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I did not set out to live at the same address for 25 years, and, technically, I suppose my deep roots in this country hill may disqualify me from reviewing a book entitled Born to Wander: Recovering the Value of Our Pilgrim Identity. At the outset, I actually thought I had been born to wander, having purchased my first one way plane ticket at age 17 with no intention of ever returning to Maine.
Life does have a way of handing us gifts we didn’t expect, and for me, the gift has been rootedness. For the past 25 years, the only time I’ve changed mail boxes is when the snow plow has wiped ours out and sent it flying into the ditch. However, having read Michelle Van Loon’s thoughts on the pilgrim life, I have found that there are those who “pilgrim in place.” (135) This is good news to me, because I know from experience that it is possible to choose to stay in one church for two decades because staying put is more difficult than cutting and running. I have borne witness to the gritty process of knowing and being known by people who remember most of my faults and failings, but love me anyway.
Looking for Me in All the Wrong Places
Even when staying put, the pilgrim at heart acknowledges that the Christian life is one of exile. Post-Eden, humanity has lived uprooted. The people of Israel in Old Testament times were formed by wandering and displacement. The New Testament church grew because the hot breath of persecution blew them like milkweed over the field of the world. Contrary by nature, Christians have become experts at finding ways to live opposed to this part of our history, either by leaning into safer narratives and getting stuck or by turning the pilgrimage into a self-centered pleasure jaunt.
Van Loon describes a tourist mentality as a “slogan-based approach to faith.” (39) When we fold aspects of the American Dream in with a pinch of entitlement and a dab of self-focused ambition, we have dropped our pilgrim’s staff and re-defined the following life.
The Gentle Slope, Soft Underfoot
C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape described the safest path to hell as a gradual one with a “gentle slope, soft underfoot without sudden turnings,” and perhaps this is also the best description of how easy it is to fall into the life of the “Settler” — without even realizing it. While we crave contentment and were created with a longing to live in safety and security, the Apostle Paul describes a form of contentment alien to most of us in 2018 with our desires continually spurred on by affluence and Amazon Prime. This godly contentment says “enough” regarding material things, while also keeping the believer in a state of discontentment that will not be assuaged on this planet.
“Godly contentment makes pilgrims out of us.” (55)
The pilgrim life is lived in moment-by-moment obedience, praying like breathing, and assiduously avoiding the diversions offered by formulaic living. This is best done in community, but with the caveat that “formulas may work in math class, but real life in a rebel world is rarely that simple.” (152)
From the moment of new birth, the believer is drawn into the wandering life that is imprinted upon our spiritual DNA. As we follow the invitation to come and be loved by the God who promises to meet us at every point until the end of our following road, we find that the home we have always longed for is not a destination, but a Person, and can be captured by this question: “Are we moving toward God or wandering away from him?” (26)
Many thanks to Moody Publishers for providing this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with complete honesty.