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Monday, November 6, 2017

My Pilgrimage to Chartres: Part 1

     It’s hard to know how to begin to put into words what the past week has meant for me. It’s going to take a long time for me to understand the deep impact walking from Paris to Chartres has had on me. I followed the Chemin de Saint Jacques that thousands of pilgrims have walked prior to me. This is the same pilgrim road that continues as the Camino de Santiago in Spain. Fewer people seem to know about the French portion. Of course, as I am living in France this year, it was important and meaningful to be doing a portion of the French way. Chartres is also such a beautiful, significant pilgrim city because the Cathedral there is so amazing. I have visited Chartres on 4 previous occasions, twice to hear lectures on the magnificent stained glass windows, once as a tour stop while watching the Tour de France and once as a stopping place on a longer journey through France. It seemed an appropriate goal for my first time testing the waters of a walking pilgrimage. I have followed with interest the journeys of two close friends as they walked the 1,000 kilometer journey of the Camino de Santiago. Those journeys have inspired me to consider my own one day. After the struggle of a 5 day journey, I have mad respect for those who endure the 30 day journey. 100 kilometers was challenging enough for me!
     The journey of Saint James, as it is called in English, and the scallop shell as the symbol of the pilgrimage has been around for a very long time. The short version is that when Saint James was being transported by ship, the ship wrecked and the body was lost. Days later it emerged covered in scallop shells. There is much more to it than that, but you can google it if you are truly interested! At any rate, it was cool to see the shell along the way and my # on instagram was #followtheshell.

     Over the next several days I plan to share some of my reflections. Many thanks to all of you who followed the photos on Facebook and Instagram, who prayed for me and congratulated me on the completion of the journey. It has been a great and significant experience.
     The lead up to the trip was not what I had wanted. Plagued by physical issues that deeply affected ability to walk or run, I had to rest more than train. I was never able to get in a 15k or 10-12 mile walk in order to get a mental picture of what that might feel like. I was mostly filled with dread as the week approached. I did not feel like the “hay was in the barn” as they say when training for a big event. But when I woke up early on Tuesday morning, I was genuinely excited. As we headed toward Notre Dame to start the journey, I was a bit was just so cool to be starting this journey at Notre Dame in central Paris! We were very lucky that we had secured a driver who would carry our overnight bags so we were free to only carry what we would need for during the day. So after dropping our stuff off, we paused to share our devotional word for the day which included a question to ponder. The first day was focused on Psalm 121 and the question was to whom or what do you look for strength? And of course, if it wasn’t God, to ponder why we are distracted by something that we know won’t ultimately sustain us. We then walked to the tour de St. Jacques, (a structure I have often seen but never knew what it was) and touched the stone. We all carried credentials as pilgrims that we could get stamped along the way so we then walked over to Notre Dame to get our credentials stamped and we were on our way out of Paris.
     It was a glorious morning, with bright sunshine and warm temperatures. It was strange and wonderful to be walking straight through an urban area on our way to the open road. In fact, it took about 3 hours to get away from the urban environment. Unbeknownst to me, the name of the street that took us out of town was Rue Saint Jacques! The wonderful things you learn!      
We were so happy to finally get out of the city. We found a beautiful park to stop for lunch  and ended the walk through a forested area where we saw our first sign of the shell on a tree!
My steps were painful. The pain on the right side of my hip/leg was present and I was just trying to manage it. Our first coffee break was a welcome pit stop. It was late afternoon when we finally arrived at the first Abbey we were staying at.  A happy pilgrim upon arrival!
     We were tired, sweaty, and a bit sore. But we went straight into vespers with the sisters and while it was great to share in this experience, the chapel was freezing cold so we were all stiffening up and starting to shiver!  Once over, we found our rooms, which were OK, but pretty spartan and we wondered if it would be warm enough. I turned on the shower and it took forever for the hot water to come so there was much nervousness waiting for that warm stream of water to gush forth. Eventually it did and it was a life saver. We had dinner at the Abbey so no need to get gussied up for a fancy dinner! The meal was simple and nourishing. We needed to wash dishes and clean up and then we shared in an evening time together which prompted us to share a high in the day or a place where God felt very present, a low or a place where we felt blocked, and what we were looking forward to in the next day. It was a good exercise known in some circles as the Examen.
     Admittedly for me, my focus was very much on my body. It was so weird to be so focused on something so tactile and seemingly not very spiritual but I had to admit that I spent more time thinking about my podiatrist and osteotherapist than God that first day! The day included time to get to know one another better and settle into our journey. While I happily fell into bed that night, I found a deep sleep hard to come by. I wasn’t restless but I didn’t find a deep rest. Even so, I awoke ready to face a new day. I was hopeful that there would be less urban walking and more open space. I looked forward to both continuing conversations and time to wander in silence. The first 22 kilometers (14 miles) were behind us. A similar distance awaited us on Day 2. I remained hopeful that I would find my rhythm and that the pain would abate. The pilgrimage had begun. Where would it lead me?