Nine years ago, my friend Pat and I walked roughly two-thirds of el Camino de Santiago pilgrimage across northern Spain.
For those of you who didn't see Martin Sheen's recent movie, The Way, El Camino (in English The Way of St. James) is a thousand-year-old pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, where, tradition has it, lie the remains of Jesus’ Apostle St. James the Elder.
One early morning before the misty fog had lifted, Pat and I headed west through the town where we had stayed the previous night, following the Camino’s trademark yellow arrows. In the outskirts of the village we passed an old cemetery, and instinctively began to say out loud the Church’s traditional prayer for the dead:
“Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord. And may perpetual light shine on them. May these souls and the souls of all the faithfully departed rest in peace. Amen.”
At the end of the cemetery grounds, we turned right and stood, literally, at the end of the town facing a forest--with no apparent yellow arrow or marker of any kind that we could follow. Pat and I stopped, looked at each other and at the pebbled path, which split two ways in front of us.
Before either of us could say anything and seemingly out of nowhere, we spotted a man walking ahead of us and heading into the forest on one of the paths, and we followed him. He was walking at our pace, dressed like the local shepherds, and was holding a wooden staff--but no backpack or bundle on his back.
We followed the shepherd in silence. I don’t remember for how long. Suddenly, just as he had appeared when we needed help discerning which way to go, we looked up and he was no longer there. But the yellow arrow painted on the tree showing us the way was as clear and detectable as a blue cloudless sky.
Later that morning, as Pat and I commented how Providential it was that the shepherd appeared when we needed him most, we realized that we each saw different things. Pat saw a young man dressed as a shepherd walking with a stick. I saw an older man dressed as a shepherd walking with a stick.
Today I read a quote from the Book of Revelations that reminded me of our Camino shepherd:
“These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever he goes.” [Rev. 14].
I want to follow the Lamb. I want to silently, without hesitation, follow the Shepherd wherever He goes, wherever He leads me.