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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

My Pilgrimage to Chartres: Day 5: Part 1

    Our final day, the one that involved walking 18 miles (28 kilometers) deserves to be written in two parts. We had gotten lunch the previous day and had gone to bed quite early after the restful ending of day 4 so after breakfast, we could get on the road as close to 8.00 a.m as possible. Rain was in the forecast for the first time all week and we knew that there would be enough challenges in the day without adding falling darkness to the mix later in the day. Water had become an important sight for me along the way. It was a sign of life, of vibrancy, of refreshment so whenever we spotted a stream, even just a trickle, or a pond of some kind, I found it so encouraging and restorative.
     The mood was good, kind of like, let's do this, one step at a time and eventually we'll get to Chartres. I was confident that I would make it at this point, but I was still unsure of how difficult it might actually prove to be. My feet were mostly OK at this point even though the blister on my left pinkie toe was a douzy. I had it well wrapped in moleskin and felt like I had reduced possibilities for great pain through my various methods of foot care. I did have an emerging new pain across the top of my left foot and over the ankle up into the shin. I'm sure it was because of the way my foot adjusted to the blister but I could've lived without yet another issue to deal with! Most serious of all however, was the onset of stomach issues that struck as we were heading out the door. Things were not quite as firm as I had liked and so I loaded up my bag with extra kleenex and simply hoped upon hope that this would not be an issue throughout the day. We had decided to wait for our morning devotions until we had gotten down the road a ways, knowing that we'd need to stop and rest and not really wanting to get up any earlier in order to share before we left. So with a quick prayer for stamina, and health, we were off: Destination Chartres! Could that really be possible?
     We began in wide open spaces, fields filled with living things. There were conversations along the way but also times of walking in a single file line. The rain and wind did indeed come and it was increasingly hard to talk to one another. We were quite the sight in our rain gear! I remained committed to taking off my shoes at every stop and wiggling my toes around. I had also packed a clean pair of socks to change into midway and brought both sets of insoles. All of this was helpful.
     We managed a stop where there were a couple of benches waiting for us for our first break and shared in our devotional time amongst the fields and trees. The verses for the day were from Ephesians 3:16-21. "I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen." These verses were so key for me and I thought they would be powerful and meaningful for us all as we sought to complete the pilgrimage. Here's what stood out to me. First, God's glorious unlimited resources could make their home in our hearts. We needed unlimited resources because our own resources were waning. The image of unlimited resources flowing into our bodies, hearts, souls and minds was one of great encouragement. Second, some of us were on this pilgrimage to have a deeper encounter of God's love for us and these verses affirm the absolute fullness of God's love for us. It's wide, and long and high and deep. And it's too great to fully understand but we should at least try! Third, the benediction herein is just so beautiful and I absolutely loved relying on the notion that it was God who could accomplish infinitely more than we could ask or think. God's goodness, God's presence, God's power within us was greater than we could imagine and that was also a great encouragement. There was a resource that stood way outside of my own ability that could sustain me throughout this day. Our questions to consider were again, simple and profound: What kind of strength do you need for today? And how do you see God working in ways that are immeasurably more than all we could ask or imagine? The answers to these questions seemed pretty obvious as the kilometers stretched out in front of us. 
     I was struggling a bit. I felt OK, was able to stay hydrated but there were issues that were not fun. I managed but it wasn't pleasant. I haven't talked about the other women on this trip because I've been trying to focus on my impressions and their pilgrimage is their story to tell, not mine. But there are 2 that were with me that I would not have survived without and I want to say a bit about them here. I was so thankful for my buddy Emily who had come from Oslo, Norway to join this trip.
She is a Lutheran pastor, married to a Lutheran pastor so we have a lot in common and we co-led the devotional times and shared a room. She was someone that I could say anything to and thus we laughed a lot and she wasn't grossed out by my problems! There were a lot of jokes along the way and I was thankful for that, even in spite of my less than pleasant moments in the woods. The other woman was Kim, the one who dreamt up this entire journey and arranged all of the logistics for it. Kim has been a dear friend for many years, is married to the senior pastor of ACP and is an abiding and wonderful person in my life. We are very different but find great resonance in our spirits.
I mention these two here because they knew what was going on with me along the way and were supportive and encouraging. They laughed with me and took me seriously too. I shared deep and abiding conversations with both of them and our friendship has deepened tremendously because of this experience. For this, I'm very grateful. 
     After the break we had an end point that we wanted to get to for lunch. Kim had encouraged us by stating that after a long walk through a field, you come to a bit of a rise and can spot the spires of the Cathedral of Chartres! What a thrill that would be and we were all eager to make it to that point. Beauty abounded in spite of the wind and the rain and spotting this street sign gave us energy to continue on. Signs of Chartres had come into view. Was that really possible? And then as we walked across this field, against a pretty good wind, I spotted the spires. This photo is taken at the precise spot where I first saw them looming in the distance. My heart sang. That's where we were going, where this walk would end and I could finally see it in the distance!
     At the top of this little rise are two trees, a bench and a cross. It's an extraordinary place, surrounded by the wide open spaces, basically out in the middle of nowhere. It was a peaceful, soothing place and while it would've been great to have lunch there, the wind was threatening so we found a little protected area amongst the trees. One more visit into the woods where I braved brambles and thorns was necessary but that was the last thank God. Fortunately, I was staying hydrated so that wasn't an issue and I still ate the delicious baguette sandwich the bakery had made for me the day before.
     There was a sense of gratitude for our rest at lunch but also a sense that we were going to make it! No one was really discouraged. People definitely had aches and pains. Shin splints, back pain, foot issues, etc. But all in all, the mood was one of determination and grit.
     We were half way home. Just about another 9 miles and we would arrive. Much needed adrenaline began to course through my system. I changed my socks and insoles. I adjusted my gear. I was walking from Paris to Chartres and I was going to make it. What a feeling that was as we headed into the last leg of our journey together.