Wednesday, August 20, 2014

El Camino de Santiago, Finding the Path, and Getting Lost

A decade ago, I joined a friend on El Camino de Santiago, the ancient pilgrimage in northern Spain. Marked by the yellow scallop shell, the road has been traveled by countless pilgrims over eight hundred years.

I came home with blistered feet, a mind full of landscapes and faces, and a soul that felt certain I was on the right path.  
And then, last summer, that path ran in circles. It trailed into the woods. It disappeared. 

I’d known exactly where I was in my life, in my relationships and roles. Now I looked up and nothing seemed familiar. I was lost.

At first, I panicked. And then, over the months, I began to change. Now I understand that lostness is an important part of the journey.

If we are certain of our destination, and how it will unfold, we can’t be nudged, guided, led to new things. We become glib and presumptuous. We stop listening to the Spirit.

Barbara Brown Taylor, in her book, An Altar in the World, writes about getting lost as a spiritual practice. “[S]omething is happening to you in this wilderness that does not happen when you are safe at home.”

Indeed, one afternoon last summer, traveling Germany's oldest city with my husband, an even stranger thing happened. He got lost. This never happens. He has a mind like a map.

Caught in a drizzle, we retraced our steps for miles. He sighed over the guidebook that had made sense until now. It felt like the perfect metaphor for our relationship, for my soul, for all the lostness I felt. 

Then we turned a corner.

There it was: the scallop shell. Turns out, we were on the Camino--Jakobsweg, as it’s known in Germany. 

I was on my path even when I felt most lost.

Again and again, I heard the consolation of Spirit: “You’re exactly where you belong.” The sweet thing is, I can’t give myself credit. I’m humbled to keep following, keep listening, and not take anything or anyone for granted.

Last Sunday I gathered with a small group of Camino veterans. They blessed me and gave me a scallop shell for my journey.

Because I’m heading out again. In about a week, I’m going back on the Camino, an outward walk to complement my inward practice. I have a deeper understanding of pilgrimage now, allowing for surprises and the unknown. Knowing that being lost, and being on the path, are often the very same thing.

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