The age-old topic of pilgrimage is being rediscovered by a new generation of spiritual seekers—or so a crop of 2015 books would suggest. Last year, the United Nations estimated that one in three tourists worldwide is a pilgrim, a traveler to a site that is sacred or significant for a religion or form of spirituality. No wonder, then, that publishers are eager to get books into some of those hands.
Some of this year’s titles explore traditional pilgrimage sites; Oxford’s Pilgrimage: A Very Short Introduction (July) covers such venerable destinations as Lourdes, Mecca, and the Santiago de Compostela. But most of the new pilgrimage books blend personal memoir with a dash of humor, a genre profitably mined by such authors as Bruce Feiler (Walking the Bible, 2001).
In the March book Jesus without Borders: What Planes, Trains, and Rickshaws Taught Me About God (Zondervan), Chad Gibbs recounts visiting places from Rio de Janeiro to Beijing, seeking to understand the different ways Christianity is practiced in various parts of the world. Similarly, in Coffee, Tea, and Holy Water: One Woman’s Journey to Experience Christianity Around the World (Abingdon, Mar.) Amanda Hudson writes of traveling to Brazil, Wales, Tanzania, China, and Honduras to better grasp her faith.
It’s not just Christians who embark on spiritual travel. Krish V. Krishnan's Rambles into Sacred Realms: Journeys in Pen and Paint (Shanti Arts, Apr.) offers his writings and drawings of sacred sites of various world religions in Thailand, India, Mexico, Jordan, and other places. Gefen Publishing House in Israel has just released a U.S. edition of Catch the Jew! (Feb.), Tuvia Tenenbom’s political and journalistic memoir about his travels around the Holy Land to places “where no Jew has gone before,” he writes.
The Frequent Flyer Award for a 2015 spiritual travel memoir might belong to Jared Brock, who writes about the more than 37,000 miles of global peregrinations he clocked in A Year of Living Prayerfully: How a Curious Traveler Met the Pope, Walked on Coals, Danced with Rabbis and Revived His Prayer Life (Tyndale, Mar.). Brock—who went to Rome, North Korea, Greece, Israel, and France, among other countries--believes there is a growing interest in pilgrimage. “At the end of the day, most vacations are pretty meaningless,” he says. “So people want to visit a holy site that will mean something to them in the long run.”
Not everyone can undertake such a major journey, but for those who have the money, health, and time, Hannah Papp’s The Mystical Backpacker: How to Discover Your Destiny in the Modern World (Beyond Words, May) has tips for exactly how to go about it. “The end of every chapter has a list of the how-tos for the practical and for the mystical,” says Anna Noak, an acquisitions editor at Beyond Words (which is co-publishing the guide with Atria). “The pragmatic aspect includes things like what to pack, how to pack, how to choose a backpack, and a suggested route.”
There’s also the option of going on a spiritual pilgrimage without venturing too far from home. Tyndale recently published Sophie Hudson’s Home Is Where My People Are (Feb.), a comedic memoir about a Protestant’s coming of age in the South. Hudson spiritually rather than physically tours the region to chronicle her personal evolution. Forthcoming from Chalice Press is Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome: A Memoir of Humor and Healing in 30 Religions by Reba Riley (Apr.), who sought to overcome a painful relationship with Christianity by exploring Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and other faiths as she visited their places of worship near her Ohio home. With endorsements from William Paul Young (The Shack) and Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat Pray Love), the book is aimed at a broad audience.
“I didn’t travel more than two hours from my home for this book, but that’s kind of the point,” says Riley. “We have this idea about Pilgrimage with a capital P, that everyone has to go to India or trek far away for it to be a ‘real’ pilgrimage. But spiritual transformation begins and ends exactly where we are.”