Pilgrimage of a Soul
Pilgrimage of a Soul: Contemplative Spirituality for the Active Life
by Phileena Heurtz
Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press Books, 2010
Reviewed by Monique Keffer
The word pilgrimage brings to mind thoughts of walking sticks, well-worn shoes, and perhaps Chaucer’s famous words, “Than longen folk to gon on pilgrimages.” The latest (eleventh) edition of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary has two definitions. First, a pilgrimage is “a journey of a pilgrim” to “a shrine or a sacred place.” The second meaning is a little more surprising: “the course of life on earth.” It is with both of these definitions that spiritual seekers should approach Pilgrimage of a Soul: Contemplative Spirituality for the Active Life because Phileena Heurtz’s account of her pilgrimage to El Camino de Santiago and her following sabbatical tell the story of a particular personal, physical journey while it illuminates the arc of universal spiritual transformation.
Heurtz is codirector of Word Made Flesh, a charitable organization helping the poor.Pilgrimage of a Soul weaves her personal experience with scriptural, theological, philosophical, spiritual, poetic, and literary quotations. She traces her own path through the movements of spiritual growth: awakening, longing, darkness, death, transformation, and intimacy. Yet the reader soon sees, as Heurtz describes, that this story is not only about her walk toward God but also about the human road to the Divine. She states, “This is my story. But in many ways it is our story …. As you enter into my journey, let these movements burrow deep into your soul, so that your own story might emerge with more clarity” (22).
This text portrays both specific and universal experiences, so it can be helpful to spiritual directors because it creates a frame of reference for those in the throes of painful places on their faith voyages. Often spiritual directees have difficulty seeing the big picture and ask, “Where am I going with all of this inner work?” Heurtz uses plain, vulnerable language to reveal a soul in process. Of particular use to female spiritual directees and those who companion them is Heurtz’s exploration of gendered spirituality, highlighting conclusions based on experience and on study of topics such as gender differences and similarities, patriarchal culture’s effect on women’s spiritual growth, motherhood, marriage, and women in the church. Another way this work offers support to those on spiritual quest is its bridging of active and contemplative spirituality. Heurtz crosses this bridge on every page; through the details of her life she suggests a method for others to fully engage with the Divine.
Pilgrimage of a Soul is a thoughtful, thorough look into how one woman lives out her calling to a higher self and emerges more equipped to serve while simultaneously describing the journey of every human. It is the journey on a never-ending road, taking place over “the course of life on earth” and, for those of us who believe, beyond.
Monique Keffer, MA, is a spiritual director trained at Sacred Ground in St. Paul, Minnesota, USA.