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The Camino: Finding Stillness and Presence

Author: Annie O'Connor

Picture: Wikimedia Commons

The Camino: Finding Stillness and Presence

BBC programme "The Road To Santiago" underlines the popularity of pilgrimage. Annie O'Connor shares how walking the Camino helped her slow down and be present.

Making the long pilgrimage walk to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia is pretty popular at the moment - so popular, in fact, that various celebrities are giving it a go for a BBC series.

There is something about walking ‘the way’ to Santiago that appeals to all sorts of people,  whether they are ‘religious’ or agnostic, young or old, single or married.  

In fact, the whole idea of making a pilgrimage walk is gaining in popularity.

Ancient paths to Canterbury, Walsingham, Lindisfarne, and other holy places, are being trod more and more.                 

Seeking Stillness

Our culture, it seems, is tapping into the following significant aspects of our Christian traditions and history:

  • the value of the journey, as well as the destination;
  • the value of slowing down, looking and listening;
  • learning from the rhythms of nature;
  • learning from the movement of one’s own body, from the formation of community along the way, and from times of stillness and rest.

In our busy, stressful world, we have to seek out silence and stillness consciously.

God speaks in all sorts of ways – through scripture, through nature, through other people. However, unless we slow down and listen, we miss his promptings and his voice.            

I walked some of the Camino to Santiago a few years ago. I found it to be such a powerfully moving and spiritually beneficial experience that I have undertaken a long pilgrimage walk every year since then.

Being Still and Being Present

One of the things I love about walking long distances is that it forces me to slow down. It helps me to be still and to practise being fully present to each particular moment.

When I walked to Santiago, I covered up to 18 miles (30 km) each day.

That is about six hours of walking each day, with additional time spent stopping, looking and being - in local villages, in churches, in nature, in conversation, in sharing meals and in sitting and being still.

And so, walking 18 miles-and being fully present to this experience-would take up my entire day, with time in the evening to eat, rest, socialise and read.

Of course, if I had had access to a car, a train, a bus or even a bike, I could have covered 18 miles in no time at all, leaving my whole day “free” to do other things. But then I would have missed the beauty of the way and the lessons it gave.

Slow Down and Look

So often we rush through life at breakneck speed, never pausing to reflect and be still.

This is often true in the Church, and particularly in Charismatic circles, where activity for the Kingdom and work for the Lord are valued so highly.

Walking the Camino to Santiago forced me to slow down. It is only when we slow down and look that we really see.

I think the various films, documentaries, novels and journals about the Camino that have become popular in recent years are all tapping into this in some way. By slowing down, and being more present to each moment, all sorts of lessons are learned.

For some people, this might involve the healing of painful memories. For others, it could be time to discern the next stage in life. For many, it is a chance to really get away and listen to God.

For me, it is an invitation to a whole way of being - one that recognises that God is not ‘out there’ to be sought, but already ‘in here’ to be found.  

  •    Annie O'Connor works as Tutor and Training Development Officer for Church Army.

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