A PILGRIM’S DIGRESS by John D. Spalding


My Perilous, Fumbling Quest for the Celestial City
Email this review


Beliefnet.com’s “Sick Soul” columnist wryly explores the strange vagaries of belief.

Spalding does not move among deeply compelling religious figures, but rather consorts with the strangely entertaining and, often enough, the sideshow halt and lame. He’s not looking for future saints, but rather to see how religious views, no matter how peculiar, shape the holders’ lives and make them tick. So he shoves off like Bunyan's pilgrim to see what he may see, which includes a night with the Christian Wrestling Federation: “big guys with big mouths . . . who look like extras in a prison film”—not unlike their secular peers, in fact, except for their exhortations on Jesus’ behalf. Spalding also meets the Jesus lookalike, Whatsyourname, who “somehow inspires an amazing, spontaneous display of faith in Christ without seeming to challenge anyone’s reason,” and runs across a guy who feels that his uncanny ability to hit lottery numbers is the result of a special interest looking over his shoulder. The author drops in on the Garden of Eden, the Holy Land Experience, and Las Vegas, where he visits with the Strip's chaplain, whose responsibilities include administering the last rites to skydiving Elvis impersonators whose chutes don't deploy. He makes house calls with a ghostbuster and is given the dismaying news that “ghosts are, well, I don't know if stupid is the right word, but hardheaded. Immature.” Perhaps most spiritually, or at least most questingly, he makes the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, with all “its hardships and weirdness, its thrills and unexpected pleasures.” What do these experiences reveal to Spalding? If nothing else, “they clarify who or what we are not, [showing] a set of beliefs to which, we can then safely say, we do or do not subscribe.”

Refreshingly colloquial account of a spiritual journey complete with “ups and downs. Some open highway, and, um, lots of toll booths.”

Pub Date: March 1st, 2003
ISBN: 1-4000-4653-X
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Harmony
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2003