Mel's Healing Pilgrimage 2016

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

Thursday, July 20, 2023

The yoke is on us - July 20

Today’s Mass reading seems so appropriate for our last night on the Camino.

Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

We walk this Camino carrying so much. We literally shoulder the weight of our packs. But we have been offered a way to ease our pain, and share it with the One who always walks beside us. The yoke is on us, if we let it. And we can ease our burden and, after all these weeks of walking, find our rest.

We end our Camino tomorrow. May we find the rest we seek.

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Footbath - July 19

My feet are in 10 inches of water, a foot bath for pilgrims in the form of a pool / fountain. I am overlooking a beautiful valley growing all sorts of trees and some agriculture. And the restaurant lets us eat and drink at this spot.

Are pilgrims supposed to enjoying themselves like this? Should we be staying at simpler facilities, avoiding seeming luxuries? Some feel it’s wrong to stay at hotels when on Camino, and even though this is still an albergue (dorm), it’s still a bit fancy. Do we give this up in a penitential way?

I’m of the mindset that though we could, it’s not the point of Camino. We are trying to orient ourselves, move ourselves, understand ourselves. Maybe it means giving up anything that means luxury. But what if it’s not luxury that’s holding you back. As I mentioned yesterday, sometimes pilgrims are hungry on their pilgrimage. Hunger is not luxurious.

So we should all take a look at the ways we journey through life. Maybe we are addressing or concerned about the wrong things. Maybe we are avoiding something far more difficult to define, or something much harder that we may be avoiding entirely. Maybe we need to soak our feet in the waters that heals our wounds.

Hunger - July 18

Hunger is a serious problem that affects both entire populations as well as individuals in a bind. And that happened to me once in a while while living abroad as a student or when I was traveling by bicycle or backpack as a student in other countries. It is physically painful and impairs the mind and body. But it’s also rather embarrassing. One doesn’t admit to being hungry easily. 

So I was grateful when two pilgrims admitted that their funds were running low. They admitted it, and we could help them through these final days of the walk. They could have kept the need to themselves but they admitted to it when asked.

I wish we weren’t so concerned about basic human needs but we can’t anticipate every problem. And money doesn’t grow on trees. If we can’t be honest about our need for food, how can we be honest about needing more difficult things like jobs, healthcare, or even love? At the very least, we need to take pride out of the equation and be able to say that we need to be fed when we hunger.

And while we are at it, maybe we can voice our hunger for justice and grace when we need it most.

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Stop in the name of love - July 17

He said “STOP!” 

He held up his hand, while wearing a white helmet and clothed in civilian street clothes. And he looked straight at me as I approached the street corner. And he said “STOP!”

The crowd of young men stared at me, wondering what I would do. They were all wearing T-shirts and either jeans or shorts. And they waited.

So I stopped.

And I smiled.

And the young men then asked the boy with his arm stretched out at me, “¿Y que?” (And what?) The boy said nothing. He was possibly impaired in some way, so he didn’t seem sure what else to do. So I walked around him and the crowd of Campus Crusaders who were playing imaginary catch with the boy, and I entered the pilgrim’s reception of a tiny albergue. It’s a volunteer run place that offers lemonade and bathrooms for pilgrims. The missionaries or volunteers stay for a week or more. Seven years ago, Stephen and I were surprised and grateful for a blessing given to us by the older women volunteers.

I thanked them for their hospitality.

And I thanked the boy for his special invitation to stop.

White noise - July 16

Most people talk about the enormous surge of pilgrims that walk from Sarria. The walk takes less than a week from here so it’s a great and popular Camino. And it’s well known that the increased noise and crowds mentally disrupt those who started earlier.


The Camino is precious, a privilege, and a process. It’s a gift to be appreciated because not everyone can find the time to do it. I’m acutely aware that I am unusual for doing it multiple times.


The Camino is overwhelmingly a white person’s journey.

Most people walking are Europeans or Americans. The surge of people that appear in Sarria are mostly American and Spaniards. That surge just makes the racial disparity even larger.

The folks who come from Africa are predominantly white people from South Africa. The few from Asia are predominantly Korean Christians, yet I’ve noticed that whatever meager number shows up has been held up as an example of how Koreans are flooding the Camino. 

I’m not saying what should change here. I’m merely observing something that often makes me feel uncomfortable. I am a rare pilgrim here, one that is rarer after Sarria. Nothing in my theology around pilgrimage supports this outcome. So why must it be so?

