The Round Table

Fred Smith

Fred Smith


June 5, 2024


Listen to the article

Listen to the session

Listen to the article

The final miles of the Camino de Santiago leading into Santiago De Compostela, Spain are not grueling but just a steady incline that seems to have no end - especially in the rain which was our fellow traveler on the pilgrimage in May. You finally reach the narrow street that funnels into the broad plaza and having taken a photo celebrating the finish you look for the Pilgrim’s House where you claim your certificate for having completed your walk. Before you receive it there is a brief survey and one of the questions is, “What was your motivation for doing the Camino?” Your choices are religious, non-religious and other. Standing there soaked, tired, aching, hungry and anxious to get proof of my accomplishment, I realized I did not have a clear answer. Did I, like so many others, set off on this pilgrimage walk in hopes of an epiphany? Was it an expression of devotion and a desire to explore a deeper relationship with God? Or was it only something I had heard about many years ago and determined to do as I had for visiting Machu Pichu in Peru or climbing the Duomo in Florence, Italy? I knew I had to check the box to get my authentication so I opted for “other” even though that felt a bit shallow after the several days my daughter Haley and I had spent working our way to Santiago. After all, wasn’t the whole intent of doing the walk to experience one of the “thin places” we read about where God seems closer or we discover an insight we could not have had otherwise?

Perhaps I have read too much Wendell Berry and now believe every place is special and sacred. Maybe it was the words of Brother Lawrence that pitched me over to the side of those who believe we don’t need to go somewhere solitary or remote for hearing the voice of God. There is little need for special acts of penance or discipline to draw near to God.

That our sanctification did not depend upon changing our works, but in doing that for God’s sake, which we commonly do for our own…That the most excellent method he had found of going to God, was that of doing our common business without any view of pleasing men and (as far as we are capable) purely for the love of God..People seek for methods of learning to love God. They hope to arrive at it by I know not how many different practices; they take much trouble to remain in the presence of God in a quantity of ways. Is it not much shorter and more direct to do everything for the love of God, to make use of all the labors of one's state in life to show Him that love, and to maintain His presence within us by this communion of our hearts with His? There is no finesse about it; one has only to do it generously and simply.”

I was the odd man out on a trip to Israel years ago. So many were (rightly so) there for inspiration or to experience a fresh understanding of Scripture by walking where Jesus had walked or being in particular places where he had performed a miracle. Had I been asked then whether my motivation was religious, non-religious or other I would have likely checked the same box as I did for the Camino. I had an interest but no anticipation that something out of the ordinary would happen. For me, it has always been in the ordinary that the unusual sense of God’s presence has come. I could never have planned or prepared for it. It has never been the result of my own initiative or design. Even as a young person I did not have the same experience as others on church retreats or times of intentional solitude. It has always been a surprise and a breaking into the common business. 

I have written before about the trips I took with my father when I learned he did not have long to live. We did not know each other well and I wanted to do something about that before he slipped away. I had a purpose for those few annual trips where we would simply walk and talk. I wanted to draw him out and understand his life. It was almost a pilgrimage in that sense. I wanted to go deeper into his life and, perhaps, give him a chance to do the same in mine. It was not the same for the Camino with Haley. It was simply the pleasure of being with her trudging along in the rain, sweltering in the little bit of sun and enjoying a well-earned meal and rest at the end of each day. It was the enjoyment and satisfaction of doing this together as companions. There was no need for an epiphany or anything extra at all. It was the treasure in the ordinary. It was truly “other” in the best sense of the word.

Art by Kreg Yingst

Get The Round Table in your Inbox

Every now and again we send out a collection of our writings, links to our webcasts, and reminders about events. Subscribe to stay in touch.

the Gathering