In August, I signed up for Walk in Beauty: A Pilgrimage of El Camino de Santiago, October 8-20, 2018.
It is promised as a "transformational journey" - a big promise to be sure - but it aims to deliver by being lead by a woman named Valarie Brown, a facilitator at Parker Palmer's Center of Courage and Renewal. She is also a Buddhist priest, ordained in 2003 by Thich Nhat Hahn.
I am so excited, I can't hardly sit still.
Just today, I got my "prep package" so I'm ready to walk the 7-10 miles per day, from San Sabastian to Santiago, Spain, the mythical burial place of St. James, who is credited with bringing Christianity to Spain.
San Sabastian is described as "a lovely seaside metropolis located in the Basque region of the northern Atlantic coast, boarding France, widely considered one of the best places to eat in the world, and home of some of the world’s best restaurants."
Oh, I'm so in. And, yes, I plan to get recipes.
It continues: "This Pilgrimage to Santiago takes you through beautiful forests, charming villages, and historic towns and cities such as Bilbao, Santillana del Mar, Comillas, Cangas de Onis, and Oviedo. Taking the Northern Route to Santiago de Compostela, this 164 kilometer/102 mile journey, is divided into eleven inspiring walking stages and includes a visit to the Caves of Altamira, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Pilgrimage Resource Guide is packed full of information about walking clothes, shoes, packs as well as books, music, films, etc.
My group of 10 will also have three opportunities, from now until the end of September, to have three Zoom Conference times, so that we can see each other and talk with each other and begin to know who we are individually and collectively and begin to bond.
The terrain of the walk, they say, will be
"varied: rural paths, walking trails, small villages, coastal beaches and hilly terrain. Please start slowly and gradually build speed and endurance. This pilgrimage is not a race. We will walk a moderate to slow pace, perhaps three miles per hour, with plenty of time to stop to enjoy the landscape, fellow pilgrims and the local scenery."So, before you judge me, let me just say that I ain't 20 no more. Neither am I in my 30s or 40s. I've even passed my 50s. So, wait till you're that age before you judge me too harshly. In April, I begin a major birthday so it feels the absolutely right time to make this kind of pilgrimage.
You will need only a day pack with essential supplies. Your heavy luggage will be transported to our paradores or country farmhouse inn. The Spanish honor siesta time and we will pause each day for a lovely lunch in a local cafe. Additionally, we have the comfort of a private van, stocked with healthy snacks at our disposal."
I did walk around my local grocery store with two 5 pound bags of sugar in my backpack. That was when I realized I couldn't do this on my own without some help and began to look for alternatives.
Anyone who knows me knows that I've been planning this for five years. Unfortunately, in those five years, Ms. Conroy had abdominal serious surgery and damn near died. Then, she had both knees replaced. I just couldn't leave her while she was recovering and recuperating.
Guess what? She, like everyone else, only has two knees. I know, right? So, unless an emergency arises, I'm off from October 8-20, 2018 to Santiago, Spain, for the pilgrimage to prepare for what will undoubtedly be the last quarter of my life.
One of my beloved spiritual guides, Sr. Rosina, OSH, advised me that every journey has three parts. It begins with clarification. Once one is clear about why the journey is necessary, one enters the phase of preparation. After one has prepared, one is able to move more fully into participation.
When I was on Advent retreat, I got clear about why I needed to do this Camino. Now, comes the preparation so that I am ready to fully participate in the journey.
I ask your prayers as I begin the preparation phase of this journey. It's not going to be easy. In fact, it will take enormous commitment and dedication. It will be exactly the kind of preparation I need in order to fully participate in this journey.
Some of the questions I will be taking with me on this juourney include:
What do I need to take with me on the last quarter of my life's journey?
What do I need to leave behind?
What is essential?
What is luxury?
What is necessary?Part of my preparation will be to begin to live with these questions so that I can walk with them in the hope of walking deeper into the questions in order to find answers.
Can I trust my body to have the stamina it needs to complete this journey?
Who am I, now that I am no longer young and as strong as I once was?
Who is God for me? Has God changed in the same ways I have - physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually?
Who are my people? Can I trust in the kindness of strangers?
What is God calling me to do/be as I begin this last quarter of my life?
I hasten to add that I don't for a minute believe that I will finish the Camino with an answer to these questions.
That's not what matters. What matters is to be able to make friends with the questions and to learn to love them.
So, dear friends, that is my prayer request to you:
Help me to walk with these questions so that I can learn to love them.
Thank you. I so deeply appreciate it.
I will post more updates as they arrive.
As they sing in Spain at Christmas:
"Walking, we go walking toward the sun.
Walking, we are walking toward freedom."