Charles Foster tells us one of his purposes in penning The Sacred Journey, part of the Ancient Practices series (Thomas Nelson, 2010), is to offer readers a theology of pilgrimage. He does so with verve and a delightfully unpredictable take on a topic begging for a thoughtful, modern exploration from a low church/evangelical perspective. But he does much more than that in this 230-page addition to the series. Foster invites challenges, provokes, prods, woos, refutes, affirms and, in each one of the book’s fourteen chapters, reminds us who we were created to be: pilgrims.
Foster noted that the idea of pilgrimage is embedded in many religious cultures: “Without indicating the source, I wrote down several dozen quotations on the subject of pilgrimage culled from most of the main religions. I asked the theologically sophisticated Christian audience to identify the ‘Christian’ ones. They couldn’t. They were hopeless. When I told them which was which, they were amused and horrified.”
However, Foster differentiates Christian pilgrimage as something that helps us disengage from the toxic tendencies found in some of our modern expressions of faith: “Physical pilgrimage involves bodies, blisters, hunger, and diarrhea. And it’s a kingdom activity. It is accordingly one of the best prophylactics against, and cures for, one of the the deadliest and most prevalent diseases crippling the church: gnosticism. It is also effective against bigotry, self-righteousness and angst.” Foster addresses topics including God’s “bias” on behalf of wanderers and edge-dwellers, offers some compelling reasons about why (and where) we should go, how to travel, the community found on the road, the journey home, and a look at the Debbie Downer settlers who oppose the idea of pilgrimage. Anecdotes from his own journeys, stories and quotes from pilgrims through time, and a solid, thoughtful approach to the material are designed to rattle you – and move you.
This is not a guidebook or a how-to manual. There are no packing lists, pilgrimage destination ideas or insider tips. This book is about why pilgrimage matters. By the time you finish reading The Sacred Journey, you will likely realize that it matters far more than you ever realized. Recommended.