Why aren’t there scholarships to those who cannot afford to do this pilgrimage? Why isn’t there more desire to find God in everyone? Or am I just a clanging cymbal loudly?

Missing content - July 15

For only the second time on this Camino, we had to break out the rain ponchos. It rained almost the whole way up out to San Xil. Then thankfully it was lovely the rest of the day. 

But what I recall most was seeing Felix journaling as he sat at the edge of a pasture, watching the cows. The mist was getting heavy but it hadn’t quite started to rain. And he just seemed so content.

Not dismayed by the rain getting him or his book wet. Not seemingly interrupted. Not even really cognizant of the weather. He just seemed content.

One of my favorite cartoonists is Gary Larson who drew “The Far Side.” A wonderful pane that he published once was of a cow looking out the window somewhat forlornly, adorned in her pearls while her bull husband sat in a recliner, watching tv with a beer in hoof. And she turned to him saying “Wendell, I’m not content.”

Sort of a twist to the bucolic scene I saw.

I work at centering myself to be at that point. It’s very intentional. But I realized that he and many in the Camino find contentment very easily when out here. Things that bother us don’t throw us off the big picture. We aren’t just staring out the window. We are in the view, in the moment, in the now.

Contentment isn’t comfort. It’s often finding peace and beauty where others somehow miss it. And it’s not a static place, one where you park and stay. It’s a place to rest and move on. 

Felix moved on, as I saw him later that morning. And I was content.

Twice as good - July 14

 I have been to the mountain top. And once again, on this trip and on my first Camino, I have been to the mountain top twice.

Both times I left behind something I needed. Last time was my wallet and credentials (you are supposed to show that you walked the Camino by getting stamps everyday along the way). This time I left my phone. The last time I needed to walk back up a couple kilometers. Not fun. This time I had to grab a cab in Triacastela to go back.

Mountaintops are astonishing. MLK uses it in his most famous speech because it implies that he could see far and wide. Mountain tops are where God is revealed. Or Christ is transfigured. They’re the pinnacle. The ultimate.

It seems weird to go twice.

But when you return, is it the same? Do you experience the mountaintop the same way? See the same things? Hear, feel, taste the same things? 

I think each time is a new moment, a new chance to experience the divine, a gift of a new epiphany. I was frustrated when these things happened to me. But in retrospect, maybe seeing things from the heavens twice wasn’t such a bad thing after all.

Seeing is believing - July 13

I have gone up O Cebreiro multiple times, but I’ve never seen The Valley in its glorious splendor. That’s because I’ve always slogged my way up in the rain, mud on my face, sharing the trails with horses and their droppings. The best view I had was a misty one at the very top, with just maybe a kilometer of visibility. 
Yet friends shared glorious images in full sun. I’ve never had that. I often heard cow bells on the difficult walk up, but could never see the beautiful animals. I wondered if I ever would get to see this gorgeous land.

But today was sunny. And I saw it all. And it was beautiful. And once again I felt like it was a lesson. Not that patience or persistence will bear fruit. Many don’t have a chance to return after all. Not that I will be rewarded at the right time or when I was ready. 

My lesson is that the beauty was always there. I wanted it. I knew it. I was frustrated because I couldn’t see God’s handiwork. But that didn’t mean it didn’t exist. Through the mist, through the rain, through the fog, the beauty was, is, and always will be there.

I don’t need to see the beauty to appreciate it. I just need to believe that God creates beautiful things. I don’t need to see it to believe it. I can just know God created it, and it is good.

Friday, July 14, 2023

Optional route - July 12

There are multiple options on the Camino. Maybe you want to take a direct route next to a highway. Maybe you want the hilly quieter route. Both lead to the same destination but the distances and hills and food options may vary. Which way do you go?
There’s no right answer. Everyone has different priorities and values. The best route for one might be the worst for another. Choosing wisely for yourself means possibly choosing a different way than others.
We chose a route through vineyards today. It was beautiful. I’ve done both routes over the years and now prefer the agricultural route. It speaks of life, of beauty, of abundance. It’s not the fastest but it is more rich in life.
Choose wisely and choose that which fills you, even if it takes more time.

Setting it down - July 11

We set stones down at the Cruz de Fero. We spread ashes too. And, as prayers were being said, tears fell freely from our cheeks.

The ashes joined ashes I had previously spread. They joined ashes of countless others who did the same. We were alone and we were part of the community of the world. The breath of life brought us together in holy stillness and unity. 

