"The Way Is Made By Walking"

The Way Is Made By Walking by Paul Boers

The Camino de Santiago (The Way of Saint James) is a 500 mile pilgrimage beginning in various places but all ending in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Saint James is the patron saint of Spain and relics belonging to him are said to be held in a cathedral there.  Pilgrims end their walk at the cathedral, where they receive a certificate confirming they have completed the pilgrimage. This particular path has been trekked for hundred of years for spiritual reasons but is now becoming popular for historical and cultural reasons. This is Paul Boers story of his experience on the Camino.

Boers says he had "many reasons for this trip: meeting pilgrims, seeing a new country from ground level, reflecting on church history, practicing a classic spiritual discipline, developing my appreciation for walking and challenging myself physically." He met people along the way who were there for many of those and other reasons, people of all ages from different cultures and all walks of life. He includes a few pictures of fellow pilgrims and spots along the Camino that make the experience a little more real for the reader.

Although I find the topic fascinating, I didn't enjoy the writing. It felt like the authour was holding us at arm's length the whole time and the book reads more like a text on spiritual pilgrimage than a personal story. He seems more comfortable in the role of teacher than storyteller, which makes sense when you consider his position as Professor of Pastoral Theology. I was just hoping for more of the story and maybe a little less theology.

There's a line where he's talking about chatting with another walker as they were washing their clothes at the end of the day and he says they were "launching into a discussion of Theresa of Avila and then moving quickly into Christian perspectives on peace and justice issues." It's that formal, almost pompous, style of expressing himself that kept me from feeling like I could connect with him. He does say that he is an introvert, and suffering from the same affliction I do understand the tendency to remoteness. I just don't like it in this book.

Boers is a great advocate for the out of doors and for spiritual retreat, two things we angst-ridden introverts crave - fresh air to clear our heads and silence, blessed silence, so we can think. He writes about the church once more taking up the practice of pilgrimage as a spiritual discipline, stating that this once common practice has been lost for a long time and is only now being reclaimed. I understand the historical and spiritual significance, but I don't see where pilgrimage is taught in the Bible as a discipline. It's a great exercise in lots of ways and it's something I would love to do because any time spent outdoors and walking forces you to slow down and gives you time and space to reason and re-evaluate. It can be an intensely spiritual experience if you are focused on and listening to God, but I can't agree that it's a discipline Jesus taught.

A premise of Boers' that gave me serious pause is his extreme view of Scripture and the outdoors. He says "It is not only that we cannot read and understand Scripture inside, I suspect that even our praise of God is hampered there." Sure, there are benefits to reading your Bible in the open air, but that's not what he says. He says "...we cannot read and understand Scripture inside..." Does he even realize what he's saying? Are the Bibles in prisons, nursing homes, hospitals and hotel rooms ineffective? What about those in churches all over the world on Sunday mornings? Boers himself, is a Pastor of Theology who most likely uses Scripture in the classroom. Why, if it cannot be understood inside? I've read that one line over and over to see if I was reading it wrong, but I don't think I am. Such a careless statement writes off a lot of people - people who don't have Mr. Boers' options in life. Even more alarming, it denies the power of the Word of God itself. The Word is "living and active", whether you are blessed with the freedom to step into the great outdoors whenever you choose or you read it confined to a small room in an institution.

I don't want to be unfair. I know the authour means to be helpful and he has some real wisdom to offer, things like: "Ultimately, pilgrimage bears fruit at home where it overlaps and infiltrates and alters one's life." and "If a few words lighten someone's journey, then I want to offer such a blessing. Small talk is not necessarily trivial." There's real truth there. There's also a lot of good historical and theological information in this book and it was a pretty good introduction to the Camino de Santiago.

I'd still like to read a more personal pilgrimage story and I will try another one soon. There are quite a few books out there now that the Camino is becoming well known and popular again. I did watch the movie "The Way" with Charlie Sheen, another personal story of pilgrimage along the Camino, and it was a pretty good story, but it could never compare to reading a good book.


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