With this provoking statement by O’Donohue, Joyce Rupp begins her reflections in Chapter Two [Walk in a Relaxed Manner: Life Lessons from the Camino by Joyce Rupp] on being a pilgrim. She admits that walking the Camino in Spain as a pilgrim sounded so romantic, exciting and rewarding. But she quickly learned that being a pilgrim entails long, arduous walks through unknown territory, in uncertain weather, coping with strange food, primitive comfort facilities and without really knowing if she would have a decent place to sleep in the evening. However, she realizes that the beauty of the journey in the end more than compensates for the difficulties met.
One day as she was complaining about the tough conditions, she heard another pilgrim remark: “Pilgrims accept what is given to them.” That traveler reminded Joyce to be grateful for each piece of food she ate, each bed she slept in, and each person who treated her kindly along the way. Joyce writes that she then realized what being a pilgrim really meant:
“To be a pilgrim is to be willing to live with the mystery of what will happen both interiorly and exteriorly as one walks day after day after day toward the destination of the sacred site. What happens inside cannot be planned or mapped out in the same way that the physical route is mapped. Becoming a pilgrim means there are no maps of the heart. One simply holds onto the hand of the Great Pilgrim and travels with hope that one day the spiritual benefits of the road will reveal themselves and be understood.”
We are all pilgrims. The life we live is our pilgrimage. It is how we live, how we respond to what life brings us, that creates the difference in our spiritual … and physical … journey. I always marvel when I return to visit my roots in Vermont, USA, that people comment on how much younger I look than my sister and brother who are four years younger than I am. I contribute that to the fact that I have learned to live gratefully, accepting what I have, whether little or much, as gifts from God.
God has delighted in taking me out of my comfort zones and setting my feet on pilgrimage through strange and unknown experiences … into a different culture (Western to Eastern), a different climate (cold temperate to hot tropical), a vastly different life situation (life on a mountain farm to life in a busy city), and from single independence to happily married dependence. It has been and continues to be a pilgrimage from strength to strength, from blind acceptance of His plan for me to awed wonder at the beauty I have experienced in my life.
Joyce’s reflections strike a deep chord within me because they express the unspoken feelings in my heart. I share her conclusions about the pilgrimage of life: “As a pilgrim, life gets simpler and the mind becomes clearer. The heart loses its hold on what is left behind and resonates more and more with the beauty of what is. In the rhythm of the journey, the spirit gathers its own rhythm of adventure and harmony.” And so I will look forward to the beauty and newness of each day in my life pilgrimage.