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Book Review – Sacred Encounters

2009 March 3
by Julie Clawson

I recently had the opportunity to read Tamara Park’s Sacred Encounters from Rome to Jerusalem. In all honestly, it’s not the sort of book that I would generally pick up to read, but I found myself glad to have encountered this story. In short the book is a travel narrative, but like any good travel narrative the physical journey is mirrored by an equally fascinating spiritual journey.

The book recounts Tamara’s adventures as she follows the traditional pilgrims path from Rome to Jerusalem. This sort of pilgrimage generally is used as a means to encounter the divine along the way. But beyond expecting to catch glimpses of God in traditional holy sites, Tamara structured her journey to encounter the sacred in others. So along the journey one reads of her seeking out strangers on benches and asking them to describe God. The result is a spiritual exploration that reflects the diversity of ways to encounter God. As she travels amidst Jews, Muslims, Christians, and agnostics she attempts to understand her own faith and define what she is looking for on the journey. What she discovers are not exactly answers, but a global faith community that speaks the same language despite differences.

What I enjoyed most about the book was how raw and real it was. It wasn’t some highly structured narrative that merely instructs the reader on religious dogmas and historical events. It was the honest spiritual quest of a woman who wasn’t afraid to face her fears or acknowledge the reality of a situation. She doesn’t overspiritualize anything and we get the gritty details of her journey alongside the spiritual insights. I like reading when she’s just too tired to visit one more church, or too sick to care. I liked how she wasn’t afraid to acknowledge her prejudices and admit when she didn’t understand something. It made the book real and more accessible.

So if you’d like to discover more about pilgrimage holy sites or simply want to understand what an open-minded spiritual quest looks like, I recommend checking out Sacred Encounters.

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  1. Don permalink
    March 3, 2009

    I haven’t read this one, but I recently read a book on a similar topic with a similar theme: The Way Is Made by Walking, by Arthur Paul Boers (InterVarsity, 2007). Boers is a Mennonite theologian and pastor who decided several years ago to walk the Camino de Santigo, the 500-mile trek across northern Spain to the shrine of the apostle James at Santiago de Compostela. The book is arranged thematically rather than chronologically. I would recommend it as well.

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