When most people think of the Camino de Santiago, they likely think of the journey through Spain. Rarely do folks think of Portugal, but that country is home to some of the oldest of the Camino’s routes, a northerly journey with views of the Atlantic Ocean. A few years ago, my mom and I hiked small portions of the Portuguese Camino with a larger group to get a taste of what pilgrims who walk the entire length experience.
Initially, our group divided into smaller groups as we headed along the path that energetic American drive to complete the day’s routes like they were boxes to check off. I was one of them, fiercely devoted to keeping up with the pack, covering every meter on my own two feet (no rides in the van for me!), and claiming the prize.
But there was no prize. And no checklist, either. Given our plan to hike only portions of the Camino, we wouldn’t even earn that coveted stamp for completing the whole thing.
Meanwhile, my wise mother set a slower, more meditative pace at the back of the pack, where she was often accompanied by one of our guides. During the day, she kept her eyes up, ears open, and mouth shut. In the evening, she had her nose buried in a book written by a veteran Camino pilgrim that detailed his personal and spiritual reflections.
A couple of days before we reached Santiago de Compostela, I hung back and started walking with her. Knowing my penchant for speed and my somewhat competitive nature, she reassured and encouraged me to go ahead and walk with the others. But by that time, I had lost any interest in being in front, getting there first, or walking the farthest without help. I realized that I had lost sight of why so many choose to walk the Camino.
As she and I walked together the next couple of days, chatting occasionally and meeting other pilgrims, I began to notice our surroundings. I caught the glimmers of grace along the path in what we saw, heard, smelled, tasted, and touched–moments I had missed in the earlier days of the journey. We picked fresh raspberries from a field we passed by and ate them on the way. We collected rocks and leaves that caught our interest and imagination. We paused many times to rest my mom’s aching muscles and joints especially after traversing particularly rocky and uneven sections. Slowing down brought gifts.
When we finally walked through the city of Compostela and entered the Church of St. James for the Mass for pilgrims, the awe and wonder that we experienced was heightened because of the way in which we had walked the last few days. That openness to the present moment, with a physical, emotional, and spiritual vulnerability to what the Camino offered us, gave us a hunger for grace to see us through. That grace we received both along the way and at the journey’s end.
The CatholicsRead titles for this week touch on strength and vulnerability, chaos and grace, life and death in various ways. These are all good themes to explore during this coming Lent, a journey we may often begin as energetically as I began my portion of the Camino, but which might be better walked at a slower and more attentive pace.
Julianne Stanz’s Braving the Thin Places from Loyola Press, brings a Celtic spirituality of journeying to lead us through a pilgrimage of the soul that creates space for grace.
So many of us have traveled life’s journey by going sideways, detouring from the expected path, or encountering rough roads. Betsy Johnson in A Hit of Hope from Liturgical Press shares meditations that brought her hope and helped her to live in the light.
One direction that life takes many of us is in caring for sick and elderly family members. Gunilla Norris in Care and Prayer: Reflections on the Sacred Task of Caregiving from Twenty-Third Publications reminds us that the daunting task of caregiving is sacred and holy, even amid the often-grueling work involved, and that God is present through it all.
The unimaginable events of September 11th, 2001, interrupted the lives of many Americans. One who was called to duty that day was a Catholic priest and chaplain. Mychal Judge from Liturgical Press chronicles the bravery and self-sacrifice that Fr. Judge, officially designated as “Victim 0001,” displayed ministering to victims in the Twin Towers.
Jesus Approaches by Elizabeth Kelly, from Loyola Press, is rooted in the Scripture stories of women who encountered Jesus on their journeys. Kelly also shares accounts from her own life and from the lives of other women to demonstrate that the way to find healing, strength, and wholeness in Christ is to lead with vulnerability and openness.
The last two books from CatholicsRead this week both move us to the wonder and hope that is Easter. In From Worry to Wonder: A Catholic Guide to Finding Peace Through Scripture from Ascension, Melissa Overmyer offers seven steps to help Catholics place their trust in God through the use of Scripture. Easter, Season of Realized Hope from Liturgical Press highlights the experiences of the various people present in the Easter Gospels, diving deeply into their encounters as they move from sorrow to joy.
Therese Brown is the Executive Director of the Association of Catholic Publishers. She holds a master of arts degree in youth and liturgy from Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. She previously served as senior marketing specialist at United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Publishing Office. She is the author of Graced Moments: Prayer Services for the Lives of Teens (World Library Publications). She resides in the Baltimore area.