12 April | Easter Sunday
In his bestselling book The Pilgrimage, Paulo Coelho makes a profound, personifying statement about the Camino walking him as opposed to him walking the Camino. I concur. Completely. The Camino walked me as well. And at the end of the pilgrimage, attending Mass at San Francisco Church (in lieu of Mass at the Cathedral of St. James during the restoration) on the Feast of St. James in Compostela exponentially enhanced my spiritual experience. When I reflect on that 500-mile victorious journey, I can understand the Camino as a perfect metaphor for not only Lent, but also for life because the pilgrimage taught me several lessons:
My Camino (my walk with God, my Lent, my life) will—and should be—unique.
My Camino is not a race; I must travel at my own pace.
My Camino depends on prayer and wisdom.
My Camino prompts me to learn to be better. Respond better. Love others better. Serve others better.
My Camino is thankful for the relationships in my life.
My Camino emotionally heals and liberates me—and moves me forward—from those who would prefer not to share a relationship space with me.
My Camino is short. I must be gracious, be generous, and be grateful.
Looking back, the time on the Camino does seem short—a blip on the calendar of my past. And yet, I remember those special spaces and times in the thin sphere with God. Toward the end of my journey from St. Jean Pied-de-Port, France, to Compostela, Spain, I remember walking under a street banner announcing the annual July festival celebrating Saint Mary Magdalene. In that misty morning moment, passing under that banner with my eyes to the sky, I smiled to myself thinking about how much Jesus loved Mary Magdalene, enough to choose her to be the first human being to see His resurrected body (see John 20:11-18). And then my mind embraced those moments His real presence accompanied me during my Camino: leading me, teaching me, carrying me, healing me, whispering to me, loving me.
Today begins the glorious Easter season. Today’s readings depict that day when, in Matthew’s gospel, the women of The Way witnessed the angel rolling away the stone, revealing an empty tomb, and telling them Jesus “is not here, for he had been raised just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay” (Matthew 28:6). Then, Jesus meets them while they are on the way to tell the others: “Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me” (28:10). Go tell the others. Isn’t that what Easter is all about? Celebrate and go tell the others!
Braelyn: And just like that, it’s over. Five weeks of traveling along the path, now complete. As you clear the entrance to the plaza, you hear the shouting, laughing, and crying of hundreds of pilgrims congregating and embracing. Some of them haven’t seen one another in weeks; others have slogged alongside them for six hours each day and bunked below them in every albergue. Those who arrived earlier cheer for those entering. The comparison to the thought of entering Heaven’s gates is undeniable.
The pilgrims of 2019 would not experience Mass in the Cathedral, as it was under renovation. Initially, disappointment added a layer to the poignance of the journey’s end. Yet, as with any experience like this, there was beauty in what was present. We attended the pilgrims’ Mass in a small stone chapel, where I got to hear my dear friend speak and deliver a testimony in front of hundreds of other pilgrims. When we were allowed to tour the inside of the Cathedral, I found that the plastic sheeting revealed more than it hid. The sanctuary was transformed into a veiled bride awaiting her bridegroom, as the people of the Church are in reality. As we wait, the LORD renovates our hearts if we allow Him.
LORD willing, those who went last year (and those unable to go at all this year) will go again to this beautiful place, will see the massive swinging thurible and smell its sweet incense. We will attend Mass there. Similarly, we who are in quarantine hope to attend worship together again, with renewed desire and gratitude for what we missed. We have been given something rare. Let us be made new.
Happy Easter and Buen Camino
8 April | Holy Week
Staring up at the crucifix in the Church of San Juan in Furelos, Spain, I fixed myself in a pew at the feet of Jesus, stationary from the moment the church opened until it closed just one hour later. This church—and its unique crucifix—served as an exceptional thin space along the Camino, offering me a brief moment in time when God very tangibly interacted with me. In His warmth and joy and peace during that particular, precious hour, Jesus revealed His essence through that artistic crucifix hanging above me: while one arm stretches to a heavenly eternity the other reaches down toward me, His creation. He truly is the conduit between Heaven and Earth. In that moment of divine beauty, my spirit fully opened. Ephphatha.
