Saturday, September 19, 2009

To the Field of Stars: A Pilgrim's Journey to Santiago de Compostella

By Kevin A. Codd, 271 pages, Eerdmans.

Faithful to the Church and very mindful of tradition, Father Kevin Dodd brings doctrine alive. He focuses on the physical and metaphysical, the individual and the social side of Catholicism. On the famous medieval pilgrim trail through southern France to Spain's Santiago de Compostella, he fully lives the spirituality of the journey.

The author's romantic, poetic grasp of God and theology underscore To the Field of Stars's success. In fact, the pilgrim trail attracts religious romantics, people who do not think like most people do in our money- and success-oriented society:

“[I]f you are satisfied being a very contemporary person living in a world formed by the likes of Descartes, Freud, and Henry Ford, if you have no interest in adventures of the spirit, or if you have no desire to ramble on foot across a fair piece of this earth's lovely skin, then the story I am about to tell you will not matter to you.”

Dodd's excellent character sketches of the personalities he meets along the way enhance his theology. He uses his personal struggle with people's rudeness or selfishness to teach something about humility. He reflects on the community spirit and openness to cultures of people from different countries. He appreciates the loving care which religious sisters, brothers, priests, and laity offer to the pilgrims.

To the Field of Stars brings alive Christianity's basic fact as a materialist religion. The Incarnation sanctifies the physical world and reflects God's loving interest in it, and specifically in the lives of humans.

The author lives with blisters, painful tendons, a sore back, and occasionally tasteless food, relying on his hope and faith, both of which pull him towards Santiago.

The depth of this book, additionally, comes from the frequent lack of romanticism. While he is a dreamer, he also lets his angry feelings and sufferings come out on the book's pages. He doesn't spiritually float towards his destination. Like any spiritually mature pilgrim, his romanticism is deeper than childish feelings. He describes how his thoughts and feelings – including petty thoughts and immature feelings – roam all over, but how never loses sight of the big spiritual picture.

This includes a special reverence for tradition's religious wisdom: “It may seem ridiculous to us altogether modern, practical, well-educated people of the third millennium, but there was a time, not so long ago, especially in Europe, when popular religious belief often included an unshakable sense that the space between God and us in certain places on the face of this earth was especially thin.”

Irritating to the reader, Dodd frequently criticizes the comportment of priests' speed, lack of holiness, and apparent inhospitality towards pilgrims at the Mass. It is surprising that the author, himself a priest, would attend Mass as he would a movie or a baseball game. He seems to commit the error of asking himself whether he and others had “gotten anything out of Mass.” He erroneously regards the Church and the Eucharist as therapeutic rather than sacramental.

1 comment:

  1. As I prepare for my own first Camino I'm reading all that I can by those who have done so. Father Kevin, your book has meant more to me than perhaps anything I've ever read in my lifetime. Thank you for telling your story in such a way that I felt as though I were there, and for sharing your beautiful walk with God. Buen Camino, Father Dodd. Gracias.