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We Are Pilgrims: Journeys in search of ourselves, by Victoria Preston

by
14 August 2020

A secular pilgrim writes here, says Sally Welch

WHEN I was a child, I visited a Moroccan spice market. The small square was crowded with people who jostled against me as they bartered, bought, and sold. The vibrant colours of the spice-filled baskets bewildered me; unfamiliar scents mingled with each other in a way that made my nose tingle. It was an exciting, confusing, unforgettable experience. We Are Pilgrims revived that long-buried memory, bringing back the tumult of sensation and sense of adventure, both exhilarating and exhausting but ultimately very rewarding.

The scope of this book is nothing if not ambitious: we are invited to travel “through the epic landscape of human’s journeys of purpose and meaning”, and travel we do. Structured loosely on the different reasons for making a pilgrimage — “solace”, “gratitude”, “liberation”, etc. — Victoria Preston’s mere 232 pages take us on a whistle-stop world tour of pilgrim sites past and present. We learn about the Sun Dance of the Blackfoot bison hunters, the significance of the rock at the Delphi oracle, and the importance of the river Ganges. We visit Santiago de Compostela, Lourdes, Croagh Patrick, and Moshad. We hear of shrines and miracles, relics and prophecies.

What ties this potentially confusing maelstrom of place and time is the scholarship and experience of the author herself. Through the demands of her career, she has travelled all over the world; as a “secular pilgrim”, she has made journeys to those sites held sacred by a wide range of cultures and religions, sharing with us her experiences and reflections.

This is not a book about Christian pilgrimage: its remit is bigger than that. It invites us to step beyond the narrow confines of our present understanding; to make connections with other faiths; to explore common ground; and to investigate the universality of the spiritual journey made physical. It demonstrates the global nature of the desire to step out of the ordinary run of things in the way that is necessary “if we truly want to think about big ideas”.

The author quotes from Rupert Brooke’s poem “Dust”, in which Brooke imagines his dead self, turned to dust, riding the air until it meets with a mote from the dust of his dead lover. This book leads us as we “Hurry from road to road, and run About the errands of the wind”, until we arrive at a more profound and universal understanding of what it is to be a pilgrim.

 

The Revd Dr Sally Welch is the Vicar of Charlbury with Shorthampton, and Area Dean of Chipping Norton. She is the author of Making a Pilgrimage (Lion, 2009) and Pilgrim Journeys (BRF, 2017).

 

We Are Pilgrims: Journeys in search of ourselves
Victoria Preston
Hurst £14.99
(978-1-78738-303-6)
Church Times Bookshop £13.50

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