On the road to Santiago de Compostela, God invites pilgrims to share a meal of ephphathaic experiences: listening to the angelic voices of the singing Sisters of Carrion de Los Condes; participating in the nightly pilgrim masses offered at local churches and large city cathedrals; viewing and reflecting upon the architecture and artwork; feeling a light breeze in the dense heat of the day; or, just breathing in God with each step, knowing the road ahead will be extremely arduous but victorious in the end.
Though my entrance into the city of Compostela ended in celebration in front of the Cathedral of Saint James, Jesus’s entrance into Jerusalem ended in betrayal, false accusation, torture, and death. His cup awaited Him. As the Psalmist laments in today’s readings, “For I am eaten up with zeal for your house, and insults directed against you fall on me. I mortify myself with fasting, and find myself insulted for it. To eat they gave me poison, to drink, vinegar when I was thirsty” (Psalm 69:9-10; 21). And yet Jesus continues on His Own Way, choosing obedience, choosing to live Isaiah’s prophesy: “Lord Yahweh has opened my ear and I have not resisted, I have not turned away. I have offered my back to those who struck me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; I have not turned my face away from insult and spitting” (50: 5-6). He endured. And then He drank from the cup of death. For me. For you. A communal, yet personal sacrifice.
Passover begins tonight. Let’s reflect upon this Season of remembrance of the Exodus and how God has freed us from our own persecutors. Easter is a few days away.
1 April | The Fifth Wednesday of Lent
Early one morning while passing through a small village on the Feast of San Juan (Saint John the Baptist), I stopped to talk to some women preparing for the festival’s celebratory events. They proudly and joyfully explained their design, a culturally-traditional composition comprised of flowers, plants, and palms cascading from their doorstep alter down into the street. Their artistic expression would welcome that evening’s music, dancing, bonfires, and firecrackers—all part of a Spanish celebration marking Saint John’s birth and the summer solstice. These women’s spirituality, or, the way in which they practice and/or celebrate their faith, deeply impressed me. The time they took designing this temporary devotional space to praise and acclaim God’s permanent promises taught me to slow down and think about how I can be more meticulous in expressing my own gratitude for God’s people and creation.
And yet, there is a difference between what I witnessed in Spain and the worship of the golden statue in today’s readings from Daniel. King Nebuchadnezzar condemns Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to a fiery death because they will not worship his god (3:14-15). Astonished to see a fourth person who “looks like a son of God” walking in the fire with the three unharmed men, the Babylonian king cannot deny the power of God: “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who sent his angel to deliver the servants who trusted in him…[the three men] yielded their bodies rather than serve or worship any god except their own God” (3:92-95).
God instructs Jews and Christians to avoid idol worship (a few examples can be found in Exodus, Deuteronomy, 1 and 2 Kings,Jeremiah, Joshua, Psalms). In part, Lent is about recognizing our idols and discarding them. This is an excellent time to create positive plans to leave our idols in the past and truly celebrate the victory of the Easter season just on the horizon.
Braelyn: Many of these photos reflect elements of the spirituality of the Camino, including religious feast days, tombs, symbols, architecture, and messages from other pilgrims. I chose the diptych for the featured image because I couldn’t help but see in it the reality of the Way. It was easy to feel as though the Camino was MY journey, my walk toward God. But, as Christianity teaches us, we love because God first loved us (1 John 4:19). The cherubic depiction watching over the departed pilgrim may not give the angelic realm its due, but it still serves to remind me that our entire journey is spiritual, whether we remember or not. The pilgrimage of life is a call. We merely respond to it.
25 March | The Fourth Wednesday of Lent: The Feast of the Annunciation
The hike up to see the statue of the Virgen d’Orisson (not pictured) took my breath away, literally! At an altitude of 1,095 meters (almost 4,000 feet) both the climb (I live at sea level) and the sight of her had my lungs working overtime. Reflecting upon this site prompted me to ponder the intersection of art and faith: the sculpting and painting processes, the care in correct positioning, the consideration for the multitudes of devoted Marian pilgrims. Surely, this artistic effort was an engineering of the heart.
