Wisdom is Made By Walking: a book review

I like a good pilgrimage. I’ve read books on it and have friends who have gone a sojourning.   But despite my interest, I have never gone on such a pilgrimage, outside of a couple of backpacking trips in the mountains.

9780819233493In Wisdom Walking: Pilgrimage as a Way of Life, Gil Stafford weaves together a story of a pilgrimage across Ireland coast-to-coast along the Wicklow Way. Stafford was a guide for a group of singing pilgrims, the Vox Peregrini. He weaves together his experience of walking, his own life journey from Conservative Southern Baptist College president to Episcopal priest-spiritual-wanderer, his family of origin, insights of Carl Jung’s depth psychology and alchemy as an archetype for spiritual transformation. Stafford writes, “To be on pilgrimage is to embrace the mission of a personal renaissance, to claim the inner beauty, the haunting, the frightening, the hated, the adored, the soft, the cruel, the humorous, the damaged, the hilarious, the pitiful—every sliver of conscious and unconscious—and a claim our self as our own who we are who we are becoming transformed into” (28).

Stafford invites us to this sort of journey toward spiritual transformation.  Chapters 1 through 4. Chapter 1 is about preparation and how the pilgrimage begins before we begin our walking, Chapter 2 describes the movement from the exuberant beginning of a pilgrimage to the ‘mundane ways of walking’ as the issues we carry come with us on our journey(18). Chapter 3 explores the experience of the pilgrim community, and how after 3 or 4 days of walking our defenses are down and we are vulnerable. Chapter four discusses the pilgrim at their most fragile when they feel like quitting (and this is the moment where spiritual transformation can happen).

These four chapters are broken up with ‘Interludes’—suggestions for equipment and physical, mental, and spiritual preparation of pilgrimage;  Ahmad, imam at the Islamic Cultural Center in Tempe, Arizona relates the story of his pilgrimage to Mecca; Crystal, (Stafford’s wife’s friend from high school), describes her Pilgrimage in Nepal; Greg’s transgendered pilgrimage as he journeyed toward becoming a transgendered woman (now Gwen).

In chapter 5, Stafford relates the story of his sister Dinah and his family’s pilgrimage with her as she lives with Prader-Willi Syndrome. Chapter 6 explores the experience of life, post-pilgrimage (Stafford describes this as a cross between a lovely afterglow and a bad-hangover), and the continuing journey of inner transformation.

Through the lens of Jungian psychology, Stafford’s description of pilgrimage focuses on this inner work of pilgrimage. The outer journey—tiredness and blisters, hunger and thirst and mundane walking, gives a context for a similar inner pilgrimage of transformation. Alchemy and the transmutation of base elements to gold become a poignant metaphor for the type of spiritual transformation envisioned by the pilgrim way. Stafford notes also, as a repeat pilgrim, that the inner process starts over with each pilgrimage because the process is cyclical. Though like a spiral staircase, we begin each journey upward at the same coordinates but with a new vantage point.

This was an enjoyable read. Stafford is a priest and a Christian and writes from a perspective of faith; however because the focus is on spiritual transformation, archetypes and inner work in a Jungian key, much of the insights that he explores here, are broadly applicable to anyone on a spiritual journey. You don’t actually have to go to Ireland (or wherever) to go on this sort of pilgrimage. I give this four stars -★★★★

Notice of Material Connection: I received a copy of this book from the Publisher or Author via SpeakEasy in exchange for my meandering review.

How Do ‘You’ Pray?: A Book Review

How does your personality affect your prayer life? Do certain temperament types find different types of prayer easier than others? What about your past history?  What are the therapeutic benefits of prayer?  Is prayer just auto-suggestion, conditioned response or childish illusion?  Are all prayers the same? What about Eastern meditation?

Psychiatrist and Bible teacher Pablo Martinez brings his professional insight to bear on the topic of prayer.  In Praying with the Grain: How Your Personality Affects the Way You Pray, he offers biblically sound direction to developing your prayer with keen psychological insight from an evangelical perspective. The late John Stott wrote the foreword for this book (I think the foreword is a carry-over from the book’s previous incarnation entitled Prayer Life, 2001). I certainly appreciated that this book delved  beyond your typical pop-psychology pap with good biblical grounding from an evangelical perspective. Really, I think this is a rare combination in the Christian book market!

