Saturday, August 29, 2015

Book Review--"The Soul of a Pilgrim"

The Soul of a Pilgrim:
Eight Practices for the Journey Within
by Christine Valters Paintner
Sorin Books

[This review appeared in US Catholic Magazine, September 2015 Issue]

Through a confluence of grace and timing, Christine Valters Paintner’s The Soul of a Pilgrim arrived amid a series of reflections on the meaning of pilgrimage in a Christian’s life. The daily Mass readings of Ordinary Time invited the Church into the story of Yahweh’s call to Abraham (Genesis 12): “Leave your country, your father’s house, for the land that I will show you….Abraham went as Yahweh had told him.” I was also preparing to moderate a showing of Emilio Estevez’s film, The Way, starring his father Martin Sheen. The Soul of a Pilgrim became a grace-sent compass, offering enhanced direction and meaning to what might otherwise have been a shallow reading of Genesis and a superficial viewing of the film. 

Each chapter of Paintner’s book focuses on one of eight aspects that transform a pedestrian view of life into an intentional, life-altering pilgrimage: 
1) hearing the call and responding; 
2) deciding what to take with us—and what to leave behind; 
3) arriving at and passing through multiple thresholds along the way; 
4) walking—persistently putting one foot in front of the other; 
5) living with the inevitable discomforts that come from being a stranger and wayfarer; 
6) having the courage to keep starting over, when tempted to quit the journey; 
7) accepting the mystery of it all—the deeper, elusive meaning of pilgrimage; and, 
8) arriving back “home,” transformed by an enhanced understanding of a faith-filled life. 

Adding to the wisdom and insight of each chapter are John Valters Paintner’s reflections, in lectio divina format, on each of the eight pilgrimage themes. It is hard to imagine putting this book down at the end without experiencing a sense of exhilarated exhaustion, as if coming home at the end of a physical camino. 

In a cover squib for the book, Sheryl A. Kujawa-Holbrook, author of Pilgrimage—The Sacred Art, refers to The Soul of a Pilgrim as “a guidebook and an inspiration.” It is all of that and more.

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