The Sacred Journey: The Ancient Practices

Overview

“When Yahweh became a man, he was a homeless vagrant. He walked through Palestine proclaiming that a mysterious kingdom had arrived...He called people to follow him, and that meant walking.”
— Charles Foster

Humans are built to wander. History is crisscrossed by their tracks. Sometimes there are obvious reasons for it: to get better food for themselves or their animals; to escape weather, wars, or plague. But ...

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Overview

“When Yahweh became a man, he was a homeless vagrant. He walked through Palestine proclaiming that a mysterious kingdom had arrived...He called people to follow him, and that meant walking.”
— Charles Foster

Humans are built to wander. History is crisscrossed by their tracks. Sometimes there are obvious reasons for it: to get better food for themselves or their animals; to escape weather, wars, or plague. But sometimes they go—at great expense and risk—in the name of God, seeking a place that feels sacred, that speaks to the heart.

God himself seems to have a bias toward the nomad. The road is a favored place — a place of epiphany.

That’s all very well if you are fit and free. But what if you are paralyzed by responsibility or disease? What if the only journey you can make is to the office, the school, or the bathroom?

Best-selling English author and adventurer Charles Foster has wandered quite a bit, and he knows what can be found (and lost) on a sacred journey. He knows that pilgrimage involves doing something with whatever faith you have. And faith, like muscle, likes being worked.

Exploring the history of pilgrimage across cultures and religions, Foster uses tales of his own travels to examine the idea of approaching each day as a pilgrimage, and he offers encouragement to anyone who wants to experience a sacred journey. The result is an intoxicating, highly readable blend of robust theology and lyrical anecdote — an essential guidebook for every traveler in search of the truth about God, himself, and the world.

When Jesus said “Follow me,” he meant us to hit the road with him. The Sacred Journey will show you how.

The Ancient Practices

There is a hunger in every human heart for connection, primitive and raw, to God. To satisfy it, many are beginning to explore traditional spiritual disciplines used for centuries . . . everything from fixed-hour prayer to fasting to sincere observance of the Sabbath. Compelling and readable, the Ancient Practices series is for every spiritual sojourner, for every Christian seeker who wants more.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780849946097
  • Publisher: Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
  • Publication date: 12/28/2010
  • Pages: 252
  • Sales rank: 963,255
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Charles Foster is a writer, barrister, tutor in medical law and ethics at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of Green Templeton College, Oxford. He has written, edited, or contributed to over thirty books.

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Read an Excerpt

THE SACRED JOURNEY


By charles foster

Thomas Nelson

Copyright © 2010 Charles Foster
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8499-0099-0


Chapter One

THE STRANGE STRIDER

Whereas most other mammalian bipeds hop or waddle, we stride. Homo sapiens is the only mammal that is adapted exclusively to bipedal striding. -Encyclopedia Britannica

When man was First born, somewhere in East Africa, he began to walk. He was splendidly equipped to do so. He had long, straight hind limbs, bad for climbing trees but excellent for hoisting up his head so that he could get a long view across the savannah, and excellent for striding. He was called Homo sapiens-the thinking man-but he could equally well have been called Homo ambulans-the walking man. Indeed his thinking and his walking have been inextricably entwined.

He walked down the Nile and across the Sinai land bridge into Europe and Asia. Sometimes he stopped walking, and then there was disaster. But there have always been wanderers. They have stubbornly refused to settle, and from the edges of the settlements they have looked critically, pityingly, and prophetically in at the settlers. Their eyes have glinted menacingly in the night. The settlers have felt threatened, inadequate, and judged, and they have responded in the way that all fat bullies react-by violence. Wanderers have been denounced and hunted, but never humiliated.

In the Abrahamic religious tradition, God makes no secret of his clear bias for the wanderer. He is on the side of the Bedouin and loathes the city. It is not surprising. Abraham, the father of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, was the archetypal desert Bedouin. Jesus was homeless: "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head," he declared, and with pride, not regret. "I'm in the line of that vagrant, Abraham," he was saying. The prophet Mohammed denounced the evils of the suburbs. Islam is a religion of black goat-hair tents, withering sun, and sandstorm. Religion, like everything else, tends to go bad when it is imported to the town.

Humans have never forgotten that they were designed as walkers. When things go wrong, they go for a walk, and whether through the action of serotonin or some ancient metaphysical mechanics, that seems to make things better. When they want to feel what it is like to be a human being (instead of a lawyer, an academic, or an acronym), they lace up their boots. When they want to feel even more human, they take off their boots and walk barefoot. When they want to describe the human's strange relationship with time, they use the language of the road: "Time is marching on"; "Stop dragging your feet"; "I think she's coming to the end of the road."

All the great religions have acknowledged this fundamental relationship between the man, his feet, and his place in the universe. The acknowledgment has taken many forms. One of them is pilgrimage. It is unstoppable. In the Middle Ages, huge economies were built on it. They still are. Each year about 3 million Muslims make the Hajj, 5 million Christians go to Lourdes, 20 million Hindus visit the 1,800 sacred sites in India, and about 700,000 devotees trundle reverently to Graceland, the shrine of Elvis Presley in Memphis, Tennessee. As conventional churchgoing plummets, the number of people taking to the road rises. These are good times to buy shares in companies owning hotels in Santiago de Compostela. If you think Christianity is all about signing up to a set of doctrinal propositions, that will worry you sick. "Now the lord said to Abram, 'Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you' ... So Abram went." And ever since, men have been going to the lands they think God is showing them.

