By Susan Anquist
Psalm 84:5 “Blessed are those who find their strength in You, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage”.
Two years ago, while walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain, I became acquainted with the ways of pilgrimage. Walking this ancient path was the most difficult and extraordinary journey of my life. As I sit with the memory of my Camino, I realize much of what I learned centered around the burden of carrying more than I needed. My whole body, my very being was affected by the extra things I carried. I learned on my first pilgrimage that I did not need about fifty percent of what I had prepared to carry. I began lightening my load on day two.
The way of pilgrimage is to simplify; to lessen the weight carried, physically, emotionally and spiritually. The pathway to Santiago is strewn with items of release. There were many pairs of hiking boots hung on fence posts, clothing mailed home, and things shared. But, even more significant than the physical weight off loaded, the way of pilgrimage has a way of bringing to the surface the spiritual journey. These are often manifested by the carrying of rocks or the release of tears. Both precious markers of the pilgrimage.
I wonder how my COVID-19 pilgrimage might be marked? What is in my backpack? What is useful and necessary? Are there things in my pack that bring beauty and joy? Am I carrying excessive baggage? Are there places of lament to be expressed? Could there be sacred namings or holdings that might come out of this time? What will be left behind? Are there new invitations or deeper understandings?
Historically, pilgrims carried a rock from their home on the pilgrimage as a symbol of the burdens they carried. I carried two, one for the things I knew I was carrying and the other for the things to be revealed on the journey. There was a special place along the route, an altar of sorts, where pilgrims laid down their rocks. It is called Cruz de Ferro, the highest point of the Camino de Santiago. It is a place of stopping, pondering and releasing. The energy, Presence of God in this place is palpable. Holy ground.
As I sit with this image, I wonder how God might help me see, name, hold or lament this current journey? What will the Cruz de Ferro moments of COVID-19 look like? I wonder if pilgrimage could inform the grief I carry? What do I feel?
Gathered. Stacked. Thrown. Treasured.
Some smooth, some rough,
Some cause stumble,
Others evoke memory,
The collective sigh of burdens lain
Markers of journey
Reminders that we are not alone,
Collective recognition of pilgrimage.
Blessed by the Great Welcomer.
Along the way, I was struck by the need to stay present. It became exceedingly important for my physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. Pain became a gift, causing me to pay attention to where the stresses of walking 25-30 km a day showed up. I learned the importance of foot care, paying attention to hot spots before they became blisters. Resting and airing my feet, and changing my socks was a necessity. I began to pay attention to the inner rumblings, often noticing my anxieties or the things that drove my journey.
As I wonder and muse about the COVID-19 pilgrimage, I ask God, what is marking the way? What needs attention?
Pilgrimage has a way of bringing you to the end of yourself. At times I became lost, disoriented, and afraid. They reminded me of the words I often said to my children when they were small, “People do not stay lost forever, they find their way”. These places of lostness became invitations for honest cries for help and assurance from God. I was also given the immense privilege of learning to offer myself grace. How could I expect to walk 800 km and never get lost or feel pain?
Am I able to invite the Holy One into my noticing; my lostness, my disorientation and fear? Do I need assurance, comfort, connection or self-compassion? Are there places where I need to rest my weary soul, breathe the air, and change my socks?
“Oh God of the Pilgrim. Our sandals are dusty and worn. Our backpacks heavy. Give Presence to our journey. Give awareness to our beings. Oh, God of shadow and light, illuminate our path. May we truly find our strength in You, as we set our mind and heart on pilgrimage. Amen.”
Susan Anquist lives in British Columbia with her husband Warren. She is the mother of two married children and their spouses. She is grandmother to three lively, lovely granddaughters one, four and six years old. For the past 20 years, Susan was a part of the ministry team for OASIS Ministries, a ministry focused on providing a space for ministry leaders to process transitions and deal with the stresses of ministry/personal life. She holds a Masters of Arts in Spiritual Formation and a certification for spiritual direction from Portland Seminary. She practices spiritual direction both online and in her community. She loves walking. In 2018, she walked part of the Camino de Santiago. Her plan was to complete more of that journey in May 2020, but due to our current circumstance, she will walk another time. She loves reading, poetry and finds much joy in writing. She has a spiritual formation blog on Instagram (#Susan.Anquist).