WHEN I began to read this book, the first image that came into my mind was of pilgrims of the kind all too often encountered on the many pilgrim routes that cover the UK and Europe. They are travellers who have thought of every possible contingency and crammed into their bags the necessary equipment to deal with it. Their bags are, therefore, full to overflowing with various pieces of kit, always threatening to fall out. The wearers of these backpacks are often characterised by the bent backs and blistered feet of people who are carrying a burden beyond their strength.
Stephen Platten’s book contains a bewildering amount of information: historical, geographical, theological. Using pilgrim sites and saints as starting-points, he does not hesitate to wander far and wide, covering enormous amounts of territory in his exploration of the beginnings of belief and faith practices, in much the same way as the wandering Celtic saints who are mentioned in his work.
At first, this eclecticism is bewildering and somewhat confusing, but gradually a picture emerges of a Renaissance-style man, knowledgeable in many areas, who is passionate about sharing his experiences and wisdom with his readers.
By showing us the richness and variety of our theological roots, Platten seeks to demonstrate that we “cannot understand our own community if we not see ourselves as part of an interdependent common humanity”. We must seek to cherish the traditions and patterns of our locality, but to view them through the lens of the integrity not just of humanity, but of the whole of creation.
Platten’s aim is wholeness, of achieving a balance between activity and contemplation, the local and the international, the individual and the community, encircling all these elements in a rhythm of prayer and worship which provides the bedrock of our lives.
By the end of the book, I realised that Platten’s backpack did not carry many items of luggage, but one splendid piece. Once extracted from its container, this unfolds like a piece of patchwork cloth. Every patch is glorious in its composition — detailed and unique. Each patch contributes to the whole to create a rich pattern, marvellous in its depth and detail, striking in its wholeness and integrity.
This is not a book for practical pilgrims, but it is a book for those making a living pilgrimage, with their eyes fixed on eternity, open to transformation in every way offered to them by their Creator.
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).
Pilgrims: Pathways of Christian life
Sacristy Press £12.99
Church Times Bookshop £11.70