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:


Russell Holloway said...

We can still learn from books we do not 100% agree with. What did you think about The Shack?

Laura said...

Glynn (smile), I enjoyed your "rebellious outbursts" throughout our journey here, and often found myself agreeing. I have that uncanny gift of unconditional positive regard, and sometimes it keeps me from thinking critically. I have learned a lot about what I believe from the discomfort that arose with May's strange appellations (I noticed, BTW, that you did not capitalize his Power of the Slowing--another rebellion?)

In the end, I found myself subconsciously substituting God for all of his "powers".

I've enjoyed reading this book with you, Glynn. Thanks for all your thoughts.

Loren Paulsson said...

How would you engage May's understanding of stewardship? How would you say May refined what you would have said previously?

Glynn said...

Russell -- I haven't read The shack yet -- but it's sitting on my "to read" shelf. I plan to read it during the holidays.

Laura -- it was my subconscious deliberately lowercasing the "power of the slowing." :)

Loren -- thanks for commenting. May seems to have rejected the idea of stewardship as insufficient -- that it still maintained a distance or difference between humanity and nature, and he articulated a concept of "oneness." May also rjected the inerrancy of Scripture because of that passage in Genesis 2 on "dominion."

I can't go that way. Yes, we're part of creation, but we're also separate from it, in that we were made in the image of God (no other part of creation can make that claim).

L.L. Barkat said...

Can we steward something we are also "one with" in some way? Just musing on that question... no answers necessarily.

Maureen said...

I, too, am glad to have read May's book. I might not have picked it up had I not joined this particular community. (I've since gotten another of his books.) I learned as much from the comments on each chapter as from May's own words, some of which still resound as I puzzle them out. I came to see May as a seeker, as are we all, and when I substitute "God" as Laura does, I can see the portrait of that seeker more clearly.

We seek to be "one with". Getting there requires being a steward of the Word, of His light, of Him in our hearts.

Monica Sharman said...

I've really appreciated your book club posts.