This spring, I had the luxury of nice weather and time in the early mornings for spiritual reading on the patio on the shady side of my house.
My “go-to” book was a good but lengthy choice: “Jesus, A Pilgrimage,” by Jesuit Father James Martin. I find his books rarely disappoint.
Another book, “My Life with the Saints,” made me think anew about some old heroes and introduced me to some new ones. “Between Heaven and Mirth” reinforced my belief that faith doesn’t have to be such a dour thing and that Jesus actually had a good sense of humor if you better understand the translations of Scripture.
But back to “Jesus, A Pilgrimage.” In the book, Martin and a fellow Jesuit embark on a trip to the Holy Land. My first thought was, who wants to read a travelogue by someone lucky enough to visit a place I’ve always wanted to go?
But as the book circulated through my faith-sharing group, I realized calling this book a travelogue was like calling “The Old Man and the Sea” a fishing guide.
Father Martin does give you a good sense of place and scene. My jealousy at his adventure waned a bit as he described the heat, especially as he and his buddy were willing to trek to out-of-the-way places to find something from Scripture that intrigued them. No air-conditioned one-size-fits-all tour buses for these guys.
On the other hand, there is a benefit to being two Jesuits slogging through the Holy Land. Let’s just say you know where to stay and the right people to contact. But as long as Father Martin was willing to share his journey with me I didn’t begrudge him those privileges.
Basically, his book touches on major and some minor scenes from Jesus’ life. He visits the sites connected with them. Some sites are clearly historically accurate. Others are more questionable, but sometimes, as steps worn by pilgrims’ feet attest, just as moving.
But we don’t stop at being tourists. We enter into imaginative prayer, in the true Ignatian sense, with each Scripture event. And we probe our own relationship with Jesus. We see Father Martin become emotional at Jesus’ tomb and we delve into our own feelings in that tiny space.
Some of the sites visited were off the beaten track. Because Father Martin’s friend had a deep spiritual connection to the story of the Gerasene demoniac, the two Jesuits made every attempt to find the place where Jesus encountered the man who was raving and breaking his chains. It’s a marvel to see them realize the caves dramatically rising up above the coast of the lake are the very ones where the poor man cried out his name was “Legion.”
It’s also worth sharing Father Martin’s reflections on the Upper Room, the site of the Last Supper and the washing of the feet.
“The longer I live the more I wonder how different the church would be if we spent as much time thinking about the washing of the feet as we do about transubstantiation,” said Father Martin at one point.
Bingo. Thoughts like that are worth the book’s price. Father Martin has a way of being easily readable, almost conversational. Then you realize that he’s brought in several Scriptural experts in the last few paragraphs as well as some intriguing information on translations. You don’t think you’re being academic until you surprise yourself with what you’ve written in your journal.
But then Father Martin reminds you: “The true disciple does not simply say, ‘I have studied Jesus,’ but as Mary Magdalene did, ‘I have seen the Lord.’”