Yesterday, I met two women, both Methodist ministers, who have walked the road from St Jean Pied de Port to Compostela. It’s a pilgrim route, 500 miles long.
They walked it last May, taking everything except a tent with them, and it took them 5 weeks. They described the hardships of the walk: blisters, tiredness, the weather (torrential rain), lack of food. It wasn’t as if there were supermarkets to shop in. Sometimes they just went without food if there was no shop in the village where they slept. They stayed in hostels, in rickety bunk beds, surrounded by snoring travellers. (Germans and Koreans were the worst offenders). Hostels sometimes offered food, but you get fed up with steak and chips after a few days. On one occasion, tired at the end of the day, and with no food, a local family gave them some bread and a bottle of wine.
I get the feeling that walking the pilgrim route in this way would be incredibly challenging. You cannot book a bed ahead of time at these hostels, so you just have to hope that there is a bed when you get there. If someone passes you on the route, you ask yourself if they will get the last bed in the hostel, which is an encouragement not to slow down too much.
I said to them ‘After all these hardships, you must have had a great sense of satisfaction when you finally arrived at Compostela’
They answered that it was not the arriving, but the journey that was important. The first morning after they arrived at Compostela, they felt like they should be walking again. Having spent 5 weeks walking day after day, it didn’t seem right not to walk. They even described a feeling of bereavement having finished the pilgrimage.
Another reflection that they shared with me was this. For many Christians, faith is about arriving at our final destination (heaven) – We are saved for heaven. The Christian message is often explained in terms of having sins forgiven so that when we die we can go to heaven. For them, the pilgrimage made them realise that however important the destination is, it’s the journey that teaches us and shapes us. Being ‘saved’ is about life and living, here and now.
Thanks to Sue and Bev