I was given a gift recently, of the invitation to be part of the “launch team” for a new book on pilgrimage. I first “met” the author virtually, when I interviewed him about another of his books, Future Faith, for the “Future of Christianity” issue of the Center for Action and Contemplation’s journal, Oneing. Wes Granberg-Michaelson has served as General Secretary for the Reformed Church and as Director of Church and Society for the World Council of Churches, so his experience with the Christian church, and his understanding of pilgrimage, are both broad and deep.

The book, which officially launches tomorrow, is entitled Without Oars: Casting Off into a Life of Pilgrimage. It’s a readable mix of personal pilgrimage stories and thoughtful reflections on the concept of pilgrimage throughout history and our need for such experiences in our life today. I do recommend it, and not just because I was asked to read and reflect upon it. I have a couple pages of notes and connections I’ve made with the content in this book, so trying to decide what to reflect upon here has been a challenge!

I’ve already reflected some on pilgrimage on this blog, surrounding my own pilgrimage to Israel in 2017. As a result of reading this book, I’ve begun revisioning my two years of teaching English in Seoul, South Korea, from the perspective of that having been a period of pilgrimage in my life (medieval pilgrims traveling from Europe to Israel would also be away from home for years, and returned with a much broader perspective on the wider world). I’ve also spent more time remembering my much shorter pilgrimages to two sacred sites in my spiritual home state of New Mexico: El Santuario de Chimayó and Tomé Hill (pictured above).

But what is staying with me is a question Wes asks pilgrims on page 138: “Has the temporary distance allowed us to walk the longer journey of a life in faith, at home?” A few pages later, he expounds on the fruits of pilgrimage this way (page 142):

The pathways in the lives of today’s pilgrims first lead away, to places of detachment and withdrawal, yielding a grounding clarity about the world’s realities and spiritual empowerment for the way forward. Then, faithful pilgrims return, walking into the public square with a transforming presence and witness.

When I think about the public square today, my mind goes immediately to the protests that arose around the country this summer in support of Black lives after the death of George Floyd. I consider my responses, and the times I have joined in vigil on behalf of the powerless. I am certain that my time in Korea (is it possible for something to be an unrealized pilgrimage, newly revisioned long after the fact?) helped expand my perspective to include all humans in God’s great and loving embrace.

This book has also expanded my understanding of what constitutes pilgrimage, and the various ways that pilgrimage-type events have changed me and refocused my spiritual journey. I’m grateful for these new perspectives, and expect that further fruit will arise out of further reflection. If you’re at all curious about pilgrimage, I do recommend this book!

What, if any, intentional pilgrimages have you taken, and what differences have they made in your life? If you haven’t, consider taking a pilgrim’s attitude into your next adventure (and yes, you might need a book like this one to learn more about that attitude!).

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