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Camino Nova Scotia: The Way of St. Columba A Pilgrimage
Have you ever been on a pilgrimage? On a spiritual journey of outer and inner challenge?
A pilgrimage is a physical journey to a holy place, in this case an intentional walk of 100km to the Chapel of St. Columba at the Atlantic School of Theology. St. Columba was an Irish missionary who spread the word of Christ in Scotland, in the sixth century. He founded a monastic community on the island of Iona where the Iona Abbey stands today, and there is still a strong Christian community.
A pilgrimage is a spiritual journey of embodied experience and reflection.
A pilgrim delights in community, in sharing and serving others, in perseverance and prayer, in reverence and care for God’s creation, in patience, simplicity, and in gratitude.
My Camino was a simple walk along the trails of Nova Scotia between Mahone Bay and Halifax. It was broken into five sections: Mahone Bay to Martin’s Point; Martin’s Point to Chester; Chester to Hubbards; Hubbards to Tantallon; and Tantallon to Halifax. Each night we “set up camp” at a host church; we gathered together, helped prepare and cook a meal, each found a space to unroll a bed for the night, and prayed. In the mornings, there was always coffee from 6:30 am, breakfast foods to graze on, a lunch to be packed; and more coffee! After a time of prayer and the gift of a scroll for the day’s inspiration, we all headed out to the trail together. The fastest walkers would soon be way ahead, sometimes not to be seen again until the late afternoon as we arrived at the day’s destination; sometimes to be met at a rest stop where we found water and refreshing snacks. Some walked together, some alone.
This was a retreat undertaken within the context of daily modern life. Along the trail, the road with the sound of traffic was often not very far away. There were beaches or lakes where we could stop and swim, or simply enjoy the ocean breeze. There were others on the path – a morning jog, an afternoon walk, a bike ride, a gentle horse ride, and a few on ATV’s – all part of everyday life.
Each day, I set myself a goal of how far I would get: the first day I was able to walk almost all the way, and the next day, I determined to walk further than the first day. One day, I chose not to walk the trail at all; I was taken by car to the next stop and from there I walked to a coffee shop where I sat, overlooking the bay, and writing in my journal; then I found a public marina and park, and here I ate my lunch.
On a pilgrimage, little happenstances take on a potential significance for reflection. At the marina there was a little sail boat – a Tanzer 22; I used to own a Tanzer 22 which I kept on Lake Ontario, it was called “Miss Conduct”! I haven’t sailed in years, but this year I have had two offers of trips on a sail boat. The name of the Tanzer in the marina – Second Chance! Perhaps there will be sailing in my retirement.
Walking on the trail with many kilometres to the next rest stop, one must be aware of one’s body and the communication of physical concerns. On the early days it was my muscles that signalled to me when it was time to stop; I could feel them getting less and less “effective” and knew I would soon not be able to take another step! There was a rescue vehicle, but we had to be near a road, so I couldn’t wait till the last minute to call for help, I needed to plan a little and estimate how far I could continue once my body told me it was nearing the limit of its capabilities. Later in the journey, once my muscles were “trained”, it was my feet that gave out!
The inner journey came about in many ways, usually unbidden and from strange experiences. One day when I had hoped to reach the midway point of a water and snack station, I had to bail out at the roundabout on Hwy 3 near the new 5A exit off the 103. The van picked me up after about half an hour and we continued to drive back the way we had come to pick up water and attend to other “support” activities. In a matter of moments we had retraced the distance that I had travelled on the trail, that had taken most of the morning, and ended up defeating my feet! Sitting in the back of the van, I was tempted to feel deflated! An accomplishment had been wiped out by a vehicle travelling at 80km/hr, not taking me to the cherished destination I had hoped to reach, but back the way I had come. But we did eventually get to that destination along with the other pilgrims and were greeted by a welcome from the people at St. James’ Anglican Church in Boutilier’s Point. A table was spread with fruit and other foods, along with coffee and tea. True hospitality and delivered with such joy.
The Camino is about community, not only the community of those walking today, but of those who have walked before, and those who will walk in years to come; and of course those who build a community of support along the way.
This is a great metaphor for church. Church is about community – those who are with us now, those who have gone before, and those yet to come, and those around us who are not directly part of us, but support us in the community at large. We are all one.
“Spiritual practice is not just sitting and meditating. Practice is looking, thinking, touching, drinking, eating, and talking. Every act, every breath, and every step can be practice and can help us to become more ourselves.” Thich Nhat Hanh