Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of January 26, 2004
Presence envelops pilgrim
Being alone with God lets us hear our hearts song
A Missionary's Musings
By FR. JACQUES JOHNSON
If walking with people on the road to Santiago di Compostela was a blessing, it was perhaps a greater blessing walking it alone. Indeed, I spent countless hours walking by myself, working out issues in my life.
It's amazing what comes up when one takes quality time conversing with oneself, dealing with relationships and unfinished business going back many years, allowing the gentle Spirit of God to heal the negative and painful issues one has been dragging around for way too long. To let go of these is truly a major healing moment, a spiritual deliverance, a moment of clarity and of personal growth.
God's healingWith God's help one is able to forgive those who have hurt us. One is also forgiven for having hurt others and can move on. Furthermore, one needs God's help to heal the harm one has done to oneself by failing to accept fully and appreciate the gifts and the personality offered us by the Creator. I found out that to work through some of these issues, solitary walks in nature's beauty is a great help.
Most of us carry heavy burdens, I suspect. But one day I met a woman on the Camino, the road to Santiago, who had her own special burden she carried. It was her husband, or rather his ashes she carried in her backpack.
The happiest time of her married life had been when the two of them walked the Camino together four years before. Disease struck and too soon he died. So she resolved to go back with him on the Camino and relive the joy and rich time they had experienced together. At the end of the journey she was to leave his ashes at some special place along the blessed road that had brought them both so much joy.
After my first day of the pilgrimage I realized that I was experiencing like a new novitiate, the first year of training to become an Oblate priest. It was like a new entry into religious life, with newness in the air, training anew in the art of walking with the Lord, as well as taking quality time with brothers and sisters. Everything was new and different. It promised to be long and challenging, yet there was a gentle confidence that with the Spirit as companion on the journey things were going to work out just fine.
Before many days went by, I started experiencing foot blisters. These were to plague me practicably every day of the Camino as it turned out. They became a small cross I had to bear. My two small toes would start complaining in protest as soon as I'd set out in the morning. I ordered them to clam up and as I ignored them by simply walking on they would become still after a few minutes and I was able to continue my walk painlessly.
Woven faithSpeaking of crosses, one day as I was walking by myself I came upon a fence made of wire netting through which pilgrims had woven sticks, branches, plants and pieces of wood in the shape of countless crosses. I was moved and amazed as to how pilgrims, passing by could not resist from spontaneously professing their faith in the death, resurrection and glory of our Lord. It was a rich moment and as I wove a cross or two myself, I felt I was entering into communion with countless pilgrims who chose to honour the Saviour in that creative way.
Another more frequent manifestation of people's faith was putting prayer stones on the cement kilometre markers along the road side. Many of the markers had a little pyramid of small stones, symbols of countless prayer offerings for the people back home. After a while I caught on and pausing with a small stone I would offer prayer during the next kilometre for this or that individual or family. I felt it was a popular expression of the "communion of saints."
Creative crossesAnother pilgrim activity was putting large rocks in the form of a cross in the middle of the trail, another invitation to prayer. These spontaneous simple gestures helped one remain focused on the real purpose of the pilgrimage.
If there were crosses on the Camino, there were also consolations. A pilgrim I got to know shared that as he set out about 7 a.m. - it was dark until 8:30 a.m. - he felt good walking alone in the dark and the crisp morning air. He felt like praying and he thought of singing a hymn.
The classic Our Father came to mind so he started to sing the hymn. He could only sing the first two words of it as suddenly he was overcome with the sense of a powerful loving presence all around him. Someone whom he felt journeyed with him for the next few hours. He just kept on walking in the dark, his heart burning with joy, tears running from his eyes, no longer alone but blessed by a gentle caring Presence he had never experienced in that way before.
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