Judaism was forged on the march, in the wind and blazing sun of Sinai. "You're a pilgrim people," said God, "and don't you forget it." And so to help them remember, he stuck walks into their liturgical calendar. "Three times in the year all your males shall appear before the Lord God, the God of Israel." That wasn't just putting on your best clothes and going to the synagogue around the corner. Unless you lived wherever the tabernacle was, that meant taking to the road for Passover, Shau'ot, and Sukkot. It meant dust, expense, disease, and bedbugs.

As does the Islamic Haj. Between the eighth and the thirteenth days of the twelfth month, Saudi Arabia's population swells massively. Charter flights, bought with the life savings of Pakistani peasants and shopkeepers, clog the skies. Trucks, axle-bendingly overloaded, cut into the liquid tarmac on the road to Mecca. Boats shudder across the Red Sea; the pilgrims shave their heads and throw the hair into the wash from the engines. "Pilgrimage to the House," says the Qur'an, "is a duty laid upon people which they owe to Allah, those of them that can afford the journey thither." The House, here, is the "House of God"-the Ka'aba in Mecca, believed by Muslims to have been built by Abraham and Ishmael. It was an important shrine long before the birth of Islam, and it contains fragments of the black stone (perhaps a meteorite) once kissed by the prophet Mohammed.

The Prophet's great campaign was against polytheism, and so a centralization of the faith was crucial. If you sanctioned little local shrines, there would be a danger of breeding little local gods, little local cults, and little local heresies. The Hajj-the mandatory pilgrimage to the one Mecca-reminds Muslims that there is one God, Allah; that he spoke very specifically to one man, the Prophet, in this place; that there is only one true revolution against unbelief, this one. It is an invigorating reminder of the internationality and scale of Islam, a return to the Abrahamic routes and roots, and a reminder that stasis kills. "You're just passing through," says the Hajj. "Keep moving. Neither Dhaka nor Jakarta's your real home. Neither, in fact, is Mecca. You are built for Paradise. Walk on." And when they get to the Ka'aba, that's what they do. They keep circling, seven times in all, following in the wing beats of the angels that circle the throne of Allah (for even the angels are travelers).

And when the pilgrims have done that, there's more traveling. They run between two hills to remember Hagar, Ishmael's mother, and go to the Mount of Mercy, where the Prophet spoke to his followers for the last time before his death. The connection with Abraham is reforged during the Feast of Eid ul-Adha (which remembers Abraham's sacrifice of a ram instead of his son), when a sacrificed animal is eaten-a desert meal, commemorating a desert man.

The journey to Mecca used to be dangerous and arduous. It sometimes still is. But Islam is clear: the journey itself forms no part of the Hajj. The Hajj proper begins when the pilgrim reaches Mecca. This dictate is a useful bulwark against heresy. If the point of the Hajj is to promote doctrinal unity and purity, it is wise to say that the only legitimate experiences are those that occur under the umbrellas of tradition and clerical supervision. The road is an unpredictable, epiphanic place. Things happen to people there. When you step onto the road, you throw open the experiential floodgates. And who knows what might come in?

That isn't a worry that tortures Hindu and Buddhist wanderers. They want to be transformed by the land, and they are. The tradition of pilgrimage in Hinduism and Buddhism is vertiginously ancient. The Mahabharata (c. 400 BC), one of the foundational documents of Hinduism, lists many pilgrimage sites; Buddhism has a well-established circuit by the third century BC at the very latest.

Hinduism sees the land as expressly sacred. There are various ways of trying to express that sanctity, but one of the commonest is to see India as the body of a goddess, mythically dismembered and scattered between the coral seas. Her body permeates, fertilizes, and sanctifies India. A holy mountain might be her nipple; a cave might be her navel. In the forest, as you are waiting to die, you might hear her heartbeat trembling through the earth.

The physical form of the landscape is therefore supremely important. A landslide that sheers the face off a hill might be the tears rolling down the goddess's cheeks. The landscape dictates religious practice: it is not a theater in which religion happens. When a new temple to Vishnu was recently built near Birmingham, UK, it was an exact replica of the Vishnu temple at Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh and, crucially, the seven hills in which the original temple nestles were faithfully reproduced.

Pilgrims roll like waves across India, crashing as surf against the beaches of Varanasi, Vrindavan, and Badrinath at the great festivals. Some pilgrims ride the waves all their lives, begging for their food, the calluses on the soles of their feet about as thick as their ankles.

Even when the software engineers from Bangalore come to a holy place in their air-conditioned limousines, they still have to walk. They waddle in tight terylene trousers along prescribed processional routes. Buildings are not for congregation, shelter, or interest: they exist to be walked through.

And then there is Christianity.

