Reflections on the Camino: The Gift of Space

Pilgrim statue at Alto San Roque

Three months after our journey, I am especially grateful for one of the many gifts of the Camino: space. Our twelve days of walking the Camino had no shortage of it. Our experience of both external and internal space found its way into many of our evening reflections and no doubt has had some lasting effects.

The external spaces of Camino life were marked by contrast. The often-tight living quarters of the albergues were starkly different from the wide, open mountain vistas that grew evermore beautiful with each step. The crowded trails we encountered as we neared Santiago hardly compared to the beginning days of the trek when one might walk for an hour without encountering another person. Both sides of the contrast held lessons to share and food for reflection.

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Reflections on the Camino: Letting Go of Expectations

The mountain village of O Cebreiro full of pilgrims

As sociologist Tim Clydesdale’s research has shown, one of the most promising and important outcomes of students’ engagement with the concept of vocation is the grounding of idealism through the preparation to face setbacks and reality checks. In other words, students develop what Clydesdale calls “holy grit.” Perhaps it doesn’t hurt, then, for those of us working in the field to encounter some of those setbacks and reality checks ourselves.

Going into the Camino, I had my own idealistic vision of what the trip would be. I had trained as much as one can during a wet, cold Wisconsin spring, so I saw myself hiking swiftly and happily throughout the countryside. I imagined walking alongside students, literally, as they pondered life and unpacked their journey across northern Spain. I would also take time, of course, for my own spiritual reflections on life’s big questions.

I should have known that all would not go as planned.

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Reflections on the Camino: Preparation and Decision-Making

Trail marker on the path up to the Cruz de Ferro.

This May, I served as a program assistant for St. Norbert College’s Global Seminar Course, Walking the Camino: The History and Spirituality of Pilgrimage. The group walked the last 160 miles of the Camino Francès from Astorga, Spain, to Santiago de Compostela. In a series of blog posts over the next few months, I want to reflect upon the journey and the connections I made with my work in vocation back on campus.

My general approach to traveling—and, one might say, to life—is to prepare and research enough to have some knowledge of where I am going and where I am resting my head at night, yet leave plenty of room for the unexpected and unimaginable experiences ahead. I schedule the opportunities I might miss out on if not planned in advance, but keep space for what I find along the way.

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