Thin Places, God-Winks, and Anam Cara

The Ancient Way: Discoveries on the Path of Celtic Christianity

By River Jordan

My friend River Jordan is one of the most beautiful writers I know. I guess that sentence has a double meaning, because (1) she is beautiful, inside and out, and (2) she writes beautifully. River has contributed essays to all three of the anthologies I have edited, and she wrote a blurb for my last book, Friends of the Library. I was honored to write a blurb for her last book, Confessions of a Christian Mystic. I love this picture of us at the 2017 Southern Festival of Books in Nashville, Tennessee, where she was interviewing me about my novel Cherry Bomb for her radio show, Clearstory Radio. And now I’m again honored, this time by the opportunity to read an advance copy of her book, The Ancient Way: Discoveries on the Path of Celtic Christianity, launching on October 13 from Broadleaf Books, and to share this brief review.

Book Review: Every Step is a Prayer

The Abbey and nunnery on the island of Iona in Scotland

As a little girl River Jordan chased a group of traveling Roma, but was stopped and returned to her mother before she could join them. She’s been living on the edge ever since, often traveling on internal journeys of the heart, but this time on a very physical and spiritual journey. She was searching for what people call a “thin place”—a link between two worlds. And she believed she would find that place in Iona, an island in Scotland and the birthplace of Celtic Christianity.

Jordan went on a “silent retreat” during which she felt called to write this book. She wanted to learn “how to integrate the very presence of God into my life. . . . To abide in that time that is outside the realm of humanity but easily within the grasp of God.”

One thing she knew she needed for the journey was what the Celts call an anam cara—a “soul friend,” which the Irish author John O’Donohue wrote about. She found this friend, Virginia, and they set out, following what Jordan calls “breadcrumbs on the path,” or “God-winks,” at every turn. Trusting God to lead the way—and often to find lodging and financial support—she learned that “pilgrimage requires a kind of holy perseverance.” Chapter after chapter reveals miracles in the form of strangers, mystical experiences, and the rewards of stepping out in faith in places where “every step is a prayer.”

Photo taken by River from inside the Abbey on Iona during her pilgrimage

Upon returning home and reflecting on the journey, Jordan writes, “Pilgrimage changes you. I had traveled to a holy place…. And I had been changed.” She closes out this wonderful spiritual memoir with a list and description of “Spiritual Practices Inspired by Celtic Christianity.” I will close with that list: pilgrimage, prayer, contemplation/stillness/silence, celebrating creation, hospitality, the art of imagination, time, anam cara, and community.

Reading The Ancient Way was like going on a pilgrimage with my anam cara. I read slowly, stopping to pray, contemplate, and just be still at times.

Please ask your local independent bookseller to order The Ancient Way, or you can pre-order it online here.

You might want to go ahead and order more than one copy so you’ll be ready for Christmas gift-giving.