Camino de Santiago ~ Lessons Learned ~ Overcoming Fear

Camino de Santiago ~ Lessons Learned ~ Overcoming Fear


Courageous living is a learned art. The opposite of courage is fear. Fear stops us in our tracks. Fear can prevent us from going forward, fear can literally prevent us from being all that God created us to be. How do we overcome fear and learn to live courageously?

Walking the Camino de Santiago has helped many people face their fears head-on. It has empowered people with courage when they were filled with fear of the unknown. Just taking the “steps” to walk the Camino is in and of itself a huge leap in overcoming fear. The potential fears one faces are too numerous to list: Fear of not being physically able to do the walk, fear of meeting people, fear of not meeting people, fear of the mountains, fear of what is around the corner, fear of not speaking the language, fear of not finding a nearby restroom, fear of not finding a place to sleep, fear of not being able to sleep in a crowded room, fear of sharing too much, fear of sharing too little. The list is exhausting.

We see so many parallels in our daily lives of the fears that we might also face. Yet, when we look at the list, we are reminded that fear in and of itself is something that can be conquered. It is not conquered by our own might, but rather it is conquered by the power of the Holy Spirit working and and through us, and moving forward with the help of God by our side, into courageous living.

Walking the Camino takes courage, and it empowers us to face that which is unknown–because we are practicing facing the unknown with every step. It is often the future of the unknown that grips us in fear. Getting up every day and walking into the unknown is one way of moving forward even in the midst of uncertainty. It is a way we have of letting everything else go, and trusting that God can care for the rest, while we put one foot in front of the other.

Daily life also gives us opportunities to walk into the unknown. How can we, too, put one foot in front of the other in moving forward? The reality is that every day, no matter how routine it might seem, has us facing the unknown. Today is different than the next day will be. We do not know what will be around the corner, but we do know that God promises to walk with us.

Here are some steps that can be helpful in letting go of our fear, worries and anxieties of the unknown:

  1. Name your fear, anxiety or worry. Acknowledge it before God.
  2. Self-awareness. What are you saying to yourself about this fear? How can you change your own self-chatter.
  3. What are others saying about your fear, how can you block them out or take a different path from the nay-Sayers?
  4. What does God say about your fear?
  5. Confess your fear to a few trusted friends and before God.
  6. Have people of faith pray over you and for you.
  7. Chose a passage of Scripture that will be your new mantra before God. (Maybe Psalm 46, Psalm 71, Psalm 121, Romans 8:37, Joshua 1:6)
  8. Trust that God is faithful to God’s promises of never leaving us, of walking with us, and of a future that we cannot see.

Maybe you will not be walking the Camino in the near future, but where can you walk or sit and meditate on these things? God empowers us through the Holy Spirit to put one foot in front of the other to move into a new future, a new possibility, a new paradigm and overcome our fears and past hurts.

Here is a song by Casting Crowns that speaks to me in my moments of fear and worry.

You can find many of these ideas stated in our sermon series entitled, “Time Out.” Find the message speaks of courage in the midst of fear here.

Camino de Santiago ~ Lessons Learned ~Kindness and Hospitality

Camino de Santiago ~ Lessons Learned ~Kindness and Hospitality

My time on the Way of Saint James is already fading into memory. The lessons learned, however, are something that I am trying to apply on a daily basis. One of the basic practices on the Camino is the practice of hospitality and kindness. Wikipedia says that “Kindness is a behavior marked by ethical characteristics, a pleasant disposition, and a concern for others. It is known as a virtue, and is recognized as a value in many cultures.” kindness and hospitality go hand in hand.

This seems like a basic idea, but unfortunately, where I live in North America, the practice of kindness and real hospitality is slowly disappearing. It seems like people are too busy, and too wrapped up in “self” to pay attention to “other life travelers.” Theologian William Barclay once said, “More people have been brought into the church by the kindness of real Christian love than by all the theological arguments in the world.” Hospitality, for the most part, is alive and well practiced on the Camino de Santiago.

Hospitality, the practice of caring for another person, has been part of the Christian heritage since the beginning of the Hebrew Bible. One of my favorite stories of hospitality is in Genesis 18 when Abraham is visited by the three strangers. He offered hospitality and discovered that he was entertaining the ambassadors of God.

My experience on the Camino was filled with hospitality, welcome and wonder. Small gestures empowered those of us who were pilgrims to go the distance. First, there was the language barrier itself. I do not speak Spanish, I wish I did. While I have a few words under my belt, there were many times when a shop owner or someone I met in the street would patiently try to help me out, in spite of the language barrier. I saw more than one shop keeper go outside of their shop and show directions to an inquiring pilgrim.

