Thursday, August 25, 2011

book review: The Sacred Journey

Title: The Sacred Journey
Author: Charles Foster
Publisher: Thomas Nelson, 2010

The Sacred Journey is an interesting book. After reading the book and starting to write this review, I read some other reviews: some people loved it, others hated it. Phyllis Tickle, the General Editor of this Ancient Practices Series, writes in the Foreword: "Every one of you who reads this book will find at least one thing you totally disagree with and a whole handful of those you want to question. Please do so." [xii] Unfortunatly, some people go looking for a bunch of things they don't like.

Some reviewers seem to freak out anytime an author quotes a Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or other non-Christian source. They seem to believe that if someone from a different background supports something, it must be wrong. Related to this, is if every paragraph is not backed up by a biblical reference, there is something suspect with the author's theology. 

A theology of pilgrimage does not mean, as some of Foster's critics seem to think, that one must become a wanderer, a Bedouin, or take on a nomadic lifestyle.

Foster begins with the tendency of mankind, from the beginning, to wander: from early man; to Abraham; to religious pilgrimages; to God's call of the Jewish people to be "a pilgrim people"; to the simple call of Jesus to "follow me." Foster reminds us that for Christians "the journey" matters. It's not just about "arrival", about the end.

One of the things that struck me in Foster's book is his emphasis on "Pilgrimage, done properly as one of the best-known antidotes to gnosticism" [19]. This, I believe, is a needed reminder in our day of being tempted to either merge or separate the sacred and the spiritual. At times Foster reminds me of Eugene Peterson, who taught that spirituality is not primarily other worldly. The gospel is "the terrifyingly simple" [24] kingdom of God proclaimed and demonstrated as we follow Jesus, as we "go for a walk with Jesus" [28].

Foster, in The Sacred Journey, points out the important difference between tourism (placing checkmarks beside the names of rivers and lakes) and real pilgrimage. Having said this, The Sacred Journey is not a systematic, carefully reasoned theological argument for the role of pilgrimage in the life of the Christian, it is more an exploration of God and humanity, written in the context of Foster's pilgrimage, his actual walking.

Foster roots pilgrimage in theology and history, while sharing stories of travelers today. Foster describes the the smells, sounds, and discomfort that go with sustained, walking and encountering fellow travellors in all their varieties. Jesus spent more time and seemed more comfortable with the unwashed, smelly, odd-acting, people on the edge of mainstream society, than he did with those closer to the centre of society. 

Foster also points us to the liminal, the "thin places" [chapter 7]. The journey is "where the Beloved is" [124]. Foster, points out the importance of place, not only "thin places" but to our being "born... into... a specific place" [129]. And yet, at the same time, "If you go headlong for the center, ignoring the journey there and the margin lands you go through on the way, you will certainly miss the center" [134].

Life at the edges, in the“thin places” where we are closer to God encounters, requires that we travel light. Most of us immediately recoil at the idea of leaving behind all our “stuff”, but that is exactly what the pilgrim is asked to do. This is minimalism at its core. And it hits to the heart of kingdom living. We set aside "stuff" for something greater - everything we have in Christ.

Foster points out, that on the road, “Not everyone finds what he is looking for, but everyone finds something that he didn’t have before and that he needs and wants.” It’s the journey and those we meet that is important, not the destination.

There are some things is life that are so important, so necessary, that we leave everything else behind and follow hard after this one thing, this one person.

I imagine that many readers will expect "The Sacred Journey" to be about the metaphorical pilgrimage, not the literal journey. But Foster writes with such great passion, that even if one doesn't leave on a pilgrimage, it will certainly case one to reflect on our journey through life a little differently. Learning to spend time with others on the journey, giving attention and devotion to the Father and the world that he has given us.

A complementary copy of this book was provided for review through Thomas Nelson’s Booksneeze Program

No comments: