One of the encouraging things to me about our church is how many folks are structuring their lives in direct response to their faith in Jesus. There is a genuine desire to journey along the narrow way of discipleship despite hardships and sacrifices. Careers, housing, education and neighborhood involvement are all issues I observe people wrestling with in light of their allegiance to Jesus.
Given the age of many in our church an outside observer could mistake this zeal for youthful idealism though I think something deeper is at play. Even so, I sometimes wonder how a young person’s wide-eyed devotion to Christ can be sustained over the long haul. In other words, what are the practices and rhythms that can breathe life into the Christian as adrenaline and naiveté fade?
This is the type of question, born from years of experience, that weave throughout Phileena Heuertz’s first book, Pilgrimage of a Soul. Huertz has spent the past fifteen years with Word Made Flesh, “an international community serving Christ among the most vulnerable of the world’s poor.” After many years of service she and her husband took a five month sabbatical; the first month was spent on a pilgrimage along El Camino de Santiago and the remaining time was spent at a retreat cottage in North Carolina.
Heuertz organizes her book along seven movements of the contemplative spirituality that have come to sustain her work among the poor. These movements are described within the narrative of the author’s pilgrimage and sabbatical as she experiences the dark night of the soul known by so many Christians in the past. (I’m sure the dark night is still experienced by many Christians, we simply don’t understand or acknowledge this painful aspect of discipleship to Jesus.) Pilgrimage of a Soul isn’t quite a memoir though Heuertz includes enough personal stories to give the seven movements tangible context. Less a prescription for the young and passionate Christian, the book is a description of the process- sometimes painful- of being reborn to greater union with God.
The world needs more devoted people dedicated to pursuing the mission of God wherever it takes them. Even more, our world needs women and men whose lives are caught up in ongoing transformation in Christ. This alone will sustain the Christian for a life of service. Pilgrimage of a Soul is a gift both to the wide-eyed novice on this journey and the weathered pilgrim in the midst of a dark night.