Thursday 4 May 2017

Book Review: The Soul of a Pilgrim by Christine Valters Paintner


The renowned author of eight books and abbess of the online retreat center Abbey of the Arts, Christine Valters Paintner takes readers on a new kind of pilgrimage: an inner journey to discover the heart of God. Eight stages of the pilgrim's way--from hearing the call to coming home--are accompanied by scripture stories of great biblical journeys and the author's unique and creative practices of prayer, writing, and photography.

As she did in The Artist's Rule and Eyes of the Heart, Christine Valters Paintner once again helps readers travel to the frontiers of their souls to discover the hidden presence of God. In The Soul of a Pilgrim, Paintner identifies eight stages of the pilgrim's way and shows how to follow these steps to make an intentional, transformative journey to the reader's inner "wild edges." Each phase of the exploration requires a distinct practice such as packing lightly, being uncomfortable, or embracing the unknown. Paintner shows how to cultivate attentiveness to the divine through deep listening, patience, and opening oneself to the gifts that arise in the midst of discomfort.

Each of the eight chapters offers reflections on the themes, a scripture story, an invitation to the practice of lectio divina, and a creative exploration through photography and writing.
My take
I came to this book seeking to discover the "meaning" behind a pilgrimage. Did I need to travel on a physical journey in seeking to find whatever it was I'm seeking or simply to experience one each day with Jesus? Call it a yearning, for something more. To experience more of God, to realise a life fully immersed in surrender to Him. This book helped bring clarity in such a gentle way.

Christine Valters Paintner mirrors her spiritual pilgrimage with the physical one that she and her husband have experienced in recent years, firstly in moving from the US to Austria and then onto their current abode in Galway, Ireland.

This is one of those books that lingers in you. In a really good way. I borrow this next paragraph from another reviewer (unfortunately they go by the anonymous title of "Amazon Customer") as she wrote it so well:

"The book describes eight practices to help the pilgrim on the road. Don’t worry, these are not eight ‘disciplines’ designed to break the back of those with a less than iron will - think of ‘attitudes’ that need to be nurtured and grown. We don’t need to come to this book already ‘perfected’. Rather we come as learners, ready to traverse the spiral as many times as it takes."

Funny that, a visiting pastor described the other day our spiritual walks as not being linear rather in "loops" which supports one of Paintner's concluding remarks: "We sometimes think of the journey as a linear path to travel, when in reality we travel more in circles and spirals."

Paintner grabs inspiration from the desert monks who left civilisation behind to experience an "unhindered" perspective of God. "They yearned for an experience of God beyond the boundaries of what they had known. They let this desire lead them to wild edges." This is my desire and working through this book has helped me realise the importance of "dive[ing] into the waters of life to see where the current carries us."

For too long I've held back; by fear, uncertainty and anxiety. But Paintner describes similar concerns throughout her pilgrimage. But it's usually the scariest decisions we make that are the most fulfilling especially when we feel completely ill-equipped. And that's the point: to feel ill-equipped. Because that makes us depend on our Creator who so desires to actively walk with us and equip us with whatever we require to discover Him in all His fullness.

This book was written after Paintner had run some workshops that aided in the formulation of her premise. Further, her husband John contributes some reflections on well known Biblical passages in each chapter. We then get two practical exercises to engage in. The first, Lectio Divina using the passage John references and we're encouraged to join the scene and write our personal experience (Midrash) of it. Some examples taken from the workshops are provided which I found enlightening. The second practice is creative exploration using photography by venturing out on a contemplative walk each chapter using the Biblical story as inspiration to capture images reminiscent of that story.

So, no, I don't need to leave home even though one would be fun. Who doesn't love to travel? But I can take the same pilgrimage every day as I dive into it, hand-in-hand, with Jesus exploring all there is available and learning the power of love in all my interactions.

Highly recommended.

Ian Acheson is an author and strategy consultant based in Sydney. Ian's first novel of speculative fiction, Angelguard, is available in the US, UK, Canada and Australia. Angelguard was recognised with the 2014 Selah Award for Speculative Fiction.You can find more about Angelguard at Ian's website, on his author Facebook page and Twitter


  1. What interesting books you seem to find, Ian! I will note this one for a future time after we move house soon, just as I am saving up really diving into 'The Forgotten Way' until then. So looking forward to it! Thank you.

    1. Thanks, Jo-Anne. Got plenty more interesting ones for you too. Trust the home move goes well. Did your auction go well?

    2. Ian, our house sold in eleven days, a couple of weeks before we had planned to go to auction--and for a price way beyond what we had expected, so we are very grateful to God, for sure. The prospective owners were going overseas for a holiday and wanted to get in before that, apparently. We move in three weeks, so are gradually packing everything up and giving lots away!

  2. This sounds like a great book Ian. Thanks for the review. One to put on the 'to read' list for me.

    1. Carol, I think you'd enjoy it. Christine has a website, perhaps check it out and get a sense for her heart.


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