Six years ago my husband and I were randomly scrolling through movie options on our new Netflix subscription. A film called The Way with Martin Sheen and Emilo Esteves popped up and because I really love those actors we decided to try it. We had no idea what it was all about, nor how watching it would change our lives.
Two hours later, Mr. Mo and I were literally scouring the internet for anything we could find about the 800 kilometer [500 mile] Spanish trek called the Camino de Santiago [or, Way of St. James].
The more we learned, the more excited we became, and the more driven we felt to go and walk this amazing physical & spiritual pilgrimage.
THE LEGEND OF SAINT JAMES
James, son of Zebedee was one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ [also called “James the Greater” to differentiate him from James the brother of Jesus]. After the death of Jesus, it is commonly believed that the apostle James spent a number of years preaching and baptizing converts in Iberia (modern-day Spain).
At some point, the apostle returned home to Jerusalem and King Herod Agrippa ordered his execution by sword. James is the first, and only, apostle’s martyrdom to be specifically documented in the Bible after the ascension of Jesus. (Acts 12:1-2).
What happened next is up for interpretation, speculation, and legend.
The Legend [which is the most fun] says that the body of St. James was transported back to Spain inside a metal coffin. Unfortunately, the ship sank off the Galician coast, however the coffin miraculously washed ashore covered in scallop shells
[side note: there are many interconnected legends surrounding this event which all involve drownings, miracles, and scallop shells].
The body of Saint James was hastily buried in a field, perhaps only meant to be temporary, but eventually forgotten.
Fast forward to some time in the 9th Century – during the wee hours of the night a shepherd boy seeking his wandering sheep is led by a constellation of stars that shine brightly upon the ground of a field, revealing the hidden burial site of Saint James. Upon that mystical site a small shrine for Saint James is built, which later is expanded into a stunning cathedral in the city that bears its name – Santiago de Compostela [St. James of The Field of Stars].
Today, this city is a designated World Heritage site located in Galicia, Spain.
IF YOU BUILD IT THEY WILL COME
There is a saying among pilgrims that “The Camino Calls you“.
As soon as the discovery of St. James resting place was broadcast throughout the land, faithful believers heard the Call of the Camino, and began to make their pilgrimage for the same reasons then as many modern-day pilgrims do today – seeking healing, forgiveness, solace, or inspiration.
Countless thousands have subsequently visited Santiago de Compostela. The pilgrims come from all corners of the earth. In Medieval days, a pilgrimage began the moment one stepped out of their front door. They would literally walk hundreds and thousands of miles – taking a journey of weeks, months, or even years – to the resting place of St. James – and then, they would turn and walk all the way back again.
In those days the journey was harsh and extremely dangerous. Many died in their quest. They walked with only the clothes on their backs, a hat and a staff – relying upon the kindness of strangers for their food and shelter. It was believed then, as it is today, that to help a pilgrim brings blessings from God. And so those going to Santiago de Compostela would wear a special emblem as a sign of their pilgrimage – the scallop shell – which alerted locals of their quest, and to care for them.
Throughout all of these centuries the scallop shell has remained the symbol of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage. Combined with a yellow arrow, the shell points The Way and lets pilgrims know that they are on the right path.
THE FRENCH WAY
The most commonly known and traveled pilgrim route is the Camino Francés [the French Way] which begins in a small village at the base of the French Pyrenees called St.-Jean-Pied-de-Port. This is the route featured in the movie The Way, and became our ever-constant dream.
The first day of that pilgrimage takes one up and over the mountain from France into Spain, and then continues across the entire northern half of Spain for 500 miles toward the city of Santiago de Compostella.
But how would we ever be able to go?
- Financially it was way out of range for us
- Even if we had the ability to save enough money, walking 500 miles across Spain required 4-5 weeks time away from work and my Choir commitment!
It was our Impossible Dream.
SHARING THE DREAM
And thus, “Our Camino” has remained at the top of our “bucket list” year after year for the past decade. Our children have literally grown up hearing us talk about Spain and the Camino over and over … and over [and yes, I have memories of many sighs and groans whenever they discovered we were “at it again” talking about the Camino] 🙂
Meanwhile, I’ve witnessed multiple friends discover the Camino de Santiago, and feel it calling to them. I’ve watched them make the many preparations it takes for the trek, and then wished them well as they have flown to Spain to begin their own Camino pilgrimage! With excitement – and longing – I have followed their daily Camino adventures via their blogs, or on their many Facebook and Instagram accounts. As of today, there have been no less than eight of my close personal friends who have walked the Camino de Santiago since that first day it called to me!
