Having read The Healing a few months ago, to which this book is the prequel, The Pilgrim offers an opportunity to learn the full back story of Brother Hywel. Prequels are great, in that we may know the final destination of a story already, but we have the opportunity to hear about the journey – very appropriate for a book about a pilgrimage! It highlights the fact that everyone has a backstory, a series of events and circumstances that has made them to be the person they are today. And these stories make for great reading.
Joy takes us back to the medieval era with ease, offering descriptions and details that frame the story. It is clearly well researched, and I am fairly sure that Joy will have visited the route of the pilgrimage to be able to describe the locations so vividly. Time progresses by the changing of the seasons, beautifully described. Journeys are undertaken by passing through the varied Welsh landscapes.
It starts as a story about falling into temptation, dealing with the tragic consequences and guilt. But through the experience, Hywel learns life lessons and matures, to a point of finding redemption through a pilgrimage. This is how, as we know from The Healing, he is able to serve others from a place of learned wisdom and compassion.
Joy adds a verse or two of a Psalm at the end of each chapter, hinting to me that brother Hywel’s early story bears some similarities and connection to the Bible story of King David, author of the Psalms. It certainly allows him an outlet to express the emotions experienced through his own story.
As he undertakes his personal pilgrimage, he learns why he is there, how he needs to grow and change his character to truly meet his calling. To become a servant, and it is through that servant attitude he can come to a position of leadership and respect. He also learns why the others are joining with him on their own journeys, seeking healing or forgiveness or redemption. Highlighting that all of our journeys are individual and personal, although we may well travel together.
The regular Cistercian ways of worship are revisited and we are reminded that there is a depth of peace in all forms of worship, regardless of whether they are our preferred “flavour” or not. Relationship with God can be found through many routes. And as Hywel goes on his pilgrimage he learns to hear that peaceful voice of God in precious and personal ways.
This is an engaging story, beautifully written. A man finding the deep forgiveness that Jesus bought for him, bathed in scriptural truths, as he builds a personal relationship with his loving Father.
It shows that salvation is a process not a one off event – a process of being saved, more and more as our faith and relationship grows and we get closer to the love of God. As we shed more of ourselves and clothe ourselves more with the things of God.
It is also a story of a search for a calling. We may know that God has a hand on our lives and a plan, but we need to push a little, sometimes against God, to learn for ourselves the direction He is taking us in, and the ways we can serve Him. Hywel learns a lot about himself, a lot about his faith and as the rough edges are knocked off him, he discovers the direction he is to take to serve God.
I received a complimentary advance copy of this book from the author, but was under no pressure to provide a favourable review.