Two routes to greater spirituality

May 3, 2023 | Insights

How to achieve greater spirituality by accepting a challenge and finding the faith to let go.
In her book An Accidental Jubilee, Alice Warrender tells how she meets another pilgrim, an Italian named Alberto, towards the end of her pilgrimage. Alberto has organised a small group to walk the last ten days of the Via Francigena to Rome.

Alice talks with Alberto and discovers his enthusiasm for the pilgrim route. However, the practicalities of the walk interest him more than the spirituality of the journey. He records everything with a GPS transmitter, walks to schedules and is curious about Alice’s journey, her stopping points, accommodation and support. Alice writes, “…he talked of geography, travelling, organising groups…”.

Alberto’s approach to the walk is in sharp contrast to Alice, who has walked from Canterbury, taking it day-by-day, even step-by-step on occasions, with little planning or kit. She rarely books a place to stay, hoping to find somewhere for the night at her destination.

Contrasting the practical and the spiritual

Alice’s story highlights the contrast between the practical and spiritual approaches to life. Alberto is a highly organised researcher and planner. His satisfaction with the journey comes from successfully leading his group and getting to his destination, a somewhat shallow approach in Alice’s eyes. For Alice, nothing Alberto said, “touched any of the depth I had found.”

Alice, in contrast, finds, “My approach to the journey has made it far more mentally challenging than physically, but overall this has made it hugely uplifting from deep down inside.” When Alice asks Alberto if he felt anything spiritual about the walk, he replies that it was a challenge to remain agnostic doing it but that he did.

Challenge and letting go nourish spirituality

So, what makes Alice’s approach to the pilgrimage more spiritually rewarding than Alberto’s? First, Alice accepts her journey is challenging. Not only is she still recovering from a traumatic injury, but her pilgrimage to Rome on foot will be arduous. Alice understands that a pilgrimage is meant to be hard and is a source of spiritual nourishment. That is the point of it. But, as she writes, her approach is “hugely uplifting from deep down inside.”

Second, in contrast to Alberto, Alice lets go of so much. She shuns planning, maps, schedules, equipment and all the rest of the baggage we carry around with us, even on a short trip to the shops. She avoids roads and prefers quiet countryside routes.

Letting go (kenosis, as the Greeks named the concept) becomes easier as you age. Your last act on earth is the ultimate kenosis. In contrast, Alice (in her late twenties during her pilgrimage) can let go because of her belief and faith. Whether religious or secular, faith is the ability to believe and trust in something without an idea of the outcome. 

Whilst following a religion does not automatically lead to spirituality, one of Alice’s most telling comments comes in her conversation with Alberto. She says, “I told him that for me, I had only got as far as I had by believing in God.”

If you seek a more spiritual life, you might do worse than follow Alice’s example of accepting a challenge and finding the faith to let go.

Photo attribution

Photo by Jorge Luis Ojeda Flota on Unsplash

Other attributions and references

Warrender, Alice. An Accidental Jubilee. York, Stone Trough Books, 1 Sept. 2012, p. 190.

Taking it further

The Via Francigena: and

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