This is a short book, composed of five chapters. Chapter 1-3 compose part 1 of this book which address the psychology of prayer. Chapter one focuses on how our personal temperament affects the way we pray. Martinez argues that different temperament types have natural strengths and weaknesses in their approach to prayer. Using Carl Jung’s temperament types he explores how the various types (thinking, feeling, sensation, intuition)  and the proclivity toward introversion or extroversion has real affect on our prayer life. For example, introverts are introspective and turn inward while extroverts are activists who focus on other people and things. Thinking types tend to be rational and methodical in their approach to prayer making them effective intercessors and good at confession  but they aren’t so good at expressing adoration and worship. Feeling types are more relational in their approach to prayer and are more likely to ‘feel’ God’s presence and show concern about concrete situations of social injustice; yet they can tend toward excessive subjectivism.   Intuitive types are the natural mystics and contemplatives and prize freedom in prayer (which means sometimes they aren’t particularly grounded).  The Sensation type addresses God through the senses and tend to relate to God in a childlike way but are sometimes too reliant on external circumstances and never pray for very long. Martinez’s goal is both to help us affirm and appreciate the different ways people experience God but also shore up and develop in areas where we are naturally weak (it is healthier to be nearer the center in each of the temperament types or in terms of extroversion/introversion).

Chapter 2 addresses emotional problems and prayer and difficulties people have when they come to prayer. These include difficulties in the course of prayer such as getting started, not feeling God’s presence, not wanting to be hypocritical, difficulty in concentrating (i.e. anxiety or nervousness, bad thoughts)  and the  inability to pray in public. He also addresses the different content of prayer (adoration and praise, confession, request and intercession) and asserts that a healthy pray life needs to include each element regardless of your natural proclivities.  In chapter 3 Martinez describes the ‘therapeutic benefits of prayer,’  both existentially and in terms of  a ‘psychotherapeutic process” of  a growing  intimate relationship, a cathartic unburdening, providing guidance and discernement, and personal growth.  In both of these chapters Martinez’s psychological insight is helpful for entering more fully into prayer.

In part 2 Martinez provides an apologetic for Christian prayer.  Chapter 4 addresses secularist/modernist criticisms of prayer (i.e.  prayer as self-suggestion,  prayer as conditioned response, or childish illusion. In chapter 5 he examines the differences between Christian prayer and meditation and Eastern style meditation and Platonic mysticism.  I think he does a good job of dismantling psychologically shallow caricatures of prayer and demonstrating that there is real substance to prayer beyond a placebo effect.  He also demonstrates how Christian meditation has a different purpose, method and content than either Eastern meditation or Platonism.  What I really liked about his final chapter is the way he eschews method and technique  (which is the Eastern approach) and proclaims that the Christian understanding of prayer is an intimate relationship.

While I found part 2 interesting and think that Martinez is able to articulate important points succinctly and with insight, I think the real value of this book is helping people develop as pray-ers.  The insight that our  temperament type and personal history provides us with a natural style of relating to God. For a short book, Martinez gives significant space to exploring the difficulties we have in prayer and the strengths and weaknesses we have as a result to our unique shape, temperament and history.  There is a lot here that is of real help to those of us who want to grow at prayer and foster our relationship with God.

Martinez’s evangelical perspective makes him suspicious of some of the excesses of the contemplative and mystical tradition.  He does affirm a lot in the Christian mystical tradition but is suspicious of the ways that Platonism has robbed much of it of its Christian content and thus urges that our approach to meditation should be focused on scripture.  Certainly I can see how people get mystical and strange and become unhinged, but I wonder if there is more merit to some of the approaches to prayer that he criticizes. But this is more of a wondering, his approach to Christian meditation as centered on the word and our experience of the word is in keeping with my own practice, experience and conviction.

Thank you to Kregel Publications for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.