To be a Pilgrim

Well…after two weeks, we’re back from walking part of the Chemin de St Jacques pilgrimage route in France. Regular followers of my blog will be looking forward to John’s usual juicy tales of missed trains, lost tickets, bedbugs in the communal gites, getting soaked up on a windswept plateau, and huge blisters.

I hate to disappoint you, but our travel arrangements worked almost perfectly. The hardest part was buying tickets for the Paris Metro. [How I miss those kiosks whose occupants gabbled at you in incomprehensible rapid-fire French! Now they’ve been replaced by card-only machines that tell you, in perfect English, that yours isn’t valid.] Our feet ‘held up’, and Martin’s old boots did me proud. We had lots of sunshine – in fact, during the second week it was too hot (28ºC) in the afternoons. The scenery, food, the company and the accommodation were excellent. I’ll be writing lots more about it but in a word, if you’re retiring and you’re not too decrepit, we’d thoroughly recommend the Chemin or its better-known continuation, the Camino de Santiago in Spain.

Why did we go? We wanted to embrace a physical challenge whilst also having an adventure holiday. Just before we went, our friends George and Ivy prayed that God would meet us on our pilgrimage. Pilgrimage? In what sense did it serve any spiritual purpose? Most of our fellow walkers, like ourselves, were taking a holiday. But it was interesting to meet some for whom their walk held a deeper significance. Geraldine, a bright young consultant paediatrician from Toulouse, was seeking to regain the spiritual roots that she’d lost from her younger days. Like Louise, an ICU nurse from Paris who had worked in a Covid ward, she was also taking time out to recover from the burn-out of a heavy workload.


The many churches along the route provided cool places to sit, relax and reflect. And amongst the prayers and writings, we found kindred spirits. I translate the story of Charles, aged 30, a seasonal agricultural worker whose concerns echo my own.

“For the first time in my life, I’ve been on a silent retreat. Spiritual questions have intrigued me for several years. Ecology and social justice are close to my heart; I had engaged with development associations and in groups of gilet jaunes (Yellow Vests). However, I became dissatisfied when I realised how militancy was leading to a hardening of human relationships. I wanted to take to retreat, but where? A monastery? I’d no idea how people behaved there.

An internet search led me instead to stay at a hermitage where, for two days, I could walk amongst nature and marvel at Creation. This renewed my motivation to work to safeguard it. For me, it’s a new experience to seek out a Presence, to which I can expose myself. To seek to welcome God’s love. I understand that this same love can restore the link with other humans and with Creation. This offers the most powerful force in our challenge to engage with the issues of today.”

After our pilgrimage I, too, believe God is drawing me to intentionally spend time in quiet with Him, as I engage with the challenges of life and of playing my part in preserving our wonderful planet. Psalm 46 reflects on the wars and tumult of an unstable world, and verse 10 reads:

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.”

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