By Eun Joo Angela Ryo
I love to walk. I’m not a runner, but I’ve always considered walking to be a meaningful spiritual practice. However, when an opportunity to go on a Camino to Santiago de Compostelo by the Portuguese Way was offered to me, I hesitated. It would be with fifteen church ladies I didn’t know very well for two full weeks. We would start in Ponte de Lima, Portugal and walk about nine to thirteen miles a day for nine days to Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain. We would be walking a total of about a hundred miles in two weeks.
Many fears, questions, and anxieties rose in me: Am I physically fit to do this? Would I enjoy walking with the fifteen other ladies from church? Will my husband, who has a hectic work schedule, be able to take care of our two children while I’m away? But along with my fears, the greatest question for me was, How will the pilgrimage change me?
There’s always a risk we take when we open ourselves up to new possibilities and ways of experiencing God and others. Because I was aware of this risk, I feared going outside of my comfort zone — my everyday routine — to go on this inward journey. But because the risk of remaining in my comfort zone outweighed the risk of taking a journey to an unknown place, I agreed to go.
The first day of walking started out well enough. Not being a very fast walker, I naturally stayed back with two of the oldest women in our group. However, after walking for about five miles, I picked up my pace and started walking faster. With the two ladies behind me, I stopped by a restaurant for a bathroom break. When I came out and started walking again, I gradually became concerned about the two ladies I had left behind. As the terrain started to get rougher and rougher, I decided I would stop and wait for them. I waited and waited but they did not come. Finally, unable to control my anxiety, with the emergency phone that had been given to me, I called the guide who was supposed make sure we were all on the same path.
The guide told me that the two ladies were within a minute of her and that she had been keeping an eye on them. Evidently, they had passed me when I stopped at the restaurant. When I caught up with them, I realized that my unreasonable fear for them really arose out of my own concern for my aging parents — that I saw my parents in them and felt my fear that they will leave me soon and an intense desire to care for them before that happened. I was shocked. I did not realize the depth of concern I had for my parents. As I carefully started to share this revelation with the guide, she smiled and said to me, “Ah, the Way has met you.”
The Way has met me. Accepting the opportunity for the Way to meet me was a great risk; it signified that I could not return home the same way I had traveled. But how difficult the way back may be, I must risk stepping outside of my comfort zone and be open to the Spirit because the alternative is a far greater risk — the risk of not living at all.
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross said in Life Lessons:
True freedom is found in doing the things that scare us the most. Take a leap and you will find life, not lose it. Sometimes living a safe life, with lots of respect for all our fears, worries, and anxieties, is the most dangerous thing we can do. Don’t make fear a permanent part of your life: letting go, or at least living in spite of fear, surprisingly and paradoxically, returns you to a place of safety. Once we are on the other side of our fears, we find new life. Ultimately, love becomes letting go of our fears. As Helen Keller said, ‘Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.’ If we can let go of our fears, we can lead a life of awe and wonder.
Today was the fifth day of my Camino. Four more days and forty more miles to go before reaching Santiago! I am beginning to realize that the risk of comfortably sitting still always outweighs the risk of painfully walking toward the light. Buen Camino!
Eun Joo Angela Ryo immigrated to America from Korea when she was nine. Having graduated with an MDiv from McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago, she was ordained as a Teacher Elder in the PCUSA this past July and started serving in her first call at The First Presbyterian Church of Ann Arbor as a Resident Minister.