A Journey as Old as Humanity Itself

What’s behind our timeless fascination with religious pilgrimage?


Years ago, Thomas Friedman’s The Lexus and the Olive Tree contrasted two ways of being in the evolving Western world. One, epitomized by the “olive tree,” is rooted, in place, stable, stationary. The other, the “Lexus,” was the emerging vision of the modern individual: a life distinguished by movement, displacement, and “being on the road.” The first was being. The second was going. The Lexus, Friedman argued, was quickly replacing the olive tree.

At the time I read Friedman’s book, I felt freed, the way you feel freed when someone puts into words what you hadn’t found yet. Friedman was describing the church I saw in America—olive-tree Christians were being replaced by Lexus Christians. Less and less, I was discovering, were people content simply being where they were, settling down, rooting themselves, and embracing mundane Christianity. Ours was becoming a church addicted to movement. Everything had to be radical. Why?

We’ve grown bored of our freedom.

Truth is, Christians are “pilgrims” (1 Pet. 2:11). This isn’t our home. We’re simply passing through. Thus the theme of James Harpur’s latest book, The Pilgrim’s Journey: A History of Pilgrimage in the Western World, a lucid and expansive study of the place of pilgrimage in Western Christianity. The book is by no means a theological treatise. Harpur generally sidesteps any sort of confessional, spiritual, or doctrinal conversations. This is history at its finest.

The What, How, and Why

What Harpur does seek to offer is a breathtaking exploration of the trek itself—the what, how, and why of Christian pilgrimage. In reading the book, readers will find themselves edified by …

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