Monday, February 24, 2014

BookPastor >> "Pilgrimage" (Lynn Austin)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on December 16th 2013. 


TITLE: Pilgrimage: My Journey to a Deeper Faith in the Land Where Jesus Walked
AUTHOR: Lynn Austin
PUBLISHER: Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2013, (240 pages).

Spiritual dryness is not something that is easily avoided. It comes in many forms. It can be boredom about the daily routines of life. It can be the staleness one feels about the weekly worship services. It can also be the increasing sense of restlessness about what the spiritual life actually mean and whether there is more than simply going through the spiritual disciplines. For many of us, a popular project is to take either a long sabbatical or a short retreat. For Lynn Austin, she decides to take a pilgrimage to and through the Holy Land where Jesus walked. Sharing many of the spiritual dryness sentiments described earlier, bestselling author Austin packed her bags to tour Jordan, Israel, various cities in the Middle East as well as the Wilderness of Zin.

With her keen sense of observation and her grasp of the Old and New Testament, she interleaves her sights and experiences of her travels with insights and perceptions of the ancient biblical times. Having done that, she then puts together lessons that touch her and reinvigorated her life and her faith. As she hikes through the wilderness of Zin, she experiences first hand the elements that the Israelites felt when they were struggling through their 40 years of wilderness. She becomes more sympathetic of the real struggles the people felt at that time. It reminds me of our tendency to become armchair critics of the Israelites without actually empathizing with their conditions. The call to faith is actually more challenging than we often think. Even the sight of shepherds leading sheep to graze on dry terrain and rough paths is a reality check against any simplistic picture of shepherds in the ancient times having large green pastures for sheep. Austin also relates the Israelites' crossing of an "unimpressive" looking Jordan River as a milestone to mark the end of their wanderings. It can also be a milestone for our Christian beginnings. Interestingly, despite the sight of the heavily armed security personnel and the sight of weapons, the paranoia and vigilance actually made the visitors feel safer.

Austin spends quite a bit of reflection on Jerusalem, a most important city among the three major religions: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Observing the nature of the walls that keep enemies out, Austin sees how futile it is to depend on the wall for security as history had shown that it is God, not the walls who has the power to save the city. Even her tour through the Pool of Siloam provides her lots of fodder for spiritual thoughts, about abundant water of life, about free flowing spring waters of life, and its spiritual implications. Of special significance is the Holy Week trek where Austin's tour group traces the days and places Jesus walked, leading up to the crucifixion. She closes her reflections with the Sabbath keeping, learning directly from the people there what it means to live leisurely and more humanly.

So What?

For many believers, it is not a question of whether there will be such lethargy but WHEN the spiritual dryness will occur. When that happens, how then does one deal with it? The popular biblical fiction writer has written a non-fiction book that traces her own spiritual pilgrimage and has given readers a window into her thoughts and her spiritual experiences. Just following her journey is like a mini-tour of the Holy Land without having to leave our homes. For those of us who are unable to journey to the Holy Land, this book is a good glimpse through the eyes of Austin. For those of us who experience spiritual dryness, we can visualize that the ancient pilgrims and Old Testament people are in a more challenging positions. For those of us needing a re-invigoration of spiritual vitality, this book brings us back to visualizing the ancient times and to imagining how we would have responded if we can transport ourselves back in time. The pilgrimage has given Austin a breath of spiritual freshness, and to excite her to start a new journey in her spiritual pilgrimage outside the Holy Land. There are three reasons why I like this book.

Firstly, it is a mini-tour guide of the Holy Land. It works like a literary video camera that traces the various landmarks and biblical places. For one who has never stepped foot on Israel, I appreciate the descriptions of the various sites that I have grown so familiar through reading the Bible, but have not seen the place for myself. It gives me a better appreciation of the Bible. For instance, when she was describing her tour of Jerusalem, I find myself grasping on her descriptions to try to paint a picture of what it actually looks like.

Secondly, I appreciate the way Austin links the places she saw with the biblical parallel of what had happened many years ago in the same place. It is one thing to read about the wall. It is yet another to be reminded how the wall had meant to the biblical characters of old.

Thirdly, the spiritual lessons Austin had learnt are powerfully conveyed in the book. Whether it is hunger or thirst; rough terrains or tough territories; towers, walls, or temples, Austin is able to reflect upon the most ordinary things with some extraordinary applications. For example, she reflects on the engineering wonders and the impressive projects King Herod had commissioned during his reign, and how his once prosperous city now had disappeared into the ruins of today. Earthquakes and the natural elements had devastated these symbols of human arrogance.

If you are able to, nothing beats the experience of seeing the Holy Land firsthand. If not, reading this book may very well be a helpful alternative.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Bethany House Publishers in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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