You don’t choose a life, dad. You live one.
–Daniel (Emilio Estevez), “The Way”
Traveling for spiritual enlightenment is an ancient discipline. The only episode of Jesus’ childhood reported in the gospels occurs during his family’s annual trip to Jerusalem for Passover. For centuries Muslims from all over the world have traveled to Mecca for the Hajj. Ashrams, convents, and monasteries welcome guests who wish to study and pray in a retreat setting. (Dojos began this way too, but now they focus primarily on martial arts and less on spiritual development.) Something about being away from your usual life makes introspection and spiritual discovery easier – if you help it to happen.
Intent is a vital ingredient for any travel you do with the hope of spiritual growth. You would approach Jerusalem with different curiosities and hopes than you would Cairo. Walking the labyrinth at Chartres cathedral offers more to the faithful than strolling through the Tuileries in Paris. This is one case where “what you bring with you” makes a huge difference in “what you find there.”
The Camino de Santiago (Way of St. James) has been a popular pilgrimage route since medieval times. Even through the years of Moorish domination, plague, and wars, Christian pilgrims have walked to the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain. The most traveled route crosses from the French Pyrenees slightly inland for 500 miles to the cathedral. Another route follows the northern coast of Spain, and the Portuguese route heads north from Porto to Santiago de Compostela. In the last twenty years the Camino has seen revived interest and now seekers of all backgrounds walk the paths, for reasons as varied as their bright hiking gear. Pilgrims usually stay in inexpensive, rudimentary hostels and are turned out of these by eight o’clock each morning. The fellowship of the hostel and the road provides the chance to consult with others on the best way to deal with blisters and vagaries of weather. The paths are pretty well marked with a stylized shell design based on the pilgrim’s emblem, the scallop shell. Walking for 500 miles through countryside gives one abundant opportunity to examine life, faith, and what happens next.
If you are interested in learning more about life on the Camino de Santiago I recommend the movie “The Way” starring Martin Sheen. It is very true to life. Be sure to watch it to the end. I have seen the cathedral’s huge censer in action on All Saints Day. It is exhilarating to see the coals fanned to visible flames as the botafumeiro swings in nearly 180 degree arcs overhead.
One question to consider seriously when you travel for spiritual development is how many and who will be in your party. Traveling with a group of like-minded people has benefits; your shared orientation can provide shorthand for discussing the things you see and learn. Traveling alone can offer solitude – and loneliness. You will be more likely to meet others if you are alone (or traveling with only one other person) than if you are in a group; rubbing up against others can contribute a great deal to your insights and growth. Traveling with a mixed group can yield amazing results too. I visited Israel with travel agents who were Jewish, Catholic, protestant and un-churched. We had conversations that were deeper and wider than many I have had in ‘religious’ gatherings. That might have been a fluke, but once some of us ‘connected’ over what we were seeing, it was phenomenal!
Please let me know if I can help you follow your urge to get away and grow.
Boundaries divide. Travel unites.
7 February 2013