On July 1st I embarked on what was to become one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I was on my way to do the Camino de Santiago – a walking pilgrimage to the remains of St. James in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.
On the plane ride over I knew the trip was going to be blessed, but I don’t think I anticipated just how blessed and special it was really going to be. God had a lot more to show me than I expected. Not only did He show me the beauty of Spain’s nature and culture, he also showed me the beauty of my fellow pilgrims.
Here are some of the main takeways I got from experiencing pilgrimage in community:
1.) Sometimes it’s just not about you
This was a super important lesson. With this lesson God pulled me outside of myself. The spirtual and physcial struggle of the pilgrimage could have easily kept me locked up in my own pain, but God in his wisdom gave me my fellow pilgrims as way to shift focus.
Each and everyday of the pilgrimage God made it clear to me who He wanted me to serve. It was like “okay Nicole, I want you to walk next to so and so this morning because they need a friend” or “Nicole, how about you slow down a bit? I need you to chat with someone whose story I really want you to hear”. His loving guidance was such a great gift!
Walking with others, increased my desire to listen to them and pray for them. I became just as concerned about praying for the intentions of others as I was about my own. For the first time, I truly understood what it meant to be a brother and sister in Christ. I was so united to my community that my heart yearned to pray for the desires of the hearts that surrounded me.
2.) Laughter truly is the best medicine (especially when it’s experienced with others)
Point blank, my pilgrim buddies gave me some of the best laughs of my life. From impromptu raps to stepping in fresh cow poop, it was laughter that got me through the Camino. Had I walked the Camino on my own, I would have missed out on the joy that the group brought to my heart.
In receiving this joy, God revealed to me the necessity of allowing others to uplift my spirit. Sometimes we want to be the ball of sunshine in the group that uplifts others, but many times God asks us to sit back and allow others to fill us. This was a great lesson in receptivity. In letting others fill the room with joy, I got to see their gifts at work.
3.) You will need friends on the spiritual journey
Trying to walk the road to sainthood without others by your side, is a deathwish – this was made clear to me on the second day of walking.
The second day was an especially difficult day, as we were in the mountains and my group was struggling with the elevation and heat of the day. If there was ever a moment when I wanted to give up on the Camino, it was this one. I was tired, defeated and discouraged by my inabaility to rise up to the physical challenge.
It was then, that God gave us one of the most annointed moments of our walk. As we huffed and puffed on the verge of tears up that mountain, one of our group members began to lead us in the most powerful Divine Mercy Chaplet of my life. The reality of the pain of Christs passion had never been more real than in that moment when we were tired, hungry and literally living our own mini crucifixtion. In all honesty it was the prayers of my group mates that sustained the chaplet. When I couldn’t pray they were there to fill in the blanks.
Without community, what would this climb up the mountain have been? It could have easily been the moment when I turned back or had a full on meltdown. But God in his mercy didn’t allow that to happen because He gave us each other.
I’m not sure if you plan on going on pilgrimage any time soon, but if you do – definitely do it with friends. I promise you, the graces you’ll receive will be mind blowing.
Even if you don’t plan on going across the world on pilgrimage, you are still experiecing your own personal pilgrimage in your corner of the world. So make sure you have a good group of friends you can lean on throughout the journey. A strong community will make all the difference, it will help you become the saint the God has created you to be.
May God Bless you!
St. James, pray for us!