April 28, 2013

The World’s First Full Interfaith Pilgrimage. ~ William Howell

Photo: Jimi Metzger

It is not idealistic to declare that the prime need on our planet is interfaith harmony.

Ever hear of Crestone? It’s a small international village at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Range. But this little mountain town offers far more than gorgeous Colorado country. What makes it extraordinary is that within walking distance are stupas (architectural renderings of the enlightened qualities of the Buddha) and zendos (zen meditation halls), ashrams and a Carmelite monastery, retreats and centers for sacred dance and voice, not to mention medicine wheels and sweat lodges, plus the labyrinth of Chartres in its exact dimensions.

The most sacred mountain in the world to the Hopi (Crestone Peak, 14294 ft) and to the Navajo (Mt. Blanca, 14,345 ft) both overlook the Camino de Crestone, an interfaith pilgrimage. It is a true place of power. As proof, one Hopi elder sighted the fact that here heaven (wind) and earth (blown sand) merge in the Great Sand Dunes, a national park just to the south.

Beginning this June, groups of pilgrims will be traveling to Crestone and the San Luis Valley in order to visit 15 spiritual centers, and thereby experience the lifestyles and practices of those dedicating themselves to their respective sacred “paths of return.” It’s a 42-km (26-mile) journey lasting a full week. Along this circular way, pilgrims will take part in meditations, yoga of the voice, labyrinths, sacred dance, a sweat lodge, a shamanic journey and much more, plus some great eating.

While several of the many spiritual centers in the Crestone area have been in place for more than 25 years, 2013 is the inaugural year for the Camino de Crestone. The great pilgrimages of the Earth—in India, Japan, Spain and England—are now joined by the world’s first full interfaith pilgrimage, oddly enough in a tiny hamlet at the dead end of a road.

This seven-day sojourn begins every Saturday from June through September. Interested persons, couples and groups can register at caminodecrestone.com. The tuition of $800 is payable online and covers all meals, lodgings and programs. Three or four scholarships hopefully will be available for the Camino’s inaugural year.

Of course, anyone, anytime can walk this American Camino: MP3-player audio-tours, offering recorded presentations along the route, are available at the beginning of the pilgrimage, as is a detailed day-by-day map. However, the Camino’s presentational and overnight aspects are possible only for registrants.

Potential pilgrims needn’t define themselves as religious or even particularly spiritual to walk the Camino de Crestone’s carefully mapped route, nor do they need to be experienced hikers. Virtually anyone can be a pilgrim, as daily walks are neither strenuous nor lengthy, and the end is the same place as the beginning. These seven-days of mini-intensives are designed to be a life-affirming education unlike any other.

I would hope that seminarians, divinity students and both grad and undergrad students in Philosophy or Comparative Religions will feel the Camino de Crestone to be a necessary part of their educational program. This pilgrimage is dedicated to the uniqueness and universality of all participants and each of the participating traditions, as well.

In these chaotic times, we daily witness the results of inter-religious tensions.

It is not idealistic to declare that the prime need on our planet is interfaith harmony. I’m spearheading the Camino de Crestone because, in my 40-years of experience of delving into all the great faith traditions of our planet, such togetherness happens not via dogma or indoctrination, but in meeting adepts who model wholeness of life in their various traditions.

It has long been evident to me that the religious impulse is the deepest urge in the human heart. But only since returning from the Camino de Santiago have I realized that religion is simply about wanting to belong to the grandest and most intimate context imaginable. If peace in our human family is going to come about, it won’t be by legislation, fatwahs or Papal decrees—but by people, individuals, who are open and even in this fundamental longing to greatly belong.

Just as bees seek nectar and inadvertantly pollinate plants, so the Camino de Crestone, without trying to do so, will create ambassadors for peace. Because the balance of knowledge and experience they’ll carry within them is valuable and equally rare, the Camino de Crestone constitutes a significant, albeit quiet, contribution to world harmony. That’s certainly what’s driving my interest and energies. I mean, isn’t it time our Earth be re-forested with harmony that goes to the roots of peace?


William Howell—poet, author, retreat master, meditation teacher—has had the great fortune to have studied immersively with adept teachers in the main spirituo-religious traditions of our planet. He founded Sanctuary House (a religious-educational non-profit: sanctuaryhouse.org) in 1992, co-founded Crestone Charter School in 1995, helped bring the Crestone End-of-Life Project into being in 2007, and now is spearheading the Camino de Crestone (caminodecrestone.com).


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~ Associate Ed: Thandiwe Ogbonna

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