In my book Wild Faith, I encourage people to get out in the woods to work on their spiritual lives. Seemingly, this is a rather new idea. In my years of teaching Christian formation, most programs I encountered involved “programs” set up inside church buildings. With the exception of church camp programs, the idea of simply going outdoors by yourself is not one of the spiritual disciplines the church has encouraged in recent times.
But in reading up on the history of ancient spiritual practices, I find that going outdoors to be by yourself in relative silence is actually a very old and revered spiritual practice. In fact, the early Christians who were most serious about their spiritual lives were the “Desert Fathers and Mothers” who left the city, went out into the wild, and lived very simply, quietly, and either alone or with a few other similarly-minded souls.
As I work on an upcoming book on Faith & Nature, I’m wondering if this practice of going outdoors by yourself for “alone time” will become more the norm than the exception of Christian spirituality. With all the constant, unrelenting disruptions and interruptions of all our devices, I’m wondering if all of us need a little time in nature (if not the wilderness) to clear our minds, relax, and unplug.
Here are some of the books I’ve just finished reading as I write this new book:
Henri Nouwen, The Way of the Heart: The Spirituality of the Desert Fathers and Mothers. This little book is an oldie but a goodie. As always, Nouwen says a whole lot with only a few words. Highly recommended.
Brett Webb-Mitchell, School of the Pilgrim: An Alternative Path to Christian Growth. This book tells of the history and nature of pilgrimages in Christian spirituality, with vignettes of his own pilgrimage experiences. Excellent.
Peter H. Gorg, The Desert Fathers: Saint Anthony and the Beginnings of Monasticism. I read this for a nice history lesson on the Desert Fathers and Mothers. It’s a good little paperback for church history nerds. (Translated from the German, and no my computer doesn’t do umlauts.)
Belden C. Lane, The Solace of Fierce Landscapes: Exploring Desert and Mountain Spirituality. It took me a long time to get through this book. It is excellent, but it is slow going. The author combines his primary topic with a parallel story of his mother’s slow death in a nursing home, which I wasn’t expecting and (quite frankly) didn’t appreciate. As a mountain girl, I did appreciate Lane’s inclusion of the forests and mountains in his discussion of “fierce landscapes.” This book would be terrific for a seminary course on this subject, but for more casual readers, I really liked Lane’s Backpacking with the Saints quite a bit better.
Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island. I read this for devotional purposes, but I found it had quite a bit of wisdom on spirituality in nature as well. Isn’t it funny how we often stumble upon exactly what we need to read, without even trying?
Stay tuned for news of my new book!