Many years ago, Eric and I hiked a 10 day section of a path called Camino de Santiago, or the Way of St. James. This is a pilgrimage route which extends from many different places throughout Europe and culminates in the west coast seashore town of Santiago de Compostela, Spain, where the bones of St. James are said to be buried. There is a legend about St. James, that after his beheading in the year 44, that his bones floated from Jerusalem to Spain, which he had visited during his missionary years earlier. So people from all over the world, not just Catholics, but from many different religious traditions- walk this path called the Way of St. James. For Catholics it is an act of religious devotion- and people are given a special dispensation at the end after they walk it. But these days, people from all around the world walk together on this path- sharing faith, doubt, and spiritual practice together.
The stretch of path that Eric and I walked was from St. Jean Pied de Port, France over the Pyrenees mountains, through the Basque country, past Pamplona and on into central Spain. We walked the path shortly after our first baby was stillborn, and along that path we talked about our grief and our healing. It was a path of pondering, considering, and growth.
There were some difficult moments along that path, especially over the Pyrenees. One day, after traveling several miles, I was at the bottom of a huge ravine, and it was muddy and slippery. The pack on my back was too heavy, my feet had too many blisters, and I was just too tired to make it up. In front of me was a Peruvian man, and he called to me in Spanish and said, I will help you- take my hand.
He then took out this beautiful rock which held a blue colored crystal- that he had carried for many weeks on his path. He said, here hold onto this- and you will have courage. With one hand holding the rock, and the other hand held firmly by my trail angel, little by little we made it up that slippery path.
The rock traveled with me every day onward along the Camino, a sign that God would send someone as a guide or helper at pivotal moments. I eventually lost track of that Peruvian man on the Camino- so I just call him my trail angel. He was there for me at exactly the time that I needed, and he helped me onto the next point in the path.