People who go on pilgrimages report that the spiritual insights they garner usually take them by surprise and are often quite different from their expectations. In the film Mermaids, the character played by Winona Ryder says "Whoever heard of anyone hearing the Voice of God doing 70 miles per hour down the freeway?" Individuals on pilgrimages claim to have heard the Holy One speak to them in even more bizarre places and circumstances. The flash of revelation can come from anywhere.
Rosemary Mahoney grew up a Catholic but gave it up in adulthood. At 38, she defines her relationship to spiritual concerns as "a curious but evasive flirtation, one that burgeoned when it was convenient and died when it wasn't." In 1999, Mahoney decides to explore the whole subject of belief by taking six journeys to holy sites around the world. She is intrigued by the lure of sacred places and their impact upon believers. She wonders why pilgrimage is still practiced when there are so many other pathways to personal transformation and renewal.
On her quest, Mahoney is bowled over by grace when she least expects it. But how, and when, and why we will leave to your own reading of this adventuresome work. It is filled with thought-provoking insights into the human spirit and the unusual rigors of physical and psychological journeys with others. Mahoney, who treasures privacy and solitude, finds herself surrounded by pilgrims and forced to deal with her propensity to be a loner.
The author joins the Anglican National Pilgrimage to the Marian shrine at Walsingham, England. She is a little surprised to discover that the Anglicans and the Catholics have different pilgrimages, and she both agrees with and finds unsettling some anti-Catholic comments she hears. Ancient hatreds fester in the hearts of many Christians who can't move past doctrinal differences.
Mahoney is very insightful in her commentary on the grueling 475 mile walk on the medieval pilgrim trail to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Nearly 100,000 people completed the journey. She compares the trek to the reenactments when Civil War buffs dress in period uniforms and stage mock battles.
The most impressive leg of this spiritual quest is the author's visit to Varanasi, the Hindu city known for its ritual cremations. Mahoney's unofficial guide is a sixteen-year-old boy. She is quite taken by Hinduism's acceptance of the truth of other religions and its refusal to exclude: "Nothing on earth should be left out of the Hindu holy catalogue not rats or ravens or roaches or ringworms because you never know when you yourself might be reincarnated as one of them."
Mahoney also journeys to Lourdes where there have been 66 documented, inexplicable, and officially recognized cures; goes to the Holy Land where she rows across the Sea of Galilee and spends a night on a deserted shore beneath the Golan heights; and participates in the penitential Irish pilgrimage involving rigorous fasting and prayer at St. Patrick's Purgatory on Station Island. Mahoney more than adequately fulfills her mission to explore the faith of modern day pilgrims what she calls the palpable surge of their souls.