Here in the US, the word “pilgrims” makes us think of Thanksgiving: of tall-hatted English people and Native Americans, sitting together along a wooden table. When I first learned about pilgrims at five or six years old, I never dreamed that someday, I would be one too.
The Pilgrims of American history put their trust in God and crossed the Atlantic Ocean. But Christian pilgrims have been making trips, or pilgrimages, to ancient Biblical sites for centuries. At first, pilgrims went to locations like Jerusalem, longing to walk the streets that Jesus had walked. Later, people began to make pilgrimages to the burial places of saints, like the Vatican and the Catedral de Santiago de Compostela in Spain, a cathedral where St. James is buried.
Since the 9th century AD, pilgrims have walked along a web of paths, the “Camino de Santiago” (“The Way of St. James”) to the cathedral, bringing questions that only God can answer. So what made me leave my comfortable home and risk everything to walk the Camino? The story of my pilgrimage begins at the ending of my marriage.
The end of my marriage came out of nowhere and shattered my life. My best friend, my husband, decided one day to call it quits. He said he was “tired” of being married to me and “needed to live his life.” I thought we had everything: the right cars, the right jobs, the second home in the mountains. Our kids graduated from Christian schools and went to college on the East Coast. On the outside, we had the perfect life. On the inside—that was another story.
In this dark season, I grew deeper in my faith. I realized that only God could heal my wounds. I had became so addicted to status and possessions that I had forgotten who I was. God had brought all of my idols down around me to show me what was real. I lost some friends and sold some things I didn’t need. I found my purpose: helping others.
My journey of faith brought me to Spiritual Direction, a course of theological study. As I studied, my fascination with St. Ignatius led me to the Camino de Santiago. The traditions, symbols, and routes to Santiago have lasted for centuries, and I was drawn to the tradition of bringing questions to have answered along the pilgrimage. Would God answer my questions too?
Almost before I knew what was happening, I booked a walking tour of the Camino de Santiago. I was committed. I would make a pilgrimage, and God would answer all my questions. I made arrangements to leave my family (which now included a newborn grandson), my business, my friends, and my home for a month and travel the Camino alone. There was no turning back now.