First the Journey, Then the Map
Pilgrimages are usually about spirituality and enlightenment. Is that why I decided to walk a pilgrimage in Norway—385 miles from Oslo to a cathedral in Trondheim built on the bones of a saint? No, my motivation was closer to the childhood song about the bear that went over the mountain, “to see what he could see.” Or the mountaineer who scales a peak because it’s there. Scandinavian by heritage, I was stirred by stories of Vikings and other medieval pilgrims who had walked to St. Olav’s burial site.
Armed with my curiosity, inspired by the route’s history, I started the month-long walk on a gray May morning. In spite of these mundane beginnings, what I discovered has become my spiritual roadmap.
One, I believe that finding the right way takes effort. I come from an area with good hiking trails, so I assumed that endurance would be my challenge, not route finding. But using only printed directions and sporadic route signs, finding the way required discernment. Over fields and fences, down city streets, through woods, across barnyards, I needed to pay close attention. You can’t be on autopilot in real life either. We must often work hard to do the right thing or walk the right path.
Two, I believe the natural world is an awesome creation. While Norway is easily the most beautiful country I know, in May, it hadn’t awakened from winter. Trees were bare, fields were brown, but at a walker’s pace, you can appreciate the handiwork of our creator. And it is good.
Three, I believe that the creator who makes and renews our natural world is also our tender caretaker. I started out with a list of possible places to stay, but nothing was confirmed. I bought food along the way. In spite of not knowing where I’d sleep or what I’d eat, I was never in need. Lost? A kindly person drove me back to the route. No place to stay? A deserted movie set with an unlocked door and deeply piled beds provided a cozy night. Arriving at a home cold and soaked with rain, I was met by a host who apologized that the bathroom had only a deep tub and no shower. I lost my hiking poles but bought a better pair than I had brought from home. I learned that my needs would not just be met, but richly fulfilled. Our creator promises abundance. We can trust it.
Four, I believe that people love their families and are proud of their homes but they’re also kind and generous to strangers. I was greeted everywhere with open-handed hospitality. Of course, I needed something from nearly everyone I met, so I was consistently grateful. And I came humbly—on foot. I believe that by approaching people with thankfulness and humility, you can elicit goodwill from almost everyone.
Will I walk it again? Yes. But now I have the map: finding the right way takes great effort; the natural world is a gift from our creator who is also our tender caretaker, and people are kind and generous. It’s worth a long walk.
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