Always ready for an adventure, a close friend of mine, Beth, decided to walk part of the famous pilgrimage walk, El Camino de Santiago in Spain.
“For the first few days I thought I might have to give up!” she said, explaining how physically and mentally unprepared she was for the challenging walk. But she didn’t! She committed to the pilgrimage. Gradually she found a rhythm to her day. Walking became a discipline. She allowed herself to take rests – sometimes for a whole day or two. She also began to realize that the inner, spiritual journey was more important to her than the physical one.
Beth’s decision to walk the Camino came at a time when she faced a great number of challenges. She was questioning her career path, had health issues, was overweight, and she felt burdened by difficult family problems.
As she became clearer about the spiritual nature of the trek, she started to feel mentally lighter. Problems did not loom so large as she dwelt more on the spiritual nature of life. She opened her thinking to new ideas about something she hadn’t thought about for a long time – her unique and unbreakable relationship with God. All that walking gave her an opportunity to think spiritually – even pray, for the first time in decades. She didn’t pray for her problems to be resolved, but rather for closeness to the divine. After four weeks she felt better than she had in years, and had lost some of the excess weight. The other challenges she faced weren’t resolved while she was away, but she felt more spiritually confident to deal with them upon her return.
Beth’s experience isn’t unique, according to pilgrimage researchers such as Heather Warfield, an assistant professor at the University of Southern Queensland in Australia. She acknowledges the growing popularity of these treks. “A pilgrimage is a journey away from that which is routine in search of something sacred,” she wrote in an article, “How religious pilgrimages feed mental, physical, and spiritual health.”
It’s important to realize, though, that we don’t need to travel to some specific, far off place to experience transformation and better health. According to Jesus’s teachings, the answers we seek are not in certain mountains, waters, cities or temples, but within a sacred relationship with God that we can find anywhere. And finding that unique and most wonderful relationship is both our journey and our destination.
Many years ago, like Beth, I found myself at a difficult crossroads. Questions about identity and direction were overwhelming. At the time, taking a physical pilgrimage was not an option, so I embarked upon my own private, daily – and sometimes challenging – spiritual quest.
A woman who inspired me to persist in my spiritual journey was Mary Baker Eddy. Suffering chronic ill health, poverty and homelessness over a period of years, she tried many of the health treatments of her day. However, it was her inner spiritual journey that really answered her quest for better health. Inspired by Jesus’ teachings about the nature of God as Love, she looked beyond the material picture of life and existence to learn that health was not something that people or places could give her, but rather, it was the outcome of her understanding of the Divine. She perceived that health is the expression of feeling spiritually whole.
In the textbook she eventually wrote on Christian healing, Eddy described the key element to any transformational endeavour this way: “The devotion of thought to an honest achievement makes the achievement possible.”
Her own devotion of thought to discovering her whole, spiritual identity as an expression of God resulted not only in healing for herself, but for countless others, including me.
Like Mary Baker Eddy, Beth and I have discovered the value of seeing life itself as a spiritual pilgrimage. There are difficult, uphill stretches, but there are also inspiring, healing views about the nature of God and ourselves. And, transformation doesn’t come from a single trip to a special place, but rather it’s the result of daily devotion to a relationship with the Divine.
This article was published in the Vancouver Sun May 18 2015 HERE