Lessons from El Camino de Santiago

Living God's LoveLessons from El Camino de Santiago

by Kris Knutson

At the end of April 2019, my husband and I embarked on a journey that pilgrims have been taking for a thousand years—the ancient 500-mile pilgrimage called the Way of Saint James (El Camino de Santiago). We chose the Camino Francés route, starting in Southwestern France, climbing over the Pyrenees mountains, and continuing west to the city of Santiago de Compostela, Spain. It took us 36 days from start to finish. This was by far the most challenging, most amazing adventure I have ever embarked on.

I have to admit that this was not my idea to start with. My husband decided to walk it and, not wanting to miss out on an adventure, I signed on as well. We walked many miles in preparation. Clothing and gear were purchased, with special attention paid to the weight of each item, as we would be carrying everything in our backpacks.

Days consisted of waking early and getting on our way before 7:00 a.m. Meals and rest stops were interspersed with walking to arrive at our destination by mid-afternoon. Once settled in our accommodation, we would head out to explore the town we were in, plan for the next day, and settle in for the night.

We slept in dormitory-style hostels ranging in capacity from four people per room to over 100 in a former monastery. We also stayed sometimes in private rooms and splurged on a couple of hotels. Our walk took us through many small towns and some large cities, into ancient churches, through the plains, up and down mountains, and over streams and rivers. We walked on 1, 000-year-old Roman roads and bridges. We were awed by the beauty of the mountains and forests we walked through. Every day brought new discoveries.

When I compare my Camino journey to my life now during the coronavirus pandemic, there are some similarities. Life on the Camino was simple—walk, eat, prepare for the next day’s walk, sleep, and repeat. Right now, life seems simpler than it used to be. While there is definitely a level of concern involved in the current global health crisis, my life has been simplified to staying home and staying safe. There were days on the Camino that were tough emotionally and physically. There are days at home a year later that are difficult. I still walk, just not as many miles per day! Another similarity is that the weeks of walking the Camino afforded me time to talk to God about my cares and concerns. The last month has, once again, given me a lot of time to converse with God.

Looking back at my Camino journey, I have identified a few valuable lessons.

What is my job for today? People who had walked before us wrote that it helped to consider the weeks of walking as your “job.” Every morning, the job was to walk. I found this helpful, especially when the thought of walking 500 miles was overwhelming. I just had to walk for today!

Our current situations of stay at home and social distancing can be overwhelming. What is your job for today? Or maybe a day is too long—what’s your job for the next hour? Focus on that task. Perhaps it is taking time to care for your own spiritual, emotional, and/or mental health. It could be to call a loved one, to read a book, to fix yourself a good meal, or take a walk after the last Zoom meeting of the day is over. Breaking my day down to one simple job helps me right now. And there are days I do not accomplish any true job—that’s OK, too.

Reach out to someone. People refer to helpers along the way as “Camino angels”—people who help with no expectation of payment or return in kind. It could be as simple as pointing someone in the right direction when they were about to take a wrong turn or sharing first aid items with someone in need. I saw biblical principles of helping others played out every day—an extra knee brace given to another pilgrim or a conversation with a stranger about a tragic loss in your life.

Who can you reach out to today? Maybe you’ve noticed that a friend hasn’t been on social media in a day or two and that’s unlike them—send a message to say you are thinking of them. Or, do you need someone to listen to you today? Reach out to a friend.

The Camino provides! I read about this before we left for our trip, and I have to admit that it grated on me. We were created with the ability to think, to prepare, to critically assess our situation. In my mind that had nothing to do with the Camino providing for me. Yet, on so many occasions, I noticed that deep conversations developed quickly with those I met. People disclosed their deepest sorrows and fears to strangers. I exposed my fears to strangers. We provided listening ears and support for each other. Sometimes it was encouragement about a career change. Or wishes and prayers for peace for a woman walking to deal with the tragic death of a child. Often it was sharing about a serious health or relationship challenge. In the end, the Camino provided what I needed and continues to provide meaning and insight through the experience and through friends met on the way.

As I reflect on this, ultimately, it was God who provided what I needed through my journey on the Camino. And He will provide for us as we walk through this uncertain time.


Kris Knutson lives in Berrien Springs, Michigan, where she attends the One Place service on the campus of Andrews University where she recently retired from the Student Success Center.


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Lessons from El Camino de Santiago

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