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.

Published by Rod

I love walking and riding in the hills.

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