Seeking God on the Camino

The Camino Ignaciano retraces the route that St Ignatius of Loyola walked in 1522 from Loyola to Manresa.

Kayle Crosson took part this summer in the Young Adult Walking Pilgrimage, organised by Mount Street Jesuit Centre, walking the 4th stage of the Ignatian Way, from Lleida to Manresa. She reflects on her journey – physical and spiritual – which actually began before she embarked on the Spanish path.

When it came to religion, whenever the question was raised I would regurgitate the same vague script of being raised Catholic. Then I would ramble on about the ill-fitting dress I wore to my confirmation and the meal that followed.

The concept of God frightened me, and in a way, it still does. It felt too enveloping; it felt like surrendering to fate instead of bare-knuckle fighting your way out of circumstance. And yet, I inexplicably found myself in the church archways of whatever city I happened to be passing through.

You could say my relationship with God was complicated.

On one seemingly aimless visit, I came across a flyer on a church noticeboard. Farm Street Church, neatly tucked between Mayfair buildings and London humdrum, was a place I had been before but of which I had little recollection. I was baptised there in the presence of my parents and appointed godparents, and my grandmother. She passed away while I could still fit into that white sacramental draping, so knowing our eyes had both held the church’s stained glass windows and granite was our common language. 

The flyer was promoting the Camino Ignaciano, which I mistakenly thought was a branch of the well-trodden Camino de Santiago. One phone call and email later, I had joined the group and now understood that we would be following the path that St Ignatius Loyola walked 500 years ago in his quest to reach Jerusalem.

No impractical item was left behind. I packed heavy, unsupportive footwear, long dresses and a small library, including the 1000-plus pages of Don Quixote.

The unrelenting afternoon sun and the pressure on my spine led me to find new homes for these items along the road. Don now lives in a small Catalan town, so it was just as well that after hours of walking, reading became more of a task than a release.

The heat was even closer during the daily hour of silent walking. As I mulled over our questions for reflection, there was no more hiding in the comfort of patchwork narratives I had sewn together over cups of coffee.

When I was about sixteen, I started compiling quotes on poster paper. I went for the classic crowd pleasers, threw in song lyrics, and tried to vary the diet of emotions. While now it collects dust in a storage room, one Victor Hugo line seems to cushion the fear I had of a potential omnipresent, all-powerful being.

‘To love another person is to see the face of God.’

Along with the verses of William Ernest Henley’s Invictus, those words became my own prayer during the silent pockets of the day. They didn’t thunder in and divide the narrative of my life into before-and-after, but this concept of divinity felt safer to me. Because it wore a human face. Because it appealed to inherent goodness instead of underlying suspicion.

Because I have loved another person. Many in fact. And in those moments, there are whispers of what I hope lies beyond, but can’t be sure of. 

I’m not the most well-read in theology. I now have a better understanding of St Ignatius’s journey, but wouldn’t know the intricacies of his struggle. But what I’ve taken from following his footsteps is to seek something beyond myself in the face of another. To bring my own meaning and confusion to the idea of finding God in all things, whatever that may or may not entail. To recognise that spiritual certainty is unattainable.

That every journey, no matter how quixotic or ill-prepared or aimless you might be, is worth taking.

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