Did the weight of carrying stones and ashes end? Yes. Did the weight of our grief end? Maybe yes, maybe no. Grief doesn’t magically disappear, not suddenly, perhaps not ever. But maybe, with prayer, spreading the ashes at the foot of the cross might just allow us to leave those heart aches and burdens to the One who heals, the One who reconciles, the One who carries us when we feel most left behind.

And maybe the drops from our tears can bring flowers in the spring, so that they may bring life and color in the grayest of days. May we set those tears down with the ashes and know that from these comes new life, a new way of being.

Struggle to get up - July 10

 It was a struggle to go up the mountain to the tiny village of Foncebadón. It usually is. The rocks on this mountain are pretty extensive and can cause the ankles and knees some stress. You really gotta drink a lot of water and go slow.

It also helps if we can help each other. One of us had overpacked her backpack and struggled to get up the mountain. Vanni from Italy saw this and offered to carry up a bag of items in a day pack. She filled his small pack and he carried it on his chest while carrying his own backpack. Together they were able to get her up the mountain.

Sometimes we don’t know how heavy our load is. We think we have it, we think we should be able to do it alone, we think there’s no alternative. But there’s always help. Our struggles don’t have to be alone. We can share the load and slowly, steadily find our way up.

Monday, July 10, 2023

Walk in it - July 9

On the way to Astorga, there was a donativo in the middle of the forest today. We have had them before but this one was especially comfortable and satisfying. In addition to the abundant food and beverages, there were sofa beds and even a labyrinth. A labyrinth! On Camino. A symbol of pilgrimage on an ancient pilgrimage. 

What a great gift for us. I grabbed some watermelon and walked the labyrinth, turning this way, turning that way. So much seems to have come to us unscripted since this pilgrimage began. So much has changed and so much was unexpected. And yet we continue onwards, following our journey wherever we may be guided. This walk within a walk underlined the need to trust and follow our path. There was something comforting about this labyrinth in the middle of the forest. We were invited to this pilgrimage. And despite the twists and turns, we walk in it.

Saturday, July 8, 2023

Face to face - July 8, 2023

We took our latest and last planned rest day of this Camino in León. That means that we lose contact with all those people whom we met regularly since Burgos that chose not to take a rest day. They’re a village ahead of us now. Instead of their familiar faces, their beloved stories, we will meet some new faces, of people we will likely see for the rest of our Camino.

In addition to the shift that happens when you take a rest day, León is a popular start and stop spot for pilgrims. It’s about 300km from Santiago de Compostela which is about 2 weeks for most. It’s 3 weeks from St Jean Pied-de-Port and 1 week from Burgos. So if you want a one, two, or three week Camino, you can start or stop in León.

That convenience means people come and go. We saw so many new faces today, including three new ones from our own group. We wondered about faces that disappeared. Did they go home or did they continue onward without a rest day? If they went on, is there a chance we could see them again?

It’s often unstated but some of the most meaningful time on Camino is when we have personal conversations with each other. That face to face time, brief as it might be, gives us glimpses of each other is remarkable, transparent ways. But I do think that the transient nature of these conversations is an important part of the Camino. People can and go in our lives. The Camino helps show this to us, face to face.

Thursday, July 6, 2023

Painful memories - July 6

The last time I walked into León, I waited for Stephen’s train to arrive. When we met after four weeks away, the longest we had been separated since we moved in together, I greeted him and asked if, after we check in at the hotel, he could take me to urgent care. 
That walk was so painful. My blisters were not only hurting but I felt that they might had gotten infected. A check by a medical professional seemed appropriate. I was walking so slowly. And retracing the steps of that day just reminded mw over and over what pain was like on a Camino. 
Thankfully my pains on this Camino are less severe and more manageable. But the wariness remains. I am more careful with each step. I might have more confidence when not injured, but the memories persist. They don’t go away.
Pain works that way it seems. We humans are built to remember pains so that we can learn to avoid the behaviors that cause them in the future. Sort of like positive punishment (not negative reinforcement) in psychology. 
I wish I didn’t remember these pains. I wish I didn’t remember all the emotional pains in my life either. And, from the stories I hear on Camino, it sounds like others are here because of a lot of emotional or spiritual pain. Unlike other forms of behavior, we might not have caused the psychological pain. So we are stuck remembering it without any easy way to learn from it or to seek closure.
I like to think that our Camino or spiritual journey helps us grasp this problem. By letting go of our pains, we don’t have to live in a fruitless psychological trap of positive punishment. We can remember that even though we cannot completely control our lives, we can turn at least to learn to trust again. The Camino provides, we say, and trust can break the grip of pain and punishment. Trust that the Camino provides.

