As a teenager, I often went on long walks at the beach with my best friend. I can’t tell you what we talked about because I’m sure it was inappropriate and since I am of a certain age, I don’t really remember anyway. Going on walks meant we could scout the locations of cute lifeguards we knew or wanted to know. While we had no intention of actually speaking to the bronze boys on the towering orange chairs, or even so much as making eye contact with them, just knowing they were there gave our journey a purposeful feel. Years later, I had no idea I would be walking on that same stretch of sand with my husband while participating in a three-day, thirty-mile pilgrimage from Jacksonville Beach to the Our Lady of La Leche Shrine in St. Augustine.
I had never done a pilgrimage so when I heard about the Baby Steps Camino put on by the Order of Malta, a Catholic lay religious order, I thought that my experiences as a teenager walking past miles of strategically spaced lifeguard chairs gave me the necessary foundation for the 10-mile daily walk.
It felt decadent to cast aside adult responsibilities for a day in the sun. My husband and I prayed the rosary, walked in silence, and talked about all kinds of appropriate things (although I can’t remember what they were.) We allowed ourselves to look for the occasional shark’s tooth and other treasures in the sand. We paused for a picnic lunch under the glory of the December sun. Most importantly, we pressed on. When we were hot, tired, and when my feet got wet and my toe got bloody, we just kept putting one foot in front of the other. It’s a lot like what we do in life when we remember that our final destination isn’t of this world.
Friends joined us on our second day walking, reminding me of how important it is to have good companions on our journeys – people who inspire us and make us laugh. While I was grateful for the joy of their company, seeing the fellow pilgrims dotting the beach each day with their tell-tale backpacks, reminded me that none of us ever really travel alone anyway. I never thought about that when I was walking with my best friend in high school. So often, then, it just felt like her and me. Yet, speaking to people who I had never met along the pilgrimage reminded me that no matter what walk of life we come from or where our paths diverge, we are united in Christ. None of us are strangers.
Walking so far from where we started, at our own pace and in our own time, felt like we were traveling towards the kind of peace that isn’t at a particular destination but is in the journey itself. On the last day of the pilgrimage, my husband and I woke early to complete the final 10 miles of our journey – only to stay at home instead. I could give you a litany of reasons for this, but if you are like me, you will just forget them anyway. Besides, the reasons don’t matter as much as realizing that even if I had walked another 10 miles, my journey still wouldn’t be complete. Not the one that matters, anyway. Not the one where at our life’s end, we walk straight into the loving arms of Jesus. That’s the real journey each of us is on. And, no matter where we walk, that’s all we really need to remember.
Hi, all~ I hope your Christmas was merry and bright and that you enjoyed many happy moments with your family. It’s all whizzing by faster than I would like but I am determined to hold on to these last few days of togetherness before my kids return to school. I know that we can’t make time stop but one of the things I noticed on my two-day pilgrimage is that by taking a break from our usual routine, we can gain a new perspective that feels refreshingly slower. Spending hours walking on the beach made me realize that by immersing myself in prayer, in quiet, and the natural beauty of creation, I can experience the kind of peace that even the madness of December cannot ripple. It was like a spiritual spa day that even after twenty miles of walking made me feel re-energized. If you could do a spiritual spa day (and you can!) how would you choose to spend it?
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