‘Holy Rover’ finds value in spiritual pilgrimage, near and far away

With the new year comes motivation to begin anew, perhaps with hope for significant change that starts with a public resolution or private vow. Maybe the path seems clear and easy to measure: Stop smoking. Lose weight. Exercise more. Eat better.

But sometimes we feel compelled to address a restlessness, discontent, ambition, anxiety or sadness that can be hard to pinpoint or rationalize. That’s when a pilgrimage might be helpful: It can be the trip of your dreams or near your back yard.

Where to go, and why? This is where my friend and colleague, Lori Erickson of Iowa, can be helpful. The longtime travel writer’s new book, “Holy Rover: Journeys in Search of Mystery, Miracles and God” (Fortress Press, $25), beautifully and transparently shares tender episodes from her own life to illustrate how pilgrimage might make a positive difference in yours.

Not many people can inject sly humor into such a book and get away with it, but Erickson is a big exception. Missing are what you might expect: judgment and preaching.

Don’t take just my word for it. The book earns a positive review from Publisher’s Weekly (“Whether describing mystical visions or the rhythms of everyday life, Erickson turns the spiritual journey into a series of exciting transformations”) and makes a recent Associated Press short list of new travel books that provide “fun and inspiration.”

Erickson, who also is an Episcopal deacon, has dabbled with other religions and respects the sacred value of non-Christian walks too. A search for the holy takes her to 12 sites in “Holy Rover,” including Our Lady of Lourdes in France, Bear Butte with the Lakota in South Dakota and Iceland, looking for elves as she learns about the pagan Asatru folk religion.

What’s it like to be in each of these places? The author shares helpful theological and historical background, but most intriguing is what was going on in her life at the time of these travels. The heart and head alter how each of us views the world.

Our shared travels to Machu Picchu in Peru and the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist community near Bloomington, Ind., both make the cut for this book. Erickson argues that you don’t have to venture far – or be holy roller, for that matter – to benefit from such sojourns.

We are both farm girls who grew up Lutheran and rarely ate at restaurants as kids. We are both travel writers, in part, because of our lack of personal exposure to other cultures and countries as young adults. That did much to feed our curiosity, appreciation and sense of awe.

But while I remain casually curious about religions, my friend dives deep wherever she goes. As “Holy Rover” observes, “when you travel, your heart and soul open. And that’s when the real journey starts.” This book invites you to examine your own footprints and realize that pilgrimage is any trek that somehow changes the inward you.

Follow the blog too, at spiritualtravels.info.

If cooking and the sharing of food speak to your spirit and sense of connection, check out “Nourished: A Memoir of Food, Faith and Enduring Love” by Lia Huber (Convergent, $26). Her stories demonstrate how nourishment isn’t just a matter of calories and nutrients.

Twenty years of travel take the author to California’s wine country, the Greek island of Corfu, a Guatemalan village, Costa Rican jungle house and more. Each chapter ends with recipes that match the destination, and we learn how these round-the-world experiences literally and figuratively have fed Huber and others.

The food entrepreneur’s other projects include Cook the Seasons, an online menu planner and subscription-based food community. More at liahuber.com.

Need a quiet, simple (as in no TV and maybe no cell access) and close-to-home place to retreat? Consider these sacred spaces in Wisconsin as possibilities.

Christine Center, W8303 Mann Rd., Willard: On a 125-acre woodland, rooted in Franciscan values, people from any spiritual background are welcome. Stay in the guesthouse or a hermitage (rustic or modern cabin), 30 miles west of Marshfield. Prices start at $40 for private quarters. Come on your own or for a yoga retreat. christinecenter.org, 715-267-7507

Holy Wisdom Monastery, 4200 County M, Middleton: On 130 acres of restored prairie and oak forests, a Benedictine community welcomes visitors to rejuvenate and contemplate for a day, overnight or multiple nights. Stay in a dorm-like room or hermitage, starting at $50. Spiritual guidance, daily prayer and occasional themed programs available. benedictinewomen.org, 608-836-1631

Jesuit Retreat House, 4800 Fahrnwald Rd., Oshkosh: Silence is golden at this campus with Catholic roots on Lake Winnebago. Preached retreats involve daily mass, spiritual direction and silence between participants. The other choice is a directed retreat, which matches each participant with a spiritual director. “Suggested offerings” begin at $390 for a weekend. jesuitretreathouse.org, 920-231-9060

St. Anthony Spirituality Center, 300 E. Fourth St., Marathon: The ecumenical retreat center on 45 woodsy acres is along the Rib River, west of Wausau, in a red brick building that is nearly one century old. Private or guided retreats based on Christian principles are possible. Silent retreats and weekends for mothers, lovers, recovering alcoholics and others are scheduled. Cost starts at $185 for a weekend. sarcenter.com, 715-443-2236

Sinsinawa Mound, 585 Hwy. Z, Sinsinawa: Indoor and outdoor labyrinths are a part of these 450 acres, southeast of Platteville, operated by Dominican women who encourage self-evaluation through spiritual reflection and study. Spend the day ($20, includes food and a room for solitude) or arrange for a longer stay ($50), with or without spiritual counseling. Bakery made on the premises is about as heavenly as you can get. sinsinawa.org, 608-748-4411