20 May 2011

The *VERY FIRST* Book Review of ‘Pilgrimage of a Soul’ :: on Outside is Better a blog by Chad Brooks


In the current expressions of progressive American Christianity two themes have surfaced as primary influences.  One being Social Justice, and has found wide acceptance to pretty much everyone except Glenn Beck.  The other, while popular, isn’t mentioned enough but is sometimes tied with justice issues.  Rethinking contemplative Christianity, with its various monastic strains, has crept into the language of many younger Christians.  True, Dallas Willard and Richard Foster have been writing about this for years…and the mainline hasn’t forgotten about the idea either, but the average quasi-baptist probably didn’t hear about centering prayer in vacation bible school.

What Phileena Heuertz does in Pilgrimage of a Soul: Contemplative Spirituality for the Active Life is write a story about how these two passions in her life contrasted at times and ultimately came together to enrich each other.  Phileena serves as the International Executive Director in charge of Community Accompaniment with Word Made Flesh.  Some of you might recognize her name due to my recent review of her husband Chris’s book a few weeks back.  The interesting part of reading books written by spouses in succession is understanding how both of them are two separate beings with different skills, passions and function.  This goes alongside one of the the key themes in “Pilgrimage of a Soul”.

This book is about a journey.  It doesn’t serve as a handbook for contemplative faith, but instead tells the story of a sabbatical that Phileena took several years back and how it affected her forever.  During this time, Phileena and her husband took a month long pilgrimage trek to El Camino de Santiago.  They also spent an extended stay at Duke University directly afterwards.  During this time Phileena went through what St. John of the Cross called the “Dark Night of the Soul”.  The story of pilgrimage and sabbatical takes us through a deep personal journey.

Several key themes are woven throughout the book.

1.  Issues of Women and their place in the Church.  This isn’t just a conversation about women in ministry, but how the feminine is dealt with inside Christianity.  Understanding how women are able to into their own potential inside a world that unknowingly (and sometimes knowingly) forces strict boundaries around womanhood.  Our author takes us through her own process of finding “voice, perspective and influences-at the risk of upsetting the status quo and being criticized and rejected” (pg 42).  Pilgrimage served as an awakening.

Having been created in the image of God, the feminine nature of God reproduced in me was stirring.  What it means to be fully me, fully woman, wanted to be born and celebrated—making no apologies for my gender, but instead embracing my nature and offering it as a gift to my community and to the world  But this yearning of life was just a seed.  It would require a gestation and incubation period. Darkness was necessary. (pg 93)

2.  This book is also about the soul.  How do we relate to God in such a busy life?  How are we able to withdraw from a foreign world and regal in the holy?  Christianity is a formation journey, as well as a transforming us.  This whole issue of surrender is part of our process with God.  Throughout her pilgrimage the author talks about losing control and being fine with it.


3.  Traversing the active life of justice with the still life of contemplation.  I hinted at this earlier.  How do these two intersect?  One of the valuable lessons in the book is seeing how someone else had to learn to “shut down”.  As the female body passes through a cycles, the author starts to understand that think about the rhythmic nature of life.  Our human restlessness shows our state of withdrawal from God.  It is only until we rest in God alone that this will cease.

Pilgrimage of a Soul is a personal book.  It is a book about one person interacting with the Creator of the universe.  While the praxis side of contemplative spirituality is in the book, if you are expecting a paint by numbers by a famous “justice’er”, it’s not going to happen.  In the end, Phileena shows us that this is a long and arduous process.  It is worth it, but it takes a willingness to rethink just about everything and allow Christ into the very inner workings of the heart and mind. 

This book would be a great read to anyone who is simply “to busy” in ministry to settle down. Formation isn’t something that stops when people enter a ministerial vocation, but instead becomes one of the key parts of the vocation.  Service and Retreat are connected.  This book comes out Friday, and I recommend it to anyone that wishes they could retreat more often.

The *VERY FIRST* Book Review of ‘Pilgrimage of a Soul’ :: on Outside is Better a blog by Chad Brooks