On Tuesday, October 4, I landed in Porto, Portugal, to begin walking the Camino de Santiago. For the next eight days, I would walk anywhere from twelve to twenty miles—a total of about a hundred miles—taking one step after another on my way to Santiago de Compostela.
The Camino de Santiago is an ancient pilgrimage path that Christians have been walking for a thousand years. (Click HERE if you want to learn more about the Camino de Santiago.) Today, thousands of people walk the Camino every year.
It’s hard for me to put into words the effect the Camino had on me, but let me give it a shot.
Just the Facts
This Camino journey was part of a longer cohort, led by Jon Huckins (Executive Director of Global Immersion) and Mark Scandrette (author of The Nine-fold Path of Jesus; check out my podcast interview with Mark HERE). About ten of us had been meeting monthly for the past six months as part of a cohort, exploring what it means to be a surrendered and healthy spiritual leader.
The cohort culminated with walking the Camino de Santiago together from October 5-12, 2022. Each day was spent walking, sometimes alone, sometimes together. Each evening, we gathered to process what the Spirit was doing in our lives that day. We did a lot of laughing and some crying. We dug deep into our broken and beautiful inner lives, learning to love and live out our true selves.
The Pain I Brought With Me
I’ve been wanting to do the Camino de Santiago since I first heard of it back in 2016. That’s the year I was voted out of my church following a year of false accusations of pornography and even child pornography.
Even though I was exonerated, not once but twice following two separate investigations, enough doubt had been sown in my church that the congregation voted to dissolve their relationship with me in April 2016.
It was a deep dark night of the soul for me. It was also an incredibly transformative experience for me. I discovered a more profound sense of my belovedness than I had ever known before.
If you want to hear my story more fully, check out these podcasts:
Soon after, a friend of mine learned about the Camino and told me about it. I watched the movie, The Way, which strengthened my desire and my resolve to do the Camino some day.
And now I was finally here.
My Camino was about to begin.
Anger in the Cathedral
Our Camino began in a town a few miles north of Porto. Our starting point, Ponte de Lima, is the oldest town in Portugal, built by the Romans. An amazing place!
We gathered in a beautiful, old cathedral in the center of town. Sitting in one of the pews, I soaked it in. Then I closed my eyes and started talking to God.
“Well, Lord, here I am,” I said. “I’ve been wanting to do this ever since that church…” and then I cursed!
I was so angry! It surprised me! I didn’t realize I still felt such intense fury. There were feelings of violation, fear, resentment, bitterness.
And then I had to get going. I stood up, walked out, said “Buen Camino” to the other guys, and started walking.
Walking Fast and Walking Alone
I walked fast. It felt like I had all this energy inside of me. I wasn’t walking from anything or toward anything. I was just walking, just burning up the calories of the pent-up intensity that I didn’t even know was still there more than six years later.
I also walked alone. Somehow it felt right to be alone. My dark night experience was an experience of aloneness. Even though I had the support of friends and family, getting voted out of a church is still an alone experience.
So, I wanted to be alone. I wanted it to just be me and Jesus on this walk. I didn’t want any other voices in my Camino. Not yet, anyway…
But Then… I Didn’t Want to Be Alone Anymore
I walked alone the second day, too.
But about halfway through that day, something shifted. All of the emotional intensity of that first day had dissipated.
All of a sudden, I didn’t want to be alone anymore. I wanted to walk with someone. I wanted to have someone to talk with. I wanted to share my Camino, my journey, with another person.
After that, I walked with friends every day. I walked with Matt. I walked with Esh. With Andrew, and Jonny, and Mark, and Tommy, and Derek, and Carter, and Denney.
Sure, I had a little bit of alone time every now and then. We all did. But now my Camino was one I would walk with friends.
The Second Cathedral
At the end of day six, I sat in another beautiful cathedral, part of the Monastery of Armenteira.
Sitting in that cathedral was reminiscent of the first cathedral. But it wasn’t the same.
I didn’t feel angry anymore. Rather than cursing that church, I actually found myself blessing it!
It felt like I had crossed an emotional threshold. It felt like all that intensity of emotion that had been buried deep inside of me—the anger, the anxiety, the aloneness—had been released.
So, does this mean the trauma of what happened in that church will never affect me anymore?
I don’t know. I’ll have to wait and see.
But it does seem like something has changed inside of me. It does feel like something has healed.
And here’s what I do know.
Not only is there a deeper sense of peace (shalom) inside of me, I also have new friends. New friends to walk with on life’s Camino.