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The Solace of Fierce Landscapes: Exploring Desert and Mountain Spirituality Paperback – Mar 15 2007


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 296 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (March 15 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195315855
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195315851
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 2 x 15.5 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 318 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #363,234 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description

From Amazon

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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on Nov. 7 1999
Format: Hardcover
Rather sad book which draws on his erudition and his personal experience. The background is interesting, but when he describes his experience with his mother`s decline and death, for me he descends into unconvincing sentimentality. I guess he should stick to the academic writing he is undoubtedly skilled in, as those are the best parts of the book. Little genuine experience of the relationship of the physical to the spiritual desert comes through for me with any conviction. I`m glad he survived;but it doesn`t share enough of his experience to enlighten me.
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Format: Hardcover
What a curious book this one is, joining three main narrative threads: spiritual journals of the author's experiences in desolate terrains, emotional journals of the author's mother's protracted and painful death, and historical chronicles of monastic places and practices. The candor, humility, and knowledge of the author is everywhere evident. Lane has as deep an awareness of theological writings as he has passionate appreciation for some fine desert writers (neither naturalists nor ecologists fits them better). I cannot say every page of this book provided easy going or smooth engagement, but that can hardly be said to be the point of the book. The author mentions the relative ordinariness of the lives of those who seek spiritual focus in these places. The ordinariness of these lives makes the strange ferocity of the surrounding landscapes more portentous. I came to this book seeking description of the fierce landscapes and was rewarded. The rest of the book made for bracing enrichment of the sort I can't say I commonly read (grief memoirs & theology).
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Format: Hardcover
This is a most amazing book, impossible to classify. It is written on a number of levels at once; if you have read 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance', which broke new ground twenty years or so ago, you will know what I mean. The whole book is about prayer, in one way or another; I found it marvellous and beautifully written. If you are a desert dweller, this one is for you. The exploration of desert and mountain landscapes goes hand in hand with a reading of the apophatic traditions of prayer. "The desert practice of contemplative prayer abandons, on principle, all experiences of God or the self. It simply insists that being present before God, in a silence beyond words, is an end in itself....In the practice of contemplation, one comes eventually to embrace an apophatic anthropology, letting go of everything one might have imagined as constituting the self - one's thoughts, one's desires, all one's compulsive needs. Joined in the silence of prayer to a God beyond knowing, I no longer have to scramble to sustain a fragile ego but discern instead the source and ground of my being in the fierce landscape of God alone. One's self is ever a tenuous thing, discovered only in relinquishment. I recognize it finally as a vast, empty expanse opening out on to the incomparable desert of God". (pp 12-13) . . . "Apophatic spirituality has to start at the point where every other possibility ends. Whether we arrive there by means of a moment of stark extremity in our lives or (metaphorically) by way of entry into a high desert landscape, the sense of inadequacy remains the same. Prayer without words can only begin where loss is reckoned as total"
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