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Without Oars: Casting Off into a Life of Pilgrimage

Without Oars: Casting Off into a Life of Pilgrimage

The way of the pilgrim begins with what we leave behind--not so much a journey to a holy place, but a holy practice of leaving the comforts of the familiar for a radical vulnerability, letting the very breath of God direct us on the unknown, stripped-down path of trust.

In Without Oars, Wesley Granberg-Michaelson blends history, storytelling, biblical insights, personal reflections, and spiritual formation in an inviting call to discover pilgrimage as a way of life. This book offers a unique perspective on the faith journey as an embodied practice of heading into the unknown and unknowable--with all the excitement, risk, and rewards that come with letting go.

Continue your journey with the Without Oars Reflection Guide--perfect for church groups, book clubs, and individual study.

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  • Publisher Broadleaf Books
  • Format Paperback
  • ISBN 9781506464343
  • eBook ISBN 9781506464350
  • Age/Grade Range Adult
  • Dimensions 5.5 x 8.5
  • Pages 194
  • Publication Date November 17, 2020


"Without Oars takes readers on an inspiring journey of rethinking Christian discipleship as an embodied reality rather than just a 'belief in beliefs.' There is no better guide for this excursion than Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, with his deep wisdom, pastoral sensitivity, and gift for storytelling. Readers will reconsider their own ways of walking through the world."

—Dr. Kristin Colberg, professor of Theology, College of St. Benedict and St. John's University

"Reading Wes's remarkable pilgrimage, I found myself--somewhat like John, imprisoned on the isle of Patmos in the Bible--caught up 'in the Spirit,' there in the story, in the insights, in the wisdom, in the pilgrimage. I found myself 'lost in wonder, love and praise,' as the old hymn says. I sensed what the Bible calls 'the joyful liberty of the children of God.' Wow!"

—Rev. Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop and Primate, The Episcopal Church

"Wes Granberg-Michaelson describes the promise and joy of 'casting off into a life of pilgrimage' in ways that make us want to start walking. A wonderful book."

—Fr. Richard Rohr, director, Center for Action and Contemplation

"This book is really special. It's an adventure. You get all of Wes's great ideas, stories, and theology, but this time you feel like you are walking alongside him on the Camino. And he'll be inviting you to let go of some of the extra baggage so you're a little freer to enjoy the journey. This book will help you declutter your soul."

—Shane Claiborne, author, activist, and co-founder of Red Letter Christians

"Compelling and beautifully written, Granberg-Michaelson's writing invites us into a deeper reality. Take the journey of reading Without Oars and experience the spiritual transformation and blossoming of the soul that await."

—Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon, author of Beyond Hashtag Activism: Comprehensive Justice in a Complicated Age

"Up until now, when you think of spirituality and prayer, you may think of churches, sermons, organs, and words, words, words. If you dare to read this beautiful, courageous, and truly unforgettable book, you will think of feet, dirt, water, food, and dancing. As I read, I saw my past in a new light, and my present and future as well. This book stands out and gives extraordinary gifts."

—Brian D. McLaren, author of The Galápagos Islands: A Spiritual Journey

"Wes's pilgrim journey invites us into places of disruption, uncertainty, even surrender. He's a wise guide for this necessary journey. I commend this book to anyone who is open to discovering the treasure found in the detours and disruptions of an authentic faith journey."

—Chuck DeGroat, Professor of Pastoral Care and Christian Spirituality, Western Theological Seminary

"Without Oars is a lovely reminder that walking with Christ is a pilgrimage where we are accompanied and nourished in ways that touch the body and soul. This book is soothing and centering without ignoring the hard truths of our lives."

—Rev. Dr. Alexia Salvatierra, Professor of Development Studies, Fuller Theological Seminary

"In Without Oars, Wes Granberg-Michaelson shares the deep wisdom he has gained as a lifelong and contemplative pilgrim whose spiritual practice leads him to strong and effective social action for justice. This book is a genuine must-read for anyone who wants to apply faith to public life. I can't recommend it highly enough."

—Jim Wallis, Founder and President of Sojourners

"This enchanting book takes readers on a journey into the ancient and sacred terrain of Christian pilgrimage. Here we learn that pilgrimage is both a 'be-wilding,' external journey and an interior, mystical one."

—Cheryl Bridges Johns, Professor of Spiritual Renewal and Christian Formation, Pentecostal Theological Seminary

"Drawing on the rich Christian history of pilgrimage, Wes Granberg-Michaelson encourages us to turn off the phone, take a break from 'efficiency,' shed the political baggage of the culture wars, and learn to listen to the Holy Spirit. Part memoir, part sermon, Without Oars invites us to experience an enchanted world defined by peace, spiritual wandering, and a deeper experience with God."

—John Fea, author of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump


"Uplifting work...Christians feeling wanderlust will find inspiration in this inviting guide."
Publishers Weekly

Table of Contents

Prologue:  In a Boat without Oars

1 The Restless Soul
Leaving behind the habits of predictable but discontented lives.
Freeing ourselves from captivity to efficient routines of normalcy. 
First pilgrim steps interrupt regularity into uncharted land.
2 Real Presence
Leaving behind the frenzy of our addictions to screens.
Freedom from promoting a false virtual presence of the self.
Opening unexplored interior space in one’s outward journey.
3 Persistent Patience
The relief of giving up instant gratification.
Focusing only on the next step in long faithfulness.
350,000 steps that were never imagined. 
4 Strength to Let Go
Learning to surrender what weighs us down in the pilgrim journey.
The lightness of being relinquishes the ego’s false identities.
Shedding the formerly necessary psychic securities that shaped our early life.
5 Walking into Faith
Leaving disembodied systems of belief rooted primarily in the head.
Recovering paths of embodied faith centered in practices.
Expressing faith by where we walk, not what creed we sign.
6 Reckless Spirituality
Leaving behind predictable piety that preserves our inner comfort.
Freeing the Spirit from the bondage of our expectations.
On the wind of the Spirit: a radical abandonment to following the Way
7 Unpredictable Grace
Leaving planned outcomes in favor of spiritual preparedness for daily grace.
The futility of strategic planning, the promise of pilgrimage.
Journeying on paths far less predictable than we imagine.
8 A Re-enchanted World
Recovering the spirituality of material, ordinary things. 
What the belief of pilgrims in “living bones” means for us.
Embracing sacred mysteries sacramentally embedded along our paths.
9 Leaving the Empire Behind
Historic journeys away from Constantine’s imperial clutches.
Walking free from centers and systems of control today.
Pilgrim pathways through the public square with new vision.
10 Life as We Know It
The final pilgrimage, for us all, leaves life behind.
Dying before we die to taste the presence of enduring life.
Letting go, always living on the brink of the next unknown.
Appendix: Suggested resources; author’s guide to a variety of ways readers can consider practicing rituals of pilgrimage.