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  • Writer's pictureOrdinary Pilgrim

A Journey of a Thousand Miles

Updated: Apr 17, 2020

Photo: Bike and footprints in the path, not far from the town of Sarria on the Camino de Santiago.

I've always liked the quote by Lao Tzu, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."

At different times, it's come to mind when I've needed an inspiration to get moving when I'd rather procrastinate, or to try something new in the face of stagnation. It's provided a small comfort as a reminder that I'm generally always heading toward something.

Over the last couple of years, God has given me plenty of new food for thought around the notion of journeying, though. It was slow to start. I would have an occasional overwhelming sense that He was present in something happening right in front of me.

Sometimes it was something big and obvious, like a church service where a father washed the feet of his son. More often, though, these moments were more subtle - a song, a book, a perfectly timed comment or gesture of kindness that God used to let me know he was there.

As time went on, momentum increased, and I began to sense more and more of God's leading. I was given an opportunity to participate in a pilgrimage, and it was in preparing for this physical journey that I began to get a glimpse of some of the paths open to me for transformation.

One path called for beginning to understand the miraculous body God had given me to live in and to consider how I treated it. Another path asked me to better understand how I think about myself, others, and the world around me. Yet another path called me to own my identity as God's child and to question my tendency toward seeking God in a vacuum, making room to seek Him in community instead.

Each of these paths would require me to consider leaving behind some of my figurative baggage to make room for what God wanted to give me for and through my journey. It was a journey that culminated, or so I thought, early in the summer of 2019, with my pilgrimage on part of the Camino de Santiago.

I had worked to keep my expectations in check. I had prepared myself just to be happy to have some time away to walk with God. What I was not prepared for was the all-out way God showed up. Nothing I had learned under his guidance was wasted. Everything he had been teaching me was magnified as I made my way.

In his book The Exquisite Risk, Mark Nepo writes, "To journey without being changed is to be a nomad. To change without journeying is to be a chameleon. To journey and be transformed by the journey is to be a pilgrim."

Upon returning, I found I identified with all it means to be a pilgrim, and I realized my journey was far from over. I had all the restlessness and uncertainty and plain old feeling lost that I could stand. To begin to come to terms with it, I took to heart a greeting between pilgrims on the Camino dating to at least the 12th century, "Ultreia et suseia!" It means "go further, and go higher."

In a blog post on this ancient exchange, Rev. Bosco Peters writes, "I interpret the saying as encouraging pilgrims not just to go physically onwards ('Ultreia!'), but also to grow spiritually, to go 'upwards' ('et Suseia!')." (His entire post can be found here; a web search on the phrase will provide even more background.)

For me, it meant there's no culmination, just opportunity. Even for the earliest pilgrims, there was always the trip back home and all the life changes ignited by their experience!

A literal translation for Lao Tzu's quote offered on Wikipedia reads "a journey of a thousand Chinese miles starts beneath one's feet." The journey is always beginning right here where I stand, living into what I've experienced of God's grace and love.

It continues as I rely on that grace to explore ways of deepening my relationship with God. In this moment for me, it is defined by a beautiful mystery, that is the balance between recognizing the God that is already present and surrounding me, and moving toward the God who calls me even closer to Him, forward in action and higher in purpose.

Welcome to My Walking Around Life, an occasional blog charting some of the lessons learned in my ongoing spiritual formation. Today's photo illustrates an important truth; I know I am not on this path alone. I value what others are learning, too. If you have a photo, story, or other inspiration you'd like to share here, visit the ABOUT PARTICIPATING page, or contact me at

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