Pilgrim’s progress: walking as a spiritual act

Solvitur ambulando – Latin term meaning “it is solved by walking.”

Walking as a spiritual and contemplative activity has been practiced by poets, pilgrims and philosophers throughout the ages. The romantic poets of the late 18th century were ardent walkers. Wordsworth averaged 14 miles a day on the trails of the English Lake District. Thoreau, a marathon walker, found it preserved his health and spirits and he could not do without his daily perambulation. Recent interest in pilgrimages along ancient paths is evidenced by the debut of the film The Way, starring Martin Sheen and directed by his son Emilio Estevez.  It tells the story of a father who walks the holy Camino de Santiago del Compostela, a grueling 790 kilometer trek through the mountains, forest and villages of Northern Spain. His purpose is to complete the odyssey begun by his son who perished at the beginning of his walk through the Pyrenees. “On life’s journey, everyone loses their way, but some of us find the courage to start again,”  the trailer affirms.

The Camino serves as a metaphor for the search for meaning in a frenetic postmodern world. An ancient medieval pilgrimage route, the Camino ends at Santiago del Compostela, supposedly the burial place of St. James, one of Christ’s disciples. It now attracts thousands of 21st century pilgrims each year. Some come looking for a spiritual awakening or atonement, while others are simply adventure tourists.

For those of us who lack the time, resources or inclination to embark on such an arduous quest, here is a sampling of pilgrim chronicles:

The way is made by walking by Arthur Paul Boers explores the Christian roots of pilgrimage.

The Camino letters: 26 tasks on the way to Finisterre.  Julie Kirkpatrick, a Canadian lawyer and her 19 year old daughter walked the Way together. Before embarking, the author asked friends and family to give her a task to accomplish each day of the journey. The resulting book is a moving account of learning self-reliance and deepening of faith.

Santiago. Winnipeg writer Simone Chaput weaves a tale of redemption found on the path.

What the psychic told the pilgrim: a midlife misadventure on Spain’s Camino by Jane Christmas. The author of The Pelee Project, an account of her flight from urban madness, tells a different tale of escape.

Pilgrimage to the end of the world by Conrad Rudolph gives an historical overview of the pilgrimage of the Middle Ages as well as practical advice about getting there and what to take.

Alternatively you can follow the  trails broken by local “crusaders for walking”, the Prairie Pathfinders. Pick up one of their adventure guides to hikes and walking tours of Winnipeg and Manitoba and make your own pilgrimage closer to home: Hiking the heartland or Winnipeg walks.

Happy trails!


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