Jesus was a very Jewish Palestinian. The Christians believed he was God-that God had burst uniquely into space and time and wandered around the Holy Land. The physical evidence in Palestine had an apologetic importance for Christianity that no similar evidence had in any other religion, and the theology of the incarnation lent that evidence a devotional power that not even the fingernails of the Buddha had for Buddhists. The accounts of Jesus' life are geographically very explicit. He had said, "Follow me." Many took him literally.

Pilgrimage to the Holy Land was difficult until the rise of Constantine, but thereafter, for a while, it was both facilitated and popularized by the efforts of the formidable Helena, Constantine's mother, who trawled the Near East for biblical sites, slapping on labels that by and large have stuck. Some of her identifications are almost certainly wrong (Mount Sinai, for instance); some have survived more or less unscathed the worst that modern archaeological skepticism can throw at them (the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, for example, which contains the alleged sites of the death and resurrection of Jesus); many will forever bear the verdict "not impossible" (such as the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem). It was Helena who drew the pilgrims' map of the Holy Land.

Her map was soon encrusted with legend and theology. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was thought to be the place where Adam was created and where Abraham lifted the knife to kill Isaac. (In Jewish thought, both happened on the Temple Mount.) If you go to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre today and can fight your way through the melee, you will see a crack in the rock of Golgotha. All the tour groups are told that the crack appeared at the death of Jesus: "The earth shook, and the rocks were split." The Catholic and Orthodox tour groups are then told that the blood of Jesus flowed through the crack to the grave of Adam below. The first Adam was thus redeemed by the blood of the second "Adam."

From the fourth century, pilgrim guidebooks were a commercial hit. We meet some of them later. They tell us a lot about how myths are made. Humans are desperate to see their vital abstractions made concrete, and the heat of the Holy Land crystallizes abstractions beautifully. The devout mind poured the blood of Christ into the great lamp that hung in the middle of the Dome of the Rock, and linked a cistern near the Dome with Ezekiel's prophecy about water coming forth from the temple. There is also straightforward competition with the rival religions. Islam says that the footprint of the Prophet's horse, Buraq, is visible in the Dome of the Rock. Christian pilgrims, not to be outdone, saw Christ's footprints there, connected with one of his visits to the Temple.

In AD 638 the armies of Islam swept up from Arabia and took Jerusalem. The shock and the shame reverberated throughout Christendom and indeed acted as an adhesive, sticking together its disparate parts. Christians loathed one another, but they hated the Muslim conquerors of Jerusalem even more. Christian pilgrimage shuddered to a near halt. A few intrepid travelers still made it there, but they were probably more daring than devoted.

The Christian world fulminated and plotted, but life went on. You can't stop caribou or swallows from migrating, and the pilgrim instinct could not be suppressed. So local shrines blossomed (those with relics from the Holy Land doing particularly well); the tombs of saints attracted more attention than ever.

In an ecstasy of bloodlust fueled by guilt, fear, and apocalyptic hymns, Jerusalem was stormed by the self-styled "armed pilgrims" of the first crusade in 1099. After the guts had been hosed down the drains of the Temple Mount, a strange kingdom started to rule the Holy Land. This was a kingdom of men in steel, wearing hair shirts-men a long way from home who had seen and done terrible things, men for whom time was short and redemption urgent.

Their energy was astonishing. Realizing their supply lines were dangerously long, they built a chain of castles to guard them. Those castles, built in the most straitened circumstances, are some of the great architectural glories of the Middle Ages. It was sweating on the battlements of the summit of the Krak des Chevaliers, in the Syrian highlands, that I first admired anything made by men. Whenever I am in Jerusalem, I sleep in a crusader cellar. And each night, when the cameras have stopped flashing and the coaches have belched away to Tel Aviv, I go to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the best thing the crusaders ever did or tried to do, and sit at Calvary, breathing old frankincense in the dark.

The brutal, dreaming kingdom of Jerusalem didn't last a hundred years. In 1187 the crusaders marched out onto the fields of Hattin in the Galilee to meet the army of Saladin. They carried with them the most precious relic of all-the True Cross, discovered by Helena in a cave under the Holy Sepulchre. They thought they couldn't lose. The Cross had defeated the powers of darkness and routed Satan; what chance did an Ayyubid upstart have?

But this time it was the crusaders who were routed. The Cross was carried off in triumph by the cheering hordes of Islam and has never been seen again. The disaster of Hattin was both military and theological. The kingdom was broken. Jerusalem fell shortly afterward. This should have prompted an agonized reassessment of the raison d'etre of crusading. There was certainly plenty of agonizing. The instrument of salvation had gone. Had salvation gone with it? Had God definitively withdrawn his favor from his crusading mujahidin? Was Islam right in saying that it had superseded Christianity? Hattin injected doubt deep into the psyche of the Christian West.

But on one level it did not take the crusaders or Christendom long to get over their spasm of introspection. God, they decided, with the help of a lot of Old Testament footnotes, had judged them for their faithlessness, their immorality, their arrogance. But not their violence. And how should they repent and regain his favor? By redoubling their armed efforts. By avenging the sleight to the name of God that had been uttered at Hattin. God was like them: his honor was everything.

And so the crusades grumbled bloodily on. Each wave contained men who saw themselves as pilgrims, often with a primarily penitential objective. And although the politics of the papacy increasingly wrote the real agenda of the crusaders, protection of pilgrim traffic to the Holy Land featured strongly in the rhetoric of the crusade preachers.

