I don’t read large books, because it takes me forever to even finish reading one book. But there was a particular reason I picked up this 400-page beast by Rosemary Mahoney: I have been struggling with my spirituality.
“The Singular Pilgrim: Travels on Sacred Ground” is Mahoney’s account as she struggles with spirituality and tries to find it at some of the holiest places on the planet. The author ventures to Walsingham, U.K.; Lourdes, France; El Camino De Santiago, France and Spain; Varanasi, India; The Holy Land; and Saint Patrick’s Purgatory, Lough Derg, Ireland.
At each location, Mahoney slowly reveals parts of herself and why she doubted her upbringing.
In Lourdes, we find out that her mother had polio as a child, resulting in a paralyzed leg. In Varanasi, we learn about death and its significance.
In the Holy Land, Mahoney seeks out places where Jesus performed miracles and did the majority of his work, not just the place he was born or other traditional places in Christian theology. However, she learns that these places aren’t as honored as the more popular ones. And in Saint Patrick’s Purgatory, we feel Mahoney’s heartache as she suffers through a terrible breakup.
At first, I thought Mahoney was being sarcastic about Catholicism, judging those who are faithful including her mother. As the book progresses, she sheds layers away that show her humanity, her love for others and her true struggle with her religious beliefs. She seems rough and tough on the exterior, expecting too much from so little, like expecting answers without opening her heart. But we all struggle with this, wanting the burden to be lifted so we could “see the light.” Mahoney meets others who prove, instead, that these crosses are supposed to bring us closer, and not drive us away, from spirituality.
She also sheds light onto religious prejudices within the countries and religious areas. I don’t know if it amazed her as much as it amazes me — the strife, judgement and pain over areas of pilgrimage to a loving and accepting God.
“The Singular Pilgrim” has a lot of facts and history but also emotional and spiritual insight. Mahoney never tells anyone how to be spiritual. She just shares her struggles and journeys.
This book made me want to back my backpack and head back to Europe for a pilgrimage (I had just been there for my honeymoon.) Even more, it made me question my spirituality and opened up my eyes, heart and soul.