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Taking my own pilgrimage

I’ve been thinking a lot about pilgrimages lately, how we are all on them, whether we realize it or not.

According to Webster’s Dictionary, a pilgrimage is a journey, especially a long one, made to a sacred place as an act of religious devotion. A pilgrimage can also be defined as simply the course of life on Earth.

Though many of us may not have the opportunity, or develop that opportunity, to take a religious pilgrimage to grow spiritually, there’s no question we are all on a pilgrimage that takes us day-by-day through life, with lots of experiences and time for self-discovery along the way.

My interest in pilgrimages has been piqued in recent months, since last fall when our youngest daughter first started talking about taking a five-week pilgrimage across Spain, to walk the 500-mile El Camino de Santiago. She is on that pilgrimage now.

Also known as the Way of St. James, the El Camino de Santiago generally begins on the border between France and Spain and ends in northwestern Spain at the shrine of the apostle St. James the Great in the area of Galicia. Pilgrims have been traveling the El Camino since Medieval times.

We have talked with our daughter several times since she’s been in Spain. We’ve received text messages and photos from her most days, depending upon WiFi accessibility. Back home, on the coffee table in our living room, we now have a large map of Spain on which we are marking her journey.

Though our daughter is the one actually making the El Camino, walking about 15-20 miles a day and carrying everything she has with her, about 15 pounds worth, in her backpack, in a way I am discovering more of my own pilgrimage as I listen to her stories.

There are things to be learned on pilgrimages, whether they are taken in Spain or right in my home town.

For one thing, when it comes right down to it, we probably have way too much stuff that we drag through life, materially and figuratively. Second, there’s something to be said about putting one foot in front of the other and just making it through the day sometimes. And then, there is a wisdom that comes by slowing down so you can see the petals on the flower a bit better, appreciate the sunset and think more quietly.

As a parent, part of my pilgrimage is the continuing realization that I’m no longer in control of my kids’ lives. It’s time for me to step back and watch them explore and make their own choices. If I had my way, my kids and grandkids would all live much closer to me. As it turns out, no one even lives in the state. And that is OK because everyone has their own pilgrimage to take.

Living with the idea of pilgrimage in mind can be a freeing thing, sort of a sorting and sifting of the important things in life.

All things considered, maybe the most important thing about pilgrimage is not just the road we take but what we become along the way.

Shaw Media Staff Writer Donna Barker can be reached at

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