No subsequent crusade achieved anything like the success of the first. In their frustration, later armed pilgrims flung themselves on Jews and Christians. Christian Constantinople was sacked by the fourth crusade in 1204, massively boosting the relics trade in Europe and therefore increasing the number of European pilgrimage destinations. But Jerusalem itself remained in Islamic hands until British commander Edmund Allenby, dismounting from his horse in deference to the Holy City, entered it on foot in 1917 after defeating the Ottomans. "Today the Crusades have ended," he said, unwisely.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from THE SACRED JOURNEY by charles foster Copyright © 2010 by Charles Foster. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Foreword viii

Preface xiii

Acknowledgments xx

Prologue xxii

1 The Strange Strider 1

2 The Kingdom Road: A Theology for Walkers 17

3 Bias to the Wanderer 36

4 The God Who Walks 60

5 Why Go? Getting Rid of Junk 83

6 Why Go? Thirst for an Encounter 106

7 Where To? Thin Places 123

8 Packing and Preparation 136

9 The Journey: Old Feet, New Eyes 142

10 The Journey: Blistered Feet, Tired Eyes 152

11 The Fellowship of the Rood 167

12 Arrival and Return 178

13 "It's a Profane Journey": Opponents of Pilgrimage 194

14 The Inevitable Pilgrim 205

Notes 214

Select Bibliography 224

About the Author 226

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 30 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 19, 2012

    gladreuioonm

    To reaad

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  • Posted September 1, 2011

    Not my favorite, but it was worth the read

    "The Sacred Journey: The Ancient Practices" is the seventh book in the Ancient Practices series. although, I did not read the other books in the series, the Foreword indicates that the practices are traditions of the Christian faith and include such things as fasting, tithing, prayer, the liturgical year, communion, and keeping the Sabbath.  I had a very hard time getting into this book.  I was drawn away at the beginning when the author began talking about the pilgrimages of religions other than Christianity from a (in my opinion) strange viewpoint and the book felt like a non-Christian book.  I didn't think that the scripture references were used accurately and were actually very distracting from the message the author was trying to get across. The book was about the pilgrimage every person goes on, whether it be physical, spiritual or emotional. The author discusses the wanderings of those in the Bible and those of others who have made notable travels and how important it is to have the pilgrimage experience. Whether they are literal or figurative pilgrimages, the author discusses the benefits of having an open heart to experience the journey. Although I personally did not enjoy the book, it was more the writing style than the content of the book.
    Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 6, 2011

    Great

    The Sacred Journey

    The book, "The Sacred Journey", is beautiful .It describes me at my very core. I am the human being that has to walk when things go wrong. I yearn to be barefoot in my journey, because it truly is about the experience. The essence of the book is this: As humans, we pilgrimage. Some religions have a one a year big trip where you have to literally walk for hundreds or thousands of miles to reach a sacred building. As humans, we stride, or walk, wherever we go. It is not about arriving at our place, but it is about the journey. When it comes to our spiritual lives, it is no different. It is about choosing to walk with Jesus Christ daily, and live obediently to him alone.

    The journey of walking daily with Jesus Christ changes people. It changes you, and it changes me. If you are not walking with Jesus Christ daily, I pray you would. It is scary. It is challenging. But God yearns to be with us, and He is transforming us from the inside out. He is the only one who has the power to "create me in a new heart" (Psalm 51:10) Rev 21:5 is where the Lord is on His throne, and says "I make all things new!"

    God has such awesome power to transform us the minute we become "saved", but instead we are left to the journey. Why? This is, because it is the experience of the lifetime. We have the opportunity to grow closer to the Lord, as we forsake the old self and turn to Christ daily! We are never left on the journey alone. We have Jesus Christ to walk with us, as we journey and we have the support of fellow believers who are on different stages of the same life-long journey.

    Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com

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  • Posted June 15, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Excellent Book That Challenges The American Dream Mentality

    I knew going into it that The Sacred Journey would be a tough read, but I didn't know it would be so wonderful. Foster does a great job of explaining Pilgrimage, bringing it out of antiquity and making it relevant in our modern world.

    Foster's theory of Pilgrimage is based on the premise that Yahweh God was a Pilgrim God, "loudly and unequivocally on the side of the nomads." In whatever guise he appeared, he was a traveler "..and He has an alarmingly clear preference for people who can't keep still."

    God's values and character are demonstrated in a nomad's life in the following ways:

    Life on the edges
    Indiscriminate and costly hospitality
    Solidarity with the marginalized
    Intimate relationships with humans and the environment
    A new view at every step
    The loosest possible hold on possessions

    Pilgrimage is not just wandering, it's wandering after God, it's "a restoration of broken things and a making of new things." Pilgrimage involves doing something with whatever faith you have. "When men stop wandering, it all goes wrong," claims Foster, "That is what the story of Sodom is about..... we are bound to places and possessions, and befouled with all the moral detritus that comes with them." Foster is tough on Christians caught up in living The American Dream. "You become morbidly attached to your little slice and consumed with the desire to assert your title to it. It is not surprising that you become unhappy, cynical, jaded and fat. Get up, get out."

