Monday, December 21, 2009
The Wisdom of Wilderness - What I Learned
We’ve now finished our online discussion of Gerald May’s The Wisdom of Wilderness that started back in October at the High Calling Blogs. Thanks to Laura Boggess who served as our discussion leader with grace and occasionally mirth, and smiled at minor rebellions from some of the participants (me).
May, who died from cancer in 2005, embraced the idea and the reality of wilderness in the early 1990s as a kind of healing. He discovered what he called “the power of the slowing,” and he learned a lot about himself while experiencing often extremes of weather in isolated areas.
It was an important book for me to read, because I learned from May an appreciation for nature that I’d forgotten. I was reminded, and wrote about here, some of my own experiences, like hiking in the White Tank Mountains near Phoenix, finding myself in the middle of a herd of elk in the dark, biking with an American eagle on the Katy Trail near St. Louis, and even a time when I wasn’t in the wilderness but experienced one of the those incredible moments of felling absolutely alive. I recently went hiking with my oldest son at Shaw’s Nature Reserve near St. Louis, and wrote and posted a poem about it yesterday.
Where I found May troubling was the theology. Along the way, he began referring to the “power of the slowing” as a she, which at first I thought was Mother Nature but then realized that he was veering dangerously close to equating creation with the creator. He also had a problem with Scripture when it didn’t appear to conform to human reality, i.e., rejecting the concept of stewardship over the earth because it implied mankind was separate from nature, and that separation was the source of numerous problems that people face collectively and individually. Separation from nature is not the basic human problem; it’s a result or symptom of the basic human problem.
But even reading the parts of the book I disagreed with, and often strongly disagreed with, I learned several things. I had to clarify what it was I did believe, and not take my beliefs for granted. I had to carefully consider what was being said, and not to accept it blindly or reject it in a knee-jerk fashion (too much of both defines almost all of political discourse today). And I engaged with May’s statements and arguments and learned something about engaging with the culture.
So reading The Wisdom of Wilderness was well worth the journey and the effort. Listening to how others responded and reacted was just as valuable. I'm not going to be dancing around campfires in thunderstorms any time soon, but I'm glad I read the book.
Related post. Our discussion leader, Laura Boggess, has some final thoughts on the book: http://highcallingblogs.com/blog/5293/anything-but-passive/.