In the tradition of Kathleen Norris, Terry Tempest Williams, and Thomas Merton, The Solace of Fierce Landscapes explores the impulse that has drawn seekers into the wilderness for centuries and offers eloquent testimony to the healing power of mountain silence and desert indifference.
Interweaving a memoir of his mother's long struggle with Alzheimer's and cancer, meditations on his own wilderness experience, and illuminating commentary on the Christian via negativa--a mystical tradition that seeks God in the silence beyond language--Lane rejects the easy affirmations of pop spirituality for the harsher but more profound truths that wilderness can teach us. "There is an unaccountable solace that fierce landscapes offer to the soul. They heal, as well as mirror, the brokeness we find within." It is this apparent paradox that lies at the heart of this remarkable book: that inhuman landscapes should be the source of spiritual comfort. Lane shows that the very indifference of the wilderness can release us from the demands of the endlessly anxious ego, teach us to ignore the inessential in our own lives, and enable us to transcend the "false self" that is ever-obsessed with managing impressions. Drawing upon the wisdom of St. John of the Cross, Meister Eckhardt, Simone Weil, Edward Abbey, and many other Christian and non-Christian writers, Lane also demonstrates how those of us cut off from the wilderness might "make some desert" in our lives.
Written with vivid intelligence, narrative ease, and a gracefulness that is itself a comfort, The Solace of Fierce Landscapes gives us not only a description but a "performance" of an ancient and increasingly relevant spiritual tradition.
The great religions of the world were nourished in mountains, nearly all of them born in the deserts but raised in the cool highland air. Belden Lane, a professor of theological studies, explores the role of these "fierce landscapes" in the development of the human spirit, and he travels firsthand to many of them, notably Mount Sinai and the deserts of the American Southwest, where seekers holy and profane have traveled before. "Desert and mountain places," he writes, "located on the margins of society, are locations of choice in luring God's people to a deeper understanding of who they are." Just so, and this modest book yields a deeper understanding of wild lands. --Greg McNamee