    The Sacred Journey is a powerful read. I am starting it all over again. It's full of Biblical examples and foundations. It is controversial. It is explosive. You may not agree with all of it. You may mourn that your life has gotten so far off-track.

    God, Foster reminds us, "wasn't a big hit with the urban establishment" and I suspect there is a lot of Christian establishment today that isn't fond of Foster's viewpoint. But I love it. I am a pilgrim at heart, always most attracted to the maps in the Bible.

    Foster concludes, "Salvation is by grace,, not by pilgrimage. But pilgrimages can help to create the conditions in which grace can work best." And he reminds us of Jesus' first words to his disciples: "Follow me."

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  • Posted May 28, 2011

    If you're looking for a different perspective, this might be for you

    Get up. Go. Experience life as one only can on the road, stripped of responsibility, pressure and the burden to conform. In this, in pilgrimage, can one only truly come to understand the Lord and gain a closer relationship with Him and with others. This is what appears to be the message of The Sacred Journey by Charles Foster. Based on conversations, literature and his own vast experiences, Mr. Foster presents a motivational book that challenges his readers to simply "go and seek." See the world through new, child-like eyes. Experience life with all of your senses and without the blindness and complacency of everyday living often brings. See people for who they are rather than what they have to offer you. Who would not want this? Who would not want to simply be grateful for breath and for life without any other complexities? The Sacred Journey takes its readers through the nomadic experiences of Abraham to Medieval crusades and modern day pilgrimages. At its conclusion, Mr. Foster thoughtfully included questions for each chapter geared to motivate his readers to think and to absorb what he has written and shared. This is a very well written book, however it is one that will likely offend many of its readers. The thought that God prefers nomads to urban dwellers and that the sin of Sodom was their settlement will possibly be enough to cause some to stop their reading in the first half of the book. Thoughts regarding the cities the Bible declares the Lord commanded to be built will enter the minds of some and will likely color their perspective as they continue to read. Although many will not be able to simply get up and go on a pilgrimage due to responsibility and physical limitations, The Sacred Journey may still have some impact. The idea of stripping away all the gloss and all the filth to reach the true being in each of us.the idea of giving and sharing even among strangers.the idea of seeking a relationship with the Lord without any barriers.all of these are worth dwelling on and seeking out. The Sacred Journey may be the motivation some need to simply do these things. Others who continue to the book's end may find themselves challenged simply by looking at life from a previously unknown perspective.

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  • Posted May 26, 2011

    Should Be "Medieval Practices", but You'll Get the Point...

    Charles Foster's The Sacred Journey is part of Thomas Nelson's Ancient Practices Series, edited by Phyllis Tickle. I wish that they would have put more thought into naming the series because I have now read two of the books in the series and both deal with medieval practices and have little to say about anything ancient.

    With that being said, there is nothing wrong with looking at the medieval practices of spirituality. Most modern Christians do not realize that we get most of our spiritual practices from this period - especially in the western church. Unfortunately, the word medieval is not considered as sexy as ancient in Christian publishing, so the period never really gets its full due.

    Drawing from a number of traditions, even non-Christian ones, Charles Foster shows us an image of humanity that desires to be on the move. He even argues that Yahweh prefers the nomads - that the God of the Bible is the God of the traveler and not the sedentary. There is a lot of value to this observation. History has shown us that whenever faith becomes static, it becomes violent and confrontational. It is when faith must remain mobile that it has its greatest complexity and vibrancy.

    Foster attempts to break down the meaning of pilgrimage - a moving faith - in the modern and postmodern context. In a way, he calls the church to see pilgrimage as a living part of our faith. I am not entirely sure he succeeds, but he certainly makes some strides in the right direction.

    I found myself agreeing more with Foster in his assessment of sedentary Christian faith than I did when he launched into many of his anecdotal observations on the benefits of pilgrimage. For example, he tries to make the point that being on a pilgrimage makes it harder to sin. Having read Canterbury Tales, I am not sure I agree with him.

    Additionally, he fails to address the role of the church in these pilgrimages. His focus is entirely individual, even in passages where he speaks about community and corporate journey. I am not sure that pilgrimage can be divorced from community, and I think that is one of the failures of medieval and modern pilgrimage. Consider the early monastics. At first, the desired to be completely alone but they quickly learned that spiritual discipline is best practiced in community.

    Is Sacred Journey worth reading? Yes. It has great merit, especially in our very settled and complacent age. But when you read it, discern carefully and think corporately rather than simply individually. My warning is to not buy into the romanticism of being alone on the road in the wilderness. Sometimes we are called to journey alone, but it is always in preparation for restoration to the community. It is not the loneliness that makes the pilgrim.

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  • Posted May 2, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    It's okay

    In this book, Charles Foster discusses everything about the spiritual Journey. He starts out with the history of the pilgrimage and the significance it has to each of the different religions. He also discusses the process that is gone through in order to make a pilgrimage.


    Reading the summary of this book, I honestly thought it would be interesting to read. Throughout my entire life, I have always been interested in the concept of the spiritual journey and what it means to make one. So naturally, I thought this book would be right up my alley. Unfortunately, I was wrong.

