Following the success of his first Lent study The Naturalist and The Christ Tim Heaton has recently published a second, The Long Road to Heaven. As with his first Lent course, Tim uses a film as the basis for the study material. As a medium film has a particular capacity to engage us and draw us into the lives of the characters and the issues they face. The film that Tim Heaton has chosen, The Way, certainly does just that. Directed and written by Emilio Estevez and starring his father Martin Sheen in the main role, The Way illustrates how journeys can be more than just the movement from one place to another. The film shows how journeys have the capacity to take people from their pain to a place of healing and from loss and regret to a state of acceptance and fulfilment. As Martin Sheen says, it’s as much about an “interior journey as it is an exterior one”. It’s essentially a film about finding salvation, which is exactly the theme of Tim Heaton’s study course.
The central character of The Way is an American ophthalmologist, Thomas Avery, who travels to France following the tragic death of his son Daniel, who had died in a Pyrenean mountain storm whilst walking the Camino to Santiago de Compostela. Rather than bringing his son’s body back to The States, which was his original intention, Thomas decides to walk the route himself. The film traces how his journey to Santiago, and the people he meets on the way, eventually enables him to be released from his grief and not only find solace but new depths of understanding, meaning and purpose. Although at first reluctant, he finds himself walking with three other pilgrims, each with their own issues and reasons for undertaking the pilgrimage. Gradually each also finds release from the burdens that they carry, and like Thomas, find salvation. As with all journey movies we discover more than just the route to Santiago and are reminded that the journey is in itself every bit as important as the arriving.
Tim Heaton’s excellent course, providing a rich mix of clips from the film, Bible study, reflection and prayer, gives us the opportunity of also going on a journey. In this Lenten journey Tim invites us to address five key questions: What are we saved from? What are we saved for? Who can be saved? What do we have to do to be saved? And, How are we saved? These questions are careful teased out through the interweaving of Jesus’ journey to the Cross with the journeys of the characters in the film. In our engagement with this, the author reminds us that we are all somewhere on a journey and that through the grace of God, we therefore all have the possibility of finding salvation.
The Long Road to Heaven is an extremely well- structured and imaginatively presented course, and goes right to the heart of what it means to be a Christian disciple.
Reviewed by The Venerable Paul Taylor, Archdeacon of Sherborne
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