Reflections from the Holy Land
Brendan McManus SJ launched Ruth Patterson’s A Traveller Passing Through: Reflections from the Holy Land » in Wynn’s Hotel, Dublin, on 1 September 2022. He considers the book by the Presbyterian minister a synthesis of prayer, spirituality and social action/reconciliation and a summary of all the author’s wisdom and pastoral experience. Here he gives 10 reasons why he wishes he had written the book.
- What it means to be a pilgrim, in the introduction she defines it as ‘passing through’ (Colmcille), not holding on, free (losing bag at the airport); we are pilgrims in this world, passing through on the way to our real home (p. 104), coming home to out true selves (p.111). A key part of this is identifying with the poor and marginalised (e.g., Peter McVerry, Br Kevin, p. 106), crossing over to the ‘other side’, we are drawn out of our narrow ‘strait-jackets’ or ‘slavery’ (Like N. Ireland) to live in freedom and awareness.
- Every place is a Holy Land; Everything speaks to us of God, but it is about awareness or ‘inner transformation’ (p. 94), to be awake to the divine possibilities in the ordinary; rejecting the ‘dualistic mindset’ (p. 95) to be more present to a God of reality, of the present moment trying to break through. Everything in our lives demands a response from us. Even the context of peace and reconciliation work in N. Ireland (p. 74), the courageous work of bridging the divide, building bridges, overcoming fear and hostility, and unmasking false religion.
- The use of scripture as a living text, her familiarity with it, ability to draw on relevant texts; ‘The scripture of our lives’, how to apply it to our lives. It tells of a human experience, e.g., the shepherds at the nativity (p.91), where people encounter God and live transformed lives; which indicates to us about how we might live. She fills out biblical stories for us, e.g., The Good Samaritan (the inn as a place of welcome), Zaccheus in the tree (welcoming Jesus in his home), and draws out the ‘message’ or implications of human encounter with the divine.
- The ‘composition of place’, the ability to recreate scenes, to see Mary at the well (p. 66), being visited by the angel, the use of the imagination, ‘seeing what’s not there’, bringing a scene alive and bringing it home. It’s beyond physical sight, but seeing with minds and hearts (p. 67), the real significance and meaning
- Asking questions of us, bringing it home, inviting us into personal engagement with the theme/text, examining our spirituality, applying it to ourselves, asking ‘who do you say I am?’ Use of questions to involve the reader, get them to be on pilgrimage, on the journey, implications for my life, opening the way to God
- Faith as a personal relationship, an intimate journey of love, a two way communication and a progressive opening up to mystery (p. 76). We see this in terms of several personal vocation journeys, like those of Peter and Abraham, the process of becoming, “His long journey of growing faithfulness and revelation as to who God is…” (p. 34), the reality of the ‘storms’ (p. 76) that come into our lives, that threaten us but also stretch us and allow us to grow; but more importantly she also applies it to herself, she talks of ‘an inner nativity’ (p. 63), the slow process of letting go control and letting God work within me.
- Introducing us to Jesus, getting to know him, watching and learning from him, relating to him, getting to love him. Crucially, she presents the face of God as one of mercy and compassion, one who is close, intimately involved, cares passionately and invites transformation (living the beatitudes; p. 140). This is someone enormously attractive that we get drawn into; the ‘God of Surprises’ (title of a Jesuit classic, p. 65), who gives us enormous freedom yet invites a response, a collaboration.
- The reality of the incarnation, that Jesus was fully human, (fully divine), living an earthly existence, but crucially that we are invited to walk that same road, to not only follow Jesus but to ‘be’ Jesus in living that same tension, divinity in humanity. Thus the focus on the humanity of the scripture figures like Elijah, powerful prophet and fearful itinerant; also the tendency to present Mary as an “idealised perfection” (p. 61) as unhelpful. In that sense also, the book is sacramental, God works through concrete signs and symbols, ‘the sacrament of encounter’ (Pope Francis, p. 82).
- Her willingness to take risks, to be vulnerable, show her humanity, something of her struggles, faith life, personal journey; we get to see the two sides, the professional exterior and also the honest, real, humble human being trying to do God’s will; we also get to see the vulnerability of the biblical figures, Elijah, Mary etc. Being reflective, looking back on experience, seeing the meaning.
- Speaking into the background of the pandemic, the seriousness of the crisis, using the Gospel text of the ‘storm’ (p. 76) that beset our lives and the damage caused, but also the invitation to let go, to simplify, to prioritise what was important.