    I thought the information within the book was interesting. Foster does make some very good points, but I found it difficult to stay interested. The one thing I did find interesting though, was the discussion about fellowship on the road. It's easy to fall into our comfortable social ruts and never want to leave. It's safe and secure there. But out on the road, we are forced to make new acquaintances. We are put into the position of opening our eyes, not only to new people, but new ideas. The pilgrimage is good for growth of the mind, as well as the spirit.



    Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 : "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

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  • Posted April 23, 2011

    Pilgrimages

    Charles Foster is a barrister. For those of us in the United States, we most commonly refer to people in his profession as lawyers. Charles Foster writes like a lawyer, laying out his case, documenting his evidence, as seen in the 10 pages of citations at the end of the book. He hammers home his points, almost belaboring them. The challenge to us is that we, by our very nature, are wanderers. Jesus set the example as a wanderer. As we strive to follow in His steps, can we do less? There are many reasons why we should make a sacred journey and they range from getting rid of the junk in our lives to the fellowship we experience with other travelers. While the Christian pilgrimage is more about the journey than the arrival, the return is also important. We are changed by such a journey. One quote Foster included that particularly spoke to me was from R. S. Thomas - The point of travelling is not to arrive, but to return home laden with pollen you shall work up into honey the mind feeds on. This book made me long for a sacred journey. My mini Good Friday pilgrimage gave me a taste of what a longer passage may do for me. This book was provided to me by Booksneeze, a bloggers book review program. I was not required to write a positive review.

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  • Posted April 20, 2011

    The Sacred Journey: The Ancient Practices

    DISCLOSURE: I received this book for free through the Thomas Nelson BookSneeze program. In return I agreed to provide a review of the book.

    "The Sacred Journey: The Ancient Practices" is the seventh book in the Ancient Practices series. although, I did not read the other books in the series, the Foreword indicates that the practices are traditions of the Christian faith and include such things as fasting, tithing, prayer, the liturgical year, communion, and keeping the Sabbath.

    My initial assumption was that the book would present pilgrimage from the Christian perspective and provide a look at the history of pilgrimage in the Christian faith. However, the book spends a considerable amount of time discussing pilgrimage in other faiths (such as Hinduism and Islam) and their views of pilgrimage. The first few sentences of the first chapter even present man as having evolved into a walking creature (although it doesn't specifically use the term "evolve"), which is not congruent with the biblical understanding of origins.

    The author seems to take Scripture out of context, twisting them to support his viewpoint in many places as well (although I do agree with him concerning Gnosticism and the emergence movement). The author seems to offer a confused explanation of what salvation is and its exclusivity on pages 23 and 24, where he presents salvation as a debate between his friends of various denominations. He never seems to address specifically what it is (while stating on page 24 that the word "conversion" never appears in the gospels). In the end he seems to confuse salvation with actual physical pilgrimage because Jesus used the phrase "follow me" when responding to questions about how to reach heaven. He fails to mention other examples in the Gospels where Jesus specifies that one must believe (John chapter 6) and even the rest of the New Testament. He continues down this confused path (no pun intended) and offers the viewpoints and one of his friends and himself, stating that they have some religious moments and may even gain spiritual enlightenment through the act. In addition, the author seems to put man-made religions and men's experiences (including his own on page 53) above or at least on par with scripture.

    The author seems to be confused about what exactly he means by pilgrimage in some instances. He states that pilgrimage should not be interpreted as a spiritual journey but a physical walk (I believe this may be in response to the Gnostic viewpoint, where the spirit is good and the flesh or physical is bad). However, later on in the book, the author seems to refer to pilgrimage as a spiritual journey in a few instances. He also seems to describe pilgrimage in spiritual and mystical terms as if it is imbued with some power, which made me somewhat uneasy since the book is apparently designed to be from a Christian perspective.

    In short, I cannot recommend this book as a Christian work.

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  • Posted April 20, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Inspiring

    The Sacred Journey by Charles Foster explores the "ancient practice" of pilgrimage, offering both traditional and more abstract avenues through which to act the pilgrim (or at least think like a pilgrim). Foster does not attempt to "defend" pilgrimage. He does not offer a historical overview of the practice, and he does not provide many practical steps toward living pilgrimage. This isn't a "practical" book.

    It is, however, a beautiful meditation on the pilgrim life.

    Foster's book illuminates so much of what we suburban Christians are missing out on while we drive our comfortable cars- when we live in the same city for the whole of our lives, when we exist totally in an air-conditioned, cushioned, familiar world.

    Pilgrimages teach us the beauty of a journey. They teach us to embrace messiness and simplicity. They connect the body and spirit. They remind us that we do not belong, that (while on earth) we are not home.

    I love Foster's chapter on "thin places," places where, for whatever reason, God seems closer, "where, if you [are] quiet enough, you [can] hear the murmurings of God." I have decided that the sea is my thin place. And I have vowed to visit Jerusalem.

    But this book didn't just make me want to travel. It made we want to live like a traveler, to pack light, to make tentative plans, to make room for the unexpected.

    Foster reminds his readers in achingly lovely language that pilgrimage is more lifestyle than practice. We don't just make pilgrimages. We are pilgrims.

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  • Posted April 2, 2011

    This is one of the best books to use if you want a fun existential crisis.

