The Road to Emmaus: Pilgrimage as a Way of Life

In an age of tourism, the great challenge is to see ourselves at a deeper level: the dimension of pilgrimage. Being a pilgrim might involve a journey to distant places associated with God-revealing events, but it has more to do with simply living day by day in a God-attentive way. The Road to Emmaus assists the reader to see one’s life as an opportunity for pilgrimage, whether in places as familiar as your living room or walking the pilgrim path to Santiago de Compostela. Drawing on the wisdom of the saints and his own wide-ranging travels, Forest leads us to a range of “thin places,” including Iona, Jerusalem, the secret annex of Anne Frank, the experience of illness, the practice of hospitality, and other places and occasions where we may find ourselves surprised by grace.

“The Other Side of Silence”, a chapter from The Road to Emmaus:

Jim Forest is the author of several award-winning books, including Praying with Icons, Ladder of the Beatitudes, Love Is the Measure: A Biography of Dorothy Day, Confession: Doorway to Forgiveness, The Wormwood File: E-mail from Hell, and Living with Wisdom: A Life of Thomas Merton. He lives in the Netherlands.

This is a book which will hold the attention of any reader from the first page to the last, and such reading will have been in itself a pilgrimage both with and towards Christ.
—Benedicta Ward, S.L.G., author of In Company With Christ

This is a wise and penetrating exploration of pilgrimage as metaphor. Jim Forest reflects on milestones along every life’s journey such as the Road itself, maps, relics, illness, unexpected encounters and the warm welcome of an open front door. The interior journey from fear to peace can be as long and as full of incident as the Road to Santiago itself and Jim Forest is an excellent companion to have on the way.
— Shirley du Boulay, author of The Road to Canterbury

“They knew him in the breaking of the bread.” These words describe the experience of two disciples who met the risen Jesus on the road to Emmaus. The mysterious stranger had accompanied them on the road, explaining the scriptures to them in a way that made their “hearts burn within” them. But only at supper, when he broke the bread and blessed it, did they recognize him as “the Lord.” And then he was gone.

Jim Forest’s new book, The Road to Emmaus: Pilgrimage as a Way of Life, deals in part with the traditional practice of pilgrimage to holy sites, whether Jerusalem, Iona, or Canterbury. Some of the chapters deal with “maps,” “the road,” and “walking,” topics familiar to any pilgrim. But Forest’s book is about something larger. It is about a way of living in the spirit of pilgrimage, a way of living that opens us to the unexpected encounter with Jesus in our daily life. “Whether the journey is within your own backyard or takes you to the other side of the world, the potential is there for the greatest of adventures: a journey not only toward Christ but with him.”

Living in this spirit lifts daily life, with its routines, drudgery, and frustrations, to another level. Even suffering and sorrow take on a different quality. In one of the most moving chapters, Forest writes about his own experience as a dialysis patient, hooked up for many hours each week to tubes and machines that keep him alive. In the spirit of pilgrimage the experience of illness becomes yet another opportunity to encounter Christ.

It is this openness to a transforming encounter that distinguishes pilgrimage from mere tourism. And it occurs to me that this distinction applies to many aspects of our lives — even reading a book. How often have we read a newspaper or a book just as a way to pass the time, or just to provide an interesting topic for conversation? But then a crisis occurs — perhaps an ethical challenge, or the death of a friend, or a child’s illness–that puts us on what the novelist Walker Percy called “the Search.” Suddenly we become attentive to signs and clues around us. We seize on words of compassion or insight, whether from a stranger or from a book, that can illuminate the path ahead.
— Robert Ellsberg, author of All Saints and The Saints Guide to Happiness

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