The Camino de Santiago is a pilgrimage.
In our post-religious, western world, one might ask, what is a pilgrimage?
I’ve heard it described as a leaving-of-the-normal in an effort to experience a new birth, to die to the boundaries and securities of the known to find life in a way never imagined before. I like this, leaving normal to experience something new (deeper, more meaningful?).
A good follow-up question is, what is a pilgrim?
When you hear the word, does your mind conjure up images of early English sitting around a Thanksgiving table? Or maybe John Wayne calling someone this right before he pummels them and saves the world? Or maybe you think of the creepy guy pictured on the Quaker Oatmeal box? Or, if you’re a devoted Reformer, Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress? Or if a millennial, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World?
It’s interesting how the word has strayed from the original pilgrim idea. From a religious perspective, a pilgrim is a religious devotee, someone figuratively journeying along the path of their religion. And pilgrims are literally serious enough to take pilgrimages (refer to the opening question and answer). The Hebrews to Jerusalem. Hindus to the Ganges. Buddhists to Bodh Gaya or Kailosh. Muslims to Mecca. Christians to Jerusalem, Rome, or Santiago de Compestela.
So a pilgrim is someone that takes a pilgrimage. The most satisfying answer comes from Pope Francis, he describes a pilgrim like this:
“…to be a pilgrim means primarily to be in movement, to be uninstalled, to go out from stillness, which becomes a comfort that paralyzes and waits – inactive, routine, formalistic – and to advance free of conditions, to read with realism the events of existence.”
Yes, well said. I am a pilgrim. And as a middle-class, middle-aged American male, the second most provocative idea of a pilgrim, for me, is stirred by the band, Young the Giant, in their song, “Cough Syrup.” The song doesn’t speak of pilgrimage in any way. It speaks mockingly of avoiding the realism of existence; settling for an inactive, routine, and formulaic life.
Suburbia. 401K. Mortgage. Status quo. Career-Retirement-Death.
A pilgrim dives headfirst into pilgrimage, to a basic existence, in hopes of finding true existence.
I think walking the Camino de Santiago has always been an irrational act…
It’s definitely irrational from my perspective; that of a middle-aged, middle-class, American male.
- It takes a long time, 30 to 45 days on the most popular route (Camino Frances). Most of us can’t take a month and a half off of work, or away from family and responsibilities.
- This pilgrimage is a walk, 500 miles in mountains, over the plains, along the highways and by-ways of Spain. It’s a beautiful place and certainly worth seeing but there are many more efficient modes of transport than walking.
- There is a good chance you will be injured on the walk. Why use your hard-earned vacation time to develop chronic shin splints, infected blisters the size of golf balls, muscle aches, joint pain, sunburns, and probably a few bed bug bites along the way?
- Then there is a good chance the outcome will not be what you expected. You might arrive in Santiago de Compostela AND FIND NOTHING HAS CHANGED WITH YOU save a few callouses, rock-hard calves, and a newfound love for chilled red wine.
A pilgrimage walk on the Camino de Santiago is an irrational act.
And that’s why I did it.
I think the world needs more people willing to step out of the rat race-mundane-status quo just for the chance to do something irrational. Maybe the first step to victory is to recognize there is more to life than the rat race-mundane-status quo that others have convinced us is the key to successful living…