I am being delightedly inspired by the blog posts of a friend who is walking the Camino di Santiago at present, and how fresh and full and real and … well, flowing it all is: words and images pouring down my screen, feelings and ideas and thoughts and longings and prayers and praises, like the eddies and currents and rushings and splashings and smoothings of a stream as it travels through the landscape. The physical experience of the nonstop walking is undoubtedly less poetic. But pilgrimage consists of both poetry and plodding; and that is part of its peculiar power.
My own experience of pilgrimage resurfaces with some of its vividness as Jim’s blog unfolds. Three years ago, Luca and I walked 250km from Lindisfarne, England, to St Andrews, Scotland, following the coastline northwards and using old pilgrimage routes where we could. Many neglected pilgrim trails from centuries past are being researched and re-established in Scotland as more and more people respond to the call of the ancient pathways and the ancient spiritual practice of pilgrimage. In the Celtic era it was Saints like Cuthbert, Mungo and Margaret who forged these sacred paths; today it might be any ordinary Saint You, Saint Me and Saint Jim who choose to follow, step by step, step by step. For me it was an experience like no other: no agenda but to be present to this day and the path it leads me on. This gentle sky, this drink of water, this aching shoulder, this barking dog, this little village, this traffic noise, this refreshing rainstorm, this welcome lunchbreak, this friendly host, this comfortable (or uncomfortable) bed, this hot shower, this chocolate treat, this me. And all the stuff that I carry with me, in my rucsac, and in my head and heart.
Experiences of grace, yes. Experiences of weariness, yes. Or frustration, sadness, anger, bewilderment, the whole range of emotions that I find – at times to my dismay – that I have taken along with me. Yes. Experiences of joy, yes yes yes. All together just like life.
Jim has posted a wonderful array of photos and it’s great to follow his journey through his eyes in this way, and to be led along by his train of thought. Of course – I say to myself - being on holiday, being in a new country and being on the move make it easy for him to engage with the world in a fresh and meaningful way.
Oh, it is so easy to hear other people’s inspiring stories and to feel like their world is bigger, brighter, more special than my own. Especially when they are gifted in reflecting on and sharing their experiences, as is Jim.
It is so easy to stop looking at my own world with the eyes of expectancy, to stop seeing the signs of freshness and meaning that want to encourage me right here and right now.
So why not choose the pilgrim’s approach myself, for my ordinary today, my unchanging, stay-at-home everyday?
Jim’s story has encouraged me to try; I find It is absolutely worth the attempt. Is it that things now happen, or that I notice what is already there? Whichever way round it is – and I would place my money on the latter - what I am experiencing is good. Like any pilgrim, I start the day by lifting up my eyes and I put one foot in front of the other: steadfast, and faith-full.
Life can be a plod, yes, but there is a poetry too, not only the sort that is printed on paper but also palpably fresh, full, real and … well, like I say, flowing.