My word of the year for 2019 was “blossom,” and it proved to be wonderfully apt as I started a new role as resident author with Valley CrossWay Church, a new job as editor of Purpose magazine, and discovered new opportunities for writing and speaking in churches and other settings. I’m grateful for the blossoming in my life in these and other ways.
Now I’m looking forward to a new year and a new word. From last year’s “blossom,” I’m turning now to “journey”—journeying deeper with the new things begun over the last year and perhaps discovering some new paths as well. I don’t expect my journey to take me on the Camino de Santiago like Russ Eanes or to the Alps like Richard Dahlstrom, but like them I’m also on a journey seeking to receive each day as a gift, to learn as I go, and to be surprised by God.
In The Walk of a Lifetime: 500 Miles on the Camino de Santiago (The Walker Press, 2019), author Russ Eanes says that walking the Camino de Santiago had been a decades long dream for him. He had read many books by others who had made the pilgrimage, talked with people who had travelled the road before, and his own chance finally came when he left his job in publishing and took a year-long unpaid sabbatical:
I had reached 60 and knew it was the time. My last child had graduated from high school and the nest was officially empty. I was too young to retire, but old enough to know that I needed to slow down and reorient my life. My dream had grown: besides going on a pilgrimage, I wanted to take an entire year to re-set my life—to pause, to “downshift,” to start living in a slower gear. I left my job the first week in January, allowing myself three months to prepare. (page 10)
He started training himself physically. He gathered equipment and supplies. He decided on some basic principles including walking about 25 kilometres a day, carrying his pack the whole way, and not reserving accommodations ahead of time in favour of simply accepting what might be available. He headed out on his own for the first four weeks, walking with others as the opportunity arose, and with his wife, Jane, planning to join him for the final week of his pilgrimage.
Most of his book focuses on the walk itself—on the people he met along the way, the places he stayed, what he carried with him and what he left behind, the food, even the blisters. Yet the walk also stood for something more. For example, one day in Villafranca del Bierzo he was passing by one of the many inns for pilgrims, when a porter urged him to come in. At first he felt suspicious, not sure what the man wanted or why. As it turned out, the walkers staying at the inn had already left for the day, and there was still so much food left that the porter urged him to eat as much as he liked for free: eggs, cheese, roasted peppers, toast, jam, whatever he wanted. Says Eanes:
I can’t say that there was a single “most important” lesson that I learned along the Camino; there were far too many to list only one. Likewise, there was not a single incident that stood above the others. But if there was one incident that encapsulated what the Camino means, it was the one that day in Villafranca del Bierzo: Life is offering us a feast, if only we will lay down our suspicions and our fears and receive it. On pilgrimage, it is referred to as “receiving the Camino.” I was being offered a feast, I didn’t know it and I resisted receiving it.
How often in life do we resist a feast that is laid out for us? How often do we have plans and miss the feast? This meal was a metaphor for the entire Camino, for life. There is so much out there for us, but we are content to miss it. We have to be in control of things, we have to follow a schedule, have to hurry along to the next appointment, the next task, the next item on our mental to-do list. Meanwhile, there are feasts waiting for us. The best experiences I had on the Camino were when things didn’t go as I’d planned, but experiences which, if allowed, would become normal. They are gifts—moments of grace. (pages 148-149)
Like Russ Eanes on the Camino, Richard Dahlstrom’s hike through the Alps was also part of a sabbatical. For most of the way he hiked with his wife, Donna, but spent the last part on his own. They also prepared themselves physically by doing other hikes. They planned by reading, consulting with others, gathering equipment, buying maps, and they too experienced many unexpected graces along the way.
The Map is Not the Journey: Faith Renewed While Hiking the Alps by Richard Dahlstrom (Leafwood Publishers, 2017) alternates the what and where of hiking through the Alps with personal and spiritual reflections. For example, when he and his wife end up hiking quite a bit less than their initial goal of nearly 400 miles in 40 days, he writes this about dealing with unmet goals:
I know people who’ve spent their whole lives wanting to do this, but are doing that instead. You can have a goal to get married and still be single, have a goal of wealth and be stuck in poverty, have a goal of owning your own business and having that business fail in spite of your best projections and hard work. What then? Should you declare yourself a failure and just take up drinking, profligate sex, or endless TV?
. . . . I’m now convinced that worse than missing the goal is the guilt we heap on ourselves because we tried, really went after it, and came up short. This guilt is tragic. I will contend with every fiber of my being that the reaching or not reaching of goals is, in the end, not much of a thing, because goals aren’t inspired. They aren’t delivered in the mail by God with a list of consequences should we fail to achieve them. We had a goal that would have pressed us into longer distances every day, and because stuff happens, we changed our plans.
. . . . Here’s what we learned about goals: Goals get us moving, and that’s their greatest value. (pages 102-103)
For Dahlstrom, the map is not the journey, the goal is not the journey, even his hike through the Alps was not the real journey. He concludes: “the real journey would begin on my return home, because it’s here that I would make real the principles discovered on the trek” (page 212). One of these principles is that control is an illusion:
What God has promised us is not insulation, or magic protection from the results of the Fall. God has promised us Presence, and remarkably, has promised that the Presence will be enough—just what we need to live a life of peace, joy, hope, rest. We learned to rest on our journey when we dropped our expectations of what would happen on any given day and simply enjoyed the day for what it would bring us. I’m learning, slowly, to do the same in real life. (pages 213-214)
I thoroughly enjoyed both of these books. Whether you’re planning to walk the Camino de Santiago, hike through the Alps, or continue your journey through life in some other way, they’re well worth reading.
Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of The Walk of a Lifetime: 500 Miles on the Camino de Santiago by Russ Eanes (The Walker Press, 2019) from the author and a complimentary copy of The Map is Not the Journey: Faith Renewed While Hiking the Alps by Richard Dahlstrom (Leafwood Publishers, 2017) from Speakeasy. As always, the choice to feature a book and any opinions expressed are my own and freely given.
Writing/Reflection Prompt: As you look forward to this new year, what word helps you focus, and why?
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