During the summer of 2001, I had the privilege of making an actual pilgrimage on El Camino de Santiago in Northern Spain. The Way of St. James, as it is called in English, is an ancient path still taken by modern-day pilgrims from all over the world. I walked the Camino with Spanish and American friends at the end of a summer in Spain. My experience inspired me to write On the Way, a little book that re-imagines what might have set St. James on a trajectory to become the subject of Camino legends in the first place. Buy a copy on Lulu.com.
Here are a few of my thoughts on pilgrimage from the Preface of On the Way:
“Whether we set out consciously or not, our first steps take us into a world of heightened realities, a world whose possibilities are shaped by the contours of the land along the way and unveiled by…silence, camaraderie, pain and hope.
We set out weighed down by voices from our past and distracted by sound bites shaping our dreams for the future. Yet the farther we travel on the way, the more silence mutes the babble of our noisy allegiances. In its noiselessness, it confronts us with ourselves, and like the whisper of a dying friend, compels us to lean in closer to hear its secrets.
Along the way, we also walk ourselves into a community that transcends loyalty to nation, race, gender, class or creed. Here we honor both the one who offers a helping hand and the one who needs it, both the confident and healthy strider and the lost and wounded straggler. Here we who were far apart somehow find ourselves near to each other. Here we offer the grace of a simple greeting and enjoy a warm meal among fellow pilgrims as if we are all part of some greater story in which every encounter matters.
I think we rest so gratefully in camaraderie because pain dogs us on the way. When our blisters chafe and our shoulders ache, when every rise and fall in the path becomes a test of will, our existence narrows to a view of boots on a trail. If we have the strength to keep walking, pain hardens our bodies and enflames our souls, revealing them as they truly are.
The way itself has been worn for millennia by footsore pilgrims in search of wholeness, so that at times here it seems as if we could almost reach out and touch another world, a deeper, fuller one where treasures await. It woos us with its harmony, not least because we come from wastelands of disharmony scarred by greed, violence, corruption, poverty, despair and apathy. From the way itself we learn that the real value of pilgrimage rests upon our willingness to offer the world what wholeness we attain, in whatever ways our skill and courage will allow. To do this, we must find hope for ourselves and for our world.”