Thursday, March 22, 2018

Wisdom Walking :: Gil Stafford

Wisdom Walking: Pilgrimage as a Way of Life by Gil Stafford on Amazon

Wisdom Walking by Gil Stafford book coverWell-worn hiking boots filling over half the front cover enticed me to order Wisdom Walking. I've long resonated with the concept of life as pilgrimage or peregrination, so the title also helped. From the start I knew I'd love to meet author Gil Stafford, converse over lunch with him and a few other kindred pilgrims. However, when I realized how much of the content focused on actual walking pilgrimages of days or weeks over vast distances, I knew that wasn't for me and wondered how useful the book would be. I'm more into trekking up an easy urban hill, exploring a nearby canyon, spending an afternoon along an ocean shore.

But I had enough wisdom to think beyond other aspects of the book I couldn't relate to:

(1) Stafford frequently refers to Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist that has become somewhat of a cult book in a positive way. At the strong suggestion of one of my first ever online friends I met long before Facebook was a reality in any format, I read The Alchemist, didn't get its message at all, and donated it to the library book sale.

(2) Gil references James Hillman many times. When I returned to the east coast at the end of the last century and temporarily was staying in extremely sparse circumstances, an acquaintance stopped by with a copy of one of Hillman's books so I'd have something to do. I read whatever book it was slowly and thoughtfully, didn't get what it said, and returned it to the owner with polite thanks.

(3) Carl Jung is a third author who's influenced Gil Stafford. I'm only barely familiar with his work, though I have a slight claim to fame with a paper I wrote on a chapter from Jung's The Tower for my school's version of a Varieties of Religious Experience course. The instructor liked my paper a (whole) lot, commented I hadn't developed a couple of points well enough, but then admitted I'd had a limit of "only 15 pages," since she'd specified maximum length in order to deal with many undergrads going on endlessly and aimlessly while in the end saying nothing at all.

The central idea of Wisdom Walking is similar to an alchemist's literal trials to convert base metal into gold; each person's trials, disappointments, struggles, and surprises during their years walking this earth help transmute more base, unhelpful characteristics into refined, polished, traits in service to all creation. I know I complained about the chapters including so much about people's experiences on their own formal pilgrimages, yet a reader can learn how trudging through nature alone or with a group transformed those individuals.

Gil Stafford is an Episcopal priest and therefore Christian. Like many in the general tradition of Anglicanism, he's far from doctrinally orthodox, but open, enquiring, and convinced no single spiritual or religious tradition or practice has the corner of every possible way to connect with the divine. Although I describe my theology as "reformational," I easily relate to paganism, Celtic spirituality, and other ways of being and living that at first glance appear to be more earth-oriented than Christianity does (at first glance). Yet Christianity envisions the possibility and the hope that encourage us to live as co-creators of a new creation. Martin Luther insisted the Divine Presence was everywhere—in, with, and under every blade of grass, each drop of water, grain of sand. I've been informed neither ubiquity nor panentheism quite describes Luther's position, but human words always have limits, and they're probably close enough.

Of necessity the 16th century Reformers emphasized redemption of human creatures, but in time probably would have moved on to emphasizing the integrity of all creation, as many within mainline Christianity now are doing in an urgent attempt to revitalize, reclaim, and resurrect planet earth, not for its utility to humanity, but to celebrate its inherent worthiness and worth. In baptism we participate in the first birth and the rebirth of creation; the Eucharist is a microcosm of all creation fully restored, completely redeemed.

Blog only note: Stafford more than suggests our daily lives need four anchors: prayer; exercise (not necessarily a major workout—walking is excellent); a spiritual companion. That makes three. The fourth might be a practice of yoga, kabbalah, tarot reading, herbs, essential oils... Why four and not the biblical number three? Four compass directions. Four earthly elements. Four arms of the cross. Four gates of the mandala.

My Wisdom Walking ratings: for relevance to where I find myself today, 3 stars. For possibilities I discovered after I got over my initial disappointment and opened my eyes, 5 stars. Average: 4 stars.

You might enjoy Gil Stafford's blog, Peregrini: for those on life's pilgrimage.

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book from The Speakeasy with no obligation to write a positive review. As always, my opinions are my very own and I wouldn't have it any other way.

My Amazon review: Living as Pilgrims

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