While many pilgrimages are outer journeys to sites of spiritual significance, The Soul of a Pilgrim invites readers on an inner pilgrimage. Creative expression and contemplation are the practices offered to solo pilgrims who read this book. It's full of poetry; scripture stories by John Valters Paintner to explore each theme; an invitation to the practice of lectio divina; and creative exploration through photography. Readers are also invited to write their own Midrash, an ancient Jewish practice, "as a way of entering into the story and finding your own journey."
Each chapter ends with a poem written by Christine Valters Paintner. The poems come out of her own experience and influences of ancient and modern guides; they share wisdom from her own learning and contemplation.
In the introduction, Paintner invites readers to open themselves to receiving a seven-word prayer to be carried with them. And she suggests anointing yourself for the pilgrimage by using some essential oils of your choice and blessing different parts of your body.
Chapter 1 is about hearing the call and saying yes. Quotations in the chapter are from St. Augustine, Hafiz and Rumi. I appreciated the inspiration from various wisdom traditions throughout the book.
Chapter 2, "The Practice of Packing Lightly," invites readers to consider what is needed on the journey. Pilgrimage invites a radical simplicity. There are things we can let go of as well as commitments and relationships that drain us of energy. Books are essential to many of us, as they are to the author, but she asks: "Am I avoiding embracing my own wisdom by relying on the words of others?" With the many questions offered for reflection throughout the book, I felt I was being gently guided to that sort of embrace.
Chapter 3 is about "The Practice of Crossing the Threshold." Readers are invited to pay attention to thresholds such as doorways, windows, or portals of another kind in their photography as contemplative practice. The images captured can help one reflect on what the thresholds reveal "about your own inner crossings."
In Chapter 4, "The Practice of Making the Way by Walking," Paintner describes apavia, a Latin word meaning "roadlessness." The second-century bishop and theologian St. Irenaeus wrote that the true pilgrim was to live life in this state. It means walking without maps, plans and guidebooks.
In Chapter 5, "The Practice of Being Uncomfortable," we are reminded that "when we risk the unfamiliar, our resilience grows, and we become more capable of living life." John Valters Paintner offers "The Story of the Samaritan Woman at the Well" for personal reflection. Readers are invited to lay aside theological interpretations and biblical criticism.
"We are to simply enter the story as if it were our own, as if it were written just for us in this moment of our lives," Paintner says. In the story, Jesus and the woman each cross boundaries to meet one another in a holy place.
The pilgrim is always starting and Chapter 6 is about "The Practice of Beginning Again." Each moment offers us the chance to lay a new foundation, Paintner advises.
Chapter 7 asks readers to go deeper. Pilgrimage "calls us to a radical sense of mystery," Paintner says in the chapter entitled "The Practice of Embracing the Unknown."
In Chapter 8, "The Practice of Coming Home," the author reminds us that pilgrims return home without all the answers. "Instead, they receive better questions; questions that bring the pilgrimage experience into daily life and reveal depth in all they see around them."
Whatever your spiritual tradition, I would recommend this book. If you have no spiritual tradition, I would especially recommend this book. It helps us to pay attention to all that is around us and to the divine. And as with all pilgrims, we return home with better questions.
Christine Valters Paintner is the online abbess for Abbey of the Arts, a virtual monastery offering classes and resources on contemplative practice and creative expression. She is the author of The Eyes of the Heart, Water, Wind, Earth, and Fire, The Artist's Rule, and Lectio Divina: The Sacred Art. Paintner leads pilgrimages in Ireland, Austria, and Germany and lives in Galway, Ireland with her husband John. Visit her website.
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