I was 43 miles into my Camino de Santiago pilgrimage when the pain surfaced. Not from the typical blisters or corns. Nor the pulled muscles or sunburn. I’m walking a virtual 480-mile pilgrimage across the northern part of Spain (via an app on my phone). I’d been averaging around three miles, sometimes five, each week. I was finally gaining some momentum when an overwhelming sense of anger became my most unwelcomed companion.
No doubt, it has been a year. 365 days of uncertainty, death tolls, variants, vaccines, and prayerfully hope. I was curious to know what I wrote last spring when we assumed the pandemic might only last a few months at best. I offer my words again in honor of the one-year anniversary. They seem as timely now as they did then.
In a funny twist, the virtual Camino de Santiago pilgrimage that I began on New Year’s Day is starting to feel like the easiest thing I do. It demands only one thing of me: walking. (Oh, and an openness to spiritual renewal). With a solid 451.4 more miles to go in my 480.8 mile-trek, I trust that I will have ample opportunity to let me feet lead me back to my heart. Right now, my boots are pointing in the direction of more laughter. I simply do not get enough. I’m not sure any of us do, really, given all our isolation.
I started walking the Camino de Santiago on New Year’s Day. Known as a pilgrimage across Spain, the Camino dates back to the eighth century. Millions upon millions of people of every faith, hue, and nationality, have hiked the month-long (or longer) trek to the city of Santiago de Compostela where St. James the Apostle is reportedly buried. It is considered a sacred journey in search of meaning and transformation. It could not be more timely on the heels of 2020.
We watched as red and black balloons drifted up slowly into the winter sky and then out of sight. Gone. Like my friend’s husband of 39 years whose memorial my son and I were attending. Gathered in masks on a cold December afternoon, we stood in the quiet of the field, eyes lifted, honoring him. A grandfather, a deacon in the church, a dad. Gone, gone, gone. Late that night, and many others that follow, I lie down on my living room floor. I like to feel the solidness of the hardwood beneath me. It grounds my prayers, especially in this bittersweet holiday season.
Love is spacious. This is what I am learning amid a global pandemic that requires us to keep our distance. Ironic, perhaps. But the wide embrace of God’s love brings me solace.
“Why not joy?” my spiritual director asks me. In the face of this unrelenting year—laden with loss and injustice—why not eek out as much joy as possible? Find hope amid the pain? We call this a “both-and” in spiritual direction: the idea that opposite experiences exist side by side and that each has value in and of itself.
I pulled up my garden today. It was a sad affair, leggy petunias and dried up purple salvia next to the red replacement mums that have refused to flower. I trimmed the browning dahlias and removed the daisies. The arid and rocky soil seemed only partially to blame. The dying roots surrendered with ease. We are all so worn out, I thought to myself, as the late summer sun dipped behind a cloud.
Today, watching the lake lap the shore, I am reminded that all things pass. My son and I leave the beach as we arrived, masked and hand-sanitized. A sense of repose has found me. I wrote this Godisbig reflection in 2014 as I waited through the unknown. May it speak to you in this moment too. Praying that you are staying healthy and safe.
I still remember the day I was the only white person in a crowded school gymnasium. My third-grade students had asked me to come to their basketball tournament. I was 22 years old, teaching in Houston, Texas. I had not been formally trained as an educator and was new to the south.