camino de santiago shell

Spiritual, Religious, or Adventure?

by Teresa Blythe

Originally published on November 25, 2015 on Patheos
Re-printed with permission from the author

When a pilgrim begins the 800 kilometer trek along the legendary Camino de Santiago, they are asked to announce the purpose of their walk. Their choices are spiritual, religious or adventure. Which is a beautiful question to ask in spiritual direction since we are all on this pilgrimage called life.

What is the nature of your life’s path? Spiritual, religious or adventure?

I began sitting with that question after reading Sonia Choquette’s new memoir Walking Home about the healing she experienced walking the Camino de Santiago last year. Choquette is a well-known spiritual intuitive and teacher and author of many books on tapping into your intuition. She hit a low point in her life. Her marriage was falling apart; her brother died; and shortly after that her father died, too. The voice of one of her spirit guides clearly told her to walk the Camino (even though she barely had a clue what that involved.) Still, she heeded the voice, packed her bags and set out to walk the entire distance across northern Spain.

She named the purpose of her pilgrimage spiritual (P.61). Which is what I would call my own “camino” (Spanish for walk) in life. (Note: I haven’t walked the Camino de Santiago but the idea of doing it is growing on me!)

Spiritual Pilgrimage

The spiritual pilgrimage is about healing. One walks to be free of burdens, to forgive others and themselves, and to allow the silence and discipline of walking toward a goal to heal life’s hurts and draw you closer to the source of life.

People who see their life path as spiritual are seeking connection with a power greater than themselves. This spiritual seeking may involve a religious tradition, or it may not.

Religious Pilgrimage

For centuries, religious people have been walking pilgrimages in devotion to God. Some see the difficult walk as penance. Others do it because they believe it is what God is asking of them and they wish to be obedient. Muslims are instructed to travel to Mecca in pilgrimage at least once in their life provided they are healthy enough and can afford the trip.

People who see their life path as religious are seeking to show allegiance and devotion to God through adherence to a particular religious doctrine and participation in a particular set of religious practices. These practices are intensely spiritual but they grow out of a religious tradition.

The Adventure

Many people travel the Camino de Santiago for fun, companionship and excitement. Choquette shares stories of people running along the Camino, groups hauling a wagon full of gourmet food, people riding bikes or horses along the way. For most every pilgrim, the Camino is an adventure at times—you cross the Pyrenees, stop in villages along the way and meet people from all over the world. But people who choose to experience the Camino as an adventure are usually not placing an expectation that the walk will be offering them any spiritual or religious insights.

People who see their life path as adventure may also be simply not placing expectations on their path. I’ve worked with many people in spiritual direction who are content to see what life has to offer rather than hoping for miracles, healing or other spiritual experiences.

No Judgment

There is an attitude among pilgrims that everyone walks their own Camino. It doesn’t matter what your intention is—spiritual, religious or adventure. It will be whatever it needs to be. You may start out for spiritual purposes and end up having an adventure. Or spiritual folks may find themselves more appreciative of religion as they walk the steps that thousands of pilgrims over thousands of years have walked. Adventure seekers may be gifted with a spiritual insight. As the man who fitted Choquette for hiking boots emphasized, “It’s your camino.” (P.43)

Do it All

Ideally, our life’s journey is a combination of purposes. At some times in our life it may be religious, at other times spiritual and at others an adventure. Or maybe it’s all three at once. After reading Walking Home, I am using the lens of Choquette’s experience to see the whole of my life as a camino. Perhaps not as dramatic as an 800 kilometer walk across Spain, but satisfying in its own way.

Spiritual, religious or adventure? It’s worth pondering along the way.

(For more on the Camino, I highly recommend Sonia Choquette’s Walking Home. Shirley MacLaine also wrote The Camino about her experience; Paulo Coelho wroteThe Pilgrimage; and  Martin Sheen created the film The Way. Others have written of their experiences in blogs and books as well. Enjoy!)

If you are interested in learning more about spiritual direction or entering spiritual direction with me, please contact me at  or visit  Also visit my website for the Phoenix Center for Spiritual Direction.

Photo credit: amateur photography by michel / / CC BY