This sacred moment with the site devoted to Mary and Jesus represented just one of a many that gave me the opportunity to reflect. In reality, the Camino offers 800 kilometers (500 miles) of thinking. For much of the day, every single day, for 40 days, thoughts of my previous failures and future hopes began to change my future path. And each time I saw a marker signifying someone’s death while hiking the Way made this journey and my future plans all the more real; I gained new wisdom with each memorial: life is precious because living brings uncertainty, fear, challenge, and even danger. Life is arduous.
Can I really do this?
I must have asked myself this question about a thousand times a day. For me, the answer was not if, but how I must attempt the Camino, my Camino, my life. And for me, the answer to the how is the Who. During the ascents and descents, the blisters and bruises, the questioning and confirming of my sanity, Jesus was there.
How can this be? (Luke 1:34).
In Luke’s gospel Mary asks the angel Gabriel how she (a virgin) could conceive a child. He replies, “the power of the most High shall overshadow you. And therefore also the Holy which shall be born of you shall be called the Son of God…because no word shall be impossible with God” (1:35; 37). And with Gabriel’s words, she knew both the how and the Who. As we celebrate the feast of the Annunciation, how can we think about the concept of Jesus with us, in us, today and throughout Lent?
Braelyn: Today’s Feast Day called me to pull together as many of the portrayals of Mary as I could find from my journey. Each depiction shows a different side of her. Out of all of them, however, I think the last one is the one that strikes me the most. When I came across the statue hidden behind stacks of extra chairs, my initial reaction was one of sadness, even anger. How could they stow her away so discourteously? But then I saw the authenticity of the situation.
In saying yes to God, Mary was allowing herself to be set apart from the rest of humanity (which she already was). She was placed behind a barrier only God could breach. The Holy Family was, in the earthly sense, hidden away. Mary would bear the Christ, who humbled himself to both the manger and the cross. Saying yes, though full of grace and glory in the heavenly realm, was no glory in the earthly sense. It even meant risking her life (the penalty for adultery) and her society (isolation), yet she did. She allowed herself to trust God anyway.
During our quarantine, I have struggled with my faith. I have grappled with questions I’ve never met before. Deep ones. Despite these difficulties, I take comfort in the reminder that Jesus faced them and is present now in them. And Mary is praying.
18 March | The Third Wednesday of Lent
One phrase unites all those who choose to hike the Camino de Santiago: I remember. Whether trekking down slick stone that seems more like run-off than trail or hearing the joyful sound of a hiker’s or cyclist’s salutation, “Buen Camino!” the Way of Saint James is wrapped in the gift of memory. These holy, storied places invite our senses to inhale O Cebreiro’s mountain air, gaze upon Michelangelo’s Crucifixion at the Cathedral of Santa Maria de la Redonda in Logroño, or stand on the edge of Finisterre’s ocean-side cliffs. The light, the air, the time, the hike—all of it opens our minds, our intellects, and our intentions.
When we weave ourselves into the rhythm of the Camino—we can experience an authentic creativity: in verse, in song, in image, in beauty. Through these forms we can tell our stories about God working in our lives. Just like Moses instructs the people of Israel, we, too, must never forget: “Take care and be earnestly on your guard not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen, nor let them slip from your memory as long as you live, but teach them to your children and to your children’s children” (Deuteronomy 4:9).
What kinds of memories can we create with family and friends this Lenten season we can pass on to the next generation?
(The artwork above is from my hotel room in Léon.)
As we spend our very unexpected Lent in quarantine, the Lord reminded me of my three June days in Léon, fittingly falling during the feast of Corpus Christi. I had to bus there due to a respiratory infection, and I ended up staying in a small (but quite nice) hotel room alone for those days. I ventured out only a few times, only for Mass, feast procession, and to tour the Cathedral museum. Looking back now, I should maybe not have gone out at all, but I would have hated to miss the beautiful city. Those three days were some of the most fervent times of prayer I’ve ever experienced. I felt myself using the suffering to lift up others in my life. I listened to talks by Alice Von Hildebrand and other Catholic speakers to enrich my mind. I wrote postcards and prayed my rosary, and took hot baths in a tiny tub, praying that the fever would subside. I thanked God for the American women who helped me book a hotel room in a city where there seemed to be no single beds.
