The best way to go on pilgrimage is on foot. There are many reasons for this but one of them is because the best way of spending time is to take it. We go further and faster in a car, train, or plane but we see less and experience less in the process.
This came to mind on my recent pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago in Spain. Unlike those hardy pilgrims who were hiking the full 500 miles from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in the French Pyrenees to the tomb of St. James in Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, we hiked for about eight to 10 miles or so in the morning, had lunch and then hopped onto the bus to be taken to the starting point for the next day’s hike.
This hybrid approach enabled us to cover the full 500 miles in under two weeks, rather than the 30 days which the pedestrian path takes. It also enabled us to spend the afternoon exploring places of interest which were not on the Camino itself. We were pilgrims in the mornings and tourists in the afternoons!
In the event, we got to our destination much sooner than the stragglers on foot but I’m not convinced that we really got there at all. Those who trudged the whole way, every inch, seeing the landscape change over successive days in a seamless continuum, in an uninterrupted and undisrupted panorama, were taking the time necessary for the pilgrimage. They were seeing the full picture because they were taking the time to do so. Those who wended their weary way to Santiago by this time-tested path really arrived. Those of us who were parachuted in might have hit the target but we were missing the point.
Perhaps the use of a couple of metaphors might explain what I’m trying to say. If we begin reading a novel but then start skipping pages so that we can finish it sooner, can we really say that we’ve read the novel? Similarly, if we begin to watch a movie but become impatient and hit fast forward, can we really say we’ve seen the film?
It is in this sense that the best way of spending time is to take it and it is in this sense that I can claim that sometimes we get there faster by slowing down.
This is part of the series called “The Human Being Fully Alive” found here.