Brief Reviews

Ben Katt – The Way Home [Review]

The Way Home Finding Resonance in the Story of a Hero

A Review of

The Way Home: Discovering the Hero’s Journey to Wholeness at Midlife
Ben Katt

Paperback: St. Martin’s Essentials, 2024
Buy Now: [ BookShop ] [ Amazon ] [ Kindle ] [ Audible ]

Reviewed by Jeff Nelson

I confess a personal stake in wanting to read and review The Way Home: Discovering the Hero’s Journey to Wholeness at Midlife by Ben Katt. That personal stake is, simply, that I myself would be considered a part of Katt’s target audience. I turned 45 just a few weeks before writing this review, and as such I am seeking the sort of wisdom that The Way Home professes to share. So as I read, I hoped to receive something for my own journey while also anticipating what I may say about it for other curious readers.

Unsurprisingly, Katt’s drive to write this book comes from his own experience of entering midlife. He reaches a crossroads in his personal and professional life where he begins to wonder how well he is participating in it, sensing a stagnancy in his relationships and vitality. This all reaches a critical point during a jog when an inner voice says, “If you don’t have your heart, you have nothing.” These words send him down a new path of re-evaluation, self-discovery, and revitalization. 

Katt frames this path, both for himself and for the reader, by using the motif of the Hero’s Journey, a popular series of tropes that show up in many different stories that appear in books, movies, and television. He explains the overall arc of the Hero’s Journey as comprising three movements: 1) Leaving the familiar, 2) Falling into the unknown, and 3) Rising to wholeness. 

He devotes several chapters to each movement, which heavily feature his own experiences. However, he also draws from a wide range of other stories, myths, and characters to illustrate his points. Any single chapter may contain references to Odysseus, Norse mythology, Luke Skywalker, Black Panther, and the Lord of the Rings books and movies, among others. 

Katt explores the details of these movements, showing how they manifest not only in popular culture but how they may do so in one’s own life as well. For leaving the unfamiliar, he describes the stirring within that eventually one may recognize as a call to something new and different from what you know. This call may arise during times of life transition such as marriage, divorce, parenthood, or retirement, or it may come during times that seem stable yet also lacking something, similar to his inner voice experience. 

The time of answering may not be very straightforward, however: it may come with times of second-guessing or refusal before ultimately following it. Recognizing the complex nature of even starting this journey, Katt encourages a reliance upon one’s circle of friends and family for support and discernment as one prepares to let go and move into a new and unknown future.

Next comes falling into the unknown, which Katt equates with walking through darkness without a clear idea of where one is going. He touches on concepts such as the Dark Night of the Soul and Jonah’s time in the belly of the fish that seem hopeless and in the moment but ultimately help to steer those who experience them in the right direction. He follows up the theme of darkness with one of wandering in the wilderness, and then experiencing death in various forms. The overall point of this second leg of the Hero’s Journey, he means to say, is walking it knowing that there will be a sense of loss, because it is likely that you will actually lose something while doing so. 

Finally, when one rises to wholeness, they will discover a new purpose and identity. It’s when Frodo drops the One Ring into the volcano and Odysseus finally returns home. It’s when the letting go from leaving the familiar is finally replaced by something else. The hero, having been changed by their adventure, now lives into that transformation. Whether that means relating to the same environment in a new way or changing one’s surroundings, that depends on the individual. For Katt himself, it meant a move and a new career expression. 

ADVERTISEMENT:


Katt is always careful to share his own story while being clear that it’s not meant to be prescriptive. The pattern of the Hero’s Journey may be common and may tend to emerge for others experiencing a time of questioning and upheaval, he would not suggest that the reader follow the exact beats of how the pattern shows up for him. If it did, then everyone would have to do things like weep naked before a cactus in the desert and put on a one-man show for one’s close friends. I doubt he’d recommend these actions for everyone!

Along with his many nods to popular culture, Katt also borrows extensively from spiritual wisdom. His primary references may be from Christian tradition, but he also nods to Buddhism, Hinduism, and others rich with insight. He cites Paul’s conversion when discussing leaving the unfamiliar, Barbara Brown Taylor’s Learning to Walk in the Dark and St. John of the Cross when discussing falling into the unknown, and the Easter resurrection stories during his exploration of rising to wholeness. When discussing following one’s call and the general angst and questioning that tends to come with midlife, he includes Parker Palmer and Richard Rohr. And when noting that the journey often includes a call to justice, he shares knowledge from Kaitlin Curtice and Willie James Jennings. And given that his primary frame of reference is the Hero’s Journey, he shares extensively from Joseph Campbell, the one who originally coined the term.

The Way Home is well organized, deeply thoughtful, and vivid in its encouragement to follow the call. It is at times comforting both in its awareness of what a reader in midlife may be struggling with and in its assurances that the more uncomfortable stages of the Hero’s Journey do eventually lead back to hope and purpose. Parts of how Katt lived into his own expression of this journey may seem strange, bold, and unnerving, but they serve to show what could happen when one truly lets go of the old to find the new.

I did find something of what I am seeking while reading, and others likely will as well.

Jeff Nelson

Jeff Nelson serves as Minister for Ministerial Calls and Transitions on the national staff of the United Church of Christ. He has written six books on spirituality, prayer, and popular culture. His next book, The Unintentional Interim, will be published by The Pilgrim Press in early 2025. His writing and podcast (Coffeehouse Contemplative) can be found at JeffreyANelson.com.

ADVERTISEMENT:
L10-Launch Promo Blog Phase 1 CTA 1

 
RFTCG
FREE EBOOK!
Reading for the Common Good
From ERB Editor Christopher Smith


"This book will inspire, motivate and challenge anyone who cares a whit about the written word, the world of ideas, the shape of our communities and the life of the church."
-Karen Swallow Prior


Enter your email below to sign up for our weekly newsletter & download your FREE copy of this ebook!
We respect your email privacy


In the News...
Christian Nationalism Understanding Christian Nationalism: Essential Books [A Reading Guide]
Most AnticipatedMost Anticipated Books of the Fall for Christian Readers!
Theology BooksTen Theology Books to Watch For – September 2022
B. EhrenreichJournalist Barbara Ehrenreich died earlier this month. Here's a few video clips that introduce her work
Funny Bible ReviewsHilarious One-Star Customer Reviews of Bibles


Comments are closed.