To be published in Cistercian Studies Quarterly, a quarterly monastic journal
The Road To Emmaus: Pilgrimage As A Way of Life
By Jim Forest
Orbis Books, 2007
Review by S.T. Georgiou
To read Jim Forest's The Road To Emmaus is to take an inspirational journey of the heart. Like Christ's disciples "whose hearts burned" as they walked with the risen Lord and discussed the fulfillment of Scripture, (Luke 24.32), so readers will be warmed by this highly engaging and illuminating work. Illustrated with many good photos and well arranged chapters, the overall effect is powerfully aesthetic and meditative. Few books recharge the soul in such a down to earth and enlightening manner.
Forest, an award-winning author of numerous spiritual books and founder of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, is certainly no stranger to pilgrimage. Much of his book is highlighted by personal stories, anecdotes, and experiences that intimately tell us what it means to be a pilgrim, to walk daily with Christ.
Forest himself has been graced to walk with many spiritual notables, among them Thomas Merton, Robert Lax, Thich Nhat Hanh, and Dorothy Day (for years Forest had worked with Day in the Catholic Worker Community of New York). An avid world traveler, Forest also has woven into his text transformative events and encounters that took place on his own varied faith treks, be they to Mt. Sinai, Jerusalem, Chartes, Iona, Novgorod, Santiago de Compostela, or to Anne Frank's house in Amsterdam.
But this book does not emphasize how God is best found along traditional roads of pilgrimage or in conversation with spiritual masters. As Forest tells us, we especially find God in our everyday routine. Pilgrimage can simply mean getting up from the living room armchair and walking to the front door to happily greet whoever might be there (as illustrated in the chapter, "Pilgrimage To the Front Door"). Indeed, there are many different kinds of pilgrimage: those in which we leave fear behind, pilgrimages of illness and healing, pilgrimages of intense listening, of wonder and surprise (especially when the love of God is found in the least likely of places), and pilgrimages which may be solely of individual value because they center on holy mysteries known only to the pilgrim himself.
Ultimately, The Road To Emmaus teaches us that in our day-to-day pilgrimages, the preeminent goal is to meet and honor the living presence of Christ. Significantly, this Christ is very readily encountered in what we sadly and all too often dismiss as "the stranger." And yet nobody is really a stranger -- the bottom line is that we are all pilgrims sharing the same road that leads back to our original homeland, the Kingdom of Love. Every attentive pilgrim comes to realize this en route to the City of God.
Jim Forest's book succinctly illustrates how as we engage in our routine activities and travel the paths of the world, we come to see how all of our physical journeying increasingly points to an inner transit -- ours is an interior trek that leads to the gates of the heart, the Eden where Christ quietly waits for us. As a well-known mentor of Jim Forest wrote, "The real journey in life is interior -- it is a matter of growth, deepening, and of an ever greater surrender to the creative love and grace in our hearts" (Thomas Merton, Circular Letter To Friends, 1968).
Repeatedly, and with conviction, Jim Forest reminds us that this inner trek cannot be accomplished without prayer. As Forest makes distinctly clear, "A pilgrimage without prayer is no pilgrimage at all."