If all goes well, and God wills it, at the end of March I will begin to walk the Camino de Santiago. It’s about time.
I have been thinking, dreaming, and planning for this for nearly 20 years. I first read about the pilgrimage to Santiago Compostela in a 14th century biography, The Book of Margery Kempe. Margery, a quirky English mystic, took several pilgrimages over the years, including Rome, and Jerusalem. The medieval and ancient concept of pilgrimage fascinated me.
Then a year later I got to know a couple who cycled the Camino and I found out about the French Way, the Camino Frances. Each year it seemed I met someone, a work colleague or a friend, who had walked the Camino. Author/friend Arthur Paul Boers wrote a book about his experience, The Way is Made by Walking. I loved reading about the community of seeking people that he met along the way. I especially liked the way Boers described walking as “going at the speed of life.” I wanted myself to slow down—my life speed was way faster than walking.
In more recent years I have met even more people who have walked the Camino, and as I drew up lists places to go, or adventures to have, walking the 500 mile Camino Frances was always on the list. Author Dave Landis of the Village to Village guidebooks is another friend and neighbor and a few years ago he handed me a copy of his book on the Camino de Santiago to review. After devouring his volume, I knew I had to do it and I began to lay plans. But time was still the question.
Now, being able to walk the Camino is about finally taking the time to fulfill a dream.
But taking this pilgrimage is also “about time” in another way.
Over the past dozen years, I have relocated my family twice and changed jobs, launched the last of my six children, risen to the pinnacle of my profession. But my last job, as a publisher for the Mennonite Church, was demanding. I traveled a good deal, spent time on the road, in the air, in airports and hotels. My life was very scheduled, with meetings to attend, phone calls to make, a constant stream of emails to pour over, manuscripts to review, spreadsheets and reports to read or prepare. I had “to-do” lists that were impossibly long. I became good at what I did, but my spirit was suffering from too much “busy-ness.” I wanted life to slow down so that I could savor it more. I had a longing for the “luxury of time.”
Ironically, during those years I even taught seminars about how to cure “hurry sickness” even while I suffered from a seemingly incurable case of it. I knew something had to change.
So when I say that it’s “about time,” I also mean that the desire to walk the Camino is about seeing time in a very different way. It’s about having time, experiencing the “luxury” of time.
This year I left my job and I am taking a sabbatical—for the whole year. I’m opening myself up to what I can experience in life if I lay aside all the planning and stress that normally comes with each day. For years what I had longed for the most was to eliminate “hurry” from my life. Walking the Camino now becomes a way that I reorient myself to this new way of living. As my friend Arthur Boers said in his book, “Technological culture—in spite of ‘labor-saving’ rhetoric and devices—actually makes us busier. Pauses, breaks and respites have disappeared. The norm of multitasking leaves us unaware of what goes on within or around us. But walking can move us into a different mode. Einstein showed us that time is relative. Moving on our own two feet has its own pace; I call it the speed of life.” What I hope to learn as I walk the Camino is how to move into this new mode and live at the “speed of life.”
While I know that I can walk 500 miles in 31 days, I am going to allow myself a longer time. I’m not going to schedule myself. My only plan is to get up each day, walk and see what happens, see who I meet, experience whatever the day has for me. I will try to go about 15 miles a day, and that’s the most structure I will keep. When asked about what I intend to do while I walk, I reply, “think, pray, talk to strangers and new friends and see what opens up for me each day.” This is the opposite of my tight schedule, fast-paced work, and home life. It’s an attitude that I hope that I can keep when I return.
In the 1970’s I went to a large state university where I had to walk four to five miles per day between my apartment/dorm and classes. I enjoyed the walk—I often found it allowed me to think freely and creatively. Lately, I have taken to walking to any destination I can around town, even if it takes me longer. (I often frustrate neighbors and other drivers when I turn down their invitation for a lift.) I hope and pray that simply walking will allow my creative juices to flow, that I can let new inspiration percolate to the surface of my life again.
Lastly, I hope and pray that when I return from Santiago, I will keep with me a new orientation as a “Peregrinatio” or pilgrim in life. I pray that I may keep with the words of St. Columbanus, who in the sixth century said, “Therefore let this principle abide with us, that on the road we live as travelers, as pilgrims, as guests of the world…, singing with grace and power, ‘When shall I come and appear before the face of my God?’”
This post was written by Russ Eanes who will soon be starting the Camino. He leaves SJPP on the 29th or 30th of this month!
 Quoted in The Celtic Way of Prayer, by Esther De Waal