We all bring something with us to the Camino that we intend to leave behind before leaving El Camino. It might be something we do not like about ourselves or something that we might be struggling with, perhaps a bad habit or an addiction of some sort. Hence, the tradition of pilgrims carrying a stone they have picked up during the Camino in order to leave it behind either along the path, on one of the markers, or upon completing the journey to Santiago de Compostela. This leaving behind of the stone symbolizes the leaving behind of the old-self.
Just as the caterpillar goes through a complete metamorphosis by becoming a butterfly with beautiful wings designed to fly, so do some pilgrims experience similar kinds of transformations. During the Camino I have seen many markers where pilgrims have left behind stones, flowers, notes, etc., but one object that caught my attention was a cigarette pack. One can easily infer that the pilgrim must have been struggling with wanting to quit smoking and had eventually found the courage and determination, coupled of course with God’s grace, to overcome his or her addiction to cigarettes.
Of course, not every pilgrim experiences transformation to the same degree. But you do hear countless accounts of people’s hearts and lives touched by God during El Camino, prompting them to change the direction of their lives. Understanding how much God loves us becomes a redeeming moment for pilgrims – recognizing that God suffered for us out of love not only makes us become aware of the fact that we are loved by God, but it gives meaning and reason for our present sufferings and crosses in life.
Realizing God’s love is transformative!
Seeing so many crosses that practically cover the entire length of the fence that separates the airport from the Camino path is a testament to that.
Just as my leg was cramping up and I was getting tired during today’s Camino, I spotted a stone in the shape of a heart. That stone reminded me that God’s love is unchanging and everlasting.
We don’t need to impress God to make Him love us. He already does. His love for us isn’t dependent on us or what we do. Sometimes I forget that, and God needed to put that stone in my path to remind me!
According to the weather forecast, today should be the last day of rain! Tomorrow it is supposed to be cloudy, but with no showers, and Thursday, a beautiful sunny day with a high of 21 degrees Celsius.
The most difficult days are behind us now, and what remains is the better and exciting part of the walk as we are nearing the end – the final 27 km stretch.
Today I decided to walk at a slower pace and socialize with others. So, for a good part of today’s walk I was with the co-pilgrims from our group, and I even had an opportunity to make new friends from El Camino (one American, one Australian, and three Germans). During the hour we walked together we chatted, sharing our thoughts and stories about our lives. During our conversation, Gabriel, a young American pilgrim, shared with me how El Camino made him realize that he needed to de-clutter his life, “Everything I need, I have in my backpack.” Obviously he meant during the Camino, but we could and we should do the same thing in our lives because we are mere pilgrims on earth who are destined to be citizens of the Heavenly Kingdom.
We all have a tendency to over pack, too many things that are either not-necessary or are un-necessary! And unlike these young pilgrims I met on the way who had to carry all their stuff with them in their backpacks, we did not have to carry all of our stuff with us, as we arrived at a hotel and we were able leave whatever we did not need during our walk on the bus. But, if you had to carry everything you needed in your backpack, you would quickly learn the lesson: the heavier your backpack, the harder and slower your walk will be. The secret, then, is to take out everything you don’t need to minimize your load taking only the essentials. I realized during El Camino that when we distance ourselves from the comforts of our home, then we begin to realize where the line is between what we want and what we need in life.
During the Camino today, I would look for opportunities to ask other pilgrims why they had decided to do El Camino, and to my surprise, other pilgrims were doing the same! I found out that many who have decided to walk the Camino, for reasons other than health and religious, were in one way or another feeling lost and were searching – they were either at a point of transition in their lives, uncertain about the future, needing to make a decision in life, or trying to discover themselves.
During our life, we go through many different stages, and sometimes transitioning into these different stages in life can be very difficult, for obvious reasons, such as the fear of uncertainty, doubts about ourselves and our capabilities, or confusion, just to name a few.
I can say with certainty that not everyone will find answers during the Camino; some may find answers during El Camino, and some may find the answers they seek at some point in their lives, long after the Camino has ended. But even if we don’t necessarily find answers right away during the Camino, if we remain on track we will eventually get to where we need to go. That was the case for one of the pilgrims from our group. When she was just about to go in the wrong direction, I happened to walk into her and ended up guiding her in the right direction as we walked the last stretch of 5 km together.
If we were to ever get lost, God will find us. He will lead us in the right direction, or He will send us someone who will. We are where we need to be. It is all a part of the process. What we need to do each and every day is to just keep on going!