A sign along the Portuguese route El Camino of St. James.
Many of the Spanish walking El Camino are doing it as part of a promesa. A promesa is a tradition in Spanish Catholicism where a person asks a saint to intercede in their request ,in exchange for a personal sacrifice. For example, “heal my mother and I will devote my life to helping the poor” Promesa translates roughly as promise but there is more to it than that. It is part of the Spanish culture.
Sometimes people pay for the intercession before the request has been fulfilled as an act of faith that the request will be answered. I find it interesting that this ancient practice has now become part of new age thinking. That is, think about your future desires as if they already exist. Perhaps not surprisingly, they both work as it is the same principle.
Other promesas have actions performed by the person without expecting anything in return. This was my promesa for El Camino. It was not because I was being unselfish or humble. I did need many things at the time such as relief from headache pain, my short term memory was non-existent, I was weak, insomnia, ptsd from surgery, anxiety, crying, etc. But I felt that I had already been given a lot. I was simply grateful for my second chance. Half of subarachnoid hemorrhage patients die the first day. Later, my neurologist told me that I was in better condition than 99% of the patients in the surviving half. I am certain that my training and focus on El Camino is what did it. I thought I needed to do something big in return. I know that was silly but my thoughts were fairly jumbled then. God needs nothing from me.
Not asking for something as part of my promesa turned out to be the right thing for me, although all the types of promesas are good. I was not sure if I should ask for more. Anyway, I would probably not have asked for the right thing.
Finally, there was only one more week before walking El Camino. I was feeling devastated because after six months of preparation my longest walk was only 4 miles and I needed to be able to walk multiple days of fifteen. Having been an athlete all my life I knew there was no way to bridge that gap. Then the worst happened. I blacked out again and hit the ground hard. That confirmed it. I knew there was no way I could complete the pilgrimage. I decided that I was not going to even try to walk. I felt I had failed. My thinking was not very clear at the time. I had focused for so long on walking El Camino that I couldn’t think of anything else.
However, if I had given up I would have missed out on three important miracles that occurred on the same day. I could not have asked for three better miracles. The ones I needed came without my asking.
The three miracles.
First, I finished. I have been an athlete long enough to know when I can do something and when I can’t. I knew I did not yet have the physical strength at that time to finish. Something outside my own strength pushed me beyond my physical limits. I now believe that I would have still received the next two miracles even if I hadn’t finished. My state of mind at the time mistakenly believed that finishing was important. Still, I am very grateful for finishing. I thought I was going to be exhausted after finishing El Camino but it was exactly the opposite. I couldn’t stop walking. I even did a few more twenty mile walks in Southern Spain, which had previously scared me away from attempting the English route.
Second, my self confidence was restored the day I finished. Some might say it was not a miracle but rather the change simply stemmed from accomplishing something hard. But I had been walking daily for six months, building up from my two block long walks to six miles. That was hard and yet my self confidence went below zero during that time, if that is possible. I could feel it change as I sat crying in the Santiago cathedral. Many pilgrims were crying so there were probably others experiencing miracles.
Third, I did not realize it right away but I have not fallen since I finished El Camino. Falling was not a daily or even weekly event but instead was rather random. Sometimes it takes awhile to notice that something is no longer happening. What scared me the most about falling was the following. I had met a woman in a wheelchair on one of my early two block walks. She was paralyzed from the neck down. She said she had blacked out at home and hit her head on a doorway, breaking her neck. What usually woke me after falling was hitting my head on the floor. I knew it was a matter of time before a fall caused real damage. If I had asked for a miracle, I would probably have chosen to stop falling. We are always given what we need.