It is true that nowadays there are many faster ways to travel 100 kilometers or 62 miles than walking. And yet, the Camino de Santiago de Compostela is more popular than ever. While the major motion picture helped, there is a growing trend towards spiritual journeys, and especially ones that involve walking. Having walked a Camino in 2017, and trekked Mt. Kilimanjaro and the Himalayas in 2018, I can understand the attraction.
There is also a looser relationship with time. You have decided that you will use your own two feet to get wherever you are going each day. You will use your eyes to find the waymarkers, not your GPS. Things will be slow, inefficient, deliberate, exhausting, exhilarating. You have taken time out of your normal rhythms to slow way, way down and do something incredibly inconvenient. Why? Why do more and more people flock to this kind of “vacation” every year?
Each pilgrim’s reasons are different. I can only speak my own. While walking the 80 miles from Ferrol, Spain to Santiago de Compostela in October of 2017 I met lots of people, many of whom were not Christians. One of my favorite things about walking is the common purpose of everyone on the trail. A natural first question to ask someone is “why are you doing this?” and the answers are generally thoughtful and highly personal. There is an instant, deeper connection brought about with everyone simply because we are all walking in the same direction. How comforting it is in life to know that people are on the journey with you, (so much so that we say it here at Coracle often!). Just seeing the same people each day, their signature hat, backpack, walking stick, or gait, is comforting. We are in this together.
The rhythms of life become much simpler. As simple as putting one foot in front of the other, from the starting point to the finish. In a world with so many levels of complexity and tension at ever turn, it is nice to know that in a given day, wherever we are, that’s pretty much the best anyone can do. And it’s restoring and clarifying to think about that for hours and hours, days and days. All I can do is put one foot in front of the other, and move on towards the finish.
And for me, there is nothing so helpful as a long walk to start to unravel internal things. The underlying, slower rhythm of my steps and the quiet, humble goals of each day just to get to the next town and look out for the waymarkers create in me the exact right amount of space to run a comb through the tangled masses of thoughts and feelings generally astir within me. Prayer naturally, and constantly flows with the rhythm of the steps and my breathing. My feet move, and I can work on them. It’s one of the only consistently reliable scenarios in which this process happens for me and every time I get to do it I am truly, truly grateful. It has become a cherished discipline.
It is these reasons that keep my feet on both the literal and figurative paths. And I would imagine that they are not altogether unfamiliar with others with whom I have walked the same trails, whether I knew them or not, whether they acknowledge God or not. And that is how I know that it is true. True things are true whether or not you are a Christian, an atheist or whatever belief system you subscribe to. And the call to be on the journey is a true call that everyone, everywhere, feels to some extent. It has different manifestations but it works the same way in our souls. That is because it is the same God calling everyone to “pick up their mat and walk”, each in his own way.
It is the chance to hear and respond to the echos of this call throughout the ages that reveals the treasures of a long walk. I hope you’ll consider taking one with me this August.