Now, during this unprecedented time of exile, I find myself also remembering the parts of myself I encountered during the Camino, and I don’t particularly like it. I find myself grappling with self-righteousness, anger, resentment, fear, and the wish to run away from those dear to me. I see my heart hardening in an ironic twist, as people I’ve prayed for (because their faith or mindset differs from mine) exhibiting much more genuine faith than I can muster. I’m faced with my utter ability to control things, and I quarantine myself in an altogether different way. All I can do during this season is to ask for those who have faith to pray for me. Those who I journeyed the Camino with me know I need it.
11 March | The Second Wednesday of Lent
Heavily leaning on my trekking poles and my husband’s arm, I barely made it to mid-day chapel Mass at the León Cathedral in Spain. Once seated, my debilitating shin splints made it impossible for me to lower my legs on the wooden kneelers. After my first 25 days hiking the Camino, I wholly felt the physical suffering the Way offers her pilgrims. And I was not alone. I met many other peregrinas who endured a myriad of maladies: torn tendons and tight muscles; throbbing neck and knee pain, bone fractures and fissures; blisters and sun/windburns—all of which now seem to be rites of passage.
Providentially, before hiking the Way we planned to stay an extra day in León; we thought it would be good to take a rest day. By the time we arrived, not only did I need rest, but I also needed a miraculous healing. And God delivered! Just at the right time, God positioned a Finnish nurse, a Spanish pharmacist, and my American massage therapist to instruct me how to alleviate my pain! Within 48 hours (just in time to head back on the road), I was healed! And perhaps even more providentially, a couple of days later we met two high school boys—one of whom could barely walk due to his shin splints. It was my turn to help—to teach and to serve.
Today’s Gospel reading depicts Jesus teaching His disciples about serving and His true nature as the ultimate Servant: “Whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your servant. Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20: 27-28). Lent is a good time to reflect on how we serve others through our acts of almsgiving. What are some ways we can continue serving others, even after Lent is over?
Braelyn: I made this sketch during one of the most physically excruciating portions of my Camino. The orange was a gift from a fellow pilgrim when I was in too much pain to walk. I never realized I would need to take a taxi or a bus to make my deadline, but my knees told me otherwise. I have been blessed with good health and few injuries, and tend to be incredibly unwilling to ask for help. The experience addressed both areas of weakness. A fellow pilgrim, a doctor, assessed my swollen tendons; this was a lesson in trust. Who's to say if people are telling the truth about who they are or if they have good intentions? Two hospitalideros allowed me to stay two nights in their Albergue (in exchange, I helped out by checking in English-speaking guests). Another pilgrim brought me ice from a nearby restaurant when the hostel didn't have a freezer. Many people back home prayed for me. It is humbling to see people from all over the world experiencing the same aches, pains, and delivering the same compassion. This small bit of suffering re-emphasized the physical suffering of our Lord, who willingly took on flesh intended for pain.
The Camino’s extraordinary landscape gifts pilgrims with unforgettable sights and sounds. The French Pyrenees offered me soaring peaks, stunning slopes, and perfect plateaus while the less mountainous regions enveloped me in bright white and red poppies, sunflower fields, and seamlessly symmetrical vineyards. The occasional bark from a village dog or moo from a grazing cow briefly brought me back to reality. Crossing the physical Camino taught me to better appreciate God’s perfect creation—the slow sway of His grassy fields, the fresh falling of His morning mist, even the speedy darting of His tiny field mice crisscrossing my path ahead. The special silence of walking through forests full of ferny flora took me into God’s thin space—that sacred sphere where the Lord meets us in tangible ways.
And in this thin sacred place, God revealed to me two realities: His perfection and my imperfection. The Camino prompted me to reconcile the choices I had been making in my life that didn’t always respond to God’s perfect will. With a repentant heart, I reflected upon the times I intentionally walked (or even ran) away from Him, much like Jonah in today’s readings. And yet, God “redirected” the prophet for a grander, more salvific purpose in Nineveh: “At the judgment the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation and condemn it, because at the preaching of Jonah they repented, and there is something greater than Jonah here” (Luke 11:32).
