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An American Pilgrimage

July 29, 2010

This Sunday Aug. 1, at 9 am, we’ll begin our new 5-part Adult Ed series (to be repeated on successive Thursdays, at 6 pm) on the lives of Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Flannery O’Connor and Walker Percy–as chronicled by Paul Elie in his book, The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage.

During this first discussion session, we’ll begin by talking about how our journey through the lives of these four American Christians will hopefully be a kind of pilgrimage. Here’s Elie explaining how the process of reading and reflecting on what we’ve read can be like a religious pilgrimage:

A pilgrimage is a journey undertaken in the light of a story. A great event has happened; the pilgrim hears the reports and goes in search of the evidence, aspiring to be an eyewitness. The pilgrim seeks not only to confirm the experience of others firsthand but to be changed by the experience… And as they return to ordinary life the pilgrims must tell others what they saw, recasting the story in their own terms.

In the story of these four writers, the pattern of pilgrimage is also a pattern of reading and writing… Three were Catholic converts, but it was literature, first of all, that they found religious experience most convincingly described… Emboldened by books, they set out to have for themselves the experiences they had read about, measuring their lives against the books that had struck them the most powerfully.

It is writing that invites the reader on a pilgrimage. Because it has to do with questions of belief—questions of how to live—it makes the pattern of pilgrimage explicit… Certain books, certain writers, reach us at the center of ourselves, and we come to them in fear and trembling, in hope and expectation—reading so as to change, and perhaps, save our lives.

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