Jared Brock is the co-founder of Hope for the Sold and the author of a new book entitled A Year of Living Prayerfully – How a Curious Traveler Met the Pope, Walked on Coals, Danced with Rabbis, and Revived His Prayer Life. In it, he chronicles his 37,000-mile pilgrimage around the world. It’s available at livingprayerfully.com (where you can read the first two chapters for free). You can also get the ebook for just 2.99 from now until May 29th. And if that’s not enough, you can get the audiobook for free at Audible.
You describe your journey as a pilgrimage. In a few words, how is a pilgrimage different from a trip or vacation?
No mojitos were involved! Christians in the Middle Ages used to go on pilgrimages – they set aside the things of earth to focus on things above – but somehow we lost the tradition along the way. I wanted to experience a little piece of the Medieval times, I guess. Unlike a cruise or an all-inclusive, pilgrimage fuses travel with spiritual meaning.
What was your scariest moment in this year of living prayerfully? Or when did you find yourself praying hardest?
The scariest moment, hands down, was North Korea. There’s a tradition on New Year’s Day where everyone goes to the palace and bows before the bodies of the two dead leaders, which are stuffed in glass coffins. Long story short, I refused to bow, and instead whispered the Lord’s Prayer seven times in the heart of Pyongyang.
What was the funniest moment?
I saw this guy at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, which is a place of huge reverence. He was leaning over a ￼pulpit, with one hand on his head, and his head resting on the wall. He was praying fervently, getting louder and louder. I moved in for a closer look. His prayers reached a fever pitch. And then I realized that he wasn’t praying at all. He was screaming at someone on his cell phone.
Is there a moment from your journey that most stands out to you? A moment of joy or awe or peace?
I was granted an audience with Pope Francis and got to have lunch at the Vatican. That was pretty unforgettable. Twice during our meeting, he asked me to pray for him. I loved that: here is the spiritual leader for a billion people, and he recognizes his need for a power greater than himself. The Pope gave us rosaries as gifts, and they were stamped with his papal insignia: “Lowly, but chosen.” He’s entitled to a massive papal palace, but he lives in a spare room in the guest house and eats his meals in the cafeteria.
You spent time on an all-male island of Orthodox monks. What stood out to you most about that experience?
The lack of women! There hasn’t been a woman on Athos in over a millenia. They even forbid female animals (they import male-only animals.) But honestly, it was incredible to sleep in monastic cells in 1000-year-old monasteries. So much history and tradition, and deep spirituality. Getting up at 3AM for prayer was tough, and the food was terrible, but the memories are amazing.
In all your journeys, where did you see the most impressive beard?
(Aside from yours!)
Probably the monks on Athos, particularly at the Vatopedi monastery. They averaged maybe 8-9 inches apiece. That said, there’s a painting at Grand Lavra of this famous Athos hermit who – apparently – had a beard so long that he didn’t wear clothes. If I had to pick, I’d say that Sam Brinkley probably has the greatest beard in history.
In some of my own travels, having a beard has actually helped me connect with someone in a foreign culture. Was there a moment on your journey when you were most grateful and/or proud to have a beard?
I’ve also noticed that I get “randomly checked” at airports and borders at lot more, too. My favorite beard moment on the trip was in North Korea. I had just arrived, my passport had just been confiscated and I’d been assigned a “guide” (guard), and we were driving from the airport to Pyongyang. One of the female guides hovered over me and stared at my face. “Can I help you?” I asked. “Korean women don’t like men with beards,” she said. Nice to meet you, too, I thought. Apparently I was the ugliest man in North Korea.
What was the most unexpected thing you learned from your pilgrimage?
When I was as the Taize community in France, we would pray before breakfast, before lunch, and after supper. Each prayer time started with 8 minutes of quiet, to “maintain inner silence in all things so as to dwell with Christ.” Prayer used to be about me just asking for things. One-way communication is a speech or a monologue – prayer is a dialogue, a conversation, a “trading of hearts”, as Spurgeon put it. Prayer is a constant communion with Christ.
How can someone make prayer a bigger part of their life?
Some people think that prayer is a dish, but it’s actually a buffet. If you eat the same food every day, you’re going to get sick. If I just said the same few sentences to my wife every day, our marriage would fall apart. Prayer isn’t about religion, it really is about relationship. It’s interesting, I’ve been to the spot where the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray. Did He launch into the ten theological points of prayer? Not at all – He just started praying the Lord’s prayer. We learn to pray by pray. Start small- with a few minutes of silence each day. Pray Shalom – peace – over the news, and whenever you’re stressed. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything pray” – use worry as a reminder to talk with God. Like any relationship, it takes time to build, but it’s well worth the journey.
You can read all about Jared Brock’s round-the-world adventure in his new book, A Year of Living Prayerfully. Check out the book’s video trailer, and download the first to chapters for free, at LivingPrayerfully.com. 100% of author royalties are donated to missions and ministry, so don’t be shy about grabbing copies for friends and family.