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
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From Kirkus Reviews
Deserts doubling as both reality and symbol are the heroes of these memorable reflections on the interplay between nature and spirit. Lane (Theological Studies and American Studies/St. Louis Univ.) offers a modern contribution to the ancient tradition of apophatic (or negative) theologythe teaching that nothing can literally be said of God. The precursors he cites include the desert fathers, Meister Eckhart, and the anonymous author of the 14th-century Cloud of Unknowing. The paradox of apophatic teaching is in its sustained expression: How to describe the indescribable over enough pages to make a book? The answer is through metaphor, and Lane's are apt and effective. Against the austere backdrop of the most abstract theological tradition in Christendom he paints the pictures of his personal visits to, among other places, Mount Sinai, a desert monastery in New Mexico, and the nursing home where his mother is dying. His point is that the ``fierce landscapes'' of the title mirror the conceptual emptiness of both the unimaginable God and the ends of our own lives. Like all good symbols, the Sinai desert and the dying mother lose nothing, in Lane's descriptions, of their own concrete and affecting reality, even as they figure the silencing transcendence of God. The upshot is a happy one for both spirituality and the reader: Pushed by God, deserts, and death to the limits of human life, the spiritual seeker is relieved of worry over her own anxious ego``the things that ignore us save us''and the reader, in turn, comes away soothed by a fine illustration of the intimate connection there can be between abstract ideas and the daunting realities of life. In the vast desert of pop spirituality, Lane's book is an oasis. (5 photos, not seen) -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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