    So, how do I begin this review? I suppose I'll begin it with asserting that this review is my own and that I received the book as part of Thomas Nelson Publishers BookSneeze review program. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255.

    Now that we're done with legality, let us press on. Far from being your common book, this one compelled me to think and reflect, an action I do not perform with every book. The Sacred Journey became a companion on my walks through the park, beckoning a renewed sense of self-awareness. As an author myself, I have had the opportunity to read many a book on spirituality, but this one takes a stark turn, combining humor with deep wisdom.

    Thinking over the many themes of the book, I've come to the conclusion that there is no definite answer to the many questions humanity asks. It is about the journey, the epiphanies we arrive at while our feet trudge forward.

    Furthermore, the book offers both the literal and philosophical option of pilgrimage. For one, a recurring theme in it is Jesus' prompting of "Follow me." While this is certainly a doable corollary to Jesus' message of the Kingdom, it's not an easy one. What The Sacred Journey espouses is, for me, a search of truth and a reawakening of our human spark, the awareness of our own being.

    I cannot ask others to share my view, but I think The Sacred Journey might just be the most pleasant and intriguing existential crisis I've ever had. I commend the book for its effective combination of light and heavy, as well as the author, for his personal conviction and courage. Overall, a great read, which I recommend to everyone.

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  • Posted March 22, 2011

    Purposeful Pilgrimage

    The Sacred Journey by Charles Foster is part of The Ancient Practices series put together by Phyllis Tickle. In it Foster looks at the spiritual benefit of going on a pilgrimage (while not clearly saying what a pilgrimage needs to look like). He contends that we're meant to be wanderers--that God doesn't intend for us to build cities. Whether that's true or not, a journey toward something sacred usually produces change.

    I enjoyed the book--mostly because I like the notion of traveling. I wish I could do more of it, and do it more purposefully. This book, for the most part, is more theoretical than practical. The author shares stories from his pilgrimages, from others he has met on the road and from journals of pilgrims.

    Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255

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  • Posted March 13, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Take a walk with Jesus

    Have you ever been to Jerusalem?

    I haven't.

    But if I had, I wouldn't have gone as a pilgrim on a spiritual journey. I would have arrived as a tourist, and that wouldn't have been right.

    Now that I've read this book, I feel like I'd get more out of the experience.

    Charles Foster shares many personal stories about pilgrimage, as well as an overview of the many pilgrim routes in Europe and the Middle East.

    The last line of the book sums up its contents well: "[A]s a summary of the four Gospels, 'Let's go for a walk together' is not bad."

    If you'd like to take a walk with Jesus, then I recommend you read this book.

    Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review.

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  • Posted February 18, 2011

    joyful with a few thick blisters

    Book Review: "The Sacred Journey" by Charles Foster
    Three and a half out of five stars.

    Charles Foster's "The Sacred Journey" is his case in support of Christian pilgrimage. He goes into to detail about the history of pilgrimages, their various benefits, and their significant role in journeys of faith.

    Foster is in full support of everyone taking a literal pilgrimage to somewhere one deems as holy. The author describes his trip to the Holy Land, as well as giving countless examples of others' pilgrimages.

    I really liked this book, but I found a few problems with it.The first half of the book is the strongest due to being filled with theology and meaty thoughts to chew on. However, when actually discussing the journey itself, Foster tries to compact this huge concept of which he has introduced.

    I personally would love to go on this pilgrimage he supports, but it seems very contextual for Foster himself. Because I am a young woman, I am unable to do many of things he is able to do i.e. travel at night. I really wished he addressed this possibility better than simply tossing an obstacle in the last chapter.

    Foster's writing seems to drift here and there without much warning about where he is going. It is very scattered, but still very thought provoking. I underlined something on nearly every page, so do not think you will walk away empty-handed.

    I found myself boxing off entire paragraphs reminding me of all the good, heavy parts of this book that make it worth the read. I learned a lot, and am glad I read it; the journey of reading this book was just like what a pilgrimage ought to be: joyful with a thick blisters.

    (The Sacred Journey is the seventh book on ancient spiritual practices book series published by Thomas Nelson Press. I received a free copy of it for review from their Booksneeze program.)

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  • Posted February 10, 2011

    Not my "cup of tea"

    This book is the last of the Ancient Practices Series and it deals with one of the lesser known and less common aspects of the Christian walk..pilgrimage. Charles Foster takes from his own journey as well as others (unknowns and Biblical characters) to give examples of pilgrimages. He tells of short and long treks both physically and spiritually.

    He pays great attention to detail in his surroundings on his pilgrimage and is very descriptive in his text. But...sadly, I just couldn't get into this book. The author, Charles Foster, comes highly recommended and is highly acclaimed, but for me, I just didn't care for the rambling style he has. He seemed at times, almost stiff...yet at others...all over the place.

    Or perhaps it was the book itself, the subject that didn't grasp me? I'm honestly not sure. Generally books of this nature if not easy to read, at least will grab me and have me intrigued. I just couldn't get into this one and struggled to get through it.

    The book itself, just simply was not my "cup of tea". It was indeed informative on the subject it was written...but whether it was the writing style of Charles Foster or the subject matter itself, this was not a book I enjoyed.