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Still haven’t found what I’m looking for - July 5, 2023

I ran into someone at the grocery store who I’ve met previously. He will go past León and continue. He’s not taking a rest day or doing anything other than walking and being with others. And, though he’s walked this Camino before, he still is searching for something right now. He doesn’t know what he’s searching for, but he’s searching. I pray with and for him as a song from the 1980s comes into my head…

I have climbed highest mountainsI have run through the fieldsOnly to be with youOnly to be with youI have runI have crawledI have scaled these city wallsThese city wallsOnly to be with you
But I still haven't found what I'm looking forBut I still haven't found what I'm looking for
I have kissed honey lipsFelt the healing in her fingertipsIt burned like fireThis burning desire
I have spoke with the tongue of angelsI have held the hand of a devilIt was warm in the nightI was cold as a stone
But I still haven't found what I'm looking forBut I still haven't found what I'm looking for
I believe in the kingdom comeThen all the colors will bleed into oneBleed into oneBut yes I'm still running
You broke the bondsAnd you loosed the chainsCarried the crossOf my shameOh my shameYou know I believe it
But I still haven't found what I'm looking forBut I still haven't found what I'm looking forBut I still haven't found what I'm looking forBut I still haven't found what I'm looking for

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Unintentions- July 4, 2023

I was thinking about how we don’t realize sometimes that our actions can have effects or consequences far longer than we realize. Then last yesterday’s walk made it really obvious.

First, I was grumpily complaining that they made yet another change to the Camino route on our leg, this time out of Terradillos de Los Templarios. Now it’s by the road.  It’s a lot less picturesque for the sake of shorter distances and shade, and a whole lot noisier. You no longer walk through the sunflower fields but on the edge of them. But given the sunrise hour, we were actually able to take gorgeous photos with the sun shining on them rather than backlighting most of them. It made for much better photos. Both the change and the timing were unexpected pluses as it turns out.

Then when we arrived in San Nicolás, pilgrim Felix started chatting with me. He explained that he was touched quite a lot by Deb, a friend of mine in our group. Moreover, he was surprised and given much hope and much to think about because he saw and heard my husband and I in the convent singalong in Carrion de Los Condes. My husband pointed out that I was his husband during introductions and I mentioned that I was walking as a celebration of ordination. I didn’t fully realize that our transparency would have such an effect on someone sitting in that room.

Later, we walked under thick shade to Bercianos. When I last walked this stretch a decade ago, the sun was mercilessly shining on my head, as the trees were still just saplings. What a joyful relief! The planters certainly were offering shade for future pilgrims, but perhaps they didn’t realize that one day their action gave me such hope.

They did something that didn’t produce results until years later.

Maybe they never saw the results of their actions.

Their actions brought not just relief but also joy.

We may not know how our actions can affect others tomorrow or one day in the future, but if we do them in love, in fellowship, and in compassion, we can unintentionally bring joy. Unintentionally give hope. Unintentionally offer a blessing.

Monday, July 3, 2023

Life on the streets - July 3, 2023

Nothing reminds me that I’m getting older than having to get up multiple times at night to use the restroom. 

Processes that seemed easy to manage have become more challenging. So what a coincidence that my birthday fell on this leg of the Camino Frances. There is no restroom after leaving Carrion de Los Condes for 17km. That’s 3.5 hours minimum. I wouldn’t have batted an eye when I was younger but now know that a potentially 4-4.5 hour walk could mean finding an infrequent tree in case of an emergency.

It’s a real issue on the Camino. And it’s an issue for all of us as we get older. This can create anxious moments. But it’s natural and we should try to show kindness to those who might have problems. 

So today was a reminder that so many people live in conditions without access to toilets. The tent cities all over the USA are not adequately served. May we remember that our struggle is the same one held by those out in the streets and we need to find ways of making their plight less painful and more dignified.

YMCA - July 2, 2023

 It’s fun to stay at the YMCA! 🎵🎶

That song was playing in the restaurant where my group had dinner last night. And hilariously, spontaneously, every single one of us put out utensils down at the same time, at the right time, and did the arm motions that spelled out Y M C A.

Even more fun was that other pilgrims in the dining room were watching us groove and move our shoulders to the music. They KNEW what was going to happen before we even did. And they smiled and laughed with us. They weren’t Americans but they saw what was apparently an American custom.

We don’t all have to come from the same place or eat the same food or sing the same songs. And we can appreciate the sheer joy of others without judgment. We can smile with them and be joyful in our shared humanity.

