“Buen Camino,” I quickly learned is the greeting of pilgrims along the way of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. Last month, I had the good fortune to walk 150 km of “The Way” with my sisters and a good friend. For nine days, we set out each morning to walk across Galicia toward Compostela. Not long into the first day, I started humming one of my favorite Gospel hymns, “Order My Steps.” Our days were dedicated to walking with Our Lord on a path carved with the footsteps of the millions of pilgrims who began to walk it in the ninth century and have not stopped. The first pilgrims were seeking to venerate the tomb of St. James the Apostle, the first evangelist to bring the Good News to Spain and to seek his intercession. Over the centuries, pilgrims have followed for many spiritual reasons and in some cases for no real reason at all! Some of the pilgrims I met admitted that what started out as a physical challenge, an extreme vacation of sorts, did become a retreat of some sort. I think it is the grace of what is holy ground. It really struck me that pilgrims, whether believers or not, entered the Cathedral and stood at the tomb of St. James, many even staying for the celebration of Mass.
Order My Steps
Order my steps also became the prayer and the fruit of the pilgrimage. In one sense the difference between a pilgrimage and a hike is not simply the destination—a holy place– but the way in which one walks. The entire endeavor and therefore each day was given to God. Beyond daily Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours and a rosary each afternoon, it became clear that we were entrusting every part of our day to God. The weather was everything from rain to snow to hail to sun and so we quickly developed an attitude of gratitude for seeing a break in the clouds over the next hill or receiving an hour or two of no rain. We trusted we would find a place to stay and food to eat at the end of our day, though we had not one single reservation placed ahead of time. When the miles grew long and the packs heavy and the feet sore, we remembered we were carrying hundreds of petitions from friends, family, and colleagues and we consciously joined our little suffering to Our Lord’s for all the intentions for which we promised to pray.
The daily routine of the pilgrimage has a monastic flavor to it. Pilgrims are asked to leave the hostels and hotels by 8:00 am. Most pilgrims walk anywhere from 10 to 20 km a day and so are walking for four or five hours and when done for the day, there is the washing of clothes, attending Mass, enjoying dinner and conversation with fellow pilgrims and sleep. The schedule in itself for most pilgrims is much simpler than a daily routine back at home. The walk allows for lots of time to think and ponder and pray and to enjoy the incredible gift of the beauty of Galicia but it offered me something more. I began to think a lot about the ways my typical day is ordered—or not—to God.
The Daily Pilgrimage
When I returned home would I be as conscious of ordering my steps to God? What needs to change in the pattern of my daily life that allows a more conscious sense of walking with the Lord and remaining “in the moment” with Our Lord. Thankfully, though my blisters are just about fully healed, what other little pain or discomfort or sacrifice can I make on behalf of the prayers people have ask me to pray everyday? Since returning home, I have been consciously aware of calling to mind the little practices of the Camino that ordered my steps toward God and to find a place for them in the hurried and harried pace that mark my days.