Greetings! It seems like a long time since my last column in the Review. In fact, it was last May before Annual Conference in one of the final issues. Now, with the change to this monthly magazine Missouri Methodists, I’ll be writing a column about / for Laity each month. We’ll cover a number of things, with a particular focus upon being helpful to laity who are leading in the local church. Occasionally I’ll relate some personal experiences, and maybe a few opinions. Most of the columns will be posted as blogs on the conference website www.moumethodist.org, where you can participate by posting comments, ideas, or questions. I hope you’ll find them interesting, helpful, or at least worth reading.
This month, I’d like to relate something that may sound a bit like “what I did this summer.” You see, in July my wife Kim and I travelled to Spain for a few days. It was part business and part pleasure, taking the opportunity to see places we’d never been to before.
One of those places was Santiago de Compostela in the northwest corner of Spain. We discovered that Santiago is considered one of the most holy cities, especially in the Catholic church, just behind Jerusalem and Rome. And it seemed that, at least on one day, we experienced angels guiding us along the way. Let me explain.
Santiago de Compostela is the place where, centuries ago, it was believed that the remains of the apostle James were taken after he was martyred. A cathedral was built over the place where it was believed the bones were discovered in the year 813, and it has become a pilgrimage destination.
For centuries, faithful pilgrims would walk hundreds of miles across northern Spain to get to the cathedral, see the box containing the bones, touch the statue of James, and receive spiritual blessing. The routes they took are now called the “Camino de Santiago” – “The Way of St. James”. Today, thousands of pilgrims walk at least a part of the Camino, from a short 4 day experience to a gruelling 60+ day journey. All culminating in front of the cathedral, with prayers of thanks – and lots of pictures. Yes, walking for hundreds of miles over two months or more. Why would someone do that?
Kim and I asked that question of several pilgrims. The answers varied. Frank from Ireland said “it helps my body, my mind, and my spirit”. Farmer John from Iowa walked for over 67 days and said that he was looking to see if there were good people in the world. We saw him at the pilgrims’ mass in Santiago, where he glowed as he told us that “there are!”
So we decided, on the one day we had left before traveling home, that we’d like to experience just a bit of the Camino. It was the highlight of our trip.
First, we decided to take the bus out to one of the overnight stops and then walk back in about 21 kilometers (13 miles) to the cathedral. We started our hike in a town, walking on the road for awhile and trying to find the signs for the Camino. This is where the “angels” began to come in. Or at least we began noticing them. Because it seemed that as we hiked over roads and paths, across streams and bridges, through forests and small villages, just when we felt we might not know where the path was or which turn to take, something or someone would appear to guide our decision. Maybe an arrow on the road, a sign on a post, or a fellow hiker coming the other way. This happened so many times.
The time we most needed guidance, once again it seemed that an “angel” was there. Because we actually did get off the path, and didn’t know how to get back. We wandered through a small village when suddenly, out of nowhere, a car came up. And the driver spoke English! And she told us how to get back on the path – the Camino, the Way. Had she not shown up, I’m not sure we ever would have found it – at least not very quickly.
The Bible records countless instances when angels – messengers of God – appear with a word and guidance for people. We hear of people today who claim to experience angels in their lives at important times. But we often dismiss those and think “that just doesn’t happen to me.” But maybe it does, and our eyes are blinded to the spiritual reality that is right there alongside the physical.
Do you ever experience times like that when you need guidance, or even feel you’ve gotten lost while walking with Christ? I believe that God does respond in those situations, sometimes providing people, sometimes raising our awareness to signs, that get us back on track. Are those “angels”? Well, I’m no expert, but my faith leads me to a belief that God works in ways I can’t even fathom. I’m thankful for that. And I’ll continue to look for those signs and angels that can keep me on the path of Jesus. Thanks again for your leadership along the Way of Christ!