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Nothing But a Walking Stick

At St. Louis de Montfort, staff takes turns reflecting on the Sunday readings. My first Sunday at work following my Camino, I was asked to write a reflection on these very fitting readings for the 15th Week of Ordinary time (7/15/18)

Walking down the mountain after waking up above the clouds in O'Cebreiro.

For the past two weeks, I carried my belongings on my back as I adventured across Spain and Portugal. I walked the last 200km of the Camino Frances so I had time to reflect on why Jesus and the disciples walked everywhere. Beyond the obvious reasons of the lack of motor transportation, walking allowed them to be more present to Jesus, themselves, and their surroundings. Traveling solo helped me to realize that I was never really alone. A kind hello and a shared mission sparked friendships and deep conversations as we walked alongside one another.

As Jesus sent the disciples out two by two, he instructed them to “take nothing for the journey but a walking stick.” Walking sticks are a huge help on long journeys to keep trekking! Jesus’ yoke is easy and His burden is light. We choose to complicate and weigh down our load. We have a quiet moment, and create noise. We have space in a room, so we fill it with clutter. We have suitcases, so we stuff it with baggage. We don’t even leave space for souvenirs or surprises!

No matter how much I prepared for the trip by selecting a couple shirts and socks to wash and wear daily, my bag was still too heavy. As a first-time backpacker, I came prepared with things such as duct tape, a water filter, a bag of protein bars, and two sources of water. These add up and I found that the Camino is not in the “wilderness” and there was no need for survival tactics except just jumping out of the way of cars zooming past.

A usual occurrence on the first days of a pilgrim’s Camino journey includes removing unnecessary items from one’s pack and either donating them on site or shipping them home. Carrying a bag across an airport is much different than trekking with the weight across 20 miles of mountains, highways, and trails daily. One can only truly learn this reality while walking on the way, feeling the weight on one’s back with each step. As we walk with Jesus, we encounter our baggage in a new and intimate way. Why did we bring that item? Did we depend on ourselves to provide a solution or do we trust God more? Did bringing that extra item help prevent discomfort in certain conditions or actually create more discomfort by its weight?

In all honesty, we don’t leave room for God to provide for us in His creative ways. When I returned home this week, I was irked by the surplus of random stuff in my house after being satisfied living out of a backpack. The shift shocked me and I spent the whole first day home decluttering and donating stuff before I could do anything else in peace.

I learned that Amos, a ‘dresser of sycamores’, was someone who tended to the branches of a tree to prevent insects from ruining it. It reminds me of my morning rituals of dressing blisters, taping my feet, and stretching for a new day of hiking. We, like Amos, need to tend to vulnerable or weak areas of our lives that are open for attack with the stuff of this world that can sour or ruin the journey. Some people end up quitting the Camino due to injuries or exhaustion. God wants us to experience life to the full, not to be weighed down by unnecessary baggage and give up.

St. Paul writes, “In him we were also chosen, destined in accord with the purpose of the One who accomplishes all things according to the intention of His will, so that we might exist for the praise of His glory, we who first hoped in Christ.” I’m so grateful that God appointed this time for me to walk the Way of St. James. As I enter into this new position and a new decade of life this summer, I have been reminded how much God accomplishes for me and through me. Even when I didn’t know where I was sleeping or eating next, I was astonished again and again how everything worked itself out if I trusted in Him and just took one step at a time.

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