The host at the Auberge in Saint Jean Pied de Port was another one who went out of his way. He and his wife not only made us dinner, for a small fee, but they had all of their guests share some of their story. That evening the owners turned us into family, which was a gift as we began our walk on the Camino. All along the route we would run into other “members of the family” from our first night; that all happened due to great hospitality.

The man collecting garbage in Pamplona exhibited another act of kindness when he called to me and my walking friend asking, “Are you pilgrims?” We replied yes, and he told us we had missed the turn a block beyond where we were. He went out of his way to ensure we would not get lost.

Or, there was the woman who sold me an orange in the heat of the day, and she came outside of her shop where I was sitting to ask if the orange was good! (Yes, it was delicious.) Over and over again, from the ones who hosted in the hostels to the food servers to the law enforcement riding their horses in the Basque country, people went out of their way to be kind.

Another hostel is run by the English Society of the Way of Saint James. Volunteers come there to serve for two weeks at a time. They volunteer to run the place, and they offer to massage sore feet as well! There are hostels that run just from the donations you are willing to give, and others that help you all make a meal together. Hospitality is astounding and welcoming.

 We have lost this art of hospitality in the busyness of our societies. While it is true that some say walking the Camino is like living in a bubble, we can at least take these lessons learned and apply them to become changed lives in our own neighborhoods and work places. In order to make these part of our daily routine, we have to slow down, and take time to talk to people, and hear their stories.

The very of nature of exhibiting kindness to another person makes that person have a sense of worth and usefulness. By exhibiting kindness to another person we are affirming their worth as a person, we are telling them that they are important enough for us to be inconvenienced, by them or that we would give them special attention. It is also closely related to being gentle.

Jesus modeled the practice of welcoming the stranger and the practice of hospitality to those who felt unwelcome, and unworthy. How can we bring this practice back into our own lives? I think a challenge is in order. What would it look like to “outkind” your friend, or your family members? What would it look like to have a “kindness contest” on a regular basis? I believe we can change the course of our future by offering hospitality and kindness, and it can begin with us. Where can you begin to plant those seeds of kindness?

Camino De Santiago ~ Learned Lessons-1

Camino De Santiago ~ Learned Lessons-1


(Above, descent from the iron cross~ season, late May.)

It has been three months since my return from El Camino. While the time spent there seems so distant, it also seems so near. Perhaps, that too, is a life reflection. As we get older and wiser, it seems that our “childhood days” were just yesterday, when in reality, it is usually much farther away. How can we put the brakes on so that we can enjoy the moment that we are experiencing? One way, is to take “time out”, such as a walk on the Camino de Santiago.

It is long since overdue the areas of wisdom that I learned from my hike on El Camino. Each learning point will have a separate post. In each case, I also preached about the correlation between my own learnings during the journey and the story of the Israelites’ deliverance from slavery in Egypt. Here is the first sermon on lesson’s learned called, “Time Out.”

One of the first things that I relearned is that life is about the journey. So often we are eager to get to the next “thing” in our lives. We are eager to finish this class, we are eager to get our license, we are eager to graduate, we are eager to start our career, we are eager to get married, have kids or retire. How can we simply enjoy the present moment, and the people whom God has placed in our path to enjoy?

In my own life I am constantly on the run. One of the things I have been trying to do in this year is be an “abiding presence” with the people who are around me. I am not always successful, but at least I am trying. El Camino helped me to slow down and enjoy the people around me. The people around me were fascinating and engaging. They came from all over the world. Each life encounter truly was a treasure. For me, I was intentional about the experience of walking the Camino. I did not need to finish, I did not need to be first each day, I was intent on the experience. Not everyone walking felt that way. Some wanted to go as far as they could each day, others wanted to be first. I just wanted to “be.” In fact, I rarely used my I Phone headset as I wanted to hear the sounds of the Camino. You can hear and see a four minute sound byte of the Camino here at this recording I made. (Honestly, the cuckoo bird’s call makes me laugh.)

After my walk, I am more convinced than ever that God wants us to learn lessons on our life journey. God places people in our lives for a season or longer from whom we can learn and whom we can teach. Sometimes they speak life into us, and sometimes we speak life into them. But most of all, it is about how we build those relationship along the journey. El Camino taught me to listen to those around me; taught me that I can learn from them. How are you building the relationships in your life journey that God has put in your path? Are you leaning into them, or are you tearing them down? This applies to all the ones on your journey: There are ones who are hard to love, and there are ones that you would like to spend more time with. Lean into the relationships that God has placed before you. They are part of your learning in your life journey. Before you know it, your life journey will be near its twilight years. What relationships will you have spoken life into during your life journey? It is not too late to begin!

