03 July 2011

A Reflection on Pilgrimage of a Soul by Yuka Osaki

How do you connect with this particular spiritual journey? What about your own spiritual journey is similar and different?

I read a book called “Pilgrimage of a Soul: Contemplative Spirituality for the Active Life,” written by Phileena Heuertz. In the book, the author talks about her personal journey and interaction with the Creator of the universe, as she serves poor people with the team of Word Made Flesh, goes on pilgrimage in El Camino de Santiago, Spain, and takes a sabbatical in Durham, North Carolina. Although I cannot really connect with her experiences of serving the people who are financially poor, I can connect with her spiritual journey in a way that I serve the people who are spiritually poor in Japan. The difference between her spiritual journey and mine is that she learned what it is like to have an active faith by serving among the poor and I have learned what it is like to trust and surrender to God by being challenged for my faith by my family and friends in Japan.

Even though my life is totally different from hers, I can see that our spiritual journeys are somewhat similar, regarding the spiritual transformation. In the book, she writes that “to really thrive in life, our soul needs to be transformed –over and over again. This is the work of the spiritual journey” (p 13). I have also learned that being fully open for the Lord to transform my soul, heart, mind, etc. is really important for the spiritual journey. It takes a long and arduous process, but all we need to is to submit and surrender ourselves to the process. The author encourages the readers to stop just thinking about it but to try it, because it is worth it. I totally agree with this!

What surprised you?

What surprised me was how much she struggled with her gender. Just by reading the book, she has so much wisdom and I can see her deep love and compassion toward God. Her loving and caring characters as well as her leadership skill are seen in her story. Because of her past experience of growing up in a patriarchal system, she had lost courage to assert herself in new ways. I was surprised to discover how much pain she has experienced because her writings include deep confidence in her faith and great joy, so I could not imagine she had gone through painful seasons because of her gender.

How did the author experience the Church or other Christians? How was the Church a safe place or not?

The author and her husband both have the same backgrounds—coming out from an evangelical tradition. Growing up in a community of somewhat patriarchal system, where women’s roles are only viewed as subordination to men’s roles in professional life, church, and relationships, she had lost courage to assert herself in new ways. Her experiences with Mother Teresa, the Jesuits, Oscar Romero and his wife, and Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters helped her begin to realize and understand the rich history of the contemplative tradition. Their growing understanding of the contemplative tradition encouraged the author and her husband to unite with other brothers and sisters from varying traditions who all shared the same common goal of a deeper relationship with God through contemplation. The person whom the author looks up to is Mother Teresa, who is formative and a great example to her. She worked with Mother Teresa in the homes in Calcutta, where she bear witness to the lives of those children and people who were dying.

What are some ways that the author’s gender influences her story?

In the book, she shares her experiences of how during a sabbatical with her husband, she experienced a growing unease regarding the manner in which gender perception influenced and affected her various roles as a woman. Because of the struggles that she had, she and her husband began to give more emphasis to mutuality in Word Made Flesh. She began to become aware of several faith communities that did not encourage or support the full potential of women in the church. She desired things to be different in Word Made Flesh. Her story reveals her passion and eagerness of bringing attention to gender equality.

In what ways did this book expand or deepen your understanding of God?

Throughout the book, the author reminds readers that “in our soul’s pilgrimage we are guided by one whose ways are higher than ours” (p. 11) To be a Christian does not mean to only understand or know about God; it is a journey that we commit to have with our everyday lives with God and let Him fully be in control in our lives. This book has helped me realize it is important to have both active and contemplative faith to deepen my relationship with the Lord. We are often led to think that we are doing right things by our active faith. We need quiet moments with the Lord to really make sure if we are doing what we are supposed to do. Contemplative spirituality helps us to wake up ourselves from being blind.

What conclusions of the author’s do you tend to disagree with?

In the book, the author explains the differences between contemplation and completive prayer. She says that contemplation is a gift, so it is not necessarily imparted to everyone. She states that “we can practice contemplative prayer or acts of contemplation by our will but we cannot will the completive states of union with God—it is a grace and a gift” (p. 170). I do not agree with her belief regarding this. The Bible refers to salvation as a gift, but it is available to all. I do not believe that God would withhold a gift such as contemplation from anyone who desires and seeks after it. This is not a gift like teaching, preaching, or compassion which are individual gifts given to individual Christians to be used to encourage one another and the lost. I believe that gifts that bring us closer to God are available to all who desire them. Just like salvation is a gift available to all, but not all with take hold of it… so too is the gift of contemplation available to all, but not all will take hold of it.

Would you recommend this book to others?

Yes. I really enjoyed reading the book, especially because she shares her experiences so I could relate and learn from them. In the book, she shares her struggles with self-definition, empathizing with her stumbling steps into freedom, and cheering for her marriage and writes that there are seasons in our lives but we may experience hope as we exit one season to enter another. It is an encouraging book, for those who are searching for a deeper commitment to God but also for all Christians to rethink about their lives and to allow Jesus Christ to transform and work in the very inner of their souls, minds, and hearts.