Where is God?
I had some coffee and bread before setting off very early this morning. I planned to get some breakfast in one of the mountain villages shown on my map. But after walking over 12 kilometres (about 8 miles) and two hours, uphill, over the camino alto, I hadn’t found any food and was starting to feel my energy level drop. After passing though Manjarin, a village with a population of 1, I was starting to get concerned about finding some food. I needn’t have worried. A mile beyond Manjarin, on the most remote little track, I suddenly came upon a little stand with fruit and juice that had been set out with a little cash tin for donations. I thankfully gave a donation, said a prayer of thanks and had my breakfast.
Last week I walked for two days with a lady from Holland that had started her camino walking from her home over two months ago. She appeared deeply religious having converted to Catholicism five years ago. She expressed the importance of religious knowledge and appeared sceptical of feeling the spirit of God. She said she had no sense of God’s presence and was amazed when I told her that I believed that God walked with me and I could talk with God just like I was talking with her. To explain my faith and my sense of God’s presence, I told her of some of the things that I received which I believed were blessings and reassurances from God. I was amazed when as a woman of faith, she stated that these things were probably just coincidences and nothing to do with God.
Our conversation made me really think about God’s activity versus coincidence. In the end, I decided that I would rather see God in everything and be wrong, than see God in nothing and be right.
Today was really interesting. I walked with two ladies, one Irish and one Swiss, both women of faith. This was so very refreshing for me as most people I have met so far have not expressed any strong faith. The Irish lady is a teacher who is preparing to do volunteer teaching in New Zealand and Palestine. The Swiss lady is a former theology student who is contemplating her career. We had a fascinating discussion on walking in faith and how to overcome the human nature to live in fear. The camino somehow lowers your defences and you open up so quickly to total strangers. One hour on the camino is like one year is normal life.
In some of the smaller towns finding a bed for the night can be quite difficult. I had read that a new private albergue had opened in Najera so I decided to try to reserve a bed for the next night. I emailed the albergue and received a prompt reply telling me that they had reserved a bed for me. I walked the 31km (20 miles) feeling good that I had a bed waiting for me. As I entered the albergue I saw several people in the lounge who all told me how fantastic this new albergue was. But things didn’t work as I’d planned. My reservation was not written in their system and the albergue was completely full. I had no bed for the night.
I wandered around Najera searching for a bed. Finally I found a cafe with a poster for a small albergue. The cafe owner took me to a house with two rooms. I sat down with relief in a room with four beds all for myself. The other room was occupied by three pilgrims that I had met a few days before.
I went out for some food that evening and at 10 pm as I was paying my bill as the whole town was closing for the evening, I looked up in disbelief to see Dave and Anna walking into town. My first walking companions, I had lost contact with them days earlier. It turns out that they had joined in the weekend fiesta festivities in Viana and being more than a little intoxicated, had spent the last two nights sleeping out on benches unable to find a bed. Now arriving at 10pm, after walking 40km (26 miles) they were resigned to spending a third night outside. But that was not to be. I took them to the cafe and met the owner just as he was closing up. I didn’t spend the night in the fantastic, new albergue and I didn’t have a room to myself after all; my two friends had a bed to sleep in instead. The only problem was Dave snored all night.
Day 5 – 6
Relationships – Holding on and letting go
Yesterday I walked alone for most of the day and didn’t manage to reconnect with my walking gang before needing to bed down for the night. My first reaction was mild concern. Have I lost contact? Will I see them again? But my faith kicked in and I looked for the opportunity being put before me to meet other people. And sure enough I met and spent time talking with two former Jesuit priests who are walking together. As my eldest celebrates his birthday today, I am reminded that cherishing the time I have with those I love is important because letting go at some point is inevitable.
My walking companions now say that angels are walking with us. Late yesterday we made our way through the town and each albergue was full. Finally the last option at the far end of the town, over the bridge and up the hill had space. Eighty beds were in two large rooms and most beds were taken. But we were given keys for two private rooms each with only two beds. The albergue had a pool, free wifi and dinner and breakfast all for about 20 euros with the room. I feel like I’m being upgraded. Maybe that is what being blessed feels like when we truly appreciate each blessing whether large or small.
Things have been going so well for our group that the others keep saying it must be karma. But I know that “all things work for the good of those …”.
Another late day after multiple stops to soak up the Way. Our planned albergue was already full. The only option was the cheaper municipal albergue down the road. Our gang of four, braced ourselves as we peeked into the room crowded with beds and bare mattresses. But after paying for our entrance, the manager asked us to wait while he checked others in. After he’d finished he showed us upstairs to a spacious room with only four beds. Private room for four! No extra charge! The blessings keep flowing!
These twelve Jesus sent out … no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff. Matthew 10:10
As I pack and repack my rucksack, debating the necessity of every item for my Camino, I think about how we evaluate the necessity of stuff for the journey of life. I read somewhere that we pack out of fear. I’m afraid of blisters so I pack lots of plasters. It might rain so I have a rain jacket and waterproof over-trousers. One extra shirt will do but two will be better.
