Reflections on a pilgrim’s walk

Miller Wilbourn near the beginning of his walk on the Camino de Santiago. COURTESY PHOTO

Miller Wilbourn near the beginning of his walk on the Camino de Santiago.
COURTESY PHOTO

By Miller Wilbourn
Special Contributor

For three weeks in September, I walked the Camino de Santiago in Spain, starting along the northern coast and then crossing the Cantabrian Mountains via the “Camino Primitivo,” or “Original Way.”

I walked for 20 days. Each day I had hours to walk, pray, reflect and work on memorizing favorite pieces of literature. Unfortunately, I am still not wise, and I didn’t learn any profound lessons from my few weeks on the trail, but thousands of footfalls did drive home one or two simple ones (that I probably should have already learned).

I also met lots of interesting people, made a few friends, and saw the country from a perspective that I think most tourists miss. Peaceful, quiet mornings and hot, sweaty, foot-achy afternoons mingled together to create a journey that kept me constantly praying, either to thank God for the blessings of the trail or to ask for endurance. After 300 miles, I reached the end of my pilgrimage at Santiago de Compostela, a destination that countless pilgrims before me have shared.

As my feet recover and I readjust to a lifestyle of fewer steps at a faster pace, I find myself missing the quiet and solitude of my walk. Those mornings wading through mist and waiting for the first birdsongs offered me a glimpse of the “peace which passes understanding” that Paul says is waiting for those who pray.

Most people on the Camino would cite reasons for walking that are much different from mine—usually not overtly spiritual ones—but I think we are all pilgrims, walking for those same beautiful moments. Some walk to find peace or purpose; others, in response to tragedy; to appreciate beauty; to slow down; to take care of their bodies; to spend time with a loved one.

No matter the reason, I think there is something spiritual in every walk. What’s more, I think God walks with us all, invited or not. We all walk along the same Way, and it is impossible to walk without finding something holy in the journey.

I found a few holy moments too, and once or twice I think I could just make out that still, small voice whispering to my inner self or calling me up and ahead. Sometimes I felt I could only capture those moments through (clumsy) poetry, like this poem from the end of my walk:

Here,
Before the skyline,
Salt-wind on my face,
I receive my benediction.

Here,
With bare feet,
Bruised and battered,
Scarred and scored,
But stronger than before,
I will start walking.

The still, small voice:
“You’ve learned to walk,
But only a little way.”

“So wander, wander far
But come back home.
Share what you see,
Find a companion,
Some humble seeker,
And wander again.”

Wilbourn, a member of Pulaski Heights UMC Little Rock, served as a member of Arkansas’ delegation to the 2016 Jurisdictional Conference. To read more about his walk, in Spain and beyond, visit his blog, www.halfway38.wordpress.com.