Despite the heat and humidity, the end of August can feel much like the beginning of January: it’s a time for fresh starts and new initiatives. The excitement of a new school year is contagious, even if you don’t have children. Somehow, the whole rhythm of life changes in response to these fresh opportunities for intellectual, social, and spiritual growth for our young people. We are reminded that we are never too old to learn, that we never truly graduate from the schools of understanding, compassion, love, and self-knowledge.

As children being their fall classes, your Poor Clare sisters are also starting a new course, one that is both physical and spiritual. It’s a course, or, more accurately, a path that’s graded by God’s hand, not by teachers or professors.

We are walking the Camino. Yes, that’s right; we are making a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.

How can cloistered Poor Clare nuns possibly walk the Camino?

A step and a mile at a time, just like their fellow pilgrims. The only difference is this: we aren’t stepping outside the enclosure of our monastery.

Many of us exercise each day, so we are keeping track of the miles we accrue from jogging, cycling, walking, lifting weights, and the like. We use the PennState Extension’s Exercise Conversion Chart (pdf) to convert our activities to walked miles, and then we take the average (arithmetic mean) of the total and list that as the mileage for the group that day. We wanted to find a way to walk the Camino together, in community, and this seemed like an easy way to do so.

Because we are walking the Camino in the midst of our regular, daily lives, we are making the pilgrimage much more slowly than we would if we were on the actual Camino Frances. We can’t cover 10, 20, or 30 miles a day while keeping our prayer schedule and doing the necessary work required to maintain the monastery. Time isn’t as important on the Camino, however. The journey and the inner and outer work involved in making the journey are what matters.

We see a different landscape as we walk; our feet tread earth that is thousands of miles from the actual path of the Camino. Our external senses reveal the differences of our journey, but our hearts are like those of any pilgrim on The Way. The same Spirit leads us. Together, we journey toward greater communion, understanding, self-and knowledge. We step, each day, into mystery. With our fellow pilgrims, we move, slowly, almost immeasurably, across the landscapes of our souls, towards God, who continually forms all of us into a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Walking the Camino, making that great journey with countless pilgrims, past and present, has long been a dream of mine. I feel privileged to finally be able to do it (with some necessary modifications!) with my Poor Clare sisters.

Why don’t you join us on this pilgrimage? We started in Saint Jean Pied de Port in France, have crossed over into Spain, and are approaching Pamplona. We have about 449 miles to go.

Whatever path you take this day, may it be full of blessings!