As part of the Booksneeze review program from Thomas Nelson, I received a copy of The Sacred Journey, by Charles Foster. Journey is part of the Ancient Practices series, which includes titles focused on fasting, the liturgical year, the Eucharist and tithing.
In the foreword, Phyllis Tickle, general editor of this series, makes a keen observation about Journey: “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. Otherwise, none of it is pilgrimage.”
Journey provides some interesting historical information and analysis, but I found its strength to be its emphasis on the reality of actually following Jesus around. While “gnosticism” might sound like conspiracy fodder for the Da Vinci Code set, Foster rightly notes that it is a serious danger for the church today:
Gnosticism says that there are two opposing forces in the world: good and bad. The good forces are “spiritual”; the bad are corporeal. For a gnostic, being a good person involves rejecting the earthly and being “spiritual.”
While Scripture does describe a struggle within followers of Christ between worldly and Christ-like desire within us, it would be a mistake to attempt to live a purely “spiritual” life, as if we could disembody heart from soul, mind from strength.
As Foster unpacks the concept of pilgrimage, I see a theology of walking emerge. Walking forces us to travel light, live simply, move slower, notice more around us, and recognize the whole life we live in following Christ in the Kingdom of God that is already here and on its way:
Pilgrimage is wandering after God… Christian pilgrimage can and should be a walk with Jesus. And that is necessarily a walk in kingdom territory, under those upside-down kingdom rules. The pilgrim road is a physical peninsula of the kingdom. As the kingdom sprang up around the sandals of Jesus, so kingdom flowers can spring up around pilgrim boots. Not necessarily, of course, but it often happens.