Lori Erickson is a well-known spiritual and travel writer and blogger at Holy Rover and Spiritual Travels. She has just released a book titled Holy Rover: Journeys in Search of Mystery, Miracles, and God. Lori is married with two adult sons and lives in the midwest.
For a “church-lady type,” as she jokingly describes herself, Lori has done a lot of traveling. And not just to different places on the map, but to different realms of belief and tradition. Holy Rover traces a meandering path through Lori’s life, from her upbringing as a Lutheran to her current role serving as a deacon in the Episcopal Church. You might think that would be a fairly short trip, but Holy Rover will surprise you, tracing its way through stopovers like Buddhism, Wicca, and Walden Pond. If a pilgrimage is defined very simply as a spiritual journey, then Lori has spent her whole life a pilgrim.
One thing Holy Rover tries to do is to encourage its readers to take part in the tradition of pilgrimage. Lori writes that
“I think my experiences mirror those of many travelers today, people who don’t have time for an extended retreat or journey, but who still feel a yearning for something more than the ordinary routines of work and family and the pleasures of a week at Disneyland” (prologue).
But a pilgrimage doesn’t always have to involve a journey. Lori tells me that one of the most important things she tried to say in her chapter on Walden Pond was that, “[Thoreau] was a pilgrim each day of his life, and you don’t have to travel around the world in order to learn new things and have these experiences.” In fact, even visiting local places where she has been before can result in beautiful experiences for Lori. Drawing an idea from Buddhism, Lori explains to me that on every visit, both the site and seeker will be different.
Taking on ideas from different religions is something Lori does with ease. This practice might seem strange to some people, but Holy Rover reveals that Lori has woven a beautiful tapestry out of whichever pieces of spiritual traditions that she finds the most relevant to her life and soul. One of the things that struck me while reading Holy Rover is that it doesn’t describe a search for truth, trying to find proof that something more exists beyond what we can experience rationally. It seems that Lori knows in her soul that there is something more. That there are “thin places” around us, “where the boundary between worlds is transparent” (35). That the water of Lourdes is not just water. That it is perfectly acceptable to search for elves in Iceland. Lori’s faith does not waver. But still she seeks and she loves to share with others what she has found.
Lori explains to me that she feels like a translator. “I think I’m good at sort of explaining things in more ordinary, accessible ways. I try hard at that.” Holy Rover is a work that seeks to pass on what understanding Lori has found, and it succeeds at that. Lori’s prose is clear and amazingly simple while leading us through some very deep waters. “If I had to sum up the book,” she tells me, “I would say that it’s about the mystic’s path that I think is a thread through many traditions. But it’s also my evidence on the witness stand that there’s more than just ‘flat land.’ I think a lot of people in our increasingly secular world live in flat land. I think especially when you travel and especially when you take spiritual things seriously then you start to see that there are other dimensions.” Writing Holy Rover gave Lori the feeling that she was creating something important. “It was an incredible gift to have a writing project like that. I felt called to write the book, and I felt that even though it was work, it flowed in a way that other work hasn’t.”
There are painful things in the book. Cancer and death. Animosity and loss of friendship. Loss of so many kinds. Lori apologized when I told her that a certain chapter had made me cry, but I was glad for the experience. Spiritual seeking is not, after all, an easy path, nor should it be, because the world itself is not easy. We would not search for answers if we already had them.
Sometimes in times of crisis we get unexpected answers, and in one of my favorite parts, Holy Rover touches on that, trying to sort out what makes up a miracle. “It’s easy to talk cheaply about miracles,” Lori says, but the problem is that “for the wonderful thing that happened to you, there are all those people who didn’t get” whatever they were seeking. Life after cancer, a healthy newborn. But not to acknowledge the gift also feels wrong. Lori posits that perhaps miracles are simply things that make us feel gratitude–“deep surprised gratitude of something you didn’t in any way work for.”
My favorite thing about Lori’s book is its attitude. Travel writing can be cynical, and sometimes it really needs to be. After all, a review of a hotel or cruise needs to point out the good and bad parts of the journey to those who would follow after. Holy Rover is different. It is wildly different, and not just because it is not critical of those who believe they can cast spells, for example, but because it expects its readers to be uncritical as well. Holy Rover is a journey full of love, tolerance, and a childlike sense of wonder at all the different spiritual fruits that humans can produce. In doing that, the book treats its readers with the same respect that it shows to everyone else, believing that we, too, can be open to whatever lies along the path.
Lori’s tells me that her next book pushes ahead on that same journey, but this time with a different focus. A string of loss turned Lori’s thoughts to the places we visit only reluctantly–nursing homes, funerals, graveyards. But those places “have their own customs,” Lori explains, and she plans to write about them from the perspective of a pilgrim.
Holy Rover can serve as a friendly and accessible guide should you want to take a pilgrimage of your own–or maybe understand one you’ve already taken. In the book, Lori reveals to us that,
“Most travelers have already been on a pilgrimage once or twice in their lives, whether they know it or not–when they visited the town where they grew up and walked its streets with a full heart, for example, seeing everything through the lens of memory. Or when they took a trip with a friend facing something big and scary, like a serious cancer diagnosis, and along with the fun was the knowledge of a powerful undertow just beneath the surface, making every stop for ice cream and view of a sunset bittersweet” (53).
Whether you are a seeker or new to the concept of pilgrimage, Holy Rover will take you to places you have never been–even if you’ve been there before.