Introduction To My Camino Updates
A number of my praying friends asked me to send occasional emails to let them know how the experience was unfolding. I didn’t promise that I would because I wasn’t sure if connecting with others through the internet would be a source of encouragement, a distraction, or something else. During the course of the pilgrimage, I was able to send out three group emails. The text of these follows. They were written as I sat at the computer with no specific preparation having been done, and express the raw nature of the experience when I was in the midst of it.
Update #1: Day 16
From the municipal albergue (hostel) in Castrojeriz, Spain
Praying friends, where to start…perhaps right where I am in a pilgrimage hostel (30 beds) in the middle of hot (100 degrees F) Spain! Each day is mostly about the basics, getting enough water, finding food (which our sons seem to need in abundance. I’m the only pilgrim on the route that has not lost weight!), repacking my pack, taking a siesta…but all that here and now survival concern seems to make space for reflection, seeing through my life, leaning into God. Somehow I injured my leg four days ago. Each step hurts. I am accepting this as part of my Camino—living with pain while trying my best to take care of myself and keep going. Bar owners (the only place to eat here) have been gracious to provide me with ice and it seems that Ibuprofen is my miracle–it helps me from place to place.
My high and low of the pilgrimage are the same. One day I ended up getting sun poisoning and the beginnings of a heat stroke. I happened to be walking alone that afternoon and ran out of water. Eventually I made it to the town of Najera where I found my family. The Tims had located a hostel for the night, but when we tried to get back to it we ran into a man who insisted we stay at his place. I went and sat on a park bench while my husband talked with him. Two old men insisted that I go to the town fountain and get more water. When we got into the hostel the man in charge took me upstairs to his house, lay me down on his massage table, and covered me in cold lavender soaked towels. Tony turned out to be a massage therapist and helped me recover. He had white pants on. Later I had Tim ask him about them; I obviously needed a pair to shield my swollen legs from the hot sun. Tony gave me his pants!
While walking the Camino I have not met any other massage therapist-healers, nor has any other man given me his pants! Tony was more than an angel to me–he was God´s direct provision for my great need. I am still grateful for the restoration that I received through his gifts of wisdom and generosity.
The theme that is emerging for our family is communication. We´re having lots of opportunities to explore this theme as it works itself out in our relationships. We are grateful to have the time and space to be together and share with one another our needs, experiences, and misunderstandings.
In terms of the Life Internship for Tim and Dan–wow! Every day is full of things to learn about ourselves, about functioning in the world, about what matters to us, about faith.
We share highs and lows each day and have all memorized our family prayer so that we can say it together at the start of the day. We laugh a lot and no one seems ill at ease when I cry (heatstroke day, pain in the ankle day).
We feel as if we are just getting started on the internal work that we came to do. TC would like to be walking faster. Dan loves it when we land in a hostel that has internet access. Tim Sr. is aware of the lack of intellectual stimulation and is really enjoying walking alone for a part of each day so that he can go deeper within. I love this experience and the space of it.
It is hard to say more right now but thank you for your prayers. You are traveling with us, Jill.
Update #2 Day 24
From an Internet Café in Leòn, Spain
Greetings to all from Leòn, The pilgrimage continues to unfold. As we walked in to this large city we saw a sign for a massage therapist. This was just what TC and I needed. My leg and his shoulder need help.
When we walked up the stairs to the office we found yet another angel. This one, named David, was dressed in a white massage uniform. He had about 30 diplomas on his wall. Between his English and my Spanish we figured out that what I needed was a good leg brace, an extra two days of rest, more arnica (homeopathic remedy), and alternating hot and cold baths for my leg.
Tim and Dan walked on to Mazarife and Astorga while TC and I stayed here in Léon to rest.
As I was in the cathedral praying before a piéta of Mary holding a dead Jesus, I realized in a new way that there is enough suffering that comes naturally in life without my needing to add to my own suffering, whether it be mental or physical. I understood that right now I must rest my injured legs and bus the Camino until I can walk without hurting myself. This is not what I had planned, but it is what is needed. I feel quiet and at peace within with this reality.
When TC and I woke up at 10:30 this morning we asked each other, “who wishes s/he had been walking for four hours already?” Our joint reply was laughter!
Yesterday, as we sat at a café by the cathedral here in Léon, a German man who we had met the first night in Roncevalles walked by. We had not seen him for a couple of weeks. He told us, “Some say the walk from St. Jean Pied de Port to Burgos (first thirteen or fourteen days) is a reflection of your life, from Burgos to Leòn (next 7 to 8 days) which we just finished is an experience of death, and from Leòn to Santiago (the final two weeks), resurrection. I think all four Geoffrions are ready for the resurrection stage of the Camino. I hope he is right!
Thank you for continuing to journey with us. We do pray for you and cherish your prayers for us. Love, Jill.
