Book Review: The Sacred Journey
By: Charles Foster
Publisher: Thomas Nelson ISBN: 9780849946097
“It is time for me to pass from the shelter of a habitation. To journey as a pilgrim over the waves of the bold and splendid sea… Time to deliberate how I may find the great Son of Mary.” -Celedabhail
This last book of the Ancient Practices Series has been one of the more challenging and difficult books for me to read in the most recent couple of years. I’ve had it in my possession for some while, but haven’t brought myself to sit down with it and read it. The reason for my procrastination is somewhat ironic to me. I would prefer to believe that pilgrimage in the Christian sense is more allegorical than it is literal…in reducing pilgrimage to allegory or metaphor I can stay in control and never leave the safety of my paradigm. Reading this book has disturbed my paradigm and shaken the foundations of my spiritual pilgrimage “rules of the road.”
This is the first time I have read anything by Charles Foster. His writing style was a bit different than what I have experienced before, and I consider myself widely read. My impression of his style was a dry, sharp, wit; sometimes edged with sarcasm and cynicism, but never judgmental or harsh. It was this style that kept me alert and on edge with each turn of the page. Foster seems to write with much experience and not just experience of a scholar, but the experience of practice… as he tells his stories the reader senses the grit of the road, the sweat on the brow, the ache in the muscles, and the stripping away of “puffy” western spiritual pride… or, at least I did. This style of writing, as well as the personal experiences Foster shares as he parallels them with the Biblical narrative of pilgrims who have journeyed before us, is what has shaken me.
It has been my experience that people, including myself, like to reduce the hard sayings and commands in the Bible to metaphor, allegory, and plain old “that doesn’t apply anymore.” I think pilgrimage falls into that category, but I’m not so sure it should stay there after reading The Sacred Journey. I don’t know that there is a formula or method to that act of pilgrimage either; this will be something that I have to work out in my own experience and understanding… and I will have to work it out. I don’t think I can simply dismiss the challenge that has been extended to me after having considered what I’ve read in this book. I think one thing I realized as I was considering pilgrimage from a personal viewpoint is this: it is easy for people to situate themselves into complex, but safe environments. We get jobs that provide us with health benefits and retirement plans, we get mortgages for fifteen to thirty years because we “need” shelter, we get five to seven year car loans because we “need” “reliable” transportation…and we trap ourselves in a prison of our own making which shields us from the pilgrim encounters with God. We tell ourselves that when all this obligation-time and season of life business is over, we’ll follow the path of the pilgrim when all along Jesus calls us to follow him now.
This has been a challenging read for me. My bet is it would be for you as well.