awaited us each afternoon (if we could make it in time). We simply had time to think and be in God’s creation from sun up till sun down.

In the end, we found the suffering was all worth it. We made it to Santiago and realized the journey wasn’t so much about getting to St. James tomb, but rather the means that we went though in order to get there. If you ever get a chance, do a pilgrimage, learn and know the physical trials you will face, and make the most of the challenges that can be found along the way.

your comments

comments powered by Disqus