Camino de Santiago ~ May 22. 2017 the last big climb and Spanish toilets 

Today I walked literally until the cows came home. (Picture to follow.) The internet connection is not good, so I will post pictures tomorrow. We are at 1,400 meters, and most of that climb over this mountain was during the last 5 k. There is a great commaraderie as people from all nationalities encourage one another for the steep climb. The saving grace was the little villages all along the way where one could stop for a snack or a bite to eat, and of course, the views. John Bierly’s guide book is often used by English speakers, and of the last 5 k he said, “gird up your loins!” For tonight, I am sitting on top of the world, and the view from my bed in the municipal albergue is spectacular! (I just heard they ran out of beds, glad I left at 6 am.)
I wanted to share about the basic needs along the Camino, toilets! Anyone who knows me knows that I drink a lot of water, consequently, I often need facilities. For the most part, there are plenty along the route. The other day there was a primitive hole in a wooden shack, which I will picturelater. Often you need your own paper, but what drives me crazy are the auto turn off lights in the toilet stalls. Most are timed to go off in a short time period. The first time I ran into that problem was when I used the stall after someone else had used it, and before I was finished, the light went out, and it was very dark. Sometimes your business takes a little longer than the auto timer thinks it should take, and once again, you are sitting in in the dark. This gives an entire new meaning to “Being in the dark.” Thank goodness for lights on cell phones!

Camino de Santiago ~ May 20, 2017 The Cruz de Ferro

Camino de Santiago ~ May 20, 2017 The Cruz de Ferro

Not all 18 k hikes are the same, especially if there is a big difference in elevation. Another famous “landmark” of the Camino is the iron cross. At 1,505 meters high you do feel like you are on top of the world.  It was a great hike. 

Pilgrims from all over the world bring stones from home to lay down a sin or a burden or a hardship. I brought a stone from home, but on today’s hike I also collected stones to lay down for others. By the time I got to the cross I had a pretty big pocket of stones. I marked several of them: for my family, for our MUMC family, for friends, for the folks on the prayer list, and one for Claire. There is a stone here in Spain at the Cruz de Ferro for Claire. I spent about an hour praying here. There is something special about praying where many others have prayed, especially the Saints of long ago. 

The scenery was spectacular! It truly was on top of the world!

Part of my daily prayer is that I would have Godly encounters all along the route. Today there were several that were divine appointments. (A woman from Poland, the hospitality of the British who had apples and peanut butter for breakfast, chats with folks from South Africa, and all over the world!)

Now I have a top bunk in an albergue tucked away in these mountains that cost me 6 Euros. The woman on the lower bunk is French and we are going to have the pilgrim meal together, for 11 Euros we get a three course meal!

Camino de Santiago ~ May 19, 2017, Astorga to Rabanal

Last night when I got off the train in Astorga I was surprised  to see a Swedish young man and his dad get off the train. I had walked with them earlier and they, too, had jumped ahead. (They figured out how to take two trains to get there.) We had dinner together and enjoyed the local specialty meats of the area. 

Astorga leads into a new set of high mountains. (By the way, the huge cathedral here is also beautiful and has the Bishop’s house next to it. The Bishop’s house looks a little like a castle) Francis of Assisi walked through this city and stayed here on his way to Santiago!)

Today’s 20 k walk was not hard, but it was windy and cold; Think beach front in October. I was grateful for my green jacket that does a good job of protecting from the wind, and it was still cold!

Today I met Mojo, a four legged friend walking with her person. Her person said it was actually a little hard to find places that take dogs. That dog has walked all the way from France! I also saw my first rainbow on the trail. 

As we started going up into the hills there was a long fence upon which people had weaved crosses made out of sticks into the wire. (Picture below.) I wondered about those who are “simply searching” and what that cross means for them, or if they even put one there. 

Last night’s albergue held 95 people in two rooms. There were a lot of beds and the old building near the cathedral creaked every time someone walked. Tonight I am staying in an Albergue run by the British confraternity of the Camino. Volunteers run the place, and tonight’s volunteers, who all do two weeks at a time, are all American. I am looking forward to high tea at 4:30. 

(Sorry pictures to come later)

Camino de Santiago ~ May 18, 2017, evening, jumping through Burgos to Astorga

Camino de Santiago ~ May 18, 2017, evening, jumping through Burgos to Astorga

Every pilgrim has to make decisions; some have to decide to stop because they have too many blisters or foot injuries. (I know two who have had to stop already, and a third one is considering stopping.) 

My decision came today when I decided to jump forward on the Camino in order to experience a part of the Camino which many describe as the best part. (I don’t know, the parts I have walked have been pretty spectacular!)  In any case, I am not a purist, as many Europeans are, and I don’t know if I will be able to come back. It would be nice to at least SEE Santiago, even if I do not have time to walk all the way. So far I have walked over 1/5 of the way there. But, today I am jumping forward through Burgos to the mountain town of Astorga. It is a good day to jump as there is a major storm today. Pray for the pilgrims who are getting slammed with horizontal, cold rain!

