Ever since we lived in Austria, my husband and I have talked about doing the pilgrimage walk across Spain known as the Camino de Santiago– but children, finances and time keep getting in our way. So the next best thing to actually doing the walk is reading about it. But, lest you think this is a review of Shirley Maclaine’s pilgrimage as detailed in The Camino, it’s not! Rather, it’s a review of a book written by Mennonite minister and seminary professor, Arthur Paul Boers, The Way is Made by Walking, a book written with wonderful insights about his own trek on the pilgrim route.
Boers began his walk of 500 miles just across the France-Spain border in the small French town of St. Jean Pied du Port. As he puts it, he walked 500 miles to church, to find God, to find God’s will for him. This pilgrimage account is much more than a travelogue – although it is that too with advice on how often to stop, where to stop and how to meet and get to know others on the pilgrim way. This book is as much as spiritual journey as a physical one. As the author explains:
On the Camino I was drawn into an ancient spiritual practice, pilgrimage
itself. I prayed much and considered what it means to follow Jesus.
I expanded by understanding of spirituality and heard God’s call to simplify my
life. I read once-familiar Bible passages as if for the first time.
I confronted truths about myself and my own compulsions, matters that I might
When my family and I have done our own pilgrimages, most notably the one to Europe in the Jubilee Year of 2000, our kids describe them as “walking and praying, praying and walking”. And this is exactly how Boers defines pilgrimage, albeit in a bit more elevated terms:
Pilgrimage in its truest sense is religiously motivated travel for the
purpose of meeting and experiencing God with hopes of being shaped and changed
by that encounter. Pilgrimages are often concretely physical … and
The ironic aspect of pilgrimage, as the author explains, is that we often look on a pilgrimage as the destination being more important than the way there. But, and this is where the title of the book comes from, the Way is Jesus and we find Him in the walking and praying … regardless of where we’re going to. Also, a pilgrimage is not truly over until you assimilate what occured on the pilgrimage -- this book is Boers' assimilation written down for us all.
When planning a similar pilgrimage, Boers suggests doing the research, contacting the tour groups, but doing it on your own – even to walking alone on this route. He got much out of having to approach strangers and ask for help, in the solitude and introspection resulting from the solitude, in the chance to let God lead him rather than a tour leader. Just before leaving for Europe on this pilgrimage, Boers heard Matthew 10:9-10 preached – “take no gold or silver or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals”. Boers felt the coincidence keenly – he was meant to travel lightly, graciously accept hospitality when offered, and be “graceful and grateful in representing the reign of God”.
Boers found a recurring theme for his pilgrimage was “trust, trust, trust”. Trust that he could complete the journey. Trust that God would watch over him. Trust that God would lead him. Trust that this was the right thing for him to do. This is a very important aspect of any pilgrimage – even to a local shrine. Boers was attempting a 30+ day journey of 500 miles by himself and yet always in a crowd and with Christian believers and secular skeptics. He trusted and was successful – he made it to Santiago after 31 days.
I highly recommend this book for those who have thought of doing a similar pilgrimage and those who have never thought of doing a pilgrimage. This is both a wonderful account of the physical hardships of a 500-mile journey and the even tougher, more life-changing aspects of the spiritual journey resulting from such a trip.
The Way is Made By Walking by Arthur Paul Boers. Published by InterVarsity Press (P O Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515-1426, www.ivpress.com). 2007. isbn: 978-0-8308-3507-