I thought about this yesterday when Father Ron Smith asked me
"Do you think your recent pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella, via el Camino, have any constructive part in this new facility for 'taking time' in meditation and prayer?"
While the short answer is "yes" the longer answer is about the incidental lessons of the Camino. On the Camino I learned a lot about Spain, and the ancient pilgrimage and its infrastructure. Incidentally, I also learned to make a journey.
There is a world of difference between journeying and traveling.
Traveling is about getting from where I am now to some other place, and it is done in as fast, as comfortable, as economical and as convenient a way as possible. When traveling, if you don't reach your destination it has all been a colossal waste of time and energy. On a journey on the other hand, although the destination is important, it is the time spent in moving towards the destination that matters most. A journey engages me and requires me to exercise skill and judgement. It requires me to make choices and take risks. If I journey somewhere and don't reach my destination, nothing much is lost as the journey itself carries its own reward.
Universally, human beings speak of the inner life in terms of journey. One of the earliest names for the Christian Gospel, for example is The Way. The Camino, in teaching me to make a physical, outer journey, taught me skills that are directly transferable to the inner journey, that of my of my very being towards God. What the Camino taught me is:
- To travel light. To learn what is absolutely essential, to care for those things and to abandon everything else. To live as simply as possible and make as little impact as possible on the world around me.
- To be present in the moment. To be aware of what is happening around me but not to concern myself overly with the destination, until it actually arrives when it too will be part of my present.
- To overcome pain and difficulties. Blisters, shin splints, tendinitis, inclement weather or the loss of equipment, are setbacks to be overcome or worked around, not excuses to stop.
- To walk with the given community of those moving in the same direction and at the same pace. To share with these members of my new family whatever I can, and accept gladly what they have to offer.
- To persevere. To realise that if I take just one step after another I can make it through a long day, and I can progress steadily over this relentless landscape.
- To be grateful for the many blessings encountered on the way.
- To trust those who have gone before and those who have marked the trail.
- Not to take short cuts. Whenever I try to make the journey easier: by catching a bus rather than walking; by eating in a restaurant rather than shopping and cooking; by booking ahead at a hotel rather than risking an albergue I also, in some small way, lessen its worth and subvert its teachings.
So when I finally stop my own inner chatter enough to hear the call which has always been there: to follow on this longer but more present, arduous but more restful, demanding but more rewarding journey, I do so knowing that the small inner steps I make daily are carrying me towards the great goal set for me. And I know that regardless of how far I get, the journey has its own rewards.