This fall, I embarked on a four day, fifty-mile pilgrimage to the Santuario de Chimayo, New Mexico. I signed up in hopes of resolving some spiritual turmoil and refreshing my ever-worried mind, hoping to hear some divine message of comfort somewhere along the way. Throughout the deeply moving experience, inspired the whole way by our Pilgrimage motto, “Be Not Afraid,” I learned about myself and others through poignant encounters and long periods of introspection and prayer.
The journey started with an overnight stay at a Native American reservation. Though I have visited several foreign countries, the cultural differences and lifestyle of the community opened up to me the beauty and uniqueness of the human person in new and wonderful ways. Members of the tribe spent the entire evening with us, chatting about their faith, hobbies, and history. I was amazed to discover how such a separate culture thrives within the United States, keeping their traditions alive while still welcoming us into their midst.
After this marvelous visit, we walked through a quaint town littered with adobe architecture and artistic creations on sale. That evening, in a rather last-minute manner, we stayed at an Episcopal Church thanks to the graciousness of the caretaker. The charity of strangers like him throughout the pilgrimage opened my eyes to the kindness inherent in so many unlikely friends. Though we carried our clothes and food on our backs and had no idea where we would spend the next night, the generosity of our hosts showed the folly of our worry.
In the beginning, I barely knew most of my fellow-pilgrims. Two disparate social groups quickly formed, while I found myself awkwardly stuck between the quieter, more thoughtful young people and the noisier, fun-loving crowd. Unfortunately, these dynamics undermined the ‘group bonding’ activities encouraged by our pilgrimage leaders. On the night preceding our longest 17.8 mile hike, I somewhat despaired of the trip and moped in misery on my sleeping-mat.
I began the next day somewhat sullen and apprehensive, soured by the unpleasant attitudes of my companions. Thankfully, deep conversations and long stretches of solitude proved that day’s journey most fruitful, however long and agonizing. The mutual pain and perseverance brought us together in a more profound ‘group bonding’ experience than any we could have planned. When we finally stumbled, limping in groups of two and three, into the parish hall of a Catholic Church where we spent the next night, we gave each other massages, played games and discussed our spiritual experiences of the day. Our estranged group quickly blossomed into a gathering of friends.
The next day’s journey, likewise long but less arduous, I walked almost completely in solitude and contemplative prayer. That evening we visited a local artist, who spends his time beautifying his custom-carved home with a passion unmatched by any craftsman I have ever seen. Individuals like him made the journey rich with personal encounters. When we reached our destination the next day, I wondered at myself, having finished what had seemed so insurmountable. Though God left many of my questions unanswered, yet I found a greater peace and confidence within me as I knelt at the historic Church.
In retrospect, I find that the pilgrimage especially altered my propensity to constant worry. In the words of Vincent van Gogh, ‘Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.’ Though the steps of my pilgrimage dragged on tediously, I rarely wished to hurry the experience on. Nothing could make my sore feet move any faster, so I enjoyed the journey.
My future will always resemble a rugged mountain path rather than an even highway. My task is to choose the simple life, investing myself in the present act with the surety that someday I will accomplish my great goals. Ever a pilgrim, I can only find joy in the present moment and press on, onward to the final destination, trusting that my future is held in God’s hands. Why be afraid?
Post written by Carolyn M. Carolyn is a student at Christendom College and participated in Creatio’s Pilgrimage to Chimayó, New Mexico in October, 2014.