Backpacking with the Saints: Wilderness Hiking as Spiritual Practice

Author(s): Belden C. Lane

Inspirational Poems & Stories

Carrying only basic camping equipment and a collection of the world's great spiritual writings, Belden C. Lane embarks on solitary spiritual treks through the Ozarks and across the American Southwest. For companions, he has only such teachers as Rumi, John of the Cross, Hildegard of Bingen, Dag Hammarskjold, and Thomas Merton, and as he walks, he engages their writings with the natural wonders he encounters-Bell Mountain Wilderness with Soren Kierkegaard, Moonshine Hollow with Thich Nhat Hanh-demonstrating how being alone in the wild opens a rare view onto one's interior landscape, and how the saints' writings reveal the divine in nature. The discipline of backpacking, Lane shows, is a metaphor for a spiritual journey. Just as the trail offered revelations to the early Desert Christians, backpacking hones crucial spiritual skills: paying attention, traveling light, practicing silence, and exercising wonder. Lane engages the practice not only with a wide range of spiritual writings-Celtic, Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist, Hindu, and Sufi Muslim-but with the fascination of other lovers of the backcountry, from John Muir and Ed Abbey to Bill Plotkin and Cheryl Strayed. In this intimate and down-to-earth narrative, backpacking is shown to be a spiritual practice that allows the discovery of God amidst the beauty and unexpected terrors of nature. Adoration, Lane suggests, is the most appropriate human response to what we cannot explain, but have nonetheless learned to love. Backpacking with the Saints is an enchanting exploration of how solitude, simplicity, and mindfulness are illuminated and encouraged by the discipline of backcountry wandering, and of how the wilderness itself becomes a way of knowing-an ecology of the soul.


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"Belden C. Lane has written a lovely book that seamlessly brings together two rich genres: travel narrative and spiritual memoir. The notion of a spiritual journey, of course, is central to almost every religious tradition, but the author enlivens that tradition as he shares personal and heartfelt stories about his own peregrinations and muses on topics as varied as solitude, ecology, backpacking, beauty, and prayer; and on people as varied as St. Therese of Lisieux, Dag Hammarskjold, John Muir, and Bruce Springsteen. A thoroughly delightful book." --James Martin, SJ, author of Jesus: APilgrimage"If the earlier centuries of Christianity had been as honest, emotionally descriptive, and spiritually helpful as Belden Lane is here, we would have a very different notion of religion today. Such wisdom as this will literally 'save the soul' of many a spiritual seeker." --Fr. Richard Rohr, O.F.M., Founder, Center for Action and Contemplation, Albuquerque, New Mexico"The only problem with this remarkable book is that it cannot be read rightly from a comfortable chair. As Lane and the rest of the saints in these pages insist, what the soul most needs is not found in safe places but in wild ones, where the dangers are as real as the courage they call forth. So find a high rock, a far hill, or a patch of desert that scares you a little and let this book persuade you that you are exactly where you need to be." --Barbara Brown Taylor, author of Learning to Walk in the Dark"The carefully balanced writing about landscape, physical demands, spiritual awakening and literary companionship allows the reader to see, feel, and join in the meditation." --Booklist"Lane's work blends genres, combining the literature of the outdoors with the formal literature of the spiritual as he reviews the work of the world's prominent religious and spiritual writers and ties their insights to the features and experiences of exploring the natural world." --PublishersWeekly"

Belden C. Lane is Professor of Theological Studies, American Religion, and History of Spirituality at Saint Louis University. He is the author of The Solace of Fierce Landscapes: Exploring Desert and Mountain Spirituality and Ravished by Beauty: The Surprising Legacy of Reformed Spirituality.

Table of Contents ; Prologue ; Part I: The Power of Wilderness and the Reading of Dangerous Texts ; Chapter 1: The Allure of the Wild: Backpacking as Spiritual Practice ; Chapter 2: The Risk-Taking Character of Wilderness Reading ; Part II: The Pattern of Wilderness Spirituality ; First Leg: Departure (Leaving the Trailhead) ; Chapter 3: Venturing Out: The Irish Wilderness and Columba of Iona ; Chapter 4: Disillusionment: Laramie Peak and Therese of Lisieux ; Chapter 5: Desire: Rockpile Mountain Wilderness and Thomas Traherne ; Second Leg: Discipline (The Practice of the Wild) ; Chapter 6: Solitude: Bell Mountain Wilderness and Soren Kierkegaard ; Chapter 7: Traveling Light: Gunstock Hollow and Dag Hammarskjold ; Chapter 8: Mindfulness: Moonshine Hollow and Thich Nhat Hanh ; Third Leg: Descent (When the Trail Gets Rough) ; Chapter 9: Fear: The Maze in Canyonlands and John of the Cross ; Chapter 10: Failure: Mount Whitney and Martin Luther ; Chapter 11: Dying: Mudlick Mountain Trail and the Cloud Author ; Fourth Leg: Delight (Returning Home with Gifts) ; Chapter 12: Discernment: Taum Sauk Mountain and Jelaluddin Rumi ; Chapter 13: Community: Lower Rock Creek and Teilhard de Chardin ; Chapter 14: Justice: The Meramec River at Times Beach and Mohandas Gandhi ; Chapter 15: Holy Folly: Aravaipa Canyon and Thomas Merton ; Epilogue ; Appendix: The Meanings of Wilderness ; Notes ; Index

General Fields

  • : 9780199927814
  • : Oxford University Press
  • : Oxford University Press
  • : January 2015
  • : United Kingdom
  • : books

Special Fields

  • : Belden C. Lane
  • : Hardback
  • : 204.4
  • : 288