Life As Pilgrimage
By Staff Member Megan Hastings
In 2012, I backpacked across Spain on the Camino de Santiago with two of my closest friends. We walked 300 miles in 14 days. The days were long and tiring but the journey was beautiful. We walked all day, ate simply, washed our clothes by hand, and had everything we needed on our backs. It was a special experience to share with my friends, not to mention the people we met along the way. We didn’t have cell phones and our evening entertainment often consisted of cards, reading, or simply chatting with each other or the people at our hostel. The simplicity of the life-style made it easier to be present in the moment and I experienced a refreshing contentment.
After our pilgrimage in Spain I flew to Rome for a semester of studying abroad. There was to be yet another kind of adventure. Every day we walked by famous Cathedrals and monuments that housed renowned artwork by the likes of Caravaggio and Bernini. In Rome I continued to experience a sense of pilgrimage, but in a very different way than I had in Spain. I was overwhelmed with the beauty, architecture, culture, and history that burst out of every street. Even though my time in Rome did not have the simplicity I had experienced on the Camino, there was a common feeling of adventure and providence that made me more acutely aware of my daily experiences. So often back home I would go through my day without being very conscious of the people or places I was engaging with, but abroad I was much more attentive to this.
Another part of living abroad was being a straniera, a foreigner. I didn’t know the language and the culture was very different. I didn’t have a GPS and I am terrible at directions. I could count on one hand the number of days throughout the semester that I DIDN’T get lost. I quickly realized, however, that being out of my element often resulted in unexpected blessings. There were so many times that after getting lost I discovered a new park, café, or Church. These discoveries became some my favorite places and memories in Rome.
The lot marked out for me is my delight-- Psalm 16
After my travels I spent some time reflecting on all that I had experienced. I was drawn to thinking- what did my experiences in Spain and Rome have in common? In some ways they were very different. Hiking in Spain was simple and rugged, while Rome was cultural and refined. However, in both of these experiences I found myself more aware of providence. Why? I think because in both of these situations I experienced need. My experiences of being tired, hungry, sore, lost, and misunderstood kept me in the position of being a receiver. Because there was space to need there was space to receive. There is something about not having all of our comforts immediately gratified that creates room to want, and then subsequently to appreciate and receive more deeply that which we longed for or even that which we didn’t know we desired.
The Lord continues to teach me that He has much more in store for me than I could want for myself. There is something about experiencing His generous provision that reveals that I am known by Him. He is clearly relating to me uniquely (my specific desires, personality, and interests) and it convicts me that perhaps I am less of a mystery to Him than I am to myself. It leads me to awe and wonder. In these moments I am drawn to desire a rich and meaningful life, but more significantly I am drawn to want Him. It makes me want to come to know who God is and who I am in relation to Him.
Being back in Minnesota, I quickly realized the disparity between walking down the robust streets of Rome or through the mountains of Spain and walking down the same 3 blocks of Cleveland Avenue everyday on my way to class. Thankfully, I had a desire to bridge my previous experience of pilgrimage to my life back home. Surely, the Lord’s providence, blessing, and adventure wasn’t relegated to the short five months of my life abroad.
Since then I have tried to embrace my whole life as a pilgrimage- whether my day is mundane, exciting, joyful, or sorrowful I want to be attentive to God’s blessings and presence. He is still showing me how to do this, but here are some reflections on what He is teaching me :
- Praise and gratitude are foundational. Praise opens me up to receive the present moment and there I experience His blessing and presence.
- There is incredible freedom that comes with not being in control of our lives. I think it requires us to be vulnerable with our desires, and then to hope in the Father’s plans.
- It means remaining in the position of the receiver. This posture keeps us disposed to the Father being in control and not ourselves. More importantly, it positions us toward a Father who wants to bestow His love and blessing on us freely. This is a very different lifestyle than clinging to our desires and putting the pressure on ourselves to assure that they come to fruition in the way we expect.
- We simply get to sit back and see how providence unfolds in our lives. When we trust that the Father created us with our unique personality, desires, gifts, then we can trust Him to know our truest path of fulfillment.
On the Camino we hiked a variety of types of terrain. There were beautiful paths through rolling countryside, boring paths alongside the highway, and arduous paths up a steep mountainside. On days where we walked through less romantic terrain, whether it was through rain, an ugly part of town, along pastures of cattle where the aroma was less than pleasurable, or days when you were exhausted or sore, somehow these days ended up being especially rewarding at the end. There is something about hiking and travelling that motivated me to endure discomfort, boredom, unmet expectations, and even pain because I knew of the beauty I was pursuing and I was willing to sacrifice for it.
This makes me think of the Scriptural image of Climbing the mountain of the Lord. Life in Christ is an adventure, but one that will sometimes be challenging. For me, it is a great image of faith. Life is very rich when we endure difficulty for the sake of that which is true, good, or beautiful. I desire to live life abandoned to the Father and to receive His daily providence wherever that takes me. I also desire to grow in faith and follow the Good Shepherd with the steadfast trust that He deserves.