Camino de Santiago and the Linoleum Trail

Camino de Santiago and the Linoleum Trail April 1, 2021

A pastor friend who visited my son Christopher in the hospital told Mariko and me the pain he felt for us in walking the long corridors to and from his critical care unit. My son is in a coma after suffering a traumatic brain injury several weeks ago. Here’s what Pastor Jim Sequeira wrote to us:

“I cannot come close to imagining what you all are going through but after checking in at the front, walking down the back hallway and making a right turn to where the elevator is the hallway seemed so long and my heart ached for you. I did imagine how long and difficult a walk that must be for you all each and every day you visit Christopher. It broke my heart. It must be just as long and lonely walking out of the elevator and heading home.”

We deeply appreciated Jim’s pastoral care for Christopher and the entire family. Still, I was struck by the realization that I have never once felt lonely on my hospital pilgrimage back and forth down those corridors on what I call the “Linoleum Trail.” I have only felt a sense of urgency to get to Christopher’s room to be with him as soon as possible. No doubt, the vital realization that I was in the same building as my son—who is alive, the constant awareness of Christ’s presence, and the keen sense that so many people support us, including with vigilant prayers, meditations, and thoughts, have always accompanied me on the journey.

Given COVID restrictions, which limit visitation to one person a day per patient, the hallways are often vacant. I rarely come across a fellow pilgrim passer-by returning from visitation on the Linoleum Trail. If Christopher is soon relocated to a long-term care facility for treatment and rehabilitation, those same COVID restrictions may prevent me from seeing him regularly. So, such long-term restrictions only add to my urgent need and desire to see my son. Surely, I must be accumulating points for some ‘frequent visitor miles’ hospital rewards program with all the long walks down those corridors!

Speaking of accumulating points, throughout history, people have made pilgrimages to attain peace, and, in many cases, to accumulate religious merit (not frequent visitor or frequent flyer miles). Even today, people from various walks of life make spiritual pilgrimages via Camino de Santiago to experience peace and form deeper existential and relational bonds. In case you don’t know about it, “The Camino de Santiago (the Way of St. James) is a large network of ancient pilgrim routes stretching across Europe and coming together at the tomb of St. James (Santiago in Spanish) in Santiago de Compostela in north-west Spain.” (Refer here)

A doctor friend of mine in Portland went on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage with his son last year. My older sister and brother-in-law have pondered making that pilgrimage themselves, though she did wonder what impact lengthy walking would have on their knees (my brother-in-law might even be tempted to ride a golf cart rather than walk to preserve the lifestyle to which he has grown accustomed). As it stands now, the regular sojourns on Linoleum Trail may be my only opportunity any time soon to make a pilgrimage involving my son. As to my own knees and legs, I am already walking with a limp due to how Christopher’s crisis has impacted us as a family. That said, most of us walk about in life with a limp resulting from crises situations and tragedies. We all need some form of relational cane or walking stick, perhaps even crutches, to help us keep going.

I am not trying to attain merit on the Linoleum Trail, though I am a seeker. I am seeking to cultivate increasing connections with my son. As I speak and read to Christopher, pray over him, play music for him, caress his head with my hands, touch his shoulders and arms, hold his hands, move his limbs to assist with his care, and arrange and water the flowers in his room, I am building a deeper bond with my beloved son. What a privilege I have in walking the Linoleum Trail to be with Christopher. I am so grateful to the Lord that he is alive! After visiting for a few hours with “Taka-chan” (an affectionate and shortened form of his Japanese middle name), I feel a sense of release and peace to return home until the next time I can go.

Today and this Holy Week as I go to see Christopher, I will be playing that old gospel tune “In the Garden” in my head. My late mother used to sing it as she went about tending to her daily activities in the house. I only knew her version, not Merle Haggard’s or Caylee Hammack’s renditions. The words and music for “In the Garden” were written by C. Austin Miles in 1912. The song was inspired by the account in John 20 following Jesus’ resurrection, when he is walking in the garden (Refer here for the song writer’s account). Miles cherished his sense of companionship with the risen Lord as he tarried in the garden:

While the dew is still on roses
And the voice I hear falling on my ear
The son of God discloses

And he walks with me and he talks with me
And he tells me I am his own
And the joy we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known.

I don’t need to travel to Spain on some spiritual pilgrimage to meet the risen Jesus, or to a garden in Jerusalem, though both would be wonderful experiences. I meet Jesus every time I walk the Linoleum Trail and as I arrange the garden flowers in my son’s hospital room. My mom will also be joining me on that walk and singing in my head as we visit with Christopher during Holy Week and beyond. Rise up and walk with us, too, my son.

About Paul Louis Metzger
Paul Louis Metzger, Ph.D., is Professor of Theology & Culture, Multnomah University & Seminary; Director of The Institute for Cultural Engagement: New Wine, New Wineskins; and Author and Editor of numerous books, including Setting the Spiritual Clock: Sacred Time Breaking Through the Secular Eclipse, as well as The Gospel of John: When Love Comes to Town. You can read more about the author here.

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