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  • Posted February 4, 2011

    Enjoyable

    This is an enjoyable read, although the author's way with words is a bit rambling. It is a kind of theology of travel based largely on the author's own experiences. As part of the Ancient Practices Series, it's meant to focus on pilgrimage, which is does attempt, though not as well as I would have liked. It is worth the time spent reading it.

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  • Posted February 4, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Try a pilgrimage

    This is the seventh book in the Ancient Practices Series. This one is about pilgrimages written by an English wordsmith. Jesus was a walker and all those who follow him must also be walkers in order to understand him more deeply. He includes scenes from his many experiences as a pilgrim and also tidbits from pilgrims of other religions. The writing is excellent, the thoughts clear and easily read. However, I found it quite Eurocentric but I suppose that was to be expected because pilgrimages seem to be more common to European and Asian people than to those of us in North America. His premise is that God is on the fringe of society, that Abel was his chosen favourite because God is at heart a nomad and dislikes cities which were developed by Cain. Therefore, it is easier to encounter him while walking on pilgrimages. He is definitely anti-gnostic and makes several disparaging comments throughout about church practices he believes lean towards the gnostic tradition. I agree with him in his statements that it is the journey that is the most important part of the pilgrimage, the feeling of being totally dependent upon God, the countryside, other pilgrams, and the goodness of hosts. This is when life-changing epiphanies will occur, not when you reach your destination. The big difference between being a pilgrim or a tourist. He does seem to pound home the idea that those of us who do not go on pilgrimages are missing a whole relationship with God and are second class Christians. I must admit that by the end of the book I was quite annoyed with the implied superiority that I believed was coming through his words. It struck me as interesting that his last chapter dealt with that exact comment from one of his friends. I wasn't alone in my thoughts after all. God is found in the messy parts of our lives but those of us who can't go on pilgrimages can also find him in our lives whether we are settlers or not.
    I received this book for review purposes from Book Sneeze and the publisher Thomas Nelson. I was not required to post a favourable review.

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  • Posted January 16, 2011

    I did not know I was on a journey until I read this book.

    THE SACRED JOURNEY
    By Charles Foster

    I must admit that when I first started reading The Sacred Journey, I nearly fell asleep. Mr. Foster began with a little bit of Bible, then a little bit of Islam and then a little bit of Buddha. Facts, theory and intangibles. But, I remembered how much I enjoyed his work, The Jesus Inquest, and I trudged on.
    The more I read, the more things began to dawn on me. Islam had sacred pilgrimages as well as Buddhism. Since I am more familiar with the Bible, I began to pick up more readily the instructions of God. He told Abraham to come out from his people and go somewhere. He told Moses to come away from the backside of the desert, go to Egypt and then go somewhere else. Basically, God told Joshua to start conquering Canaan until He said to stop.
    Then, there's the New Testament. The wise men were told to journey to the west. Mary and Joseph were told to journey to Egypt and then told to journey back after a few years. Jesus told His disciples when He called them, simply, "Follow Me." Oh, by the way, He didn't say where either. After the resurrection, several of the Apostles went on journeys. Why did God want people to go on journeys?
    Chapters five through fourteen only begin to explain the reasons for a Sacred Journey. Among the many reasons are, to get rid of junk, to thirst for an encounter and the fellowship of the road. You will find yourself in a couple of these chapters.
    As I read the rest of the book, I realized that I had already been on a couple of Sacred Journeys but hadn't been too far away from the house. And at the age of 63, I was anxiously preparing for a few more. However, I did not know that was what I was doing until I read the book. Thanks, Mr. Foster. You caused me to remember some very precious times I have had in the past. Best of all, you have helped me look forward to my next journey.
    Booksneeze has supplied me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I have not been instructed to give a good or a bad review.

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  • Posted December 16, 2010

    Sounds like a good book, recommended

    This sounds like a good book, I was suppose to get it from booksneeze but never received it unfortunately....I would recommend reading it however it sounds awesome.

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  • Posted August 4, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    The Sacred Journey

    Have Christians rejected pilgrimage?


    "The Israelites knew it. David knew it. The writer of Hebrews knew it. John Bunyan knew it. "Blessed are those whose strength is in You. They have set their hearts on pilgrimage" (Psalm 84:5). We are strangers and pilgrims here. We're passing through this place, on a sacred journey to somewhere else." A best selling author, Charles Foster explores the art of pilgrimage. A chance to move one step closer to our ultimate goal through prayerful awareness, study, and meditation. In the foreword to the book, editor Phyllis Tickle warns that every single person who reads the book will totally disagree with at least something that the author writes.


    I am probably not the best person to write a review on The Sacred Journey. It delves into the history of the roads Jesus traveled in his journey while here on earth and how we, as Christians, should learn how rewarding pilgrimage can be by following Jesus' example. Although, we do not have to travel to Jerusalem or other far away places. We can find ways to demonstrate pilgrimage in our on neighborhood. He quotes from a wide variety of sources, both Christian and non-Christian,


    History is not my favorite subject, so this was a hard book for me to read, and I had a hard time staying focused while reading. But, that doesn't mean this is a bad book. And if you are a history/philosophy buff, this is a book for you.

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