El Camino de Santiago: Making Meaning In The Mountains And Valleys

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Read the prequel here

“Oh, these vast, calm, measureless mountain days, days in whose light everything seems equally divine, opening a thousand windows to show us God.” - John Muir

 I have always had an admiration for John Muir. The way he saw the grandeur of the Father in creation reminds me to actively recognize the divine in my surroundings. Muir spoke of the way that we, as created beings, can learn from what we share with the mountains and sea. They are a mirror for our own beauty and story. 

 I have encountered these lessons here in Spain. The most difficult days on the Camino typically result in the greatest views. After hiking at an incline through dense forests on a path whose life purpose you have determined is to destroy your feet’s arches, you feel absolutely exhausted. The 25 pound pack you carry produces a constant, aching pain. You try not to dwell on the fact that in about 18 hours you will wake up and do it all over again. 

 However, as you summit, you not only rest in the panorama’s insouciant tranquility, you often can see the town where you began. I can comprehend the logic of how I traveled from point A to point B, yet I ponder how each step was necessary for my arrival. Rarely do I understand the small contribution of each movement, but when you see them sewn together from the peak, you rejoice in the uniform effort. 

 Corrie van Boom, a survivor of the Holocaust and author of Hiding Place, spoke to this power of history, “I know that the experiences of our lives, when we let God use them, become the mysterious and perfect preparation for the work He will give us to do.” As we walk along with so many questions, unaware of how everything will fit together, we often forget to draw from past experiences as a reminder of divine providence. Likewise, as we venerate the glorious view at the top of a mountain, we almost always forget to revel in the way we grew in the ascent. 

 I think back to the first time I walked the Camino in 2016. I was different in many ways. I could not find more than one or two things I liked about myself, I suffered from an eating disorder, I had fallen out of a very unhealthy relationship, I daily edited my actions like an Instagram filter, and I could not comprehend how I could be deserving of love. I had become accustomed to looking for defeat and would nurse my own failure into existence. 

 If only I could tell Me Three-Years-Ago a few things, “Just rest. Do not feel the need to perform as a means of proving your worth. In fact, you cannot do anything to earn love, you already have it. Allow yourself to curl up and cry, the Father will surround you with his protecting love. I know there is so much pain in this season of life, but oh the joy that awaits you over this mountain! This pain will actually become a central part of your life’s mission - your vocation. Only a little while from now you will look back in gratitude for the way this year’s trials prompted growth and virtue to abundantly flourish. Don’t give up, our Father has his guiding hand over all of this mess. Simply open your hands to receive the mercy and grace He aches for you to accept. You are good. You are His. Nothing can change this.” 

 I am so thankful for the way 2016’s suffering began to plant seeds for a harvest that would continue to be cultivated these past three years. And how the Lord continues to tend to the garden of my heart. 

 I wonder what Me Three-Years-From-Now would tell Me Now. What would she say to my fears, questions and doubts that it will all come together? What could she tell me about hesitation, transition, and discouragement? No matter what she would say, I do know that much of it would rejoice in thanksgiving and fascination. 

 From experience,I know that I find what I am looking for.If I am looking for reasons to doubt, I will find (or create) them. If I am looking for gratitude, I typically discover things that otherwise would have drifted out of memory. 

 Practicing thanksgiving transformed my life in 2016 and continues to do so today. It is like a well; although sometimes you have to dig deep to find it, it is always there. 

 In moments of heartbreak and despair, I cling to these little pieces: a comforting hug, the balance of a well-made iced vanilla latte, a friend’s call after a break-up, a soft breeze that cradles my spirit and combs my hair, a body that allows me to walk 19 miles in one day, a comfortable place to sleep, finding my favorite granola at the grocery store, and a moment alone when I can just breathe. 

 Taking time to open my eyes and acknowledge blessings (no matter how small or seemingly insignificant) helps me to see that even in the suffering, the Lord creatively and intentionally seeks to delight my heart. He individually designs these moments and gifts for me. 

 As Christians, we remember that following Jesus does not omit suffering. If anything, it means the opposite. As we walk alongside our King to Calvary, we too bear a cross. It is in sharing in this suffering that we learn of the love He has for us. The valleys of pain are an opportunity to be thankful for the next mountain to which He will carry us. 

 When I see a valley approaching I have to walk down…only to walk up the other side, my soul begrudgingly asks why the change of elevation is necessary. However, we do not grow in strength(or virtue) when walking on flat ground. It is these undulations of life that reap the greatest reward and character. 

 If we look at the songs of praise in the Old Testament, they are most often sung in anticipation of what the Lord WILL do, not what he has already done. Oh, how I wish to follow in Israel’s example. I desire to devoutly shout praise for where the Lord will lead me. How my approach to each day would change if I woke up praying, “Papa, how I joyfully anticipate the ways you will rescue me today, the hand-crafted gifts you have waiting for me, and all the opportunities you will give me to grow, knowing fully well that I have the strength to endure the trials you have intended for my good. Oh, how you have written a chapter of my life’s story today that illustrates a true and lasting love.” 

 As we continue to walk along, pilgrims on this Earth, may we look back at both the mountains and valleys we crossed, knowing, “… that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, NABRE). He orchestrates every moment, every fall, every triumph together so that we may know of him more and press into the secure sanctuary of his love. Rest in the present and look with joyful hope toward the future. We find our satisfaction in him. Let us allow him to give us the most thrilling plan existing, for we are a people of the Now and Not Yet.