Mel's Healing Pilgrimage 2016

Links to the Camino de Santiago pilgrimages are on the navigation links to the right of the web page.

Monday, September 12, 2022

Walking through a hospital

I started CPE, which is Chaplaincy Pastoral Education, at a hospital this week in Los Angeles County. As we are just starting out, we first follow the chaplains around the hospital, shadowing and observing their interactions with the patients as they offer non-medical support to the patients. I'll be in this course through the end of the year.

During my hours of shadowing this week, I realized that there was a connection between my shadowing encounters and the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage. This week was akin to my first days of walking my first Camino.

On that first pilgrimage in 2014, I feared that my extroverted personality would find the long walks lonely. How do I encounter God mile after mile all alone? I was told by an albergue (hostel) roommate on my first night in Spain that I ought to take notes about every person I met, because though we all walk our own separate paths, we often would see others the next day or days. If we tended to walk the same distances every day, we would likely stay in the same villages and the same accommodations. We might even become friends. So, I took notes about different people, where they came from, what their stories were. My favorite questions were “What brought you here?”, “What did you hope to find here?”, and “Now that you’ve been walking, has what you’ve been seeking changed?”

It did not take long for me to realize that every person I spoke with, every hand I touched, every smile I shared, every tear that fell on our faces showed me that God was in our midst. God was present because we were present.

This revelation stayed with me throughout that first and all the subsequent Caminos. I no longer feared the quiet. The quiet was the time when I could process these encounters with God. And I definitely needed to process them. I jotted my notes. And when I met people once again, I could remember their stories. There were a lot of people I never saw again. But probably 25% of the people were folks I met previously. This meant that we could grow deeper into relationship. This doesn’t mean that the people I only met once had no bearing on my life or I on theirs. But it meant that our interactions could go even further or in other directions.

An important aspect of my spiritual direction in the past four years has been to grow and love and meet God while at home rather than on pilgrimage in another country. In other words, I need to make my daily life a Camino, a pilgrimage, a journey to find my way. Not just once in a while, but every day. I have been trying to view my life with the grateful and curious eyes that I open as though I am in a different bed in a different town every single morning.

Given that background, I jump to this context in a CPE setting. While talking with a chaplain after one of our rounds, it occurred to me that I had a similar Camino situation regarding hospitalized people. I would meet someone at their bedside instead of a trail. There was a good chance I had not met them before. If I met them, I might ask “What brought you here?”. “What do you hope will happen while here?”, “Have your hopes and plans changed since you’ve been here?” I realized this week that as I walk these hospital corridors, that I am on a new pilgrimage, a new way, a new journey of the heart and spirit. I may sometimes meet people again a few days later; I may never see them again. But perhaps, as we talk, as we spend time with each other, I can touch them and they can touch me. Perhaps we can be there for each other as we move through this thin space, this brief moment in time we have for each other.

And like the Camino, even if we aren’t meant to meet once more, our paths did cross, and we did share. My personal theology sees God as a relationship between Father/Son/Holy Spirit, as Love in creation, as Love among humanity, as Love in motion. Sometimes we must be in motion to be able to walk with God. Sometimes we just need to sit still and listen to what God has to say. So this pilgrimage as we meet our patients isn’t one about fixing anything but about shared journey, of walking beside each other, of knowing that there will be a time we head in different directions. But until we wander away from each other, we have this moment.