To my knowledge, at least half of them only found out about the Camino because they talked to you-know-who.
The irony does not escape me.
Year after year Mr. Mo and I have yearned to be walking with these friends, and “our Camino” has remained our favorite shared topic.
As I mentioned, there is a saying that “The Camino Calls you“. I truly believe it has been calling Mr. Mo and I all of these years.
There is another saying too.
“The Camino always finds a Way“…
But, I had no idea when or how I would ever be able to find a WAY to respond to the CALL. We resigned ourselves to wait 12 more years until I have retired from Choir, and we have both retired from work.
This assumed that we would both still be LIVING, and both be physically able to walk “our Camino.”
That was our only hope.
…On July 4, 2018 just one day after returning from my 2018 Choir Tour I had an “Independence Day epiphany”.
I was scrolling through photos on my favorite Facebook group American Pilgrims on the Camino – and saw a photo of a beautiful spot on the Camino that I didn’t recognize, because it was on a different route.
A thought came into my mind that completely changed everything.
What if we go another way?
Although the 500 mile Camino Francés is the most common way, there are over thirteen official “Camino” routes that lead to Santiago de Compostela. Some are much longer than the 800K / 500 mile Camino Francés, and some are much less. They begin at many different points. People can also custom design their own starting points. In order to gain an official certificate of completion – a Compostella – a pilgrim is required to walk 100 kilometers to Santiago de Compostella. Or, if coming via bicycle or horseback, it is 200 kilometers.
As soon as I stopped focusing on the Camino Francés, and opened my mind to all the other options, everything started to fall into place in crazy amazing ways!
After an intense study of all of the routes, our first true Camino Miracle happened!
…WE FOUND OUR WAY
Our glorious eleven day Camino quest begins on Monday October 8, 2018.
Our route is plotted. Our flights are booked.
IT IS REALLY REALLY HAPPENING!!!
In just a little over 4 weeks from today we are going to board an airplane to Europe carrying only one backpack each weighing less than 15 pounds (7 kilos … at least, that’s the goal), ready to walk our first Spanish pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela – and yes, I did just say “first” because Mr. Mo and I are already talking about “when we go back to do our next Camino”
Apparently, the Camino is still calling. We will see how we feel after October 18. 😉
So, if you’ve been wondering why I haven’t been posting very much lately, this is why.
I have sooooooo much more to tell you about all the little miracles that have happened since July 4th. AND… I get to tell you all about WHICH WAY we will be going!
But, that remains for the next post! Subscribe and stay tuned!
The moral of today’s story is that sometimes we keep trying to make something happen in our lives – and we try and try and try, and we hope and dream and pray… but nothing ever works out. So we pray harder, and we cry, and we fret because we want so badly for this really good and honorable thing that we feel so strongly is really SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN… but still remains impossible.
If that’s happening to you right now, take a tip from my playbook. This is the time to take a step back and sit very quietly. Consider that God wants you to have that really good and honorable thing… but, perhaps He needs you to wait.
And perhaps you must reach your Impossible Dream in a DIFFERENT WAY.
If one door doesn’t open, try another. If all the doors are locked, try a window. Or, maybe your Way is going to be underground, or maybe your Way is up through the chimney…
We each have our own unique roads to walk in this life. There is no “right” or “wrong” Way – only amazing and creative and different Ways to accomplish our dreams, to create our wisdom, and to reach our glorious destination.
Never, never, never give up.
Because, this is all part of your journey.
There will always be A Way for you.
¡Buen Camino! – Holly
Random fun fact: This is Brian Stokes Mitchell singing the leading role of Don Quixote. “Stokes” was a special guest artist with The Mormon Tabernacle Choir in my very first summer of my membership 2008, and he returned in December of the same year to be the MoTab Christmas guest artist. I have a special place in my heart for him, and also for this song!!
Update: Read more posts about our Camino experience here.