Pilgrimages to numinous sites don’t often make it in the news. It was not always that way.


In the sixth century, BC, ailing Greeks sought healing at the shrine of the god Asclepius in Epidaurus. Two centuries later, others seeking to be reborn, followed the Sacred Way from Athens to Eleusis. And still later, Egyptians sought the protection of their falcon god, Horus, on the West Bank of the Nile at Edfu. Hundreds of such sites pepper the globe and are known to you.


The magnificence of these sites, still discernible in archeological ruins, speaks of these ancient people and their attraction to the Holy, however experienced: their urgent need for a new paradigm to replace outworn ones; their setting out toward a numinous place, their minimization of hardships, their stripping away of old attitudes, their openness to new learning, and ultimately their psychic transformation.


To return to the present …


The British author, Rachel Joyce, has woven these same components into her debut novel, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (2012). Six months into retirement from a brewery, Harold has lost his moorings. Barely speaking with Maureen, his wife, his son David long gone, he waits for the grass to grow around their South Devon home so he can cut it. One April morning, however, Harold receives a pink typed note from Queenie Hennessey, a former accountant who had worked with him, now dying of cancer in a hospice, five hundred miles way in the North of England. He is moved to tears. At first, he jots a quick response to Queenie, but on his way to post it, decides to walk to her bedside. He must see her. He takes off. No matter that he’s only wearing yachting shoes and a windbreaker, his debit card in his back pocket. His three-month walk follows, one that unravels his troubled past and opens him and Maureen to the remaining years of their marriage. The hilarity of their youth returns.


Another moving read for the New Year! Enjoy!