88 miles. 4 days. How bad can that be?
Memorial Day weekend 2013 shall go down in history. It was the weekend that 50-ish brave college students embarked on the longest pilgrimage in the United States. From Corvallis, OR to The Grotto in Portland, OR.
It was four days of walking, of being served piping hot platters of humility, and experiencing the deepest prayers. I will admit that starting out, my attitude was all wrong. I walk my dog a couple of miles almost every day, and I love hiking and biking and paddleboarding, so how much harder could 20-30 miles a day be? My pride was shot down quick, unnecessary blisters formed early, and at the end of the first day, I was shown how weak I am.
Once I got over myself and put everything into the pilgrimage, the experience was life changing. It is amazing to me how much support we were getting in the form of honks(nice ones, not angry ones) from cars going by, from people walking out of shops to watch us pass through town. No matter the denomination of Christianity, or even the religion, we were bringing a positive breath of life with us where ever we went, and that was recognized.
I am not saying that I had an I-love-Jesus grin on my face the whole time, there were times of serious pain, but that was when I offered it up to God, offered it up for all those that I promised to pray for, that is when I offered it up for those that don’t have anyone to pray for them.
Even though I was actively ignoring my wants, I was being spoiled by graces from above. At the end of the second day, after 30 miles, we were all hurting pretty bad. Armed with flashlights and rosaries, we walked into the night. We all prayed together, in beautiful unison. I forced myself to walk in front, only because I knew that if I was in the back I would let myself slow down, and hold everyone up. Tears warmed my cheeks with every breath, my prayers were a bit shaky, but the strength of the voices behind me kept my feet moving forward. That church was the most beautiful sight to me, and I have seen the cathedrals of Italy! To be welcomed in, have hot food, a shower, and have people take care of my feet…the memory makes me tear up as I write it.
The pilgrimage retaught me things I thought I already had down. To actually mean “Lord, let your will be done.” or “God, I trust in you.”, I only half knew how empty those words had been out of my mouth. I learned my limits, and then pushed past them, learning that “You can do all things through him who gives you strength.” was not just a warm-and-fuzzy saying. I learned how to pray, how to get out of my own way, to not have my agenda on mind while praying, but to try and see the people and situations as God would.
I got to know people, amazing faith-filled people. People who would take turns rallying the pilgrims with excitement in the Lord, people who I know were hurting just as much as I was, but who still managed to have a crazy amount of energy and enthusiasm. I was inspired by the light of Christ that I found in each and every person, not only the ones who walked, but the ones who were supporting us, and taking care of us along the way.
These words seem like too much, and not enough. How do you describe something that can be summed up in one moment of contemplative prayer and millions of tiny moments of love? I am grateful for the gift of words that God has given me in this life, but I must admit that I am failing in describing this.
I can only tell you what that last mile felt like. Most of us took off our shoes and socks for it, as a sign of coming empty-handed before the Lord (my toes were pretty torn up, I kept my socks on). The last day was our shortest walk, only being 16 miles, but we wanted to stay close together so much, that at one point we did a 12 minute mile. After 4 days of walking, sleep deprivation, and emotional exhaustion, you think we would come stumbling into The Grotto. But the thought of only one more mile was revitalizing. We can do this. I was never aware that I doubted we would finish until that moment that I held my wet running shoes in my left hand. We are doing this. A praise song burst out, it hasn’t even been a week, and I can’t tell you what song it was, only that my voice cracked as I sung out with everything I had. The smile on my face towards on-lookers was not forced, and my sight was getting a little blurry from the tears that were welling up. We are doing this. The love and excitement that we had been bringing with us where ever we walked magnified. Yes there were nay-sayers, but that did not squander the feeling of triumph, it only multiplied it. Cheers erupted and the song somehow grew louder, and was beautiful, from our hoarse throats, as we saw the sign for The Grotto. My parents were there, as were others to support us, to witness the force of exhausted pilgrims marching up to the doors of the church.
It was when I was putting my mucky socked feet back into my shoes so that I could go in the church that I realized.
We did it. Through Him, and only through Him, were we able to make it.
The tears came down my face in a flood of emotional and spiritual accomplishment. We celebrated mass, where all the prayers we had been carrying with us were laid down at the feet of Jesus. Throughout the pilgrimage, we had all been writing letters to Mary, so that when we got to the Grotto we could give them to her. I had written another copy of my prayer list for her, and asked for her to pray to Jesus for me, because being His mother, she is most certainly better at getting through to Him than I am. And even though I do believe in keeping other people’s mail private, I don’t think Mary will mind if I tell you what I wrote to her:
Help me learn how to pray to your Son.
Help me be fearless as you were when you accepted God’s will.
Help me trust God as you did.
Help me see Jesus as you do.
and Mary, teach me how to love Jesus as you do.
I started off the pilgrimage with a big head and a half-empty heart, now I don’t know what to do with all the love that is spilling out from me, and am still trying to get used to walking with a level noggin.