I just watched a feature on The Camino, or The Way of St. James – the ancient pilgrimage route that crosses the north of Spain. It has been walked for over a thousand years. If you want to walk the entire five hundred mile trek, you begin on the east at the French border and the Pyrenees and continue to Santiago on the west. I have a friend who walked a portion of it, about one hundred miles, last summer. Along the way your official document, the credencial, is stamped to certify your pilgrimage. At the end the pilgrims enter the cathedral for the noonday mass that gives thanks for safe passage and the gifts of the journey.
People walk the Camino for many reasons. I watched an interview with some of the Peregrinos, Pilgrims, and their answers were often quite different.
For some, the trek came about as the result of talking with or going with friends – another untried adventure. They might be outdoors people and next year it will be hiking the Appalachian trail or the Spine of England or Pan American Highway through Latin America.
Others were escaping. Mostly they were trying to escape the frenetic pace of the wired, work world in which they felt they had been sucked dry. Reconnection with nature, finding ancient pathways released them.
A few were walking for some thinly veiled reach for redemption or liberation from the debris left in their own wake. Some wanted to start over and they really didn’t know where they were headed, except that they were going and waiting and hoping.
Then there were the pilgrims walking the Camino in the spirit of the original purpose, a spiritual trek in the company of the faithful, seeking the grail of the soul, touching the ancient, rehearsing the story, and walking in repentance and a humble spirit, waiting for the Spirit to speak. These were the self-identified religious pilgrims.
The interesting thing, I thought, is how all of these were mixed together, heading the same direction, albeit for different purposes. That is, in my mind, a metaphor for how it is wherever our feet are. Some walk to get away, some to find, some as a spiritual practice, and some need the exercise or the change of pace. My confidence is that whatever the motivation God is going to snag us where we are on the trail. The Camino will be full of surprises even if we are not looking for them.
I think I want to walk it some day, if my bad knee holds out, that is!