We’ve reached the end of James’ epistle, which extended past our walk to St. James’ Cathedral. The two journeys have complemented each other, El Camino offering examples and nuggets of insight. But both seemed to end rather abruptly. James didn’t have any final greetings or closing prayers as many other epistles do. Santiago de Compostela certainly had an impressive cathedral, but my life didn’t feel different; we still had a few days of living out of backpacks and sleeping in albergues.
Contrasting the Camino and the Kingdom
It is here that the metaphor of walking the Way of life ends. In fact, there is a sharp contrast. Completing the pilgrimage includes some form of recognition, whether the tangible Compostela certificate, or simply the arrival at the final destination. But then life goes on.
Many feel the urge to return to El Camino, to do it again, perhaps on a different route, to re-experience the rewarding parts of the journey. But when we reach the end of our lives, there’s no going back, no do-overs or choosing a variation. Our final arrival at the Kingdom of Heaven is a dramatic transformation of both ourselves and our surroundings—far beyond our current imaginations. It’s hard to know how much of our earthly lives we will remember, but we know that there are both consequences and rewards for what we have done or left undone.
At the same time, James promises we enter the Kingdom by grace, which covers a multitude of sins. Not only are we forgiven, but stepping into the glory of God means complete absence of sin and all the ugliness attached. For anyone who accepts salvation through Christ, who receives His grace, shame, guilt, fear, selfishness, hatred, injustice, envy, and oppression are forever GONE.
This Kingdom of love, hope, grace, joy, and peace has infinitely more to offer than the satisfaction of finishing time on earth and seeing something aesthetically glorious. We get glimpses of God’s glory on earth when experiencing His presence in the here and now—tastes of His joy and peace. But these earthly perceptions are dimmed by sinful nature and experienced in a sinful world. Then we will experience the Holy Presence of God, in all its wholeness and goodness. Let your imagination run wild and know that God’s love far surpasses our imagination!
Travel Plans vs. Trusting
The second major contrast between the Way to Santiago and the Way to Heaven is our own level of control and awareness. While on El Camino there was a freedom in not trying to set an agenda and book beds in advance, but we knew the route we were taking, the distance we had left, and the general time frame. Our life on earth is much less predictable, including plenty of detours and unplanned obstacles. The path unfolds step by step, and pretending we know what to expect really sets us up for big surprises, not always pleasant ones.
As much as we might try to map out a career path or set life goals, the reality is that we don’t know how long this life on earth will last. By faith in Christ we can be quite secure in where our destination is, but we still do not know how long it will take to get there. For some, the end of life comes suddenly and unexpectedly; for others it’s a long process of decline. Generally we don’t get to choose, but we can maintain an awareness that on an eternal scale, none of us really has very long on earth.
Knowing life could end tomorrow doesn’t mean living pessimistically. Instead, it is reason to avoid complacency, to live each day to the fullest, and to trust in God’s timing. As James showed us, plans and goals are fine, but should be hedged with “if the Lord wills,” made not for our own agenda, but instead aligned with God’s plan. We don’t get to see life’s map ahead of time, like we do on El Camino, but we can trust the very Designer of that map.
Sharing the Journey on Different Roads
The final contrast between El Camino and our way to heaven is the variation of routes. Although these is a lot of diversity among pilgrims on El Camino Portugues and some variation in levels of comfort (e.g., hotels and baggage delivery vs. public albergues and living out of the bag on your back), we were all on the same road with only a few variations. The hills were just as steep from one person to the next, even if some found them more difficult based on other factors.
The common route doesn’t seem to be true in our individual walks of life. Not only do they vary in length, but some people seem to face far greater obstacles, rougher terrain, and steeper hills than others. Some encounter tragedies and traumas, whether at individual, family, or societal levels, that others may have difficulty even comprehending. Not all of us grow up in war zones or face life-threatening persecution for our faith.
Yet, despite our differences in struggles, we can still walk side by side. Regardless of how far we’ve come or how long we have left, we can help carry each other’s burdens, building each other up, holding each other accountable, and encouraging one another. Fortunately, there is no rush to get to the next stop to ensure a bed for the night; there is room for all and the call to treat everyone equally. We are all invited toward the same destination, given the same promises, and supplied with the same guidelines.
Walking with Jesus
Jesus promises to be with each one of us throughout our journey. Do you see Him by your side? If not, I would invite you to seek Him, to allow Him to show His presence. He promises that if we seek Him, we will find Him when we seek Him with all our hearts. Walking next to Jesus transforms our life experience and guarantees our entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven. May each step you take draw you closer to Christ and into His joy and peace!