Heeding the interior flame

Pilgrimages such as the Australian Ignatian Trail in South Australia
are transformational experiences in every sense.


By Geraldine Naismith 

The Australian Ignatian Trail, which retraces steps of the first Jesuits in Australia, began, on reflection, in 2011. My involvement in developing and co-leading this initiative evolved slowly from my own spiritual journey which, prior to 2011, had not been an easy one. I completed my university studies as a psychologist over a number of years while parenting five school-aged children.  

During that time, I was invited to the Jesuits’ Campion Centre of Ignatian Spirituality in Melbourne to commence my training as a Spiritual Director. Over the years I recall sitting in many Campion meetings and being often tempted to walk away from it all, but a small burning flame deep inside persevered, calling me into the unknown, although often painfully, and I simply felt I couldn’t walk away.   

But I could walk, and in 2011, after listening to my inner small flame, which I have since come to recognise as my spiritual nudge, I decided to walk a section of the Spanish Camino de Santiago with my husband and our second-youngest daughter. It was also a way to reconnect with our daughter, whom we had not seen for more than two years as a result of her own overseas travels.  

The author.

It was during this first pilgrimage of 330 kilometres – Leon to Santiago – that my internal flame became fully ignited. Something inside me became fully alive and this energy sustained and transformed me.  Along the way I learnt more about myself.  It wasn’t easy; it was hard going, and it took a lot out of me, but I felt mystified by an acute awareness of Jesus’s presence walking with me as I reconnected with our daughter.  

There were many moments during that pilgrimage that touched and transformed me. Two days into the walk we stopped in an old church with dirt floors. A priest was about to say Mass. He invited me to take part with three other people of different nationalities. I was to read the gospel and I remember experiencing an overwhelming sense of the universality of our loving God. Further along we encountered a Japanese man who was dying of cancer and it was his aim to walk only a few kilometres a day while praying and trusting in God for a cure. In contrast, there were also many lighter moments, such as a German couple who took a photo of my sore feet, being amused by the extent of the bandaging. All social boundaries that often divide us were removed, inviting greater connectedness with other walkers through the sharing of deeper conversations, often about very personal life experiences.  

This first of three pilgrimages was also my greater immersion into nature at a spiritual level. I was in another world as I walked, reflected, watched and immersed myself into the immediate experienced moments, being truly present to the “now”  – the scenery, the unexpected flower, the butterfly, the vegetation, the heat or the cold weather, etc. – discovering God’s presence in the beauty of the natural environment that surrounded us.    

On my return, overflowing with what I had received from the experience, I enthusiastically shared my experiences with others and was invited to walk the Ignatian Camino in 2013 and again the same walk two years later. Both involved a month of walking with others, described by one participant as a “walking faith community”.  

Whenever I’ve walked, I’ve been drawn into a deeper immersion on all levels (physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually) but nothing more so than being intimately present with my God, away from the busyness and hassles that daily life generally offers. My burning interior flame fuelled my desire to recreate a taster, an opportunity for others to experience in some small way, what I had been so wonderfully blessed with – a closer walk with my God, hence the development with others of the Australian Ignatian Trail, for those who cannot travel further afield.   

Such experiences do change you – to this I can truly testify. I have also been privileged and humbled to witness such changes in other walkers along the way. These changes come as pleasant and often unexpected blessings and surprises; and often their extent is not fully realised until well after the walk. Hence, I am passionate about longer walks that enable the opening of the door to the struggles both externally and internally as a means of fuelling one’s personal growth. These extended walks and time away from the demands of everyday life allow for the surfacing of the unknown within. They also encompass transformational encounters with others, even though they are initially a community of strangers on different life paths. Ultimately, these are a shared walk with the Divine – a God of surprises – truly, my burning flame within.

Check the JISA website for dates and details on the Australian Ignatian Trail

Banner image depicts a metal crucifix on a gum tree at Sevenhill. Photo: David McMahon