Posted by Clark Bates
June 12, 2018
I recently returned from two weeks of walking an ancient pilgrimage known as the Camino de Santiago. This pilgrimage has existed since the early 9th century, wherein Christians walked from their homes or a particular place of origin to the tomb of James, the Son of Zebedee, located in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. My particular portion of this pilgrimage began in Porto, Portugal, and required that I walk 240km from there to Santiago. I entered into this pilgrimage with the desire for time to hear from the Lord and walk through a piece of history.
I entered Portugal alone, and walked alone for the first few days. Other pilgrims, or “peregrinos” as we are called in Spanish, walked as well, each for their own reasons, but very few conversations were had. However, approximately 4 days into the pilgrimage, I began to see and speak with many of the same people. This group of roughly 12 people became my “camino family”. Because we always saw each other each day, we often talked more frequently, and we always seemed to end up in the same hostels each night. As the days wore on, we shared meals together, and quite a bit more.
While I have learned a great deal about myself in these last two weeks, much of it is more in line with spiritual teaching rather than apologetic ministry and while I intend to devote a section of this website to the lessons I have learned while walking, there is one reality that has been made incredibly clear to me that I feel does have an apologetic impact for the Christian community.
I’ve often heard it claimed that the apostles cannot be trusted as reporters of accurate information for various reasons. They were biased; their memories of the events would not be reliable, or they only had three years with Jesus, therefore they couldn’t possibly know all that Jesus taught. It’s the last two objections to the apostles teaching that I’d like to address here.
What you Learn While Walking
On average, I walked 20km every day while walking the Camino de Santiago. I would wake up, load my backpack and set out into the morning air. After a few miles, I’d stop for a coffee, meet a few other pilgrims and begin again. We’d all walk anywhere from 6 to 10 hours each day, and in that time, we’d talk, laugh, sometimes cry, and share all of our lives with each other. As this becomes your life, day in and day out, you learn a few things about the life of a peripatetic.
- You don’t get anywhere fast. This may seem obvious but I think we take this for granted in our modern world. Each day it would take me 8 hours to cover the same amount of ground that someone might travel by car in only 30 minutes. As a result, the amount of time on your hands becomes exponential. There are no distractions. There is only the walk. You have the time to observe everything around you, to pray, to think, to talk. In short, you use every hour of the day available to you.
- Walking hurts. This one may be subjective, but as a generality when you walk great distances in a single day or over a lengthy period of time, you body begins to ache. This could be in the form of blisters on the feet, sore knees, twisted ankles, bruised heels or any number of potential injuries. While not all experience every injury, on a long enough timeline, everyone gets hurt at least once. Why does this matter? Because when you travel in a group, your injuries become one of many things that bind you together. Because you’re together every day, all day, you share meals, triumphs and failures, and each event, injuries included, becomes the means of unification.
- You Build Real Relationships. I walked with the same groups of people for two weeks straight. Every day we would see each other. Every night we’d share a meal and/or sit around the table and talk. When we saw each other walking, we’d discuss things as we travelled. I met men and women from all over the world, not one of whom I had ever met before. This is also something we take for granted in our technological age, but when you walk with others you have more time to invest in them and they in you. In two weeks’ time, I developed closer relationships with strangers from Germany, South Africa, Bavaria, Brazil, Ireland and Australia, than I have had with people of my own country over periods of years. The primary reason for this was the amount of time available to dedicate to knowing them.
The Apologetic of Walking
I point these things out for one simple reason, my experience on the Camino revealed a deep truth to me. Like many, I’ve always felt that Jesus’ ministry being limited to 3 years was awfully restrictive. I believe this is why you find stories of Jesus traveling to India or Gnostic texts seeking to describe his life as a child. 3 years doesn’t seem like enough time. In addition to that, you have the common objection that not only do the apostles not have much time with Jesus, they couldn’t possibly remember what was said to them with any degree of accuracy.
Many responses have already been made to this latter argument, whether it be about the nature of the event being easier to recall or the type of culture in which oral tradition was passed down more readily, so I don’t wish to restate those. However, my experience walking 240km, has given me a taste of what life walking with Jesus may have been like, and it has demonstrated something profound to me. 3 years, spent walking with an individual every day, is a lifetime.
You see, even though this is likely subconscious, we tend to judge what we read or hear about the life of Jesus by modern standards. While this is something we should strive to avoid, we can’t really be judged too harshly for it, since this life is all we really know. We think of 3 years in terms of what our last 3 years looked like. We can barely remember a single specific conversation in those 3 years let alone every detail. We think of how busy our days are, and how much we have to accomplish. We lose track of the hours in paychecks, traffic jams, dirty diapers, and school. In modern terms 3 years becomes a blur of good intentions and not enough time. We then feed this experience back into what we read and unintentionally judge the data by an unfair standard.
So, allow me to try to help you see 3 years in the light of my two weeks on the slow road. Everyday you can wake up to see the sun rise. You move out to start your day in absolute silence. Your thoughts are free to go where they need. Prayer is readily available and always constant. Your body tells you when to rest and when to move. Then you gather others around you and within the first few hours of your day you know where they’re from and why they’re there with you. Over time, each hour brings out more of the individual. Suddenly strangers have told you about their spiritual beliefs, their failed marriages, their lost child, and you’ve begun to share the same intimate details of your own life. You do this because you have to! You can’t take the slow road and always keep your conversations superficial. If you want to grow with each other you have to open up to each other.
In two weeks my friends knew my faith and my struggles. They knew of my childhood and my odd quirks. I laughed at their jokes and we all enjoyed the cultural differences between us. I know why Toby from Germany works in pharmaceuticals. I know about Shane from Ireland’s failed relationships. I know about Anna from Berlin’s father and what he meant to her. And they could say the same of me. In only 2 weeks I was bonded to these people and they to me primarily because we had nothing but time in front of us and each other beside us! And I remember everything that was said between us.
If that was possible for me in only 2 weeks, what do you think happens in 3 years? Jesus and his apostles shared a lifetime with one another in 3 years. The amount of teaching and growing that would have occurred with these men defies any modern understanding because we can’t understand the slow road while driving on the Interstate. To spend 3 years with Jesus and walk everywhere is to have every hour of the day uninterrupted and available for learning. To share each meal every day for 3 years is to laugh and cry and rub sore feet together. It’s to become family.
To borrow a claim, the apostles didn’t witness an inaugural address on the television from another state thousands of miles away, they lived every waking moment with each other and the Lord. They discussed the same subjects repeatedly. They argued and agreed. They worshipped. They suffered. There is no doubt that the memories of 3 years with Jesus were forever burned into their minds. To know someone in that way for 3 years is not a limitation but a blessing. It would be like experiencing a 40-year marriage to the same person along today’s standards.
In the apologetics community we make a lot of statements about experience not being enough evidence. Anyone can have an experience, no matter what they believe. But in this case, the evidence can really only be understood through the experience. Experience becomes evidence when we live in an age where the evidence gets lost in translation. For me, I walked the slow road; I walked many miles in the apostles’ shoes; I even sat before the ossuary of one. That experience has forever changed me, but what’s more it has made evidence clear to me in a way that it has never been. What was once head knowledge has now become heart knowledge, and if you read this and think to yourself, “I want to do that” all I have to say to you is, “start walking.”
Experience becomes evidence when we live in an age where the evidence gets lost in translation.