Update #3 Day 38
Internet Café in Santiago de Compostela, Spain
Dear praying friends. My hotel room looks out onto the cathedral of Santiago. I fill myself with the sight of its spires. I give thanks. WE MADE IT!
Just writing that brings a lump to my throat. This Camino experience was a lot harder than I thought it would be, in probably most ways that I can imagine. But we did it! We walked the walk. We kept going. I filled myself with the strength of every beautiful rock, and every scent that encouraged me to keep moving towards this pilgrimage destination.
And now we are here. Here is not only the physical place, but here is where we have come inside ourselves, as members of a family, as part of a group that spans centuries, as those who belong to the human family, and as part of this amazing world that we walk upon.
I feel very emotional and I can´t tell you why. As I took the Eucharist at the pilgrimage mass yesterday tears streamed down my cheeks. There was no particular thought in my head; it´s amazing how physical exhaustion can erase thought. But there was peace in my heart. Much has been left behind, much has been integrated, and much fills this moment, this physical temple of my body…
I think back to the afternoon I spent weeping in a church in a town whose name I can´t remember. I went to be in the cave-like Romanesque structure because of its call to me. I took out my journal and took off my white long-sleeve shirt that I used to protect myself from the sun. As I tried to pray I realized that it was hard to do so. At that point everything was hard. I felt the depth of the hardness, and the tears came and came.
I wondered what I believed and in that very vulnerable state I found nothing. Would I admit this to myself? Yes, I was willing.
There was a man in this church who was there to survey everyone who came in. “Are you a pilgrim or a tourist?” he asked as you entered. I had told him, “A pilgrim.” He went to his seat and then came back. “Are you a pilgrim or a tourist?” he asked again. Believe me, I did not look like a tourist! “Why was he asking again?” I wondered, “Is this some type of message to me from God?” I was wearing the same clothes I had been wearing for a month for starters… “A pilgrim.” I reminded him. He went back to his seat and since it was just the two of us in the church kept his eye on me for the next hour. When I started weeping, he tried hard not to watch, but there was not a lot else to look at!
I didn´t care what he thought…I knew I was doing what I came to do. So I cried. I wiped my dripping nose and eyes with my white shirt turned handkerchief. I wanted to know the truth about my faith. Was I willing to spend the rest of my life believing nothing? Only if that was what was true. In that moment, in that dark church, it seemed true. I claimed this painful reality.
Afterwards, as I sat in the internal and external emptiness, my eyes caught sight of the large red candles burning in the front of the church. They were prayer candles–about six inches tall. “That is my truth,” came the thought. “I am like these candles. The light of God burns in me. It burns now. But it is temporary. I am mortal, but I am a God-inspired/lighted mortal.” I looked at the small windows that were letting light in. “That is my truth too. God does penetrate this earthly body of mine, light fills and illuminates me.”
I prayed with these two related truths of my life. When my poor white shirt was so full of tears that it was ready to be wrung out (and washed), I took my pilgrim passport to the man and asked that he put a stamp from this church in it as a marker or this very important pilgrimage experience.
Much of the pilgrimage I found myself, as I do now, outside the churches. I took this as an opportunity to learn something-experience something different about myself as a lighted candle. I know myself from the inside of my faith-body, but during the pilgrimage I have been learning more about myself from the outside looking in.
There has been a lot of suffering to experience and to let go of. Every morning my legs said to me, “OUCH!” I said, “Yes, ouch, but let´s keep going! Here´s what I am going to do to take the best care of you that I can. I´m going to stretch you out. I am going to rest and put you up along the way. I am going to hydrate so that you have the water you need. I am not going to push beyond what is relatively reasonable.”
At the end of the day my legs hurt, but I hadn’t injured them more. They were my teachers. We were not where we started in the morning. We were not where we were going to be the next day. We were where we had been able to arrive. What was true of my legs was also true of my relationships, of my spiritual journey with God, and of my internal psychological relationship with myself.
I worry that these thoughts are not well-formed enough to communicate what is in my heart. I am deeply grateful for this experience and all I have learned, as well as all I will be learning as I have time to integrate these experiences. There is so much happening on so many levels in my life. I know that the prayers you have offered are an important part of that. Thank you.
I give thanks that we have had this time as a family. We are not the same family that left. We have worked on so many difficult communication patterns that were well ingrained. We have learned to tell the truth to one another without needing to separate ourselves from each other. We have learned to share our weaknesses without feeling that we will be hurt by each other. We have learned to be with each others’ pain without feeling a need to experience it ourselves. We have learned to honor that we are in process and that each day at least one of us will do something that will be hard for another of us. We have learned that we are more different than we had known, and we have learned that we are more committed to helping each other than we had experienced before. And that is for starters…
So…now we have a week to rest, to renew our strength, to sleep, to continue to ask, “What has-is this experience of pilgrimage about?”
Thanks for your ongoing support and prayers. Gratefully, Jill.
My husband Tim’s updates and reflections on our Camino experiences can be found on his website.