Archive for August, 2012

Dear Kindred in the Spirit,

It was John Muir who suggested that “There is a love of wild nature in everybody, an ancient mother-love showing itself whether recognized or no, and however covered by cares and duties.”

And closer to home, Henry David Thoreau (in Walden) said:

“We need the tonic of wildness… At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.”

On my adventure travel tours, we’re always given reading assignments to prepare us for our trip.  And this time for Alaska, I’m enjoying Kim Heacox‘s In Denali.  He writes:     “Denali National Park is a Walden Pond; a place to practice humility and respect.”

Denali National Park and Preserve is located in the subarctic, between 62 and 64 degrees north latitude, treeline average only 2,500 feet in elevation. Access is highly restricted. Shuttle buses drive visitors along the 91 mile park road (the only one in Denali).

There’s also challenge in the way we visit since sheer numbers threaten the crucible of wildness. National Parks are now burdened with being loved to death.  “Any definition of wilderness implies an absence of civilization,”  wrote historian Roderick Nash,  “and wilderness values are so fragile that even appropriate kinds of recreational use detract from and, in sufficient quantity, destroy wilderness.  As ecologist Stanley A. Cain has said, “innumerable people cannot enjoy the solitude together.”

Heacox again:

It is vital, of course, that people come here; that lives are touched and inspired, that wilderness values are affirmed and anxieties washed away.  Yet it is equally vital, in a world of greed, and conundrums, that visitors not be herded into mediocrity, that the park experience–and the park itself–not be impaired in any way, or even jeopardized.

At six million acres, Denali National Park and Preserve is about the same size as Massachusetts, nearly three times the size of Yellowstone. Running through it are icy mountains that break their backs in the Alaska range, their summits reaching to 14,000 feet, 17,000 feet, and finally to 20,320-foot Mt. McKinley, more properly called Denali–the native name meaning The High One–the highest mountain in North America.

From the mountains, the land sweeps to every horizon in striking patterns of tundra and spruce forest, kettle ponds and braided rivers, wildflowers and willow thickets. . .  150 species of birds occur here. But Denali’s most sought-after residents are the large mammals: grizzlies, wolves, caribou, moose, Dall sheep, red foxes, lynx–thirty-seven species of mammals in all. . .  manifesting laws of survival and diversity, embodying what has been called “the greatest subarctic sanctuary in the world.”

I’m off to such a place to listen to the landscape beat to a rhythm of something more ancient than us all.  I go for inspiration and enjoyment.  I go longing for something absolutely wild, conscious that my desire and the tourism industry that seeks to satisfy it, can threaten its pristine nature and strangle its wilderness integrity.
And while my trip includes hiking, rafting, kayaking, glaciers and tenting, I go mainly not to do anything.  I go just to be.



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Silent Journeys

Dear Kindred in the Spirit,

A friend is enjoying reading Patrick Leigh Fermor’s beautiful short book on the meaning of silence and solitude for modern life.  In A Time to Keep Silence, he writes about an inward journey, describing his several sojourns in some of Europe’s oldest and most venerable monasteries.  He stays at the Abbey of St. Wandrille, a great repository of art and learning; at Solesmes, famous for its revival of Gregorian chant; and at the deeply ascetic Trappist monastery of La Grande Trappe, where monks take a vow of silence.  Finally, he visits the rock monasteries of Cappadocia, hewn from the stony spires of a moonlike landscape, where he seeks some trace of the life of the earliest Christian anchorites.  More than a history or travel journal, this book offers a glimpse into the sabbath time we need for re-collectedness and clarity of spirit.

Wendell Berry, one of my favorite authors, wrote in The Unforeseen Wilderness,

“And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground of our feet, and learn to be home.”

So what are you doing this summer to embark on a spiritual journey? I pray you make the time to take such a journey.  ELUMC has lots of resources to help.  Each week during our summer series on the letter to the church of Ephesus, we’ve suggested you write to someone with words of encouragement, to consider a relationship in need of reconciliation (and write a note to that person), to embrace someone (in letter writing form) whose beliefs/faith are different from your own–there’s still time to do that.  This Sunday at the hymn sing we’re going to offer ourselves our best advice for improving the church.  And the labyrinth is still on the side lawn, encouraging you to welcome silence and let your feet do the praying.

Pastor Kelly

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