Holy Week Readings: The Pilgrimage and The Fifth Mountain

In observance of the Holy days, I refrained from posting entries starting Holy Wednesday until Good Friday. Instead, I read two books by Paulo Coelho which were stacked in my bookshelf. Though I’ve only read Coelho’s “The Alchemist,” I’ve always had this growing interest in his works as I believe that his writings tackle the essence of humanity, self-discovery, human potentials and the spiritual. I’ve always been interested in such topics and so I thought “The Pilgrimage” and “The Fifth Mountain” are fitting reading materials during this time of reflection and silence.

image from harpercollins.com

“The Pilgrimage” is Paulo Coelho’s expedition along the Road to Santiago, a well-known road between France and Spain that has been a pilgrimage route for centuries. It is an autobiography, of some sort.

Coelho is sent on a pilgrimage to Santiago after almost being initiated into The Order. His master believes that he has yet to learn more about life and its simplicity. He meets Petrus, his guide, whom he has to listen and obey no matter what. On the road, he encounters a series of events which remind him that things can really be simple and that there’s no need to over analyze and intellectualize all that’s happening around him. Furthermore, he comes face to face with his worst fear, which he has to eventually overcome. As he continues with his inward journey, he is assisted by Petrus by teaching him a series of exercises that would enrich his understanding and appreciation of things.

Coelho’s journey had mysticism and occultism elements in it. If the reader has no interest in such things, I would say that s/he might find the discussion on trances, ecstasy, exorcism and the like, a bit metaphysical and philosophical. As if the reader is being transported to a higher and more complex dimension or consciousness. It’s a relief though, that I have read a bit of interest in the occult and esoteric sciences, that I did not get lost in my reading. However, I think the most important and striking about Coelho’s path is his discovery of life and the simplicity it has to offer – the ordinary people that he met and the mundane things and creatures that he has seen along the way. Furthermore, his journey points out to two important maxims, “paying attention and appreciating all that is happening along the Road and learning lessons from it” instead of focusing on the reward or end result; and “wisdom has to have a practical application in life and can be followed by anyone.” His journey to self-discovery, reflection and triumph is such an insightful one, most especially to those who are searching for life’s meaning.

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image from harpercollins.com

“The Fifth Mountain” is a historical fiction which tells the story of the Biblical prophet Elijah. (It is important to note that “some” circumstances which Elijah found himself in are fiction so argument or questions as to the authenticity of the proceedings are unnecessary.)

Elijah is a reluctant prophet, who has heard God’s messages since he was young but was taught by his parents to ignore his calling. However, when King Ahab marries and allows the Phoenician princess, Jezebel to require the people of Israel to worship the pagan gods, Elijah was again called by God to admonish the practice. Jezebel retaliated by forcing all prophets to convert and worship the pagan gods or die. Elijah, who underwent extreme suffering and was threatened to die, was commanded by God to flee Israel and go to Akbar. There he meets a young widow who shelters him even though she can barely support herself and her young son. While awaiting God’s instructions, he becomes accustomed to Akbar and its people, even assuming the role of counselor to the governor. He finds true love in the young woman who sheltered him but this love is cut short as destruction, violence and death swept the whole city. Elijah, at first hesitantly, rebuilds the city but then realizes that one must let go of the past and create a new “history for oneself.”

The novel, first and foremost, is about faith. Elijah encountered things that a man can possibly experience in his lifetime – threat of death, death of a loved one, war, and even abandonment of God and losing his faith. Despite the tribulations, he learned more about himself, about his faith and his relationship with God. The first two messages that the book imparts: “Not always does His plan agree with what we are or what we feel, but be assured that He has a reason for all of this” and “that a person must go through various stages before he can fulfill his destiny.”

Secondly, Elijah learns another message, that “God has given His children the greatest of all gifts: the capacity to choose and determine their acts; that man must choose – and not accept – his fate.” Elijah realized that he followed God with full obedience and dedication but a struggle with Him is inevitable. However, this struggle is what makes a person grow and learn.

Thirdly, the weak population of the community – the old people, women and children were once unimportant – became the instruments of the city’s rebuilding. Elijah realized that the city needed to be destroyed so that “all could awaken the forces that lay dormant inside their own being.” The old people, woman and children finally realized their worth.

Lastly, Elijah shares that “it is necessary to go onward, however difficult it may appear.” People will experience everything, good and bad, but it is important to rise up and go forward.

The novel explores issues of faith that are relevant in the 21st century as they were in the 9th century B.C. Reading this novel has taken me into a personal journey that made me reflect on many things. I was moved by this book, mainly because like Elijah, I do have my “faith moments.” By “faith moments,” I mean I also experience trials, tribulations that would often lead to struggles with God. But then, I would often remember that every tragedy is not a punishment but a challenge; that every dark cloud has its silver lining; and that Good Friday is followed by Easter Sunday.

Happy Easter!

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Thoughts on The Alchemist

Almost everyone had read this, I know. I had this book for about 10 years or so but it was just a few days ago when I finally sat down to read it. Shame on me! I know my being busy with work and graduate studies cannot be reason enough that I have not had the time to read a good book.

Anyway, what I’m going to share in this entry is not actually a review of the book. I believe I’m not qualified and a scholar to do so. However, I will share my thoughts, impressions and how the book affected me at this particular point in my life.

image from harpercollins.com

Reading the book at this point in my life, I’d say that it has spoken to me in many ways I ever thought possible. The main message is fulfilling one’s dream and such can be accomplished if one is courageous enough to go through the journey – to experience new things and is not afraid to let go of things that has been long accustomed to.

For quite a number of years, I’ve been content. The dream of being “more” has, always been there – a dream. I procrastinated and shoved these aspirations at the back of my head, thinking “There are many things that I need to do right now. I don’t have time to think about it.” I saw myself as the crystal merchant who dreams of going to Mecca but has not actually realized it. He was content dreaming and was fearful of failing. But I cannot be the crystal merchant any longer. I have nagging thoughts of “doing and being more.” I actually want a big change in life. I already had my plan in motion and am just waiting for the results, which will come in a few months’ time. Hence, I felt the king’s message, “when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it” and the alchemist’s words, “There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure,” were repeated to me as well.

The book imparts age-old wisdom which resonates all throughout. Some are really quite simple but people oftentimes tend to forget. Even I am guilty of this.

The desert and the journey through it symbolize the pilgrimage that is life. The boy while traveling observed that he “made a lot of detours in the desert but was always heading at the same direction.” This is personally true for I had times when it got bumpy and there were times of delay and most of the time I was led to some other diversions, but then I ultimately arrived at the same destination.

I love the part when the alchemist tells the boy that learning is best through action and everything that he needs to know, he has learned in his journey. Experience is the best teacher, as is often said. Nothing really beats lessons learned in everyday life.

Lastly, the alchemist shares, “Listen to your heart…Wherever your heart is, there is your treasure. Every second of the search is an encounter with God. I would like to believe that the treasure was the journey itself, the discoveries he made, and the wisdom he acquired. And this is true for me too. I’ve always believed that journeys and destinations are equally important. However, the destination (or end result) becomes more meaningful because of the experiences and lessons learned during the journey (or the process).