Keep Walking: An Invitation to Pilgrimage with Shalem on the Camino de Santiago

Walking has long been a pillar of my spiritual life. As a child, I remember walking with my grandmother around her neighborhood and mine, noticing the rabbits hopping about and the birds whizzing from feeder to feeder. I recall many walks with my mother at the cemetery, laying flowers on her father’s grave and listening to her memories. Each fall, I’d walk with my dad at Cook Forest State Park near Clarion, PA, the ancient trees and glorious leaves capturing my imagination. These walks, I think, piqued a sense of wonder and curiosity.

I didn’t have the language for it then, but now I can see how those walks freed me, at least temporarily, from the anxieties and pressures I was carrying. Yes, children do carry anxieties and pressures, and I think it’s good for us adults to remember that. I was learning through the movement of my body in ordinary and extraordinary places how to be present and how to notice God at work in myself and the world around me. I recognize this freedom today – and the connections these walks forged with my companions – as God beckoning.

Before coming to work at Shalem, I spent over three years as a lobbyist for municipal electric utilities. This work involved regular travel to many places across the US, and I tried to incorporate walking into my itineraries. In Rhode Island, I made time for the Cliff Walk along the Atlantic Coast. In San Francisco, I walked the Golden Gate Bridge both ways. Work often made me feel crazed, frustrated, stifled. I’d start these walks feeling overwhelmed by to-do lists, leadership dilemmas, and the (healthy) sense of outrage at my and the world’s problems. And on the walk, I’d give them all away. In dialogue with God, I’d metaphorically toss them over the cliff or off the bridge. The longer I walked, the easier it was to release these difficulties, to argue with God for awhile, and then let them go. They might get replaced with deeper questions and wonderings. I’d ponder those awhile, then toss those overboard too. After awhile I’d feel at peace, not having to say anything to God anymore, able to listen and receive. I’m always grateful for God’s patience.

There is something in the continuous movement of my body during these long walks that brings my connection to God into better focus. Stillness and quiet are tried and true practices of the contemplative path, and I value them immensely. At the same time, I find the practice of walking uniquely opens me to God’s movement. In moving my body, in noticing my surroundings, I’m able to work things out, release what is beyond my control, and reimagine options and possibilities. There’s something in the immediacy and physicality of walking that touches something deeper in my being. And I find that when I have companions to share the journey with, the connection can be stronger.

And so, I invite you to walk with me and Brenda Bertrand next summer on the Camino de Santiago in Spain. The Camino is a network of trails that extend across Spain and much of Europe. The various legs of the Camino all lead to Santiago de Compostela, a city in northwest Spain. Legend has it that the remains of St. James are kept in the cathedral there, and centuries ago pilgrims began journeying to them for healing and penance. While I don’t believe the relic in the crypt possesses supernatural healing powers, I do know the walk there can be transformative. It was for me, when I first walked the Camino in 2019. As the old cliché goes, it’s the journey, not the destination that counts.

We’ll walk a portion of the Portuguese Way in July 2022. Despite the name, the portion we’ll walk is entirely located in Spain. As we journey, we’ll remember our intentions, what we’re bringing to this journey, what we’re honoring, what we’re wrestling. We’ll make space to release what we feel called to let go of, and as we near the historic cathedral we’ll begin to reimagine our lives in light of this shared experience. This pilgrimage experience will be unique for all who make it, but supported in contemplative community and by the stories of saints that have made their own unique pilgrimages, like Harriet Tubman and Dorothy Day.

All pilgrims will need to do some physical preparation to make this seven-day walk. But many people, at many different stages in life, make this trek every year. Indeed, the group I walked with included people in their 20s and people in their 70s (and lots in between). To learn more about the pilgrimage, preparation, and other practicalities, I invite you to an information session on Zoom on Saturday, Oct. 2 at 10:00 AM Eastern. If that time doesn’t work for you, we have another scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 10 at 7:00 PM Eastern.

At the end of my pilgrimage in 2019, as I stood gazing at the historic cathedral after a week of walking, I felt a deep sense of God’s peace and presence. I had been wrestling over my sense of call to spiritual leadership, as well as honoring the life of my uncle who had passed away shortly before the walk began. For me the journey invoked a deeper appreciation for time and how I spend it, what’s important to God and what time means for God. Considering the cycle of life and death, dying and rising, I could feel obstacles and hurdles fall away, and a sense of new direction and trust open up. What had been stuck had been loosened, had been freed, on this walking pilgrimage.

With a great sense of gratitude, two words bloomed in my mind: Keep walking. I plan to, and whether you can join me next summer or not, I invite you to do the same.

October 10, 2021 by Jackson Droney 2 Comments
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2 years ago

Thanks for sharing some of your story. Walking the labyrinth came to mind several times this morning as I listened to the info session. The theme of the Camino trip is so similar. Thanks so much for all of the info you shared. It was so helpful.

2 years ago
Reply to  Charlotte

Charlotte, I’m so glad that you found the time helpful. I love walking labyrinths! And I agree that our themes for this pilgrimage apply to that practice of walking also.


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