There is no direct way to get to Astorga, except by walking or a 1 am train. The lovely manager of the albergue told me about the bus that would get me within ten k of Burgos. She told me where to catch the bus. There was no busstop sign, no bus schedule, just a regular stop sign where the bus was supposed to stop, and it might come ten or twenty minutes late. My three words of Spanish, (please, bus, where) confirmed I was standing in the correct place. Sure enough, twenty minutes late, it showed up and I  was dropped off two hours later, by then in a lite rain, ten kilometers from Burgos.

 Now I have walked ten k, but I was a little afraid of missing my train connection if I walked, so I asked the cafe/bar worker guy if there was a bus or taxi to Burgos. He said yes for a bus and a lot of other things I did not understand. As it turns out, the bus is only in the morning and evening, so I asked him if he could call a taxi for me. Through the postman as interpreter, who stopped in to get his late morning coffee, I was told by the cafe worker that the taxi was too expensive and I must not take a taxi. He said that I should wait, and he would ask one of his regular customers, who stop in all the time, to take me to Burgos. And, that is what happened. A customer, a kind, nice gentleman, came in for his tortilla and cafe, and said he would take me to Burgos. He even drove me around the old city, which he was very proud of, and then he dropped me off at the huge cathedral. I had time to visit the cathedral and catch a train to Astorga. The rain has stopped, I have jumped forward, and tomorrow it will be time to walk again. (Did I mention how friendly, kind, and full of hospitality the Spanish people are?)

Jumping forward means leaving behind new friendships that have been formed. This morning I said goodbye to two women from Silver Spring who were part of my “first night family.” I also said goodbye to the two German women with whom I was walking and the delightful French grandmother whose company I enjoyed on that really hot day. 

Last night at the pilgrim’s dinner there was a young German man (22) whom I had not seen before. I asked if I could do anything for him as he looked tired. It turns out he had walked 30 k that day, and the day before, and the day before. I asked him why he was walking and he replied because he had the time and to find God. He also said he was already surprised to learn that he didn’t have to find God, but that God was already there and he just had to listen. 

This morning he happened to sit across from me again for breakfast. He was much more refreshed after a night’s sleep. He asked me about my profession, when I told him I was a pastor he asked me, “What does it mean that God is Holy?” I was happy to explain about the holiness of God to him in basic terms (shout out here to Debbie Beall) and then I went on to describe that his response last night was a way of understanding that God’s grace is always with us even before we recognize it. (Shout out here to you, John Wesley.) I read for him a small part of Psalm 139 and explained how God knows us intimately. When I asked if he had ever read the Bible he said he had tried to read it from the beginning, but it was too hard. I suggested he might like to start with a Gospel and a Psalm. He liked that idea. We had a wonderful encounter, and then he walked on, and I went to the stop sign to hope the bus would come, and it did!

Camino de Santiago ~ May 18, morning, pictures from the walk to Viana

Camino de Santiago ~ May 18, morning, pictures from the walk to Viana

Yesterday the pictures would not upload. Here are some pics of the walk to Viana, the churches, and the Camino markers where  people often add their stones. This was the first time I saw an area of written notes, hopes and dreams. The woman sketching was from  Denmark. Check out the stack of hiking boots, which you always take off at the door of the albergue. 

Camino de Santiago ~ May 17, 2017 

Camino de Santiago ~ May 17, 2017 

(The pictures won’t load today) Today’s 15 k walk with ok me from Los Arcos to Viana. I have now walked 150 k through northern Spain. When one doesn’t have enough time to walk all 80 kilometers, one must decide next st ps. It is decision time for me. Do I stay here and keep walking in hopes of coming back, or do I just mp forward finding some bus or train to help me out? Tomorrow I will decide. Most Europeans are purists. They walk until they must stop, then they come back and pick up where they left off. That will be more difficult for me. 

So I have not spoken of spirituality along the Camino. One of the questions I ask fellow pilgrims is, “Why are you here?” Most of them are seeking, but they do not know what they are seeking. Maybe only 1/4 of them are Practicing Christians, if that many. This has been a great surprise to me. Most of them want to see the inside of the churches, but more for historical reasons. 

Today I met Mark fro Colorado. Sadly, his  son died of a heroin overdose five weeks ago. He is here doing the same thing that the father did in the movie “The Way.” Others are walking because they can, because it is here, because they have the time. I have met many “Camino junkies,” those who say it gets under your skin and you have to keep coming back. There have been several from western Canada and Washington state who keep coming back. Yesterday I met a woman from Washington state who is 91 years old and walking. She is sometimes taking a taxi to help, but that woman puts me to shame. (My Momma, watch out, maybe I will bring you next time.) 

Today I walked most of the day with two German women whom I have befriended. (My German is improving.). As we walked down the road they began singing, “Singing In The Rain,” and no, it was not raining.