Life is the same. We’re afraid of being homeless, so we aspire to buy our own house. Three bedrooms will do but what about guests; should have a guest room or better yet two, in case they bring their kids? £10,000 in the bank is a good cushion but £20,00 is better. Ten pairs of shoes will do but twenty pairs are better. Out of fear, we seek security in our possessions, our money, our job, our abilities. But what if those very things distance us from our only true security – our faith in God. Are these false idols that draw our attention from our loving Father, the Creator of the Universe? Do we live a life of faith or a life of fear?
So as I repack for what seems like the hundredth time, I’ve decided to add a small bottle of hand wash (because I’m afraid catching a stomach bug). But, I’m leaving behind my expensive, waterproof over-trousers because I have faith that the rain will be warm and my quick-dry shorts and skinny legs will be just fine.
Today was my last church service before departing on the Camino in five days. Even though only attending Vineyard for a few months, this church has really been one of the blessings that God has given me this past year. We hadn’t had a church service for the past four weeks (during which time I’d sold my house, car, furniture and everything that doesn’t fit into my rucksack) so I was really looking forward to a time of worship and fellowship before departing.
Well as often happens, God had a message for me too. We had a guest speaker, who led us through a healing session. As I prayed for healing for a young lady who suffers from severe, chronic back and leg pain requiring crutches to walk, I became immensely aware of how blessed I am to be able to just simply get up and walk. So as I walk these 500 miles to Santiago, I will be walking and praying for her; praying that one day she too will be able to walk the Camino.
Before I left church, the young lady and two other friends prayed for God to walk with me on my Camino. What more can I ask for; friends who understand and pray for all I really need – to walk in the presence of God. I am truly blessed.
Last week, the theme in church was ‘forgiveness’ and the pastor said something that really made me think – “forgiveness isn’t fair”. To forgive or to be forgiven does not result in fairness or justice. So often we refuse to forgive because another has treated us unfairly and we’re waiting for fairness or justice. He also said “forgiveness is a choice” and doesn’t have any prerequisite, not even an apology or remorse from the person who has wronged you.
Then and there I decided to forgive my ex-wife actions that have caused me great pain and for which I have been carrying anger for a long time. She has never apologised or expressed remorse to me. But this wasn’t about her, this was about me. I didn’t want to carry this burden any more. I prayed for the spiritual strength to truly forgive, not just for a few minutes in church but permanently, once and for all. As I declared this and prayed, a heavy load lifted from my spirit. It was as if I has taken a bag filled with stones off my shoulder and set it down on the ground. I even felt the relief physically.
During this week and even through contact with my ex, I have continued to have this feeling of lightness in this matter. I can now confidently say this is once more ‘thing’ I have gotten rid of. It is finished.
Daily devotional today from The Upper Room
What damage we can do with our words! One day I was all ready to “have it out” with my husband on an issue that was burning within me. But God stopped me. The Bible verse at the top of the page of the devotional I was reading for that day told me in no uncertain terms to watch what I said and to refrain from speaking rashly.
Who knows what harm I would have caused had I blundered on without heeding that warning? James tells us that our tongue is “a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (3:8, NIV). But the tongue can also soothe, encourage or instruct. With our words we can bless or curse, build people up or belittle them, praise God or spread discontent.
In Proverbs we read, “The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life” (10:11). Therein lies the key. The righteous—those who are in right relationship with God—surrender to God, asking the Holy Spirit to guide them in what they say, to accomplish God’s purposes. As we let the Spirit direct us, self-control—part of the fruit of the Spirit—will grow in us. Then the words we use under the Spirit’s direction will truly offer life to those who hear them.
Earlier this year with my personal life in turmoil, I traveled to Sedona, Arizona, a place of wilderness and amazing beauty, to pray, to reflect and to seek God’s guidance. As I reread God’s assurances that He will never leave us nor forsake us, I asked God for His reassurance not only through words but through experience. On one memorable day I had two experiences of God’s promise.
The most significant experience, thought I didn’t recognise it as a sign from God until later in the day after the second sign, was on a six mile hike through a beautiful canyon. Now the hiking guide book that I was using states that it would be very rare to encounter any snakes while hiking, as snakes are afraid of humans and are long gone before we get near to them. Nonetheless about two miles from my car, as I turned the corner on a very narrow trail, I heard a very loud sound. I stopped dead in my tracks and looked down at a coiled 4 foot rattlesnake with its rattle vibrating loudly. Now rattlesnakes are extremely venomous and the advice if bitten is to get to a hospital within 30 minutes. Considering that I was an hour from my car with no cellphone coverage, I think it would have been a bit more than 30 minutes for me. I quickly took two steps back and spent the next twenty minutes observing and waiting for this snake to leave the trail so I could get by safely. The second experience was later in the evening. As I left the cinema after a movie, I took my car keys out of my pocket. A minute later as I approached my car, I heard a voice behind me say “Excuse me sir”. I turned expecting to see someone asking me for money or offering to sell me something. Instead it was a teenage boy holding something out to me. “You dropped this in front of the cinema”, he said. “Thank you very much” I said as I gratefully took my apartment key from him. He had picked up my key and followed me to my car to return it.
It was only later in prayer before going to bed that I realised the spiritual significance of what had happened to me that day. Maybe some would see these events as interesting but meaningless. To me this was God saying loudly to me that whatever trail I’m on, He is walking beside me and will protect me and provide for me. I’ve often read this in His word but now, after asking, I’ve experienced it by His grace.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
Micah 6:8 NIV