Saturday, December 30, 2006

Book Review: Sacred Travels

I just finished Christian George's Sacred Travels: Recovering the Ancient Practice of Pilgrimage. I've been looking forward to reading this book ever since I first heard it was coming out. In Fall 2005, I prepared to embark on my own pilgrimage to the Holy Land and was shocked at the dearth of writing on this ancient practice. Especially writing from a Protestant perspective. Three cheers for Christian George for digging up this important spiritual discipline and re-imagining it for emerging generations. And you gotta love the fact that he's a fellow Alabamian.

Weaving tales of personal travel with church history, theology, ecclesiology, and good old-fashioned Biblical story-telling, Christian offers us an opportunity to go on pilgrimage with him chapter by chapter. He demonstrates from personal experience the life-changing potential and spiritually transformative power of sacred travel. As he helps us understand, pilgrimage is more than visiting "holy sites." It's about allowing God to turn our otherwise ordinary travels into holy opportunities. It's about viewing our everyday, ordinary walking-around lives into journeys with God because life is pilgrimage.

Christian packs this book full of history and biographical sketches of ancient fathers and modern-day saints. Even if you aren't interested in the idea of pilgrimage, it's worth reading from an historical perspective.

In a couple chapters, the historical accounts and personal observations seemed a bit disconnected, but in general, Christian did a fantastic job of helping us to connect with the thousands of pilgrims who have gone before us. Two minor disappointments. First, I felt the book ended rather abruptly with no "next steps" for those who are ready to put this pilgrimage thing into practice. It was more descriptive than prescriptive. (Hopefully Christian is feverishly writing away on another more practical book that will guide novice pilgrims towards their next steps of integrating this practice into their own lives). Secondly, I was really bummed that there was nothing in the book on Jerusalem. In fact, there was very little on the more traditional pilgrimage sites of Israel, Egypt, and Turkey. Once again, I hope Christian gives us an opportunity to walk a mile or two in his Crocs after he has an opportunity to journey with God to those places.

Please read this book. After turning the final page, I wanted to read more. But more importantly, I yearned to run upstairs and start packing my backpack and atlas for another holy adventure. Pilgrimage has not faded into the background of our faith history as an outdated practice of odd monks, thrill-seeking explorers, or misguided Crusaders. It is a dynamic opportunity to engage in an outward physical expression of an inward journey. I am passionate about pilgrimage and the opportunity it offers for spiritual transformation, and I am so excited that Intervarsity has published this book. You can read a sample chapter here. And while you are at it, check out the great new stuff coming out of Intervarsity Press's new Likewise line!


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