Book Review: Heaven is Walking the Camino de Santiago

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Heaven is Walking the Camino de Santiago

by Stephen Towles
Self-published, 2022
131 pages
on Goodreads

Reviewed by Jerald Stroebele | Anchorage, AK

Book Review Heaven is Walking the Camino de Santiago, with book cover.

I have read Camino memoirs by a Presbyterian priest and a Jesuit priest. From the first I learned a lot about the history of pilgrimage by Roman Catholics and people of other Christian faiths. From the second I learned about the role of the Jesuits and other Catholics in the Camino de Santiago. From this book by Stephen Towles, a Unity Church minister, I learned how much a minister of any faith can care about his fellow humans.

As Towles describes it, the Unity Church is a Christian-based metaphysical movement with churches and spiritual centers that are not focused on organized religion but rather on, among other elements, kindness and compassion. This shows in Towles’s daily journal entries that he wrote as he walked the Camino Francés in 2019 and 2022.

His first entries seem a little too emphatic about the number of kilometers, number of steps, and number of floors (for elevation) that he walked each day with a 25-pound pack. These were based on (in my view, overly optimistic) goals he set before starting. And then blisters appeared. As I read on, I thought perhaps a more appropriate title might be“Heaven is Walking the Camino de Santiago Without Blisters.” By the time he reached Carrión de los Condes, Towles had seriously infected feet. A graphic photo on page 52 proves it. I have witnessed the destroyed feet of fellow pilgrims in albergue dorms on the Caminos. Towles’s feet may take first prize. Thus ended his first Camino.

Heal the feet, mind the COVID. Like many of us, Towles’s plans to return to the Camino in 2020 were postponed amidst a global pandemic. Towles returned to the Camino in September 2022, this time arriving in Santiago de Compostela and with only a few blisters. Some readers may think the book reads more like an autobiography and a review of Towles’s ministry career than a Camino memoir. Perhaps, but it also offers insights into what it was like both pre- and post-COVID to walk the Camino and experience albergues and “Camino families.” 

The beauty of this story is found in how Towles shares his inner feelings toward his fellow pilgrims and the local people he meets. They are what you might expect or hope to read from a minister of faith—not anger, frustration, or impatience, but compassion, admiration, and attachment.

Towles walked the Camino Francés. Learn more about that route on our Camino Francés route overview.

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