Many thanks to Julie for this review and recommendation!
Place Matters: a review of Chasing The Divine In The HolyLand by Ruth Everhart
I think there are two kinds of Christians in the world; those who long to visit the Holy Land, and the rest of us. This book was of particular interest to me—and I was thrilled to be invited to review it for this blog—because several of my friends have recently done exactly what the author of this book, Ruth Everhart, has done.
Well, almost. None of my friends were filmed during their Holy Land pilgrimages, that I know of. But more about that later.
I will admit sheepishly that a big part of my own hesitation to visit the Near East and walk the paths where Jesus walked is my own fear of the unknown. Like the author’s parishioner, when I hear of someone who is setting off on this type of trip, I am tempted to ask them, “Isn’t it terrifying to think you could lose your life?”
Luckily for us, there are those willing to make the trip, to engage in the art of pilgrimage, and to report back that yes, pilgrimage is dangerous. Not because of physical danger, necessarily (although Everhart does describe a harrowing moment when she had to run across traffic to avoid being hit by some young boys incensed by the sight of her knees in public) but because the act of stepping away from the safe and familiar is by its very nature an act of vulnerability, and carries some implicit danger. As her hairstylist—of all people—explains, the Holy Land is dangerous “…it’s the navel of every belief. It’s dangerous because God is dangerous.” Indeed.
I was somewhat familiar with Ruth Everhart’s writing from her blog, Work In Progress (www.rutheverhart.com) so I knew her style to be engaging and descriptive. This book does not disappoint in that regard. The writing is vivid, evocative, and close to the bone. The reader is treated not only to a description of the various holy sites and their significance in the life of Jesus, and to the Christians, the Jews, and the Muslims who call this land their spiritual home, but also to her own spiritual reflection, sometimes in poetic paragraphs and sometimes in wry one-liners. The chapter on the Sea of Galilee, “Flotilla” left me weeping from its sheer, raw beauty.
The reader is also invited to get to know some of Ruth Everhart’s fellow pilgrims on the journey. After all, even though one must pilgrim at one’s own pace and for one’s own purposes, the communal nature of such a trip results in shared experience. Or perhaps the shared nature results in a communal experience.
A book about a pilgrimage to the Holy Land would be remiss without mention of the conflict that resides there, and with this, the author uses a deft, measured hand. The descriptions and multi-faceted explanations are neither simplistic nor overly sentimental. The hard truths of what it must be like to live in such a conflicted place come through loud and clear without apology, often in the words of those who are living it themselves. The reader comes away understanding that there are no winners; there are many losers.
If I were to state one critique of the book, I would say that the ending of the narrative left me wanting more. I wondered what happened to the group that was being filmed for the documentary. What was their last night together like? How was the author’s re-entry into her ordinary life after such an extraordinary experience? I’d loved to have heard more about the process of being filmed, and more about how that may have colored or influenced how the pilgrims behaved and reacted to things on the pilgrimage.
One can only hope that this ‘wanting more’ will be sated when Ruth Everhart writes her next book!
May it be so.