By: Laura Bennett
I’d never heard of this ‘Way of St James’ when Mum asked me to walk its final 100k’s (an undersell if ever there was one), but by the end of our 7 days I knew it personally.
Every year thousands tread the soil marked by of one of Jesus’ twelve, crossing the landscape between France and Santiago, honouring his 800+ km journey and discovering something about their own.
A ‘Fellowship of the Camino’ is born, shared by travellers intertwined on paths they carve and follow. Small flowers or well-worn boots slouched by the wayside remind you someone’s gone before who know’s exactly what you’re going through.
Sitting back in my bedroom re-entering my ‘everyday’, I still hear what they taught me:
1. Listen to the Whisper
When walking 23km’s a day is on the agenda, the first thought through your mind is “O Jesus help me…”. Pre-trek ‘imaginitis’ kicks in and your feet become raw wrinkled messes of blistered flesh with pinkies filing for abuse. However…(thank God) it doesn’t have to end there.
As questions were asked in Orientation about knee injuries, avoiding blisters, looking after our joints, our Tour Leader’s answer was “Listen.” “Listen to your feet. Your knees, your back. Often it’s just a fold in your sock, and that can be adjusted.” Ok.
Each day I got dressed, strapped on my boots, wriggled my toes, took a few paces and listened…
Nope, that tongues rubbing…Gah! The crease of my sock is on my little toe…Uggh come on, why’s that lace digging in??
I’d sit re-tying, loosening laces, curling my sock under my toe, smoothing out the tongue – I had become a Shoe Whisperer. As annoying as it was, this ritual was worth it. Interrupting the flow of the pace to pause and fix a niggle saved me blisters, saved me injury, and got me safely to Santiago.
…how often though do we feel a ‘niggle’ in life and ignore it?
Our gut tells us to call that person, put down that food, stop watching that TV show…and we mute it.
But there’s a reason why it’s speaking up. It’s alerting us to adjustments we need to make. Ones that will prevent the blisters of life, promote health, and help us live in wholeness without injury or defect.
The whispers have a longterm purpose. Trust them.
2. Arrows are your BFF
Along the Camino hand-painted yellow arrows decorate trees, bricks, hedges, gently guiding you to Santiago. Whether on a crossroad or long straight stretch of path, it was always comforting to look for one and find it.
Walking along the lower of two dirt bush tracks at about the 85 km mark, my Mum, sister and I had come to a junction.
There was a concrete tunnel on the left going under the top road to a main road curving round to the right, or you could continue on the gravel path ahead. I strode through the tunnel, reading the graffiti of pilgrims who passed before me, when I heard a voice behind, “Wait wait! Come back.”
No Perregrino likes to walk back along the path.
I turned around, and met Mum with her map out, checking to see if we were meant to go left or straight.
There were arrows that could’ve gone either way. One went through the tunnel, one was on a vague tilt you couldn’t make out, and the other was a picture of a bicycle going straight (yep, cycling’s allowed!).
I’d seen an arrow past the tunnel so was confident on left, Mum was uncertain but gradually convinced by the graffiti, and my sister was up for either. After some deliberation we headed left, and with more yellow arrows appearing we knew we’d made the right choice.
Her simple enquiry reminded me of times when our direction in life is questioned. We move based on ‘an arrow’ we saw, but then later have to re-evaluate – am I supposed to keep straight, or go left? – we search for an indicator, find one, walk on…then wonder if we were right.
The thing is though…if you went the right way, there’ll be more ‘arrows’. The route will continue to be marked with pointers you need. If they dry up as you continue, go back to the last point you saw one, and look again.
Whether the path is winding, rough, wet, or dead straight – if you’re seeing arrows, it’s ok. No matter what anyone else says.
3. Don’t Forget Jesus
Across Europe there is a rich religious heritage that immerses local culture.
Travelling through small towns and large ones, part of our education was learning the history of the Catholic church and how it interacted with the people over time. Wherever we went there was always at least one Cathedral, and it always had a story.
Architecture would be symbolic of the Bible story, showing the sin of man, Gods righteousness, and humanity’s Judgement. Carvings of monstrous mammalian/human hybrids were etched in the architraves, reminding patrons of the hellish eternity that awaited them, and Jesus would be carved there also, looking at you with an almost ‘saintly disgust’.
Other Cathedrals focused on the glorious beauty of heaven, with intricately detailed stain-glass windows catching sunlight as they sat beneath impossibly high ceilings, describing Mary, Jesus, the Angels and Apostles. You couldn’t help but look up and marvel at their portrayal of the Divine.
Yet, as the wonder of it all consumed me, there was something missing… a page that felt forever unturned:
Never in it all was there a message of free salvation through Jesus Christ.
I patiently calmed my frustrations with the void, believing eventually it’d be made plain, but the most relevant attribute of the Christian faith was a forgotten afterthought.
It annoyed me.
Thousands upon thousands of people had come to these places, but did they know that Christ saves?
Did they know God judges, but that He’d also paid for our freedom?..and forgives us?
I couldn’t reconcile it.
Moses had said to the Israelites in Deuteronomy 30: 11 – 14:
“Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.”
…but this Gospel seemed cruel and aloof. Moses spoke of a Word freely given, and message freely heard – an un-vetted understanding of our Father that we all have access to.
People desperately need to know the guilt-free liberated life that’s experienced through Christ, let’s not forget to mention it.
Article supplied with thanks to Laura Bennett.
About the Author: Laura Bennett is a media professional, broadcaster and writer from Sydney, Australia.