Joyce Rupp (The Cosmic Dance) is one of our favorite authors. She calls herself "a spiritual midwife." In this edifying and inspirational paperback, she presents her adventures on a 47 day pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago in Spain. At the age of 60, she took this arduous journey of 450 miles with Tom, a retired pastor and close friend. As an imaginative practitioner of spiritual literacy, Rupp has gathered together the many meanings of her experience so that fellow pilgrims can share in the bounty.
In the 25 chapters of the book, she shares such lessons a Go Prepared, Don’t Let Difficulties Deter You, Experience Homelessness, Keep a Strong Network of Prayer, Savor Solitude, Trust in the Divine Companion, Match Your Pace to Your Walking Partner, and Pause to Reflect. In addition, there are plenty of practical tips for pilgrims who venture to other sacred sites including tips on how to avoid blisters and what to carry in a backpack.
We like how Rupp begins with a feeling of solidarity: "Imagine walking on a path where millions of feet from other lands and cultures have previously walked, feet that have trod hundreds of miles to reach a sacred site. Think of what it is like to have that same path and those same stones beneath your feet as you, too, walk for many weeks to reach the same destination. This is what it is like to be on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. It is a journey filled with spiritual connectedness and communal resonance." The author feels the energy of those who have preceded her and she opens her heart to the Divine who is present on the trek.
One of the main points of a pilgrimage is not knowing what will happen on the journey. Another part of it is living in the Now. One has to become one with the road and with the journey; very little else matters, except staying attuned to the body, and the beauty and grace of what is going on around you. Rupp comes face to face with some of her worst habits: always being in a rush, comparing herself to others, and dealing with her own weakness. On the road, she has to let go of her wants and expectations and to take what comes with equanimity.
Rupp learns to savor each day as an adventure. Humor and laughter serve as an antidote to surprises, setbacks, and confusions that crop up on the road. She admits that "being attentive to the needs of the body was a very important life lesson on the Camino. When I was on the pilgrimage I tried to treat my body as a 'thou,' offering my compassion when there was pain and soreness, giving thanks when there was health and energy. Each day I grew in appreciation for my body's helpfulness and resiliency. I gained a new sense of wonder at how the human body does all it can to assist us physically, no matter how lacking or inadequate or care might be."
Rupp keeps her eyes peeled for small beauties, and is not disappointed. She relishes the kindness of strangers on the journey, and uses affirmations every morning to lift her spirits. Like many of us, the author is grateful for unannounced angels (see the second excerpt).
Walk in a Relaxed Manner: Life Lessons From the Camino adds immeasurably to our appreciation and understanding of the spiritual practice of pilgrimage.