I had the good fortune to spend the season of Lent this year walking in Spain on the Via de la Plata. It is a path of about a thousand kilometres starting in Seville in the south of the country. For much of the way it follows a Roman road which has been a major trade and transport route for centuries and has become the way for pilgrims to reach Santiago de Compostela from southern Spain. I started walking from Seville at the beginning of March with my wife Debbie, my son Charlie having agreed to stay at home and look after our farm until April.
There is beauty in the pace of travelling on foot, the country passes at a serene rate allowing one to appreciate what is before you. The journey cultivates a contemplative outlook and its length, in time and distance, reinforces this aspect. You are punished if your focus is drawn away from the present moment for example by worrying about the enormous distance still to walk. But by staying in the present, undistracted, you are in bliss or at least see a glimpse of it.
People have asked, now we are back, our motivation for walking and how it has affected us. Personally, I think the walk has brought to the fore the spiritual dimension of life and the reality that our life is a journey that all must make between birth and death.
Father Laurence in his Lent reflections, which I followed in Spain on my phone, often quoted the wonderful Sufi poet Rumi. One line spoke clearly to me as a pilgrim on the path to Santiago following the yellow arrows and scallop shell signs that mark the path: ‘You are a symbol seeking a symbol; there is no greater symbol than a symbol seeking a symbol.’
On reaching the coast at Finisterre (thirty days later), two more days walk past Santiago, Debbie said: ‘Life is about acceptance and forgiveness’ – a thousand kilometres worth of wisdom!