The Book of Wanderings by Kimberly Meyer–Book Review

In this memoir author Kimberly Meyer and her daughter go on a pilgrimage, following in the footsteps of Felix Fabri, a medieval Dominican Friar. They travel from Venice to the Mediterranean, through Greece and Cyprus, reaching Israel and crossing the Sinai Desert and finally arriving in Cairo and Alexandria, Egypt. In each location Ms. Meyer juxtaposes notes from Fabri’s trip with her own impressions, as well as some ancient and modern history of the regions. Read carefully and you will learn a lot!

Personally Meyer finds herself in a liminal place — her daughters are on the cusp of growing up and leaving home, and she is rediscovering herself as an individual. She says:

“I think what drew me to retrace Fabri’s medieval journey was in part a hope that I might see briefly into that unseen, enchanted realm, like catching a glimpse into the unknowable lives of others from the window of a passing train. I was caught in this earthly pause between two eternities. But if I could know that this pause in which I was watching my own erasure in the growing bodies and shifting faces of my daughters –images of me–was only part of an immortal pattern of reality that did not change, this might allow me to let them go.”

The Book of Wanderings: A Mother-Daughter Pilgrimage

Unfortunately, despite visiting and pondering the significance of many religious sites, Meyer is not a believer, and her travel does not make her into one. Her trip moves her physically, but not spiritually. She tells a Muslim who questions her about her beliefs,

“… I did not know if I believed in God, but I supposed that if God existed, He would be one spirit that pervades all things.”

She also mentions that she does not believe in Jesus as the Son of God, except in the sense that we are all children of God– and God to her seems to be a rather impersonal, universal spirit.

VERDICT: THREE STARS. At the core, this book is a travelogue. It will help you visualize the settings of many Bible stories, but don’t expect to be enlightened spiritually.

Pilgrims and Pilgrimage

I’ve been thinking about this topic recently after reading a book about going on a pilgrimage (Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron–Book Review). I came across this poem by Sir Walter Raleigh, said to have been written shortly before his death by beheading. I really liked it, and I hope our readers will, too. It’s definitely an English major moment!

The Passionate Man’s Pilgrimage

Give me my scallop shell of quiet,
My staff of faith to walk upon,
My scrip of joy, immortal diet,
My bottle of salvation,
My gown of glory, hope’s true gage,
And thus I’ll take my pilgrimage.

   Blood must be my body’s balmer,
No other balm will there be given,
Whilst my soul, like a white palmer,
Travels to the land of heaven;
Over the silver mountains,
Where spring the nectar fountains;
And there I’ll kiss
The bowl of bliss,
And drink my eternal fill
On every milken hill.
My soul will be a-dry before,
But after it will ne’er thirst more;
And by the happy blissful way
More peaceful pilgrims I shall see,
That have shook off their gowns of clay,
And go apparelled fresh like me.
I’ll bring them first
To slake their thirst,
And then to taste those nectar suckets,
At the clear wells
Where sweetness dwells,
Drawn up by saints in crystal buckets
.

   And when our bottles and all we
Are fill’d with immortality,
Then the holy paths we’ll travel,
Strew’d with rubies thick as gravel,
Ceilings of diamonds, sapphire floors,
High walls of coral, and pearl bowers.

   From thence to heaven’s bribeless hall
Where no corrupted voices brawl,
No conscience molten into gold,
Nor forg’d accusers bought and sold,
No cause deferr’d, nor vain-spent journey,
For there Christ is the king’s attorney,
Who pleads for all without degrees,
And he hath angels, but no fees.
When the grand twelve million jury
Of our sins and sinful fury,
’Gainst our souls black verdicts give,
Christ pleads his death, and then we live.
Be thou my speaker, taintless pleader,
Unblotted lawyer, true proceeder,
Thou movest salvation even for alms,
Not with a bribed lawyer’s palms.
And this is my eternal plea
To him that made heaven, earth, and sea,
Seeing my flesh must die so soon,
And want a head to dine next noon,
Just at the stroke when my veins start and spread,
Set on my soul an everlasting head.
Then am I ready, like a palmer fit,
To tread those blest paths which before I writ.

P. S. In case you are wondering, the scallop shell was an ancient symbol associated with pilgrimage, and palmer is another name for pilgrim.

If you’re interested in more of my English major moments see:

An English Major Moment from Joan

Another of Joan’s English Major Moments

More Rest In Nature + English Major Moment!

Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron–Book Review

Pastor Chase Falson, leader of a large, evangelical church, finds his faith floundering after the death of a young child in his congregation. Suddenly he doesn’t have all the answers — or any answers–and God seems far away. He shares his feelings in a sermon, and is promptly asked by the church elders to “take a break” so that he and they can reassess his ministry.

Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim's Tale by [Ian M Cron]

Chase’s Uncle, a Franciscan priest, convinces him to come to Italy, going on a kind of pilgrimage to the places that were important in the life of St. Francis of Assisi. He gives him a reading list of books about the saint as well. Chase is highly suspicious at first — for one thing, as a Catholic his theology is all wrong, and wasn’t he also a little crazy? Messages from God, giving up everything? It’s far from the logical, reasoned faith that Chase espouses and teaches.

I won’t publish any “spoilers” except to say that Chase recovers his faith, but he has changed and learned many lessons from Francis, who was willing to look foolish in the eyes of the world for the sake of Christ.

The author describes his book as “a genre called wisdom literature, which is a delicate balance of fiction and nonfiction, pilgrimage and teaching.” It’s an easy, engaging read, and I actually thought it was a memoir at first! Since there was so much historical and theological detail that could not be included in the story, Cron has provided a study guide at the end of the book. This could be done alone or with a group.

VERDICT: 5 STARS. I loved it!

For more on pilgrimages see:

And Then There are Pilgrimages …

..And Speaking of Retreats …..