DOUGLAS VEST, an Episcopal priest and retreat leader, has written a thoughtful introduction to pilgrimage in general and to the many different kinds of sacred journeys we might want to undertake.
Using his own journeys to places of faith such as Durham Cathedral, Iona, Holywell, and St. Deiniol’s library, he examines different kinds of pilgrimages. There are pilgrimages to islands, to monastic communities of past and present, to healing sites, to libraries; pilgrimages with a group and pilgrimages alone.
He helps the reader reflect on the difference between sight-seeing vacations and sacred journeys made with deliberate intent.
Each chapter contains five or six questions for personal or group discussion: can you recall a journey that gave you a deep sense of healing and rest? How have you felt to discover crowds of visitors at one of your favourite places? What have you discovered to be your best way of observing regular Sabbath?
Mr. Vest calls pilgrimages prayers of the feet, but he also makes helpful suggestions for Christian pilgrims who are not able to travel. He describes eight characteristics of pilgrimage: the quest for wholeness, the importance of focus on a place, movement in body and spirit, planning, time, the companionship of others, identity (seeing oneself as a pilgrim) and a sense of awe and reverence in the visited place.
The book concludes with some very helpful checklists and guides for planning your own pilgrimage. There are questions to help you reflect at every stage of your journey. The theme of pilgrimage is one that fascinates me, and I enjoyed the author’s exploration of its many facets.
Dr. Patricia Bays is a Christian educator and author who recently returned to Canada after a year teaching at the University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee. She now lives in Ottawa.