Steve Bell’s Pilgrim Year: A Story Reharrowed

I’ve got a confession … again.

I am weary from the pilgrimage and wary of all sentimentality.

The path of discipleship is too hard for cheap answers,
too radical for pious narcissism,
and too dangerous for a spirituality of sweet comfort.

So, for me,
any spiritual discipline,
any path through the liturgies of the church
and the narrative of the Christian year,
that is not in touch with the real struggles,
pain, disappointment and despair
of life in this culture at this time,
will leave me cold.

I mean that literally.
So much Christian spiritual writing leaves me cold,
because it fails to generate the heat of hope
in my life.


But a few years ago, my friend Steve Bell
teamed up with the profoundly talented
poet/priest Malcolm Guite
to produce an Advent album
of beautifully gritty and evocative songs,
Keening for the Dawn.

Advent as a time of keening.
A longing filled with tears and even wailing.

Here was an invitation into Advent through the door of lament.

In my review of Keening for the Dawn I wrote:

“Lament is rooted in memory and directed towards hope.

Steve Bell puts it this way:

Keening for the dawn as such
Stirs the memory of your touch
We are waiting

Somehow, in the very act of keening,
in the very expression of lament,
in the very wailing out in the face of death,
memories are stirred,
memories are evoked.”

That’s why a season of anticipation,
necessarily looks backwards.

Rekindled hope is rooted in rekindled memory.

That is what liturgy and the Christian year is all about.
Through Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent,
Holy Week, Easter, Pentecost, and Ordinary Time
we are invited to join the Great Story anew,
and revisit these foundational memories,
to rekindle hope in the face of another damn year of disappointment.

And so, following up on the amazing contribution of Keening for the Dawn
Steve Bell has spent the last number of years going deep:
deep into the tradition,
deep into the liturgy of the Christian year,
deep into the liberating stories of Christian faith.

The result is a collection of seven small books
brought together under the title, Pilgrim Year.

Not surprisingly, this is a pilgrimage with a soundtrack,
happily provided on two accompanying cds.

With the kind of poetic, pastoral and prophetic voice
that we have come to expect from him,
Bell invites us to sojourn with him on the path.

This is a spirituality for the road,
not for staying put.

This is a spirituality for the weary and wary,
not the smug and self-secure.

This is a spirituality of deep memory,
not pious nostalgia.

This is a spirituality with bruises and dirty fingernails,
not easy contentment.

This is a spirituality of radical hope,
not cheap optimism.

Humans are storied creatures,
the question is always, “which stories?”

Precisely when our cultural story seems to be
spiralling out of control in a morass of deceit,
power grabbing, and violence,
Bell invites us to rehearse and reharrow
the story of Christian faith.

Rehearse and reharrow.
Not just a telling of the story anew,
but a harrowing of the story,
entering the story in our distress,
with our grief, through our tears.

How else could we engage a story
that narrates the broken heart of God,
the groaning of all creation,
and the conflicted sorrow of humanity?

We are keepers of the Story,
Bell claims.

Echoing the call to “tend and keep” of Genesis 2,
we are called to be stewards of the Story,
tending and opening up the Story so that it bears fruit,
while keeping and protecting it as a precious gift.

No wonder Steve Bell’s art has always
been animated by a spirit of gift and generosity.

For all these years, Steve has offered us
songs and stories rooted in a spirituality.
acquainted with sorrow,
and awakened by grace.

The rehearsing and reharrowing
of the living Story of the living God
who is hopelessly in love with Creation
and all its inhabitants,
evokes and engenders
a transformed imagination of hope.

Steve Bell’s Pilgrim Year series
invites us to such an imagination.

Brian Walsh
Brian is an activist theologian and the CRC Campus Minister at the University of Toronto. He engages issues of theology and culture, and has written a couple of books you might want to check out. His most recent offering is entitled Kicking at the Darkness: Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination.

2 Responses to “Steve Bell’s Pilgrim Year: A Story Reharrowed”

  1. Simon Appolloni

    Hello Brian, this is a wonderful review. Thank you. I am the Associate Publishing Director at Novalis, the publisher of Steve’s books. When I first heard Steve was taking on a writing project, I hurriedly got in touch with him. It’s been a sheer joy since.
    On a different note, I am also the same person who spoke with your Christian Fellowship last night, talking about my own recent book, Convergent Knowing. It was a pleasure meeting the community; there is a marvelous spirit there. Geoff Wichert is a peach. I am grateful.
    Simon

    Reply
    • Brian Walsh

      Thanks Simon, both for your comment and for speaking at GCF last night. It is indeed a wonderful community. I’ve always thought of Geoff Wichert in terms of apples, however.

      Reply

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