Yes, there is something greater than Jonah, or you, or me, or the Camino here—it is God. Lent is a perfect time to not just think about God, but to be intentional about repenting and growing closer to Him. Today is a good time to reflect upon (and maybe adjust) our Lenten plans as we look forward to the weeks to come.
(Note from Braelyn) What you don't see in these photos: people dressing blisters, helping others with their sore joints and muscles, speaking hard truths to one another in love, and listening to one another's harrowing struggles. You don't smell the sweat or taste the tears. You can't feel the fear of failure or the feeling of awe and relief each time you make it to the day's destination. You can't hear the solitude of an open field while walking alone or the multi-sensory bustle of multi-lingual crowds while walking in a group. You can't feel the loneliness. You can't feel the annoyance.
What I hope you do see are truth, goodness, and beauty, and the mysterious ways in which those things appear in the strangest of places. Because you also don't hear the laughter or taste the third cup of café con leche shared with a friend that day. You can't hear the dozens of exchanges of "Buen Camino" or the singing of hymns.
26 February | Ash Wednesday
The 800-km (500-mile) Camino de Santiago French route is a rough yet rewarding road: one less traveled by most. I remember at times walking for hours, not seeing a soul other than my husband. And maybe that made the difference. During this time and space hiking the Camino, God allowed me to experience a two-fold ephphatha: He opened my physical senses to His magnificent natural creation while also unsealing the spiritual senses of my heart—this unique unveiling gave me an opportunity to reflect upon the worst and best parts of my innermost self as well as my personal walk with Jesus.
Today is Ash Wednesday. This day begins Lent—six weeks devoted to fasting, reflection, and almsgiving in preparation for Easter, a season celebrating Jesus Christ’s Resurrection. The ashes placed on our foreheads symbolize our physical mortality (dust-to-dust) and repentance for our sins that have separated us from God. After the Psalmist repents of his sins, he prays, “A clean heart create for me, God, / renew within me a steadfast spirit” (51:12).
What are some ways we can design our Lenten plans to acknowledge our sins and renew our hearts and minds in order to grow closer to Christ and to each other?
*The image above is the stone Braelyn found in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. The tradition is to choose a stone at the outset of the journey and carry it until Cruz de Ferro. There the pilgrim places it on a massive pile surrounding a cross. People leave notes, tokens, photos, and many other things representing their reasons for doing the Camino. "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh." Ezekiel 36:26*
23 February | The Sunday before Ash Wednesday
You are Invited!
Take a spiritual walk with us as we climb the peaks and descend into the valleys of the Lenten season through the lens of hiking the Camino de Santiago (the 800-km pilgrimage across Spain, called The Way of Saint James) and Catholic Lenten Scripture. The Way of St. James (aka, The Way) represents one of three essential ancient Christian pilgrimages (the others are Rome and Jerusalem). The French Way travels from St. Jean-Pied-de-Port, France to Compostela, Spain.
Why walk with us?
To experience Lent through visual and written art as a collective physical, mental, and spiritual pilgrimage.
Who is “us”?
We are Braelyn and Nicol, both Ohioans now teaching in Savannah, Georgia. Unbeknownst to each other, we hiked the same Camino route this summer about a week apart! This collaboration will feature Braelyn’s art and Nicol’s writing.
What will we explore?
The first two weeks will cover the physical Camino; the following two weeks will reflect upon the psychological Camino; and, the final weeks will be devoted to the spiritual Camino. Then, we will culminate with the commencement of the Easter season!
What is Ephphatha?
Ephphatha is Aramaic for “be opened” and refers to Jesus healing the deaf man’s ears (see Mark 7:34). Using this theme, we will reflect on how the Holy Spirit opens our ears (and hearts) to God—His Word, His Spirit, His direction.
Join us each Wednesday for a new reflection!
Braelyn and Nicol
About this Blog
The Camino de Santiago is a pilgrimage through Spain, ending at the spot said to contain the relics of Saint James the Apostle. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims travel this route each year.