From Easter - July 1, 2023

Julz is from Australia (and New Zealand and ancestrally from Samoa), and she has been teaching Stephen Aussie slang. She also doesn’t speak Spanish so I’ve been helping her pronounce some of the towns and words. This day, we walked to the town Frómista, which is sort of pronounced “From Easter” with an Aussie accent. 

Language is tricky. I am always amazed at how much English people know. Here on Camino, people come from all over the world hoping to get by on Español or English. But no matter where we are from, no matter the language, we come with hope, with a sense of adventure, with a desire for something new. We want our lives made new by Camino . We yearn for it.

So maybe without many fully realizing it, we pilgrims are all pretty much an Easter people, seeking life made new. And we all want to walk “From Easter.”

Waiting for Gorgeous - June 30, 2023

I wanted this section of the Camino so bad. I remembered how gorgeous the flowers were last time I walked this way. I was hoping it wasn’t a fluke.
And the flowers, especially the amazing red poppies, were present and beautiful. And, I realized that in the abundance around me, it wasn’t enough. I knew there was potential for more beauty. I had a glimpse of it once. So what was it I really wanted?
And I realized that night, as we slept in the bottom floor of a nearly empty ancient albergue in Castrojeriz, that Heaven on earth was all I wanted. Is that too much to ask for? I wanted unparalleled beauty and peace, with the lion sitting next to the lamb. Where death has no hold on us and we don’t have to time our visits to flower fields.
I know waiting is part of our lives on earth. I’ve gotten used to it. It’s worth the work to till the soil until we get that piece of Heaven, to forever be living in the gorgeous.

That hits the spot - June 29, 2023

Yesterday was a rest day in Burgos and we resumed walking today. It was a rather easy day, perhaps the easiest so far. The temperature was cooler than normal. But most importantly, I found the spot where I had a moment at a fuente with Silvia from Italy. That story is elsewhere in my blog. I found the spot where it happened, but it was interesting that the oasis is no longer used. The fuente was dismantled. The sign was taken down.

At least nobody will be misled to think water was present. But it did seem to point out how much we need water in our lives. And not just any water, but the water that is potable. Water that we need. Water that sustains us.

This planet is mostly water yet we thirst. The abundance is everywhere yet we are parched. And most of the time, as the Camino teaches all new pilgrims, we don’t realize how thirsty we are. We get dizzy from thirst.

But the Way invites us to fill up and fill others with all that quenches them, with all that brings joy. Fill yourself with life giving waters. And help fill those who thirst. Let all who are thirsty come.

Saturday, July 1, 2023

Lost - June 27

I couldn’t find the labyrinths. There was one just before Ages and one just before the top of the peak out of Atapuerca. I walked them before and I couldn’t find them. I lost them.

Later, we got lost. Somehow we got on the optional route that frankly was unappealing. I wanted to walk by the river into Burgos not the industrial sections. We did get to run into the Irish grandparents and their grandson. They made the same mistake. And later I found that all of us had made that mistake. Maybe we were not lost . Maybe we were on a new route.

So maybe I wasn’t lost.

And maybe I didn’t lose the labyrinths. Maybe it was time for them to be taken apart. Or to be moved. Maybe it was time to say goodbye.

New things might leave us feeling lost. But they can also be an invitation to see things anew.

Stand in the forest - June 26

The walk from San Juan de Ortega started out cold and misty. We all were able to bump into each other and have a nice breakfast at Espinosa and again snack at Villafrancs de Oca. 

But I get a little uneasy going over the mountain here. It’s a place where hundreds of bodies were dumped during the Spanish civil war. To me, you feel raw pain as you walk through. It’s beautiful yes. But there’s a sadness that hangs in the air, and it haunts the walk. I feel frozen in place there, standing in sad awe of the history. I wonder why others don’t feel it. Maybe they do feel it, but it doesn’t weigh on them like it does me. Or maybe I’m just over sensitive. But death means more than the ending of a life to me. There’s ceremony and remembrance. Closure often comes from this. Without it, a hold is left gaping in the heart.

Thankfully, we move past this area and see the donativo woman of the forest. It now has warmed up and gotten sunny. She and her dogs welcome pilgrims year round. Most interestingly, her food stand is surrounded by wood totems. They’re alive with mirth and humor. 

What a contrast! Flesh turned to dust giving a feeling of sadness while wood painted to resemble flesh brings joy. All on the same mountain plateau. I hope that the souls rest in holy peace and that the families who visit that place find comfort at the food stand in the forest.