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Learning to Walk: A Pilgrimage from Le Puy en Velay to Santiago de Compostela

August 12, 2022

“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move; to feel the needs and hitches of our life more nearly; to come down off this feather-bed of civilisation, and find the globe granite underfoot and strewn with cutting flints.”

Robert Louis Stevenson, Travels with a Donkey

Getting Ready, August 11, 2022

Learning to walk? I’m 62! I’ve been walking for 61 years, give or take a few months. But I’m about to learn to walk all over again. Two weeks from today I fly to Paris. Two weeks from tomorrow I will take the train from Paris to Le Puy en Velay, the starting point for the Via Podiensis, or Chemin de Puy, one of the traditional pilgrimage routes across France, to St.-Jean-Pied-de-Port at the foot of the Pyrenees. Two days later I will start on my roughly 1500 km pilgrimage across France and Spain. At St.-Jean-Pied-de-Port I will pick up the Camino Frances, the most popular of many Camino routes across Spain to Santiago de Compostela.

I have wanted to walk the Camino since first hearing about it–maybe two or three decades ago? But it was always something I would do in the distant future, when I had time. Well, now I have the time! And I am realizing more and more that the future is now!! I have three months to walk about 1000 miles. When my church’s Session (governing body) voted about a year and a half ago to give me this sabbatical I realized with delight, “I can walk the Camino!” Then a friend lent me Beth Jusino’s book, Walking to the End of the World: A Thousand Miles on the Camino de Santiago, and I realized I didn’t just want to walk the Camino across Spain, I wanted to walk across France, too, on the Chemin de Puy.

Am I ready? After all, I’ve had at least a year and half to prepare. Nope. I wish I was in much better physical condition. I wish my apartment and office were better organized. But it’s been a very full 18 months–an ongoing pandemic to deal with, a church in transition, a daughter finishing high school, parents with serious health issues. I’m not totally unprepared–I have been doing a lot more walking than usual, and I’ve been doing physical therapy to strengthen the joints that ache, but I will just have to start slowly, take lots of breaks, and if I find I can’t carry my pack the way I hope to, I’ll send it ahead.

What does it mean to go on a pilgrimage? I’m not sure I can fully answer that question yet. I think I will be discovering the answer(s) to that as I walk. Or perhaps I will just discover more questions. What do I hope to gain/learn? What does it mean to learn to walk again? To slow down. To see the world at a walking pace. As Stevenson says in the quote above, which I found in the Writer’s Museum in Edinburgh, “to find the globe granite underfoot.” To get grounded. To unplug. Yes, I’ll have my phone with me, but I don’t plan to be plugged into it all the time, and I am taking my work email account off of it entirely! Even now on my daily walks I am making a point of not listening to a book or podcast or music, but simply walking. Let my mind wander. Notice what’s around me. See what pops into my head. Reflect. Pray. Breathe. I hope this walk across France and Spain is a pause. A time to re-connect with myself, with God.

This is a time of transition: At age 62 I am into the third stage of life. I sincerely hope I am only at the beginning of that third third! In a month, I will have been in my position as Associate Pastor at Madison Ave Presbyterian Church for 20 years. I am now just under five years from retirement. What do I want to bring to these next five years? My daughter is leaving for her first year of college in just over a week. I will return from sabbatical to an “empty nest.” What will life look like without her at home? It is possible that my congregation will have called a new senior pastor by the time I return at the end of November. Another major transition. What will life look like as we continue to move through the pandemic? What will our national landscape look like after the November elections? There is so much in life and in our world that is anxiety-producing right now. I need to learn to walk in this fraught world without being overcome by anxiety. I hope this pilgrimage provides the space to learn to walk through the third third of life with hope, renewed conviction, and a deeper well of faith to draw upon.

It is a privilege to have this time and the resources to make this pilgrimage. To learn to walk again. I am deeply grateful for it–grateful to the church for granting me the time and support to do this, to my colleagues for taking on extra responsibilities in my absence, to Will and Lisa for so faithfully taking care of Mom and Dad, to the “aunties”–close friends who have been in Em’s life since she came home–for being on call for her if she needs them while I am gone, to Kate for taking Buttercup for the fall, to another friend taking care of the cats, and to Em for assuring me that she will be fine while I’m across the Atlantic this first semester of college.

I hope you’ll join me on the journey! I will try to post daily, wifi and energy-willing!

Hiking in Acadia earlier this summer–a long day of walking as part of a not-so-successful attempt to train!

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  1. Nancy Hobson permalink

    Looking forward to reading more, as I’m hoping for the same journey myself!

  2. Amy Jo (Stewart) Paukert permalink

    Hi Beverly! I just happened to come across your blog on my husband’s face book page. I hope you have a wonderful and renewing journey. I’ll look forward to following your blog as you make your pilgrimage.

    • Hi Amy Jo! It’s so nice to hear from you. Thank you for the good wishes, and I’m glad you’ll be following along.

  3. Nancy permalink

    Hi Beverly. Just got caught up on your blog entries as I knew you were leaving on the 25th for France. So glad we can follow you on your journey this way. Reminds me of the movie “The Way” a bit. 🙏🏻

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