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Backpacking with the SaintsWilderness Hiking as Spiritual Practice$
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Belden C. Lane

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780199927814

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780199927814.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 04 December 2021

The Risk-Taking Character of Wilderness Reading

The Risk-Taking Character of Wilderness Reading

2 (p.16) The Risk-Taking Character of Wilderness Reading
Backpacking with the Saints

Belden C. Lane

Oxford University Press

Spiritual reading can be dangerous. I’m not talking about the devotional pabulum you find in most religious bookstores, but the truly risky stuff—from H?fez and Eckhart to Toni Morrison and Oscar Romero. This is especially true of the spiritual “classics,” says theologian David Tracy. They confront us with the disturbing notion that “something else might be the case.” They haunt us with fundamental questions, overthrowing our previous ways of viewing the world. Reading a potentially dangerous book in a landscape perceived to be dangerous can be doubly hazardous. The place heightens the vulnerability occasioned by the text. Challenging books lose their bite when they’re read comfortably at home in a favorite armchair. Their riskiness increases, however, when read by firelight in a forest glade, ten miles from the nearest road. The place where you encounter a book indelibly affects the way you receive it. Claus Westermann read the Psalms in a Russian prison camp, discovering patterns that changed his life as well as his approach to biblical scholarship. Eldridge Cleaver read Thomas Merton in Folsom Prison. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn read Dostoyevsky in a Soviet cancer ward. Karl Marx read the history of capitalism in the elegance of the British Museum. Potentially revolutionary changes occur when people read explosive texts in unsettling places. The stories of the saints are filled with instances of this. Isaac of Nineveh’s world was turned upside down as he read the Scriptures in the desert solitude of the Zagros Mountains in sixth-century Persia. He allegedly made himself blind through his constant pondering of the tear-stained pages. Near the end of his life, Francis of Assisi read the story of Christ’s passion not simply from the pages of the Gospels, but from the huge, split rocks atop Mt. La Verna. He said these cracks had appeared on Good Friday when the stones on Calvary were also rent. He experienced their truth in the opening of wounds in his body through the gift of the stigmata. The mountainous terrain and his body’s interaction with it became active participants in his reading of the text.

Keywords:   Bell Mountain Wilderness, John Climacus, Monasticism, Ozarks, Trees, aphobia, bears, distractions, fear, reading

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