some final thoughts:
Twelve hours home, now.
A long, hot shower,
cuddle with the kittens,
sorting of the laundry,
dividing up gear to go in my camping box in the garage or back to the office (thankfully the gear to go back to the office includes an unused snake bite kit and survival blanket)
some catching up on life off of the trail with hubby,
a solid sleep in my soft bed-
have restored me.
There are lots of lessons learned in the past six days and seventy miles on the Appalachian Trail. Lots of them are technical: I’ve discovered the most efficient way to set up my tent so that transitioning from duffle bag to created-shelter takes under three minutes; I know where the coffee pots, coffee and filters are in six of our parish churches, now, and how to prepare said-coffee in the dark while moving around sleeping (and snoring) bodies; I’ve perfected peeing-in-the-woods-girl-style; I’ve learned that the best trail sandwich that won’t get squished is crunchy peanut butter on a tortilla (mostly because it is, inherently, squished to begin with); and I’m a boss on the walkie-talkie, slinging code language with the best of ‘em. Ten-four. Copy that.
The “point” of a pilgrimage is to journey towards God. In our pilgrimage we made space for reflection, worship, and prayer. We opened each day’s hike with a “launching liturgy,” and closed the day with Holy Eucharist. In silence, we were asked to create intentions for each day, and as we hiked, we often fell into companionable, prayerful silence. One day, I found myself hiking to the mantra of the Trisagion: “Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal One, Have mercy upon me.” (Where did that come from?)
One of the things that I discovered was that my journey was not really towards God, but in God.
I had personal expectations of how this six-day hike would work. I looked forward to pushing myself, physically, and finding some holiness in that space beyond comfort- where, in the discomfort, one requires divine assistance. That sounds a little bit like pulling on a hairshirt, but I had imagined that in stretching myself, I would need to reach out for God’s hand to pull me through. For someone whose personal, spiritual narrative is grounded in self-sufficiency, that was a challenge all its own- to yearn to push myself to the point of depending on God. (bald disclosure, here, friends.). But that’s not exactly how it went.
I did push myself- hiking with the “A Team” on a couple of days was a physical feat that exceeded my comfort level and resulted in nothing less than a purifying physical and spiritual experience, sweat pouring out of me like a fountain as we ascended Peter’s Mountain at a punishing rate of speed.
But the best lessons were learned on other days, as the “sweeper” of the group as I hung at the back and walked with the hikers who set a slower pace. We had time for conversation and sharing stories. In some cases, the folks at the back required some assistance; we had hikers with new hips, knee replacements, recent surgeries to replace torn tendons, compromised aerobic functioning and blisters upon blisters. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5: 3-5). Blessed are those whose wounds slow them down, for they will know strength. Blessed are those with indefatigable spirit, for they will get to the end of the trail.
I learned that instead of “My Camino,” I was being shown by God that we were hiking “Our Camino,” and that the Holy One was found in the weaving of community in and among the pilgrims in our group. Community was formed among the large group in our common times of worship and meals and sharing camp-space; and community was formed in pockets of threes and fours- holy friendships built on a long, rocky trail, just two-feet wide.
I’ve often said that the best thing about Church is that we don’t get to pick who sits in the pews beside us. We are called, by God, to work with each other- with those who show up- to praise and bless God, and to heal this world. This Camino- Our Camino- was a lot like that: working with those whom God delivered, to get from Point A in Beartown, to Point B at the end of Peter’s Mountain. We dance and sang, and ate and drank, and snored and stumbled, and praised God, as we journeyed along. God was in the Camino, not at the end of it. In community. Just like Jesus promised: “Wherever two or three (or twenty-two) of you are gathered, I will be among you.” (Matthew 18: 20)