As a way to prepare for walking the Camino de Santiago, I bought a few guidebooks and researched suggestions online. The book that had sparked the desire to complete this pilgrimage was Fr. Dave Pivonka’s Hiking the Camino: 500 Miles With Jesus. Prior to reading this book, I had only a vague interest in the pilgrimage, partly spurred on by a fellow teacher who wanted to make the trek. I read about Fr. Dave’s journey and I was intrigued.
Casually, with little intention of it actually happening, I made the next logical investment: guidebooks. Then, I chatted with my younger sister, pondering if this could really, truly happen. Finally, we booked plane tickets, bought necessary gear, and prepped for a pilgrimage that was largely unknown to us.
Along the Camino, several of the American pilgrims asked if we were on the Camino Facebook page. It wasn’t something I had looked for or uncovered in my searching, but when I returned home, I joined the group. Since then, I’ve read numerous suggestions people have for others about to make this pilgrimage, appreciated pictures from people currently on pilgrimage, and read the questions first-time walkers have for the more experienced.
One thing that has always struck me is how particular some people are about the weight of their pack. It is, understandably, one of the most significant things to consider, but it wasn’t something I spent a great deal of time analyzing. In retrospect, I should have taken less.
At two separate points of the trip, we mailed things either home or ahead to a later stop. Church clothes that we hoped to wear were shipped ahead when we realized Sunday would be a walking day and Mass would be attended in our everyday Camino clothes. Pajamas were mailed as we just slept in the clothes we would wear the following day. The pack I already thought was small was pared down twice. When I finished the Camino, I resolved that if I ever did it again, I would be far more particular about what I brought along.
On the Facebook page, though, people are very invested in making their packs as light as possible. Since you carry it on your back every day, it is an important thing to consider. Some weigh their packs and then go through and cut the tags off every piece of clothing and weigh it again, rejoicing when the number drops by a few ounces. List after list can be found that people hail as the ultimate Camino packing list. Some are great at minimalism, telling you what you can just buy along the way or what you must bring from home. An essential truth is found in all of this: pack only what you need and leave all things frivolous behind. (What seems frivolous also changes after a couple of hundred miles.)
I was thinking about this yesterday as we fasted, prayed, and had our foreheads marked with ashes that proclaim to the world our sinfulness and our mortality. The image of people being so adamant about carrying a light pack that they would cut off the tags of their clothing was striking. Everything was measured in weight: backpacks, sleeping bags, travel towels, etc. Leave the heavy things, they said, and take only what is light.
This Lent, let’s try to travel light. Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are meant to lighten our load and to create space for God. The things that distract and weigh us down, leave them behind. The need to compare on social media, the burden of material possessions, closets that overflow, entertainment that amuses yet distracts from being present, and the list could go on and on.
On the Camino, people were surprised that young women in their 20s were traveling without a working phone. They would give us the Wifi password and we would say we didn’t need it. No music, no movies, no days lounging on a couch, no stable home for a month. It was freeing, but it also allowed us to see how we were attached to different things that, while often good, still were binding. Lent can be like that for us: we can seek to be truly free.
I’ve started telling people that one of the reasons I love prison ministry is because I’m speaking to people who know they are in prison. I’m surrounded by people living in self-made prisons. Some are in a physical prison and others are seemingly free. But at least the men in prison know they are in one. Now is a time to break free of whatever binds us, whatever keeps us in slavery. Sometimes we find ourselves in willing slavery, but we were made to be free. Let us not throw away our freedom simply because we find chains easier to live in.
This Lent, I’m trying to travel light. I want the space and room for the Lord to make Himself known. I want an emptiness that He can fill more satisfactorily than anything on earth. I want freedom instead of imprisonment.