Lisa Deam – 3000 Miles to Jesus [Review]
A treasure trove for loyal feet
A look back at
3000 miles to Jesus: pilgrimage as a way of life for spiritual seekers Lisa Deam
Paperback: Broadleaf, 2021.
Buy now: (IndieBound) (Amazon) (Kindle)
Reviewed by Laura M. Fabrycky
Having lived for years not far from pilgrimage sites in the historic Holy Land and years in Western Europe, I have met my fair share of pilgrims and made my own pilgrimages. The pilgrimage was not part of my American tradition of faith – more literary means than living practice. But from doing dozens of walks to Jerusalem from our home in Amman, Jordan, via the Jesus Path from Nazareth to Capernaum in the Galilee region, or from hearing the testimonies of friends after walking the Camino, I am with the slow, strange and powerful formation which takes place on a pilgrimage to certain places, on the traces of other historical places and in the company of contemporary places. This ancient discipline miraculously comes to life in Lisa Deam's recently published 3000 Leagues to Jesus: Pilgrimage as a way of life for spiritual seekers, a reading tour that I continue to recommend, as I did in my endorsement of the book (full disclosure). Make sure you put this book in your pilgrim package.
Deam is a medieval art historian whose first book, A World Transformed, explored spirituality through medieval maps 3,000 miles away from Jesus. He introduces us to a number of fascinating personalities from 15th century Europe and beyond to familiarize us with pilgrimage as a practice of faith. She connects this world with our own and distills her wisdom in devotional classes for us that can withstand the real demands of pilgrimage, no matter where we are on earth or in history.
Deam draws our attention to the form of the pilgrimage – not the pilgrimage as an inspirational road trip or a journey of mere self-discovery. She is well aware that we, her modern readers, prefer to avoid the demanding form of pilgrimage and thereby miss its living end. We know how to tear spiritual paths out of paths regardless of their goals. Deam's ability as a spiritual leader is evident in how she anticipates our resistance to form itself. She knows that we are qualified spiritual tourists.
Fortunately, Deam shows us that we have pilgrims with archives to teach us. She weaves a story in which we accompany important late medieval pilgrims on their way from various places in Europe to the Holy Land, mainly the English mystic Margery Kempe, the Swiss Dominican Felix Fabri and the Italian canon Pietro Casola. Deam guides us through their preparatory tasks, their beginnings (as varied and meaningful as the pilgrims themselves), their journeys and challenges, and what the faithful arrival in the Holy City of Jerusalem was like. With chapter titles like “Write Your Will,” “Hurry Up and Wait,” “Arrive Naked,” and “Worship with the Enemy,” these pregnant proverbs show how expensive these journeys were at each stage. Deam immerses us in the tactile realities of a distant world – including the difficulties of long sea voyages with upset stomachs, the need for lidded pots, the humiliation of begging for money – absolutely alien to us where to book flights. Demand service and move through life, as Deam puts it, and always hold on tightly to "the two bags of comfort and control". Their time was no easier than ours; Your temptations are as common as ours.
Then and now, the friction is evidence of the melting pot of education. Pilgrim stories reliably find their common narrative arc in how pilgrims patiently and faithfully steer the inevitable fall of their expectations against the rocky roads of reality, including the lingering possibility of death. Annoying or ill-prepared travel companions, the challenges of cross-cultural negotiations (including corrupt border guards), the limits of bodies on long roads, the horrors of fearful minds and hearts, even the vicissitudes of the weather and sailing plans – all of these tests the spiritual strength of a pilgrim. But courage does not make a pilgrim. With a lot of patience, money and faith, the pilgrims set their feet on the holy city of Jerusalem, prepare with the destination for the journey and then are ready to let go of everything but Christ alone.
With disarming vulnerability, Deam shows how important these wise saints were to their own pilgrimage. Obviously, she knows and loves these headstrong others as true spiritual friends. In addition, she spices up her instructions for us with the wisdom of many others – large and well-known or small and lesser-known figures, including the 14th century mystic Walter Hilton from his scale of perfection, including the Franciscan St. Bonaventure from the 13th century. Century. Deam cleverly engages these historical friends today for their readers, and also recognizes how the archives delimit the wisdom available from history. On the reading tour she does indeed prove to be a trustworthy guide and lifts up selected prayers and sayings for us on our difficult paths.
The combination of images and prose adds to the overall beauty of the book. Paul Soupiset's luminous illustrations adorn the chapter heads and are another delight in Deam's book. These illustrations, similar to woodcut relief prints, offer elaborate meditations on the pilgrimage itself, pictorial handles that convey the urgency and necessity of the journey.
What strikes me is how densely populated the Long Walk of Faith is, a serious cultural correction for those of us used to uniquely framed stories. Deam creates a strong bridge between then and now, weaving the wisdom of contemporary spiritual teachers and leaders, including ERB Editor C. Christopher Smith. For those of us tempted to imagine ourselves as spiritual orphans in a secular age, Deam shows us how accompanied we are.
A reader pilgrim does not need to travel long distances to famous pilgrimage stations to grow in pilgrimage as a living practice, which is why 3,000 miles to Jesus is so great in these days when travel is still restricted. Tourism and travel may be turned upside down, but pilgrimages are certainly not: “For those on a spiritual journey,” recalls Deam, “it is a consolation to ponder the mystery that the God to whom we travel, we are in the boat – maybe even the boat itself. "Let us accept this gentle invitation and let us set out on the path that is marked for us in faith.