Book Review

The Way is Made by Walking

A Pilgrimage Along the Camino de Santiago

reviewed by Mary Allison Cates

The local newspaper of author, professor, and Mennonite minister Arthur Paul Boers featured a photo of his bare and gruesomely blistered foot. This display was just one result of his 31-day, 500-mile pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago, the path to northwestern Spain’s cathedral containing relics of James the apostle. The photo sparked the same reaction often elicited by train wrecks. Presenting contemporary regard for the body in a nutshell, onlookers were at once fixated on and repulsed by the image.

His book, The Way is Made by Walking, is another result of Boers’ journey. It offers the age-old spiritual discipline of pilgrimage as a Christian corrective to the above-mentioned tendencies that have eclipsed true gratitude for our bodies. Boers defines pilgrimage as “religiously motivated travel for the purpose of meeting and experiencing God with hopes of being shaped and changed by that encounter.” The book recounts the strenghtening of Boers’ relationships with self, others, and God that occurred during his trek, and the foretaste of the freedom and wholeness of God’s kingdom he experienced as a result.

Several revelations helped Boers embrace the person he was created to be. For example, the weight of his pack was a physical reminder of how we are often unknowingly burdened by our possessions. He also reported that the simple act of hiking sparked an influx in creative thinking, perhaps stemming from the integration of both sides of the brain. He writes of his challenging and cathartic encounters with difficult truths about his past and present, as well as his increased willingness to honor his body by slowing down when his blisters needed medical attention.

Boers also enjoyed an unprecedented closeness with his neighbors during his trek. He recounts numerous meals shared with fellow travelers that seemed to take on a communion-like quality. Strangers quickly became friends, who relished conversations with unconventional depth, and helped each other with listening ears and shared resources.

Finally, Boers comes to regard the Camino as a space where heaven and earth are only thinly divided. His prayers to God became extensions of his heart and body, not just his academically inclined head. He explains that walking paces our lives at a speed in which we can process as we go, quoting theologian Kosuke Koyama’s observation that ours is a “three mile an hour God.”

Boers concludes with appendices containing roots and resources for the Camino and other Christian pilgrimages. But this information is not meant to dissuade folks whose lives do not present a month’s vacation time, the means for international travel and/or athletic ease. After all, Boers, a self-proclaimed athletic novice, writes, “walking makes any place holy.” The counter-cultural act of walking in our own communities can encompass many of the principles of pilgrimage: travel and dislocation; suspension of regular responsibilities and routines; disciplined focus on God; sacrifices of time, money, or effort; psychological and spiritual growth; and a posture of openness.

Boers invites all to encounter God through pilgrimage. A suggested first step, so to speak, is walking to weekly worship at church. For as the author points out, we can know Christ more fully by knowing the itinerant life, for His truths were spoken as he continued on a Way that was made by walking. So too, must we make our Way, opening ourselves up for God’s truth as it comes.

IVP Books, 2007

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