When you are in a car, beautiful places are a moment; if you stop the car, they are a cluster of moments. When you walk, beautiful places are an eternity carved into the soul.
Book Steph to speak at your conference or event:
- The Art & the Agony of Ancient Travel
- The Lost Art of Wasting Time
- Your Life, Your Revolution
- Writing Can Save Your Life.
“It was worth traveling all this way just to hear Stephanie speak.”
Jenny, CRANA+ conference visitor
Pilgrimage – call of the soul or utter madness?
Okay, so leaving a comfortable life to walk from Rome to Istanbul was a particularly dumb thing to do . . . at least that’s how it looked to so very many people.
And then there’s how it looked to me . . . which was a bellowing call echoing through every cavernous chamber in my body to walk with my son across the landscapes of Italy towards the burning eastern sun.
Pilgrimage is the art of ancient travel. Pilgrimage harks back to forever, when human beings set out on journeys from which they might not return, journeys they knew would transform the rest of their lives – journeys that were worth every risk because, live or die, to deny the call was to close the door on life and that meant certain death anyway: death to the spirit.
Pilgrimage is a subpoena from the heart that defies all common sense. It is a mistake to attempt to rationalize the irrational – and an even bigger mistake to attempt to justify your decision to set forth to those around you (they’ll think you’re a basketcase anyway).
Just ask Jessica Watson, the 16-year-old Australian who sailed solo around the world. Her parents understood that Jessica had to go – that the call to put everything on the line for transformation was greater than their fears for her safety.
The pilgrim is not unlike a comet, burning off all that is futile and unnecessary until what is left is the essential, unmalleable core. The pilgrim walks the Earth, walks the wheel, walks the turning seasons, surrendering all of who she is and all she thinks she knows and all she think she wants to the road and the weather and, in Jessica’s case, the world’s great oceans.
Pilgrims are those who embark on journeys of endurance and, in the end, these journeys ask nothing more from us than to keep going. Crazy as we look from the outside, we are honouring the call of the human spirit – our collective yearning for transformation – and, in so doing, we do it for everyone.
Pilgrimage is where the romance of the road meets reality, boots to the bitumen.
We can think about what we’d love to do in this life – or we can do it.
This is why we need our pilgrims – the ones who put everything on the line for freedom and love and truth – because they do it for all of us.
In 2007, my son Ben set out from Canterbury, in England, to walk to Jerusalem. I flew to Rome to join him for the middle leg of his journey – Rome to Istanbul. I walked with him across Italy and through the Balkans, before the snowbound thunderstruck mountains of Macedonia put me on a plane to that ancient crossroad, Istanbul. A year later I returned to the Middle East to walk with Ben into Jerusalem.
This journey became the foundation of my first book, My Pilgrim’s Heart.
Ben filmed his entire pilgrimage.
The walk to Jerusalem was the second time Ben and I walked a very long way together. Two years previously, in September 2005, we walked El Camino, the mystical road across Spain. For 32 days, we put one foot in front of the other up over the Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela, traversing Spain’s northern interior through cities and villages, farms and forests.
We crossed the meseta in the blazing high sun and mountains in the wind and icy rain, and we walked all night beneath the great arcing wheel of the Milky Way. That night was one of the most extraordinary nights of my life. We expected to walk a few hours and rest – but we didn’t count on the bitter cold; we had no choice but to keep walking. In the end we walked 70 kms before curling up in our sleeping bags on stone cold church steps in . . . now what was the name of that town? Invite me along to speak and I’ll tell you all about it.
There’s not a lot we don’t know about walking very long distances – about feet, the weight on your back and finding beds on the road.
Looking for pilgrim packing advice? Here’s what I have to say about packing for the pilgrim road in The 7 Secret Keys to Painless Pilgrimage.
In 2017, I put my twin passions for walking and writing together to create Walk & Write adventure writing holidays.
Walk & Write’s inaugural adventure writing holiday will walk the final 10 days of the Camino, from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela.
Dates are 9 – 19 April 2018. There are only 12 places. More information here if you’d like to join us: www.walkandwrite.com.au